In the early 1990s, Bilbao was a gloomy and dreary city – dominated by run-down industrial buildings. But with the inauguration of the futuristic Guggenheim Museum in 1997, Bilbao underwent a major transformation. The image of the Basque city has since changed from a blighted industrial city to a cultural metropolis.
Bilbao is located on the road to Compostela and is thus used to pilgrims. Meanwhile, the city itself has become a pilgrimage site. For with the extravagant Guggenheim Museum, the city in the heart of the Basque Country has become a mecca of contemporary art.
Tip 1: Guggenheim Museum
At the top of the list of top Bilbao attractions is the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Canadian architect Frank O. Gehry and completed in 1997. It changed the face of the city and is now Bilbao’s landmark.
Even the choice of location for the museum on the banks of the Nervión River made its ambition clear. This futuristic building was erected on a disused industrial site. While industry had dominated Bilbao for a long time, art and culture were now to take over.
However, the Guggenheim Museum not only offers a wealth of art, but with its building made of titanium, limestone and crystal, it is itself a work of art. With its futuristic appearance, it offers numerous possibilities for interpreting what it might represent.
Some see in it a ship striving for new shores. Others discover an opening flower in the architecture of the Guggenheim Museum. For us, it represents the metamorphosis of old, metallic industrial products into something shiny new.
Not only the building offers the possibility to enjoy art already from the outside. Numerous monumental works of art can be admired outside the Guggenheim Museum. In the meantime, these are as famous as the museum itself.
The highlight is certainly “Puppy” by Jeff Koons. This dog consists of over 70,000 flowers and is a whole twelve meters high. Like a guardian, this sympathetic figure stands in front of the entrance to the Guggenheim Museum.
Tip 2: Puente de Vizcaya
The appearance of the Vizcaya Bridge is very special: it consists of two high iron towers, located on both sides of the river and connected by a footbridge.
Under it, thanks to some ropes, hangs a tilting boat that “sails” on the river a few meters above the water. The bridge connects the two banks through this shuttle, a cabin that can transport people, cars and motorcycles.
The unusual “water ride” lasts about two minutes, but offers visitors one of the most memorable experiences of their trip to Bilbao.
Those who want to experience the thrill of crossing the bridge on foot can easily do so on the footbridge, which is accessible by elevator, 45 meters above the ground. I dared to do it and was impressed by the view and the stormy winds of the Bay of Biscay at that height.
Tip 3: Old town of Bilbao
In the Casco Viejo lies the nucleus of the city founded in 1300 and the inhabitants of Bilbao maintain their historical roots here. In the “Siete Calles”, the “Seven Streets”, the heart of the city pulsates.
The charm of this part of the city comes from the winding streets, the ornate lanterns and the houses decorated with coats of arms. At every corner, one of the 400 stores in Bilbao’s old town invites you to enter – including artisan workshops, small temples of fashion or cafés.
In the evening, you should make your way back here to indulge in the locals’ favorite pastime: txikitear and pintxear. In the quaint old streets of Bilbao you will find a wide selection of bars and restaurants where you can end the evening with a white wine and pintxos.
One of the best places in the city for this is the Plaza Nueva. One of those square squares typical of Spain, where the gastronomic offers of the restaurants are offered under the arcades of the adjacent houses.
Tip 4: Funicular Artxanda
The city of Bilbao is called “botxo” (hole) by its inhabitants, and it is not difficult to understand why. If you look around, you can easily see that Bilbao is located in a valley completely surrounded by mountains.
The Artxanda funicular offers the opportunity to get out of the city and enjoy a breathtaking view of Bilbao from a vantage point atop Mount Arxanda, 250 meters above sea level.
The cable car station is located in Plaza Funicolar, just a few steps from the Calatrava Bridge. From here, this “aerial tramway” reaches the top of the hill in a few minutes, where there is also a park with beautiful gardens.
From the panoramic terrace you can observe from above the characteristic aspect of the city of Bilbao: its particular mixture of the green of the surrounding mountains with the skyscrapers, the pinnacles of its Gothic churches with the ultra-modern profiles of the Guggenheim, the Calatrava and the Salve bridges.
This magical combination is created by the winding paths of the Nerviòn River or, as the people of Bilbao call it, the Rìa, which silently crosses the city to the sea.
Tip 5: Zubizuri Bridge
The Zubizuri Bridge is one of Bilbao’s most significant landmarks. The name of the structure comes from the Basque language and means “white bridge”. Indeed, the bridge, which spans the Nervión River, catches the eye from afar due to its white color. Many guests as well as citizens of Bilbao consider the Zubizuri Bridge the most beautiful of the city’s nine bridges for good reasons.
Visually and architecturally, it is a true masterpiece. The architectural design is daring, but the Zubizuri Bridge is also a sought-after photo subject for many other reasons. Many elements, such as the curved shape, the wide-span arch, the bright white paint, the glass floor or the spectacular lighting at night, among others, make the Zubizuri Bridge one of the most extraordinary structures in Bilbao.