The Guggenheim is not the only reason to visit Bilbao, and don’t be put off by the weather: there’s plenty on offer here both in and out of doors. The tranquil winter season is an ideal time to visit the Basque Country’s largest city. Some of its best features are indoors, namely art and food.
While Frank O. Gehry’s dramatic creation is on the top of the list as far as Bilbao sights, The Arte Ederren Museoa (Museum of Fine Art) is another artistic attraction for museum-lovers. It houses over 6,000 paintings, sculptures and drawings, dating from the 12th century to the present day.
Of course, there is the Guggenheim. Its creative, organic design and its spectacular shows have been a major factor in the revitalization of Bilbao, helping to boost the city’s economy and outside appeal. Its 19 galleries house some of the world’s best avant-garde art, mainly focussing on some of the most important artists of the second half of the 20th century including Willem de Kooning, Antoni Tàpies and Andy Warhol. Among its permanent installations are Jeff Koons’ giant Tulips, Louis Burgeois’ frightening Mama, and Arcos Rojos by Daniel Buren.
Outside, take a walk around the premises and stand near the riverside to witness the considered way the museum converges with its surroundings—creating a blended (and imaginary) triangle between the Museo de Bellas Artes, the Universidad de Deusto and the Teatro Arriaga. With the Nervión River passing between these institutions, the buildings seem to have flow and movement.
Bilbao is an architecture lover’s dream. It’s small enough to stroll around the city to take in the sites such as the Euskalduna Concert Hall and Convention Centre, a gorgeous site. Even Bilbao’s metro is a testament to the city’s architectural ambitions: it was designed and built in the late 1980s by Norman Foster and features glass tunnels that offer access to the stations.
Basques love to party and Bilbao brims with options from world-class opera and classical concerts to gay clubs, tapas bars and late-night discos. Hit the tapas bars in the old quarter and then wander over to the Indautxu and Abando areas for late night clubs. The ambitious may want to participate in a txikiteo – a pub crawl where the only things ingested are txikitos (small shots of wine) or zuritos (small glasses of beer). For tapas or pintxoak (pintxos Basque for tapas), try Estoril which specializes in delectable stacked, Basque-style tapas. El Globo takes the idea of tapas to another level. They’ve elaborated on the traditional pintxo for a more creative snack. At Artajo try the house specialtly: spicy tigres – fried, stuffed mussels. For a traditional Basque meal sample the seafood and cider at El Viejo Zortzi. If you are hankering for a bit of oxtail or salted cod (a local specialty) Bola-Viga will satisfy any cravings for traditional fare.
The Hotel Ostatua is an inviting place and amazing value. Rooms are spacious and most have a little balcony with views of the neighbourhood, plus they offer a bountiful breakfast for a small additional cost. Ostatua is a great deal with its classic location about a block away from the Catedral de Santiago and a handful of good restaurants. If Ostatua is booked, there are other options such as Abba Parque, an adequate 3-star a couple of blocks from the Guggenheim. G.H. Dómine Bilbao Silken is an opulent 5-star located right in front of the Guggenheim with primo views of the museum and river. If you’re looking for something quiet, Hotel Artetxe may suit you. A former farmhouse-turned-boutique hotel with just twelve rooms, it’s two kilometres from the city centre, meaning a car is a must for this countryside option.
Around and About
The Basque countryside is uniquely stunning with its characterful small farms, white cottages and jade hills. If you don’t have a car, the local Eusko Tren passes through most points of interest in the region. Beaches are less than an hour away from Bilbao, as is Gernika and Vitoria-Gasteiz. The Eusko Tren ride itself is an experience offering serene leafy Basque landscapes on almost all routes.
Bilbao is reached by a slow train ride from Madrid and Barcelona on RENFE. If going by car, the trip is much faster. From Madrid head north on the E-5, and you’ll reach Bilbao in about 4.5 hours, give or take. From Barcelona take the E-30 towards Zaragoza and head north for about 5.5 hours.
The Guggenheim Bibao
Arte Ederren Museoa
Hotel Ostatua – Santa Maria Kalea 14
94 416 1500 (€60 and up)
Abba Parque – Rodríguez Arias 66
94 441 3100 (€100 and up)
G.H. Dómine Bilbao Silken – Alameda Mazarreao 61
94 425 3300 (€165 and up)
Hotel Artetxe – Ctraa. Enekuri-Artxanda, Km. 7
94 474 7780 (€50 and up)
Bola-Viga – Enrique Eguren 4
94 443 5026 (€35 p/p)
El Viejo Zortzi – Licenciado Poza 54
94 441 92 49 (€40 p/p)
Artajo – Ledesma 7
94 424 8596
El Globo – Diputación 8
94 415 4221
Estéril – Emilio Campuzano 3
94 441 1033