A four-attractions-for-the-price-of-one shot here, the Museo de Bellas Artes to the left, Artklass building in the centre-back, Iberdrola skyscraper on the right and Plaza Euskadi in the middle.
Bilbao Fine Arts Museum (Museo de Bellas Artes)
A small museum with an international name for its rich collection of Spanish and Basque paintings, engravings, decorative objects and sculpture dating from the 12th century through to today. The Museo de Bellas Artes has a better reputation than the Guggenheim Bilbao and a much better website too. Closed on Mondays, free of charge on Wednesdays and for children under 12 anytime.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
American architect Frank Gehry is responsible for this architectural masterpiece, a fantastical titanium fishy creation that houses a collection of modern and contemporary art in spectacular spaces. Some critics think exhibition areas are too big, overwhelming the art while others are disappointed by the permanent collection, though temporary shows are apparently worthwhile.
Closed on Mondays except for July and August when it’s open 7 days a week. The Guggenheim website is so useless and confused that it would be an offence to link to it, so we won’t. Great exterior, waste of space inside?
Teatro Arriaga Antzokia
Inspired by the Paris Opera House and finished in 1890, the facade is a mixture of differing styles. The theater is used for opera, ballet, concerts, and theater.
The Old Town is the medieval barrio of Bilbao, walled until the end of the 19th century. The Seven Streets are narrow but atmospheric and include Plaza Nueva. There are several churches, the Ribera Market, the Basque Museum, the Bizkaia Museum of Archaeology and the Arriaga Theater.
This closed, classic Spanish Plaza inside the Casco Viejo hums with local socialising around a series of restaurants, cafés and tapas (pintxos in Basque) bars. In the summer free cultural events take place on a regular basis. It’s a brilliant place to see real Spain in action.
Artxanda Funicular up to Mount Arxanda
The cheap funicular ride up the hill is a must-ride attraction. It takes about 5 minutes to get on the top where there is a tranquil park with seating and a panoramic view of the city, including a terrific new angle on the Guggenheim.
The Alhondiga was a vast wine warehouse 100 years ago but has now been restructured as a modern ‘Culture and Leisure Center’ interestingly supported internally by 43 fat, little, variegated columns. The busy building encompasses a gym, swimming pool, library, restaurants and cinemas.
Palacio de Congresos y de la Musica Euskalduna
From the outside this building has unique architecture that doesn’t please all, kind of like an old ship, but on the inside it’s spacious and modern and a great place to attend a concert as acoustics are perfect. It’s easy to get to and well located by the river, close to the Guggenheim. Rooms are varied and interesting.
Doña Casilda Park
This park is beside the Museo de Bellas Artes, with a pond, sculptures, a dancing waters fountain and a stage for performances. It’s the largest park in Bilbao, with masses of flowers and makes a popular promenade for both local people and visitors, particularly those lugging children.
Bizkaia fronton is an exceptional space for playing Basque Pelote where tourists can see a typical super-speed Jai Alai game, like handball but using curved hand baskets to accelerate the ball to a ridiculous speed.
La Alhóndiga. Photo by Mikemod.
La Alhóndiga is an old structure housing a very modern entertainment center supported by 43 columns of wildly differing styles, designed by Phillipe Starck. The lively building encompasses a gym, swimming pool, library, restaurants and cinemas.