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Sitting on the banks of the Nervión River near the northern coast of Basque Country, the Spanish city of Bilbao is an industrial port destination that has recently undergone a revival. In the last few decades, the once gritty city has become a hub for art and architecture, thanks in large part to the cutting-edge Guggenheim Museum. Though it's not known as much for its physical beauty as the nearby resort town of San Sebastián, Bilbao boasts an unexpected mix of things to do, eat, and see. Modern skyscrapers mingle on the streets with centuries-old churches, and long-standing fish markets meld with high-end boutiques. Along with its art, Bilbao is renowned for its culinary culture-one that centers around traditional small bites known as
. In the outskirts of town, Basque Country offers a quiet retreat from urban living, full of tiny villages, rolling vineyards, and beautiful beaches.
While Bilbao is technically divided into 8 distinct districts, the city is split roughly in half by 2 notable regions-Abando and Ibaiondo, each of which have unique barrios of their own.
Abando - Located right in the center of the city, Abando is the modern heart of Bilbao, bursting with many of the area's most contemporary attractions, tallest buildings, and top shopping destinations. Of its landmarks, the most distinguished is the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, a curving titanium-and-glass structure that reflects the water and the sky. In the rest of the district, locals and visitors enjoy access to theaters, music halls, riverside walkways, and luxury boutiques, the latter of which are gathered around the main avenue of Gran Vía. The west side of the district is broken into a smaller neighborhood known as Indautxu, which thrives with the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, the Azkuna Zentroa cultural center, the San Mamés sports stadium, and some of the city's best bars along Poza Street.
Ibaiondo - Covering much of the east and south parts of the city, Ibaiondo is the largest of Bilbao's official districts, broken up into 10 diverse neighborhoods. The most famous of these is the medieval hub of Casco Viejo, home to narrow streets lined with 14 th -century churches, Basque history museums, and colorful, romantic apartments. Always buzzing, the barrio is where you'll find the art deco Ribera Market-one of the largest retail markets in Europe-along with a wealth of
eateries and wine bars in and around Plaza Nueva. Directly across the river from Casco Viejo, San Francisco is an immigrant neighborhood filled with interesting shops selling aromatic spices from around the world. Directly to the south, Bilbao la Vieja -known to locals as "Bilbi"-is the hippest neighborhood in the city, having turned into a hotbed for urban art, funky boutiques, and craft beer bars.
See all of Bilbao's best sights on a 3-day tour that lets you create your own itinerary. With an accommodation package at a 4-star hotel, gain admission to the world-renowned Guggenheim Museum to admire its impressive collection of contemporary art, including works by masters like Mark Rothko, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, and Jeff Koons. After the museum, see the city from a new perspective on the water of the Nervión River. With your own kayak or standup paddleboard, follow a guide along the riverfront, taking in views of landmarks like the sparkling Iberdrola Tower and the futuristic Zubizuri bridge.
For History Buffs
Dive into the centuries-old story of Bilbao on a guided walking tour of Casco Viejo. With a local guide leading the way, set off on foot down the neighborhood's narrow, winding pathways. As you walk, listen as your guide explains the history of the city's original "Seven Streets" and how they've been transformed into a pedestrian center for dining and entertainment. Get close to the oldest landmarks in the city, including the Gothic Santiago Cathedral, the baroque Church of San Antón, and the neoclassical Plaza Nueva.
Immerse yourself in the mouthwatering food scene of Bilbao during a hands-on workshop with a professional chef. Held in one of the top restaurants in the heart of Casco Viejo, this class brings you into the world of Spanish creations called
. Begin with an overview of these tapas-like bites as you sip on a glass of sparkling
wine. Once you have a better understanding of authentic Basque cuisine, it's time to get cooking. Roll up your sleeves to make delicacies such as spicy cod salad, beef tartare sliders, and olive-and-anchovy skewers known as
For Thrill Seekers
Feel the rush of adrenaline as you fly through the Basque forest on a fast-paced zipline. Located roughly 15 minutes north of the city center, Forestal Park Bilbao is a wild world full of thrilling courses, suspended bridges, and formidable climbing walls. Upon arrival, get strapped into your safety equipment for a daring adventure on 4-route zipline through the verdant trees. After your ride, continue the fun with dozens of additional challenges and games designed for a variety of skill levels.
There's no need to run your credit card hot in Bilbao. The following won't even cost a penny.
Puerta de los Honorables - If you're eager to find out more about the local arts and culture scene, be sure to pay a visit.
Funicular de Artxanda - Make this your first choice if it's fun you're chasing during your time away.
Zubizuri Bridge - Architecture buffs will enjoy marveling at the modern design of this landmark.
Bilbao City Hall - Educate yourself about some of the historical background of the area through this site.
Plaza Nueva - This is a vibrant area where you can soak in the ambiance and appreciate local life.
Ribera Market - If you'd love to see some of the more important or unique places in the community, start here.
Parroquia de San Vicente Martir de Abando - Whether you're spiritual or not, this place will inspire a sense of reverence.
Dona Casilda Iturrizar Park - No matter if you know your daffodils from daisies, it's not hard to find beauty in this marvelous display.
Take advantage of the fine weather (and stretch those legs too) with one or two of these outdoor activities:
With indoor activities like a Pintxos Cooking Class for Couples to keep you entertained, there's no need to let the rain stop you from having fun.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao lives up to its reputation as an iconic sight that you shouldn't miss.
If you're eager to experience the best of this destination, add these sights to your schedule:
You'll barely have time to grab your wallet out of your pocket with so many free attractions: