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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 pintxos. 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 14th-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 pintxos 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.
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 pintxos. Begin with an overview of these tapas-like bites as you sip on a glass of sparkling txakoli 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 gilda.
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.