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Welcome to Bilbao


Spain's northern industrial port city, Bilbao, is the political capital of the nationalistic Basque people who inhabit Spain's three northern provinces, an area known collectively as Euskadi. The city is not beautiful - the buildings are soot-stained and the Nervion River running through it is one of Spain's most polluted waterways, but Bilbao does have some surprises to offer visitors, and there are plenty of attractions in the surrounding countryside and around the coast on the Bay of Biscay which can be easily reached on excursions by rail or road.

The main attraction in the city is the controversial Guggenheim Museum, relatively new on the scene, having been opened in 1997. The city fathers regard this avant-garde building as the beginning of the city's revitalisation, which has also recently acquired a new metro system and airport terminal. Bilbao has some good beaches and a few scenic spots - a favoured picnic site is on Monte Archanda, north of the old town, accessible by funicular. Of the beaches Getxo is the favourite, particularly with surfers, and features a 100-year-old suspension bridge and some lively bars and nightclubs.

Information & Facts


The climate of Bilbao is oceanic, rather humid but without wide extremes of temperature. The temperature ranges from an average of 70°F (21°C) in the height of summer to around 46°F (8°C) in mid-winter. The average annual rainfall is rather high, but is spread throughout the year, with the most rain being experienced during spring and autumn. Light snow is possible in winter.

Getting Around

Bilbao has an efficient underground metro service covering numerous destinations in the city between 6am and 11pm (earlier on Fridays), ticketed on a zone system. There is also a bus service, as well as a tram service, covering the city and taxis are freely available. Cars and bicycles are also available for hire.

Kids Attractions

A trip to the culturally prolific city of Bilbao may not be the most exciting destination to take the family, but upon closer inspection one will find there is plenty to do and see that will hold the attention of young minds. Take the kids to the city's top attraction, the Guggenheim museum, where entry is free for kids under 12 and they will be awed or floored by its design which resembles a gigantic metal flower. The artwork may not appeal to very young visitors, but if cleverly disguised, children will be sure to find their favourite picture inside - maybe even a Picasso! Take the kids on a ride up the Artxanda Funicular to the top of Artxanda Mountain, where the little ones can let of some steam in the park, enjoy the sports complex or simply be swept away by the incredible views over the city. Pack a picnic, some sunscreen and plenty of delicious treats and head off the to the Doña Casilda Iturrizar park where children can feed the resident ducks in the pond, take a stroll over the architecturally interesting Zubizuri bridge.


Spanish is the official language, but English is widely understood in areas frequented by tourists. Catalan, Galician and Basque are spoken in the relevant areas.


Spain's official currency is the Euro (EUR). One Euro is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at bureaux de change and major hotels, but banks give the best rates. All major credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted at most hotels, restaurants, and shops. ATMs are widespread and are generally the cheapest and most convenient method of obtaining money.


Most of the city's shopping is centred round the Plaza Moyúa area, where the streets of Calle Rodriguez Arias and Calle Iparraguirre are lined with stores and boutiques. Head to Gran Via for department stores like Marks & Spencer and El Corte Inglés, or the Calle San Martin for high end fashion stores and boutiques, while the Ensanche and Old Town all the big designer names can be found. The beautiful historic shopping district of Casco Viejo features a good selection of specialty stores, while a visit to the Ensanche Market and Riverside Market is a must for anyone looking for fresh meats, breads, vegetables and other local produce. The Old Quarter of Bilbao is home to the largest covered city market in Europe and makes for a great shopping location for an afternoon. Great souvenirs to pick up while in Bilbao include Basque handicrafts such as linens and Basque dolls. Also a basque beret, known locally as txapelas,and souvenir artbooks from the Guggenheim. Most shops in Bilbao are open from 10am, with many shops taking a long break for lunch during the siesta hours, and reopening round 4pm or 5pm until as late at 8pm. Shopping hours are shorter on Saturdays while on Sundays, most stores are closed.


Bilbao is a fabulous city for travellers wanting to take in the sights, especially during the summer months between May and September when the weather is warm - perfect for spending days outdoors. From cultural and historic attractions to just good old-fashioned fine dining and entertainment, Bilbao has plenty to offer.

Start at the world-famous Guggenheim Museum, if only to marvel at the exterior of the building's innovative architecture with its titanium twists and curves. Art lovers shoulnd't miss the Museo de Bellas Artes, which boasts more than 6,000 works dating back to the 12th century while the Basque Museum focuses on the history and archaeology of the region. For the perfect holiday snaps, climb the Mallona stairs from the Plaza Unamuno to Parque Etxebarria for breathtaking views over the city.

History buffs should check out the Cathedral de Santiago, the oldest building in Bilbao, or the beautiful Gothic Basílica de Begoña which dates back to the early 1600s and whose spires can be seen throughout the city. Travellers in Bilbao who plan on doing lots of sightseeing should look into buying the Bilbao Tourist Card, which is available from all tourist offices around Bilbao and can be used for discounts on public transportation fares, admissions for museums , shows, shops and restaurants.


Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the Saturday before the last Sunday in October). The Canary Islands: GMT (GMT +1 in summer).

Bilbao's elegant city hall in the Plaza Erkoreka Ernesto dates from 1892 and was designed by Joaquin Rucoba with a spire and magnificent façade featuring balconies, columns and a sweeping staircase. The highlight of the interior is the 'Arab Room', an opulently decorated chamber used for civil marriage ceremonies. Guided tours, lasting about an hour are available; these need to be booked in advance by phone.

Locals in Bilbao are divided on whether it is a 'beauty or a beast', but the bizarre multi-million dollar Guggenheim Museum, opened in 1997, has brought thousands of visitors flocking to the city to be awed or floored. The massive museum, designed by Frank Gehry has no right angles and resembles a metallic flower, clad in shiny titanium, sited in the former dockyard alongside the Nervion River. Inside, apart from breathtaking spaces, the museum houses the works of some important 20th century artists, including Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Willem de Koonig and Clyfford Still. There are also sections displaying the work of young Basque and Spanish artists, and rotating exhibits lent by the Guggenheim museums in New York and Venice.

For a more mainstream artistic experience than that offered by the astonishing Guggenheim gallery, the Museo de Bellas Artes in the Plaza Museo fits the bill admirably with some valuable works on display behind an unassuming façade. The museum's impressive collection spans art from the 12th to 20th century, highlights being some excellent Flemish works from between the 15th and 17th centuries. There are also works by El Greco, Goya, Gauguin, Francis Bacon, Picasso and Velazquez. To the rear of the building is a sculpture garden.

The Museo Vasco, also known as the Euskal Museoa or Basque Museum, is in the heart of the old quarter of the city, housed in a 17th century Jesuit cloister. The museum depicts Basque culture, history and ethnology, and its exhibits span a wide range of interests including: weaving, the blacksmith trade, pastoral life and maritime matters. The displays offer the chance to dip into Basque political and social life, using everything from model ships to reconstructions of rooms and gravestones.

Hordes of tourists flock to this town in Navarre, Northern Spain, in early July each year for the Running of the Bulls, officially La Fiesta del Fermin. The festival, in honour of the city's patron saint, was made world famous by Ernest Hemingway in his novel 'The Sun Also Rises', and it has become Spain's most popular attraction. A bust of Hemingway stands outside Pamplona's bullring, where the 8-day extravaganza of dancing, dashing through the streets ahead of rampaging bulls, and drinking begins. The practice of driving bulls through the centre of Pamplona started in the 19th century as the most practical way to get them to the ring, and for many years the city authorities tried to prevent the practice of running with the bulls. Aside from the festival, though, Pamplona is worth a visit any time of year, boasting lush parks, a splendid Gothic cathedral, huge citadel and quaint old quarter. Pamplona is the capital of the province of Navarre, but its roots are Basque and a large section of its population are Basque nationalists.

The Basque region's most popular beach, La Concha, is to be found in the genteel resort city of San Sebastian, 62 miles (100km) east of Bilbao. The town became fashionable as a summer getaway during the reign of Queen Isabel when she took to holidaying there in 1845. Today the town hums with boutiques, surf-shops and nightclubs, but the elaborate boardwalk and grandiose historic mansions lend an air of sophistication. For a spectacular view of the sea and countryside ride the funicular to the top of Monte Igueldo, or opt for the opposite side of the bay where it is possible to stroll through shady woods to the summit of Monte Urgull, topped with a statue of Jesus blessing the city. The town's Museo de San Telmo, housed in a Dominican monastery, displays some interesting prehistoric Basque artefacts, and a few dinosaur skeletons. The house where Victor Hugo once lived is in the nearby charming fishing village of Pasajes de San Juan, which can be reached by ferry from San Sebastian.

British visitors are reassured by the presence of a statue of Wellington, the 'Iron Duke', standing on the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca in the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, 41 miles (66km) south of Bilbao. The statue commemorates Wellington's victory in battle here against Napoleon's forces. The main reason for visiting this Basque city, however, is to enjoy the impressive new contemporary art museum, and soak up some of the charm of this green urban enclave, packed with avenues and parks. There is also an old quarter, full of Renaissance palaces, most of which are now art galleries and museums. The city also has two Gothic cathedrals, one dating from the 12th century and one, modern but designed in Gothic style, still under construction.

Looking for something a bit different?  Check out our selection of cultural & adventure holidays or if you're looking to go it alone then see our selection of solo holidays.

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