What to see and do
Bilbao is a lively city with many things to discover.
SUM Bilbao 21 offers the perfect opportunity to discover the city’s attractions, appreciate its architectural works, symbols of the history of Bilbao, and discover what brings so much life to the city.
In this section, you will find recommendations about places to visit and things to do during your stay in Bilbao.
WHAT TO SEE
The Old Quarter (Casco Viejo) or the Seven Streets (Somera, Artecalle, Tendería, Belosticalle, Carnicería Vieja, Barrencalle and Barrencalle Barrena) is the oldest quarter and the original nucleus of Bilbao, along with Bilbao la Vieja.
It has been declared a Historic-Artistic Site as it is home to the Plaza Nueva and some of the city’s most emblematic buildings, such as the Arriaga Theatre, Bidebarrieta Library, the Stock Exchange, Atxuri station and Santiago Cathedral. The commercial strength is reflected in the presence of around five hundred establishments, among which the Ribera Market, the largest covered food market in Europe, stands out. This area has been pedestrianised since 1979.
Bilbao’s Bohemian District
Bilbao’s Bohemian district, Bilbao La Vieja, is on the other side of the River.
Its streets are full of shops, bars and restaurants which combine signature cuisine, fashion and art. The latter is also reflected in the many street murals, painted by international artists in a variety of styles and themes. The result is a bustling neighbourhood with a great atmosphere to have some beers and pintxos (small bites)!
THE REFLECTION OF BILBAO UNDER EXPANSION
The reflection of Bilbao under expansion
As a result of the city’s constant economic and social development, the Villa of Bilbao has also grown in terms of urban planning, exceeding the boundaries of the original nucleus, creating the Ensanche.
Today, this area acts as the city’s financial and commercial centre. A wide range of architectural styles (modernist façades, functional buildings, Baroque, Neo-Gothic, rationalist, mountain or Basque architecture) can be seen there. This eclecticism is the result of the changes that Bilbao has undergone, which proves that it has always been a modern city and one of progress.
Within the Ensanche, there is Abando Station
Famous for its huge stained glass window which tells of the city’s history and traditions; Concordia Station, an architectural jewel which used to shine in the midst of the grey industrial Bilbao prior to its transformation; and other majestic buildings and palaces that adorn the Gran Vía street of Bilbao.
AN INNOVATIVE AND CONTEMPORARY CITY
During the transformation process that the city embarked upon at the end of the 20th century, architecture started to gain relevance in its role as the new image of Bilbao: an innovative and contemporary city. Some of the new buildings or those that have been restored which can be seen in the city centre are:
Azkuna Zentroa - Alhóndiga Bilbao
04 Bilbao Museum
The symbol of the city
This building, designed by Frank Gehry, symbolises a ship anchored on the banks of river Nervión and is located on the land of the former ‘Compañía de Maderas’ wood factory.
Considered to be the best building of the second half of the 20th century, the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum is the symbol of the city and its transformation process, as its presence radically transformed the area and the city’s image. In the words of its architect, the building is based “on the port that it was and the city that it is”.
More than 1 million visitors
The museum was opened in 1997 and more than 1 million people visit it each year to see the contemporary works of its 20 galleries.
It is also worth taking a walk around the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, as it is surrounded by many green areas and squares, which have become an attractive meeting point for sociocultural activities and sports.
& OTHER MUSEUMS
The Bilbao Art District is located between the Maritime Museum, the Albia Gardens, Calle Colón de Larreategui and Paseo Abandoibarra.
This is the area where the most important art galleries in Bilbao are located, along with restoration workshops and antique bookshops. There are also outdoor sculptures of contemporary artists, such as Dalí, Chillida, Koons, Bourgeois or Kapoor, in a setting in which signature architecture (from Gehry to Calatrava, as well as Siza, Ferrater or Isozaki) round off the ensemble.
The walkway from the Euskalduna Conference Centre to Bilbao City Council along the banks of the River is the route in which art is expressed most strongly and consistently, but the entire city is full of outdoor art.
Bilbao is home to one of the best urban sculpture parks with almost 150 sculptures of different styles and periods. These sculptures adorn its streets, squares and gardens and are perfectly integrated in the city.
Bilbao boasts a wide range of museums: It has eleven museums whose themes and concepts are extremely varied, where you will be able to discover local history, find out more about universal art and enjoy human creativity.
Some of these museums are:
WHAT TO DO
01 Out for
Internationally Renowned Cuisine
Basque cuisine has earned a good international reputation and pintxos are its flagship. Therefore, when in Bilbao, do not miss out the opportunity to go out for pintxos, which means snacking from bar to bar, the places where locals spend their time and meet their friends.
Some areas to go for pintxos are: Old Quarter (Casco Viejo), with more than 200 establishments; Calle Licenciado Poza, a street full of bars that leads to the San Mamés football stadium; Diputación, the centre of the pintxo route; and Ribera Market, one of the special areas in Bilbao as it combines its market with gastro-bars.
24 m2 of green area per inhabitant
Thanks to the transformation process, Bilbao has been recovering green areas in urban and forest parks for the enjoyment of its inhabitants, increasing from 6 m2 per person in 1999 to 24 m2, when the projects that are underway are completed.
Bilbao’s Green Belt
The forest parks are grouped together in Bilbao’s Green Belt, so you can follow the Great Route of Bilbao (GR), which goes through the Artxanda, Monte Avril, Arnotegi, Pagasarri and Arraiz parks, from which you will have wonderful panoramic views of the city. The GR is accessible from the centre of Bilbao, for example, from Mount Artxanda, from which you can enjoy spectacular views over the city, after taking the impressive Funicular linking the city centre to this natural space.
Bilbao, a privileged area
Bilbao is located in a privileged area close to the beach, natural spaces and other historical places. If you want to get the most out of your visit to Bilbao, go and discover places like the coast, the medieval towns and natural spaces.
Although this is more of a plan for the summer season, allow yourself to be seduced by the landscape of the beaches around Bilbao, some of which are popular with surfers. You just need to catch the metro to get there.
Close to Bilbao, there are some towns of great heritage, which are true witnesses to the history of Bilbao. There, you can visit religious buildings from different periods, take a walk along the narrow cobblestone streets and discover farmhouses or luxurious palaces.
An example of the mining history of Bilbao is la Arboleda, a village where iron ore used to be extracted and which is now being transformed into a recreational area. In recent years, progress has been made on its environmental, landscape, historical and cultural recovery. To get there, it is a good idea to take the funicular to La Reineta. This means of transport, which dates back to 1926, allows you to enjoy the beautiful views over the Abra de Bilbao.