Bilbao, Spain

An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983

Guggenheim Museum Frank Gehry, Bilbao Spain

Bilbao, Spain


In the heart of Basque Country, 11km from the Bay of Biscay, you will find Bilbao , one of northern Spain‘s greatest treasures. This part of Basque country is known for the famous Guggenheim Museum. Any tour of Bilboa with a local guide includes the city‘s architectural wonders that are surrounded by a ring of rolling green hills and lies on the mouth of the Nervion River. A guided tour of Bilbao Once an industrial city, it has been transformed into a design city, where sleek new buildings sit alongside in this UNESCO World heritage site Gothic cathedrals and art nouveau train stations. At the end of 2017, Bilbao was chosen the Best European City 2018 at The Urbanism Awards 2018 and it is not hard to see why, with a new rapid transit system, a tram line and the Azkuna Zentroa, a wine storage warehouse turned cultural centre. This Spanish city has it all: vibrant history and culture, modern architecture, beautiful scenery and spectacular regional cuisine.

History of Bilbao

Bilbao originated as a settlement of seafaring people on the banks of the Nervion River. It was one of the first Biscayan towns to be founded in the 14th century and was founded by Diego Lopez V de Haro, head of the powerful Haro family. Haro was the Lord of Biscay and transformed Bilbao from a sleeping fishing village to a commercial hub of northern Spain. This was due to the export of iron ore, found in large quantities along the river’s banks, and the export of wool from Burgos. In 1612, Bilbao, which was becoming an increasingly wealthy city, was made the capital of Biscay.

A monument to Diego Lopez V de Haro in Bilbao
A monument to Diego Lopez V de Haro in Bilbao

Bilbao prospered further in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Bank of Bilbao (now the BBVA) and the Bilbao Stock Exchange were founded, steelmaking industries flourished, trade with the American colonies of Spain increased and the city was modernised with new buildings and infrastructure. The population grew dramatically during this time. During the Spanish Civil War, Bilbao was heavily bombed and the Nationalist army besieged the town. When the war finally ended, the city was rebuilt and the iron industry was revitalised. From the mid-1990s, Bilbao begun a process of deindustrialisation, transitioning to a service economy.

What to See in Bilbao

The Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Museum

Today, there is no shortage of attractions to see and places to visit. However, no visit to Bilbao would be complete without seeing the amazing Guggenheim Museum. Designed by architect Frank Gehryan icon of contemporary architecture and completed in 1997, it has been described as ‘the greatest building of our time’. A gargantuan, titanium-clad museum on the left bank of the Nervion River, the building itself is as much a piece of art as what is housed inside.

For food lovers, the Mercado de La Ribera is also a must-see. An impressive food market overlooking the river on the edge of Bilbao’s old town, Mercado de la Ribera is where many of the city’s top chefs come to buy their produce. There are plenty of food stalls, pintxo counters and tapas bars to explore and it’s a great introduction to the gastronomy of the city. In the old town (also known as Casco Viejo) you will also find, the Santiago Cathedral, the Archaeological Museum, the beautiful Plaza Nueva, and the churches of San Nicolás and San Antón.

Santiago Cathedral, Bilbao
Santiago Cathedral, Bilbao

With Michelin-star restaurants, countless museums, contemporary art and hidden gems to explore, Bilbao is sure to take your breath away. Rather than collapse after the end of its industrialisation, Bilbao has reinvented itself in a magical way. If you’re interested in seeing this endlessly fascinating city, please check out our Spain and Portugal tour, which spends a night in Bilbao, or our other tours of Spain.

Articles about Spain published by Odyssey Traveller:

Questions about Spain.

Empires crossing the Mediterranean: 1130-1300. 

15 of the best places to visit in Spain.

Barcelona travel notes.

Pilgrimages of the World: Advice for mature and senior travellers.

Books to read on a trip to Spain.

Eight Amazing Rail Journeys.

Five Renaissance Women.

For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.

External articles to assist you on your visit to Spain:

The spirit of southern Spain: Reasons to visit Andalucia.

Beyond Seville: Three ancient towns to visit in Andalucia.

Ten must see sights in Madrid.

Related Tours

Vineyard with Davaillo castle as background, La Rioja (Spain)

Small Group Guided Tours of Spain and Portugal

Our program explores the lands of Spain and Portugal, two countries bound by many centuries of history reflected in their modern cultures. Divided by history and language, contiguous neighbours Spain and Portugal were once host to gigantic empires that still bear their languages and lifestyles. A small group tour for couple and solo travellers.

24 days
Departing May, Sep, Mar

Short Spain Tour for senior and mature travellers

Join our small group guided tour of Spain, exploring this fascinating country over 10 nights with like minded people. We start in Barcelona and make our way slowly towards Madrid. Enjoy the food and culture while learning about the history of each location from our expert local guides and Odyssey Program Leader.

11 days
Departing May, Sep, Mar

Saint James Way Small Group Walking Tour (The Camino)- Spain

Experience pleasant sections of the Way of Saint James, crossing some of Spain’s most beautiful landscapes. We follow the pilgrims on easy distances of The Way to the mythical destination, Santiago de Compostella. Not since the middle ages has this adventure for body and mind been more popular. We also get to discover the artistic highlights and rich history of Northern Spain and Portugal, as well as enjoying local wines and exquisite food.

19 days
Departing Sep, Jun