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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.
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.
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What to See in Bilbao
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 Gehry, an 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.
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:
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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.
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.