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Bilbao, Spain

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

view of bilbao city with modern art museum in the background

Bilbao, Spain

An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983

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

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

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

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.

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