Bow Down to Bilbao, Spain

Bilbao is a municipality in northern Spain with a population of just over 350,000. Once an industrial port, Bilbao has been transformed into an exciting tourist spot following the inauguration of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997, and now welcomes over 615,000 visitors each year.

The Guggenheim museum was designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry and is generally considered as a “signal moment in the architectural culture” as it represents “one of those rare moments when critics, academics, and the general public were all completely united about something.”It is an enormous tourist attraction, attracting visitors from all over the year.

Guggenheim Bilbao
Guggenheim Bilbao

However there’s much more to see in Bilbao than just the Guggenheim museum. Bilbao has 18 public parks, boasting 490 acres of green space. Bilbao’s biggest park is The Parque De Dona Casilda and can be found alongside Bilbao’s Gran Vía, next to the impressive Museo de Bellas Artes. This English style garden has four ponds next to which you can relax on the green, or why not lose yourself for an afternoon walking among the trees and flowers on one of the park’s winding footpaths?

Bilbao is situated by two small mountain ranges, Pagassari and the smaller Mount Artexanda. The latter of these is around 300m high and is closer to the city, allowing a connection to downtown Bilbao by a funicular (known locally as the ‘funi’). I’d recommend taking this for a day trip and spending some time at the recreational area at the top of the mountain- tickets cost around 1 euro and the funiculars are every fifteen minutes. The panoramic views here are especially popular with tourists, and you can enjoy some local food in one of the mountain-top restaurants . Try eating at Txakoli Artxanda for some basque cuisine and breathtaking views.

Bilbao's giant fingerprint monument on Mount Artxanda
Bilbao’s giant fingerprint monument on Mount Artxanda (from http://www.flickr.com/photos/21895498@N08/5902314642)

Another little trip worth taking is to the Mercado de la Ribera- the world’s largest covered food market with three floors of fantastic fesh produce. Here you will find vegetables, fruits and cheeses galore, as well as traditional Spanish meats. Find the pickling jars stuffed with thing green peppers and vinegar, a baque speciality.

Back on ground level after your day trip to Mount Artexanda or to the market and looking for some evening entertainment? The city has a couple of theatres and operas, including the Teatro Arriaga opera house. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, look no further than the Restaurante Guggenheim Bilbao- I can only really describe the food as arty and bizarre and with a focus on greens. The slightly more eloquent New York Times describes the chef as ‘the most radical chef in Spain’– his dishes are ‘minimalism embodied’ with a subtle interplay between texture and flavour. Either way, it’s worth a visit for something different.

Bilbao’s main festival is the Semana Grande (‘Big Week’ in English) which now attracts over 100,000 people from Spain and abroad every year. The festival lasts 9 days, begining on the Saturday of the 3rd week of August and has been celebrated since 1978. Make sure you pick up a festival program as entertainment varies each year, ranging from pop, rock and jazz music performances to competitive firework displays. Iconic sights at the festival include giant puppets, bullfighting and the now famous strong man competition. There are also plenty of opportunities to sample some traditional Spanish cuisine and to celebrate basque culture.

Celebrations at the Semana Grande
Celebrations at the Semana Grande

Another festival to check out is the Bilbao live festival, which started in 2006 and sees some big name bands playing- Guns N’ Roses,  My Chemical Romance, Iron Maiden and Metallica to name but a few!

Where to stay

The 4* Hesperia Bilbao Hotel combines avante garde design with a fantastic location, situated opposite to Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, next to the Calatravas Bridge at the right side of the river. The architecture goes against the industrial past of the city, with shining coloured windows and carefully detailed decoration.  Due to it’s location near the old quarter and the main street of Bilbao, it’s an ideal choice for tourists who want to go shopping, enjoy the delicious Basque gastronomy or visit the theatre.

Hesperia Bilbao
Hesperia Bilbao

Congratulations to Nickie Chapman- you’ve won our Where in the World Wednesday competition this week for your answer of Bilbao, Spain.

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