Bilbao is one of the major cities in Spain’s located in northern Basque region, along with San Sebastián and Vitoria-Gasteiz. It is worthwhile to visit the city because it has fascinating attractions. Besides, the city is home a lively Old Town, lots of contemporary architecture, museums and galleries.
Our list of top 10 must-visit attractions in the city will help you plan your visit.
1- The Guggenheim Museum:
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The Guggenheim Museum is the most impressive building in Bilbao. Designed by Frank Gehry and completed in 1997. Besides, it was built for a purpose which is to make Bilbao breathe fresh life into this once run down and highly polluted part of the city. Its exterior titanium and huge windows are just as much a triumph as the artwork housed in inside.
The Guggenheim Museum is home to nineteen galleries with a combination of temporary presentations of contemporary art by local Basque artists and other themed displays by artists from around the globe. The best way to get spectacular views over the entire building is by walking along the riverfront promenade then heading up to the bridge via the stairs or lift.
At the entrance of the museum don’t forget to notice the 12 meters tall Puppy by Jeff Koons. The West Highland white terrier is covered with flowers and had its own complex built-in network of pipes that water and feed the plants every day.
2- Marítimo Ría Museum:
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This impressive Maritime Museum, appropriately situated down on the waterfront, uses bright and well-designed exhibitions to bring the watery depths of Bilbao and Basque maritime history to life.
The Maritime Museum initiated in 2003 in the grounds where once there were Euskalduna Shipyard, on the left bank of the river. These shipyards were founded in 1900 and marked the starting of civil shipbuilding in the Basque Country. Moreover, the shipyard Euskalduna closed their facilities being abandoned until 2003 when it inaugurated the Maritime Museum. Since opening, the Maritime Museum attempts to protect and diffuse the history, culture and identity of the people who are associated to maritime tradition.
The permanent exhibition of Maritime Museum is presented in two different areas: the outdoor 20,000 square meters and tourists can see the collection of boats that are displayed in the museum levees, which were the Euskalduna Shipyards. You can also find the popular Crane Carola with a high net worth. Close by you can also find the pump house where machinery is emptying and filling of the dams. And Indoor exposure to 3,500 square meters contained three exhibition spaces where the visitor can see the evolution of the river through its history.
The topics covered in the three areas are: “market, Ria and factory”; “Laugh, seaport “and “the river, Naval Shipyard.”
3- The Old Town:
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The old town of Bilbao is a labyrinth of narrow avenues where historic buildings, small shops, classic bars and magnificent churches coexists to create an enjoyable atmosphere that captivates locals and tourists alike.
Moreover, the old town is located around Las Siete Calles, Spanish for “The Seven Streets”, which have existed since the 15th century. We would recommend walking walk through the small, charming streets and see what you can find. It is a walker-only area, so you don’t have to worry about cars.
Furthermore, there are some chain clothing stores you can also find lots of lovely cafes and ice cream places in this part of town which are ideal for taking a rest in the afternoon.
4- St. James Cathedral:
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As one of Bilbao’s historic monuments, the Cathedral of St. James is something that you should visit! Built between the 14th and 15th centuries, the church was likely to have been founded even before the year 1300. Besides, this church served as a stopping point for those making pilgrimages.
Inside and out of the church, you will discover a unique combination of architectural styles like Gothic and Gothic Revival. There are a few churches, cathedrals, and places of worship in Bilbao but The Cathedral of St. James is a special one!
5- The Vizcaya and Zubizuri Bridges:
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There is a river that cuts through Bilbao and brings it to life, that’s why people need bridges to move from one side to the other! Bilbao has two popular bridges:
The Vizcaya Bridge is a very distinctive sight and was actually declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2006. Besides, it was the first industrial heritage site in Spain. Moreover, it is one of very few “hanging gondola suspension” bridges in the world! Which means is that people get on a hanging car and are plied across the river in the air as it suspends from higher supports.
The Zubizuri Bridge is an arch footbridge leaping across the Nervion River and near the Guggenheim Museum. Bilbao’s White Bridge continues with the theme of pushing the artistic envelope. Its futuristic structure was built to go with the Guggenheim an aid in Bilbo’s transformation.
6- Sopelana Beach:
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If you would like to spend more time at the beach, you should go to Sopelana Beach. It is located just outside of Bilbao. As you walk up towards the water, you will find yourself suddenly standing on a cliff edge with the beach and the golden sand below you.
Moreover, Sopelana beach has strong waves which is magnificent for surfing but also mean that you have to be a bit careful. Overall, don’t be worry, the coast guards do their job by changing the flags when the current is getting too strong.
7- Football Game at San Mames Barria:
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From the exterior, the new stadium of local football team Athletic Club may seem like any other stadium, but La Cathedral as it is known by fans provides one of the best sport atmospheres in Spain. Furthermore, players here are called lions because the first stadium was built close to a church called Saint Mammes, after the saint who was thrown to the lions by the Romans but, the animals refused to eat him.
Another special thing about the club is that they only have players from the Basque Country not the autonomous community but all the provinces in France and Spain where Basque is spoken or who have trained with the club from a young age.
8- Arriaga Theatre:
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The 19th century Neo- baroque Arriaga Theatre is the oldest opera house in the city. It was built by architect Joaquin Rucoba. It is entitled after Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga, known in his time as the “Spanish Mozart.”
The Arriaga Theatre is one of the magnificent monuments of Bilbao. Standing at the entrance of the Old Town, it is the cultural and historical icon of the city. Its neo-baroque design was inspired by the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris. Its fancy interior of plush red chairs and golden balconies can be visited via a guided tour or by attending a performance.
9- Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park:
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The largest green space in Balboa called Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park. It is a public park with an English-style garden created over 100 years ago. With its perfect tree-lined paths, dancing water fountains which comes to life with light and sound shows during the holidays, and duck pond where you can rent rowboats.
The park is named after its former resident Casilda Iturrizar who dedicated her life to charity after her wealthy husband passed away. Upon her own passing, she decided to leave the space to the public at which point it was converted into a park in 1907.
10- San Juan de Gaztelugatxe:
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San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is located 35 km east from Bilbao. The island can be reached via man-made stone bridge which turns into a zigzagging narrow to 241 steps footbridge leading to the top of the hill. Where a church situated with an exposed bell. Which is devoted to John the Baptist also it is said that after climbing to the top, you should ring the bell three times and make a wish.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is very popular, because becoming a site of pilgrimage among Game of Thrones fans after featuring in the HBO series (2011-present) as Dragonstone, the place from which character-favourite Daenerys Targaryen has been plotting war against her enemies.