Bilbao (Spain) – the most detailed information about the city with photos. The main sights of Bilbao with descriptions, guides and maps.
City of Bilbao (Spain).
Bilbao is a city in northern Spain, the capital of the autonomy Basque Country. It is located near the Bay of Biscay and is surrounded by a fertile landscape of forests, mountains and beaches. Bilbao is the pulsating heart of northern Spain, a major industrial center and industrial port. The city does not shine with ancient architecture and ancient sights, but makes up for these shortcomings with museums and delicious cuisine. The most popular tourist attraction in Bilbao is the Museum of Modern Art, with its innovative modern architecture and extensive collections of famous artists.
What to do (Bilbao):
€190 per tour.
Old and New Bilbao
From the Middle Ages to Modern Times – A History of a Cosmopolitan City on a Guided Walk
€150 for a guided tour.
Contrasts of Bilbao. Guided tour
Ancient spirit and marvelous innovations – explore the modern and historic parts of the city.
Geography and climate
Bilbao is located at the mouth of the river Nervión, which flows into the Bay of Biscay, which is part of the Atlantic Ocean. The city lies in a comfortable valley at the junction of the Pyrenees and Cantabrian mountains. The climate is temperate oceanic. The proximity of the Atlantic Ocean contributes to a mild climate. The average summer temperature is 25-26 degrees. The heat above +35 degrees is observed rarely. In winter, the average temperature ranges from 5 to 7 degrees. Precipitation is distributed fairly evenly throughout the year.
Panorama of Bilbao
- Population – 345.1 thousand people.
- Area – 41.6 square kilometers.
- Language – Spanish and Basque.
- Currency – euros.
- Visas – Schengen.
- Time – Central European UTC +1, in summer +2.
- Tourist Information Center is located at: PLAZA CIRCULAR, 1.
Bilbao was once a fisherman’s village, the site of the current city. Bilbao was founded in 1300 by the ruler of Biscay. The new city received wide privileges and quickly became one of the most important trading centers of the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula. The closest trade links were with the ports of Flanders and Great Britain.
In 1602, Bilbao became the capital of Biscayne. Throughout its history it has hardly been affected by intra-Spanish conflicts. Bilbao suffered much more from wars with France. In 1835 the city was besieged by the Carlists, but it fought them off.
How to get there
Bilbao Airport is located near the city. It is served by most major European carriers. The Bizkaibus A3247, which departs every half hour from the arrival hall, can be taken to the city center. On the way it makes three stops: Gran Via Viajes Ecuador, Plaza Moyua and Almeda Recalde.
Bilbao has good bus and train connections to most major cities in Spain and the autonomy, including Madrid and Barcelona. Getting to Bilbao by bus is often cheaper than by train. In this case, bus service is more regular.
Public transport in the city is represented by the metro, commuter trains and buses. Bilbao metro has two lines.
Bilbao can offer a good shopping experience. One of the main shopping areas of the city is the Gran Vía. Here are a variety of establishments and stores, banks, supermarkets and souvenir shops. Another popular shopping area is Casco Viejo, the historical center of the city. Bilbao’s largest market, La Ribera, is located on the waterfront. In the Guggenheim Square area there are many stores with antiques, books and souvenirs.
Bilbao is famous for its cuisine. Traditional Basque cuisine has a seasonal character, paying great attention to the freshness and quality of ingredients. Tapas are called Pintxos here. Bilbao gastronomy is part of Basque cuisine, but it has its own characteristics. Only here do bollo de mantequilla (bun with butter) and carolina pie. Popular dishes include pisto a la bilbaina (onion, pepper, zucchini, tomatoes, and ham cut into small pieces), Ranero Club cod (cod in wine), roasted vegetables with meat and eggs, porrusalda (stewed meat). Thanks to its location (practically on the oceanfront), you can try many dishes from the freshest seafood.
Casco Viejo (Old Quarter) is one of the most atmospheric areas of the city. Located on the right bank of the river Nervión.
Bilbao Old Town
The heart of the old quarter used to be surrounded by walls and consisted of three parallel streets. Later, the walls were torn down and four streets perpendicular to the river were built, which together with the first three make up the oldest part of the city. In the northern part of the historic center is Arenal Street, which is the main thoroughfare. The Plaza de Arriaga is home to an elegant late 19th-century neo-baroque theater.
Church of San Antón
Not far from La Ribera Market and the former City Hall is one of Bilbao’s main attractions, the Church of San Antón and the bridge of the same name. The church was built in the Gothic style between 1546 and 1548, although its beautiful façade is Renaissance in style and the bell tower is Baroque. Inside are interesting works by Luis Paret, Manuel Lozada, and Guiot de Bogrant. Almost three hundred years before the first church was built on this site, there was a warehouse built on a rock next to a ford where caravans loaded with wool from Castile crossed the river. In the 14th century the first city fortifications were built here, fragments of which can still be seen today.
Church of St. Nicholas
The Church of St. Nicholas is a beautiful church with a Baroque façade and a unique interior. Its foundation dates from the 14th century, but the building was completely rebuilt in 1756. The beautifully carved altar and some of the paintings are by Juan de Mena. To the south is Plaza Nueva, with elegant arcaded buildings and many restaurants and cafes with outdoor terraces.
Basilica de Begonia
The Basilica de Begonia is one of Bilbao’s most emblematic churches. It is located on a picturesque hill above the old town. The building dates back to the 16th century and contains an image of Our Lady of Begonia, the patroness of Bilbao. The easiest way to get to the basilica is by elevator from St. Nicholas Church. The walk up the hill takes about 15 minutes and rewards you with beautiful views of the city.
The Cathedral de Santiago is located in the center of the old city. The first church was built in the 14th century. The original building was damaged by fire in 1571 and rebuilt in the 19th century in the neo-Gothic style. The cathedral has a majestic interior with three naves and vaulted ceilings. Particularly beautiful are the choirs with fanciful Gothic details. The crypt includes the remaining structure of the original church.
The Guggenheim Museum is Bilbao’s most famous museum, housed in a building that is considered a groundbreaking example of 20th century architecture. The building was designed by architect Frank Gehry and built in 1997. Its 24,000 square meters of exhibition space includes world-class contemporary art collections. Major masterpieces include abstract works by Mark Rothko, paintings by Willem de Kooning, Anselm Kiefer, Francesco Clemente, Jim Dean and many others.
Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts presents an outstanding collection of European masters of the 14th and 17th centuries, Dutch and Flemish paintings of the 15th and 17th centuries, Spanish paintings of the 14th and 15th centuries. A whole room is devoted to the works of Basque artists, including 22 paintings by the landscape painter Dario de Rejos.
The Museo Vasco is an archaeological museum where you can discover the unique culture and history of the Basque Country. Housed in a beautiful Baroque building in the heart of the old town, the museum offers exhibitions of the departments of archaeology, ethnography and history.
€250 for a guided tour
Treasures of Biscayne
Rocky shores, beautiful islets and fishing villages – a road trip around Bilbao
Bilbao is an extraordinary modern city in the Basque Country with many historical attractions.
Moyua Square is the center of the new city. The square is named after the politician and mayor of Federico Moyoua Salazar. It has been built up since the end of the 19th century. There are important landmarks here:
- Hotel Carlton, a historic Bilbao building built in 1926. The hotel is designed in a palatial style. Sculptor Jesús Lizaco and artist Juan Umarán worked on its construction. During the Civil War, in 1936, the Basque government was located here. After the war the building was restored and is now one of the best hotels in the Basque Country. There are 142 rooms. The Imperial Suite has 239 square meters – the largest in Bilbao. The furniture in it is made of Chinese wood. There is a sauna, gym, bathroom with Jacuzzi, library, music center, TV in the bathroom, and a bar. The cost of one night is about 1500 euros. King Alfonso XIII, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, the scientist Albert Einstein, the singer Maria Callas stayed here.
- Chavarri Palace is an unusual building, built in 1894 under the direction of the Belgian architect Paul Hankar. The engineer brothers Chavarri, being fans of everything new, wanted to build a house in the modernist style. All the balconies and windows of the building are different, although they perfectly match and create a unique facade. The palace is now owned by the city government.
- The Bilbao metro is one of the most modern in the world. It was designed by architect Norman Foster. Materials, technology, maintenance – everything meets the latest achievements in architecture. The main principles: originality, modernization, adaptation to the infrastructure of the city. Many visitors to Bilbao go down to the subway just to see it. The entrances to the subway are shaped like snails. Bilbao residents affectionately call them “fosteritos,” from the last name of the architect.
Statue of the Sacred Heart (Sagrado Corazón) is a 50-meter monument of Jesus blessing the people of the city. It was erected in 1927 by the architect Pedro Muguruta. This statue is the beginning of the diagonal that crosses the entire center of Bilbao. The main avenue is named after the city’s founder, Lopez Diego de Aro. Here are the offices of firms from all over the world, the main retail outlets, government buildings, and banks.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Begonia is a religious landmark in Bilbao. This Gothic temple of the patroness of the province of Biscayne was built in the 16th century by the project of Sancho Martinez de Acego. According to legends, the Virgin Mary appeared in this place before the faithful. There are many traditions and celebrations associated with this temple.On August 15, there is a custom to come to the first prayer service on foot. Whole families climb the mountain to get to the service. In honor of the saint, the mayor dances the aurresku (aurresku), a dance dedicated to the mother. But the sailors were the first to offer prayers of gratitude to Our Lady of Begonia. When they returned from the sea and saw the bell tower of the church, they prayed and thanked that they had returned from the sea alive.
La Plaza Circular is the terminus of the main street of Gran Vía. In its center there is a sculpture of the founder of the city, Lopez Diego de Aro. In his hand he holds a charter – a decree granting Bilbao the title of city. The square is adjoined by important structures:
- The Biscayne Bank Tower, the headquarters of the BBVA Bank. This building was designed by architects Enrique Casanueva, Jaime Torres and Jose Maria Chapa. It was opened in 1969. Before the new wave of skyscrapers of the 2000s, it was the tallest building in the city. It has 21 floors and is 88 meters long.
- Next to the Circular Plaza is the Abando passenger station . It connects Bilbao with the other regions of Spain. It is where trains from Madrid, Barcelona and other cities arrive. The train station was built in 1948 by Alfonso Fungairinho in a monumental and classical style.
- The oldest railway station in Santander (Estación Santander), also known as La Concordia, was built in 1902 on the bank of the river Nervión. It was designed by Valentin Gorbeña. The original Art Nouveau façade was added later by the architect Severino Achucarro and is one of the most authentic examples of the Belle Epoque in Bilbao.
- The Regional Palace of Deputies (Diputación Foral de Vizcaya) is the bottom of one of the most beautiful Baroque buildings in the city. It was designed by the architect Luis Aladren. The palace was opened in 1900. It is decorated with lush columns and balustrades. The coat of arms of the province of Biscayne on the façade is a reminder of the importance of the building. The interior is enhanced by stained glass windows, an oak staircase, sculptures and paintings by local artists.
- The Arriaga Theater is an important landmark of the city, erected by architect Joaquin Rucoba in 1890. The style of the building corresponds to the architecture of European theaters of the late 19th century and is reminiscent of the opera house in Paris. The theater is named after the local composer, called the “Basque Mozart”.
The City Hall (Ayuntamiento) is one of the most beautiful in Spain. It was built in 1892 under the direction of the architect Joaquin Rucuba. The eclectic, symmetrical building is decorated with a balcony, three arches and eight columns. The chic staircase is complemented by sculptures of Law and Justice. The façade is decorated with sculptures of soldiers of different epochs and busts of prominent Basques. The building is crowned by a peculiar bell tower, at the bottom of which the clock is placed. According to tradition, all festivities in Bilbao begin with a signal from the balcony of City Hall.
Museum of Fine Arts (Museo de Bellas Artes) is one of the main art museums in Spain. It was founded in 1908. The premises of the museum has changed three times because of the regular increase in the number of exhibits. The museum collection contains more than 10,000 masterpieces – paintings, sculptures, drawings, engravings and decorative objects that date from the thirteenth century to the present day. The museum has five large sections: antique art, contemporary art, Basque art, work on paper and applied art. Spanish paintings are represented by works by El Greco, Morales, Ribera, Murillo, Zurbarán, Paret and Goya.
Attractions in the historic part of Bilbao.
The Medieval City or “Quarter of 7 Streets” is the heart of Bilbao. The spirit of the city is concentrated here. The old city buildings are preserved in this area. Underneath the buildings are small family-owned stores and bars. You can sample a variety of pintxos, “de chiquiteo” – from bar to bar with friends while sampling a variety of wines, in keeping with local traditions.
Plaza nueva is the center of the historic part of Bilbao. The square was built according to a design by the architect Silvestre Peretz in 1851 in the neoclassical style. It has a square shape. The central place is occupied by the Academy of the Basque language. The square is decorated with 64 arches. All around the perimeter are bars and restaurants that offer typical dishes. During the fiestas, the square serves as a stage for folklore groups and various Basque sports competitions.
The Cathedral of St. James (Catedral de Santiago) is the city’s most important religious landmark and a must-see for pilgrims making the Northwest Passage to Santiago. The Gothic church of Santiago was built in the XIV-XVI centuries. Since 1819 it received the status of a small basilica, becoming the first church in the Basque Country to be elevated to this category. Since 1949 it has been a cathedral. The temple has small dimensions – 51,5 m length and 22,3 m width. The main aisle is 22.5 m high, the area is 1100 m². Important people of the city had their chapels here. There are 15 of them. Five big ones were built simultaneously with the construction of the main aisle. During the reconstruction of 1833, under the direction of Severino de Achucarro, the bell tower was rebuilt in neo-Gothic style. Its height is 64 meters. The main material used in the construction of the cathedral is local sandstone. The golden tone of the stone creates extra light. Calm and comfort reign inside the structure. Any visitor can consider the original stained glass windows of the temple, look at the crucifixion of Jesus on the altar, the sculptures of St. James and the Virgin Mary in the transept.
La Ribera Market (Mercado de la Ribera) is the largest covered food market. This is an important attraction in Bilbao. It is listed in the Guinness Book. The building was built in 1930 by the architect Pedro Izpizua. The market has three levels. It is a great pleasure to walk here in the morning. Vendors offer local products: fresh vegetables, meat, seafood. Right in the market there are many bars that compete with their snacks – pinchos.
The Gothic Church of St. Anthony (Iglesia de San Anton). The full name is San Antonio Abad. This is the oldest building in Bilbao, built at the end of 1433. The church was part of the fortress wall that framed the old city. It is located by the river, next to the symbolic Bridge of San Antón, which in the Middle Ages charged fees to those who wanted to enter the city. After the 1983 flood, the temple was restored and recognized as a national treasure. The main decoration of the interior are the sculptures. The statue of St. Anthony of the 14th century, placed at the entrance door, and a Renaissance crucifix of the 14th century have the greatest artistic value.
The church of San Nicolas (Iglesia San Nicolas) was built in 1743-1756 under the direction of the architect Ignacio Ibero in Baroque style. The facade bears the city’s coat of arms. The tympanum is decorated with a bronze bas-relief depicting the patron saint of sailors, St. Nicholas, surrounded by fishermen’s families. The interior of the temple is decorated with many sculptures of saints in the Rococo style. The magnificent carved altar is designed by the sculptor Juan de Mena.
Important modern structures in Bilbao
The Zubizuri Bridge is an unusual white pedestrian bridge designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. In the form of a curved arc it connects the two banks of the River Nervión. The bridge is a lightweight concrete structure suspended behind an arch by steel cables. The pedestrian passage is paved with special glass tiles. Especially beautiful this construction looks at night. Thanks to the lighting, it seems that the bridge is made of glass.
Guggenheim Museum. Museum of Modern Art is the main attraction of Bilbao. Frank Gehry building – the brightest example of new architecture of the late XX century. The museum building resembles a ship docked on the banks of the Nervión River. Elegant, sensual curves, covered with titanium squares that look like fish scales and shimmer in the sunlight. This museum is very popular with tourists – it is visited by an average of more than a million people each year. The structure itself and the exhibits presented in it represent new directions in art. It exhibits the work of contemporary artists and sculptors from around the world. Among the permanent exhibits at the Bilbao Museum are large-scale works and installations by artists of the 19th and 20th centuries: Casimir Malevich, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Clifford Still, works by Francesco Clemente, Anselm Kiefer, Jenny Holzer and Richard Serra. The works of Basque authors Eduardo Chillida and Jorge Oteitz occupy an important place in the museum.
The Euskaldun Palace of Congresses and Music is the center of cultural life in Bilbao. Symphonic concerts, operas, cycles of contemporary and world music are held here. A large part of the program is taken up by performances in the Basque language. The palace was built in 1999 under the direction of the architects Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacios. In 2003 it was awarded the prize for the best World Congress Centre. The shape of the building is reminiscent of a huge ship-assembly shop. And this is no accident, there used to be a dock for ship repair. The palace can hold 2,000 people. It is the second most important building in the city.
The new stadium of the Bilbao soccer club was recognized as the best sports facility in the world at the World Festival of Architecture 2015. Locals call it “Nuevo San Mamés. The stadium was designed by the Basque architect Cesar Azkarate in 2013. Externally, it resembles a scaly sphere. The structure is especially impressive at night. Thanks to special lighting, the stadium lights up like a lighthouse. It seats 53.3 thousand spectators. Soccer fans can visit the museum of Athletic Bilbao, where the history of the club and its great players are presented.
Azkuna Zentroa (Azkuna Cultural Center) – three themed buildings, built in 2010 by French designer Philippe Starck on the site of an old wine warehouse. The total area of the center is 15,000 square meters. Visitors are welcomed by an atrium, decorated with 43 columns of different architectural styles of different materials. On the total area of 43,000 square meters there are 8 movie theaters, an auditorium, a library, an exhibition hall, a gym, a swimming pool, a store and restaurants. On the top floor there is a terrace where you can drink different cocktails and admire a wonderful view of modern Bilbao.