By Kimber Gabryszak
Bilbao
Spain
Photo gallery
Bilbao is a gem of a city located in northern Spain on the Bilbao Estuary, which takes the Nervión River through the city on its journey north 12 miles to the sea. One of Spain’s largest metropolitan areas, Bilbao is also Spain’s 5th most important port, and is the largest city in the Basque region. EscapeWizard.com recommends many local sights and experiences such as local cuisine, museums, architecture, a pedestrian-only old town area, Gothic churches, historical sites, parks, theaters, concerts, opera and symphony performances, festivals, sports, and more.

Traveling to Bilbao by air is easy: over 15 major carriers fly directly to Bilbao Airport (BIO). Budget travelers can also fly via RyanAir to Santander Airport (SDR), which is a short 60 minute bus ride away, or fly into Madrid Airport Barajas (MAD) and take a 4-5 hour scenic bus or train trip to Bilbao. Click here (www.escapewizard.com/flight.php) to reserve your flight with EscapeWizard.com’s convenient reservation system. To book a room in Bilbao that’s close to the sights, click here (www.escapewizard.com/hotels.php?flag=htl) to let EscapeWizard.com find an affordable and comfortable hotel for you.

Once you get settled into your hotel, it’s time to get out and explore the city. The public transportation system makes it easy to get around; bus routes, subway lines, tramways, a funicular, pedestrian bridges, and rail lines connect you to the sights. Many of the sights are also within walking distance of the hotels.

Established in 1300, Bilbao’s long history is heavily influenced by industry, giving the city a reputation for smokestacks and factories and soot. Since the 1990s, however, city planners have worked to redevelop and reinvent the area. The resulting Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall (Euskalduna Jauregia) is a conference hall and opera house that was declared the world’s best congress center by the International Congress Palace Association. The Bilbao Exhibition Centre (BEC) also draws international fairs and exhibits.

As another result of the redevelopment, the fine arts scene has blossomed and dozens of museums, concert halls, and performances will beckon you. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is an architectural and artistic wonder on its own, with frequently updated contemporary and modern exhibits inside. Other museums include the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Art), Basque Museum, La Ría Maritime Museum, Museo Taurino (Bullfighting Museum), and the Museo Diocesano de Arte Sacro (Museum of Sacred Art).  

For music lovers, several concert halls offer a full opera season, performances by the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, and wildly popular local choral music. The downtown provides a rich nightlife with live music. EscapeWizard.com also recommends the open-air concerts that are frequently held in the summer at the Kiosko del Arenal.

For the nature lover, 18 public parks totaling over 490 acres lie within the Bilbao city limits, and a 2530-acre greenbelt sits outside of the city. A flat low lying area only a few meters above sea level, Bilbao is cradled by two small mountains that reach a comparatively tall 400 meters (1300 feet) in height, both of which offer additional recreational opportunities. Mount Artxanda is the more groomed of the two and is connected to the city center by a funicular. The summit contains a recreational area with restaurants, a sports area, and balcony where visitors are blessed with views of the region. To the south of the city, Mount Pagasarri is a natural environment for hikers that has been protected since 2007.

Food lovers aren’t forgotten - Bilbao is famous for a Basque specialty known as Pintxos, more commonly known by the Spanish name tapas. Visit any of the local restaurants to give it a try.  In particular, walk across the famous white bridge or visit the Old Town area; take in the beautiful architecture on your way to a delicious meal.

For more excitement, plan your visit to occur during the annual Bilbao BBK Live festival in August. For the best view of the strongman competition, live music, bullfighting, fireworks, and other entertainment, EscapeWizard.com recommends that you stake out a place on one of the popular river bridges.

The fun doesn’t end there. Take a trip to the First Saturday Flea market. Watch the Athletic Club (Bilbao’s soccer team) play a football (soccer) game at the San Mamés stadium, or attend a basketball game. Kayak in the river and estuary. EscapeWizard.com is positive that you will thoroughly enjoy a trip to Bilbao and not lack for options!