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Posted by on May 1, 2016 | 113 comments

Bilbao: A City Full of Surprises

In my post about the famous Guggenheim Bilbao, I admitted I wanted to visit the city only to take a look at the museum’s structure.

But, I am glad this futuristic building was constructed to attract visitors (or attention) to Bilbao.

I arrived to the city a grey Tuesday afternoon.  I was half dead from the six hours train trip from Barcelona (there are no high speed trains to the city).

In a blurry haze, I walked the terminal’s halls trying to decide what to do.  Since I was interested only in the museum, I didn’t make any research about the city.  I know.  Bad, bad traveler.  I should be rolling my eyes at myself at this moment.

My husband stood in one corner of the terminal while I went out in search of help.  Turns out the touristic information center was located next to the train station (I can’t believe my luck sometimes).

An awesome guy gave me a map, explained how to get to the hotel, pointed out the most important sights in the city and gave me instructions to get to the Guggenheim. Everything worked to perfection.

That afternoon we explored a bit of the city but concentrated in Gerhy’s designed museum.  The next day, we had several hours to explore before departing to San Sebastian.

Bilbao is a city located in Northern Spain in the autonomous community of the Basque County.   The metropolitan area has more than one million inhabitants making it one of the largest urban areas in Spain.

Bilbao has enjoyed an economic powerhouse status since its foundation in the early 14th century.  Due to the city’s proximity to the Bay of Biscay, its port was able to export iron extracted from local quarries.   Throughout the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, Bilbao experienced heavy industrialization.  That prompted a population explosion and progress in many aspects.

After the dramatic industrial crisis of the 1980s, the city turned itself into a service provider attracting national and international companies.

The city aimed to gain tourist dollars with the construction of the Guggenheim in the late nineties.  The rest is history.  Nowadays, Bilbao is the city that receives more tourists in the Basque Country (more than San Sebastian).

As I previously mentioned, I am glad I took some time to discover what Bilbao has to offer.  I really liked the city.  Find out why below.

Nervion River

After spending about four hours exploring the Guggenheim Museum, we strolled along the Nervion River.

We found colorful palaces, modern hotels and some street art here and there.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

In addition, we observed the characteristically architecture of the city.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain


Zubizurri means “White Bridge” in Basque.  The tied arch bridge over the Nervion River was designed by Santiago Calatrava (same architect who designed the City of Art and Sciences in Valencia).

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Old Town (Casco Viejo)

This is where the original seven streets of the village of Bilbao are located.  Somera Street is considered the place where Don Diego Lopez de Haro read the foundational letter on June 15, 1300.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

In the Old Town, other notorious sights such as the Plaza Nueva (New Plaza), Santiago Cathedral (the oldest in the “village”), Unamuno Plaza and San Nicolas Church can be found.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

If you area, do not forget to visit the Ribera Market, the largest covered market in Europe.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

The market has an area to try creative, contemporary food.  Too bad it was closed when we were there.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

And let me mention the Old Town is the ideal place to have delicious pintxos.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Lopez de Haro Avenue

This is one of the main commercial avenues in the city. In here, you will find all the popular and chic stores you will find in other big cities in Spain.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Plaza Moyua

This plaza bisects the Lopez de Haro Avenue in two pieces.  The plaza is surrounded by palaces (Chavarri Palace and Montero House) and the Carlton Hotel.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

It cannot be appreciated in my photos but this plaza contains metro station entrances designed by Norman Foster (famous for designing the Reichstag Dome in Berlin and The Gherkin in London).

Alhondiga Bilbao (Azkuna Zentroa)

This multi-purpose venue consist of a cinema multiplex, a fitness centre, a library, showrooms, an auditorium, shops, and a restaurant.

The Alhondiga was brought back to life by Philippe Starck and Thibaut Mathieu.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

After visiting this space, we walked around and found a lot of nice buildings.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Plaza Bizkaia

This plaza caught our attention because of its modern office building.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bellas Artes Museum, Dona Casilda Park and Euskadi Plaza

We visited the Bellas Artes Museum since it is free on Wednesdays.  We continued walking around several parks and plazas.  During the walk, we found many palaces and colorful buildings.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain


Did I mention Bilbao is located in the Basque Country?  I think so.  Well, I do not have to tell you the food was great in there.

We visited Panko, a restaurant serving international food with a Basque twist at very affordable prices.  We arrived in time to take advantage of the lunch specials and were able to have an entrée, main dish and dessert.

I later found out Panko was considered a “To Watch” newcomer in the Gastronomic Guide of Spain.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Also, we were able to eat at Foodoo.  Again, we ate the tree course lunch special and it was delicious.

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

Bilbao, Basque County, Spain

This is only a tiny sample of what Bilbao offers in terms of food.  I am telling you! The food in here is great.

Would you be interested in visiting Bilbao?

Ready to pin? Let’s do this!

Bilbao is a city located in Northern Spain in the autonomous community of the Basque County. The metropolitan area has more than one million inhabitants.


  1. Wow, Bilbao is really nice. The architecture is pleasing to the eyes and the food oh my!

    • I should have stayed longer just for the food. In the restaurants, you get all the recommendation you need to make a good decision of what you want to eat.

  2. The architecture in these town is quite interesting. The food looks yummy as well, always a plus when you are out and about.

    Lisa @ Life Thru the Lens (

    • There is a good mix of classic and modern architecture. Plus, seems like some of the greatest architects around have created something for the city.

    • Right, Bilbao surprised me in a good way. I wasn’t expecting to fall for the city.

    • It is a place you will enjoy. The best way to explore is by walking around. I didn’t know I was going to discover so many nice places.

    • I would have liked to see the inside of those houses in the first photos. I imagine they furniture is mesmerizing inside.

  3. So many fabulous shots! I love all the different colours.

    • I wasn’t expecting so much color but it was great to found it. There are other more colorful areas that I wasn’t able to visit.

    • Thanks Birgitta! Appreciate your comment.

    • Yes, that is correct. a lot of contrasts but I think they work well. There are some places where the contrasts make no sense.

  4. Hello, looks like an awesome city to visit. The buildings are colorful and pretty. The food looks delish. Enjoy your day and the week ahead!

    • Thanks Eileen. It is always good to discover new (and likable) places.

  5. So many fabulous buildings but I LOVE the coloured glass windows


    • Are you referring to the windows in the hotel? Those are so creative. I didn’t have the chance to enter the hotel but I imagine it is colorful inside too.

    • Have you been to Spain? Maybe the Basque Country is a nice place to visit for a weekend.

  6. wow I have never even heard of Balbio..what a beautiful place..! I absolutely love the buildings…just gorgeous!

    Thanks for sharing!


    • Your welcome Valerie! Glad to know you have discovered Bilbao thru this blog post.

    • If only the sun would have been out during my walk. I can’t complain thought.

  7. I had no idea one city could hold so many different architectural styles! Bilbao looks like an awesome place to visit.

    Thanks for linking up with us on #TravelTuesday!
    Katrina recently posted..In Denial on de NileMy Profile

    • The government really pushed in terms of architecture. They were serious in their goal of making the city more attractive to tourists.

  8. What a wonderful post, Ruth! I didn’t know anything about Bilbao prior to reading this! I am a sucker for interesting architecture, colorful buildings, and good food so I think Bilbao would definitely be my style.
    carrie recently posted..Finding Donut Heaven in New OrleansMy Profile

    • Carrie, I think we have a lots of things in common! You would love Bilbao and the Basque Country. I call it a wow area!

  9. Bilbao is definitely on my wishlist and has been for some time – but all the more so after seeing your photos. Thank you!
    Janice recently posted..The bells of York MinsterMy Profile

    • Great! Like we all need more excuses to visit the places we want to visit.

    • I will love to study art in a place like Bilbao. What specific things do you learned about the city during your stay?

  10. Wow, Bilbao! It looks amazing! I really wanted to visit this summer, but it turns out to be surprisingly hard to get there from London. I’m not sure what I was doing wrong… Anyway, I’m glad you had such a good trip and I hope I make it one day!
    Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad recently posted..Welcome to A Nesting Nomad 2.0!My Profile

    • Hmm! Wonder why it is difficult to get there from London. The thing is that if you get to one of the main cities in Spain, you would have to take the train to Bilbao (and there is no high speed train). Anyway, I think it would be worth the effort.

  11. WOW only EVERYTHING is beautiful in Bilbao!!! Love the architecture and food, both major motivators when I’m choosing a place to visit. I can’t wait to see the Basque country!

    • You should not delay your visit to Basque Country. It is an area full of beautiful sights and amazing food.

  12. The colours of the Old Town are amazing – I’ve got to admit I didn’t know much about Bilbao except the Guggenheim (and pinxtos) myself before reading your post. #citytripping
    Cathy (MummyTravels) recently posted..City Tripping #25My Profile

    • Cathy, thanks for stopping by. I love when people learn more about a place thru my blog. I hope you will consider Bilbao in your future travels.

  13. You captured a lot of local color and interesting architecture. and then the best part. Dinner!

    • I couldn’t stop clicking my camera’s button. There were pretty things in every corner.

  14. Hi Ruth. Fabulous set of shots. I can never get enough of the architecture and colors of Spain. Living in a country (Korea) where the favorite color for a building is grey, seeing color on buildings really gives me an energy boast. Your meal at Panko looks delish (I’m starving now!). The next time I’m in Spain I will try to get to Bilbao. Thanks for hosting this week. #TPThursday
    Nancie recently posted..Korea: Korea’s Toilet MuseumMy Profile

    • Nancy, I agree with you. I think I am a person who enjoys colors because of the influence Spain had in Puerto Rico. There is color everywhere there too. I think that is why I am inclined to visit cities where colors bursts in every corner.

    • Nasir, thanks for your kind words. It is a pleasure to have you here.

    • Jan, maybe you can plan a road trip around Northern Spain and Southern France. That would be a hit for sure.

    • The writing on the building reads”Ezina ekinez egina”. That is basque language and means “Made by making the inmanejable”.

    • Well, I guess this would not be a sacrifice for you since you are a fan of Spain ;0) I am sure you would like the city and area.

  15. Bilbao is clearly worth visiting…although we totally neglected it last time we were in the area… Looks like a return trip is in order! Thanks for linking to #citytripping

    • See, I have given you the perfect excuse to plan another trip ;0)

    • I know. I am happy the notoriety of the museum made me visit the city. The place were we stay was beautiful and the hotel attendants were super friendly.

    • Great! I guess the photos tell the entire story.

    • Right, I think you need at least a day to savor the best of the city (and that may be not enough time).

    • I know. This is a place were modern architecture wows but the what has been there for years has the power to amaze too.

  16. Most definitely! I have heard that the Basque part of Spain is very beautiful which is evidenced in you lovely photos. It is like a separate culture and language to the Spanish? Is this correct?
    Kathy Marris recently posted..SE Asia Cruise: R&R in Vung TauMy Profile

    • Kathy, I only saw a small part of the Basque Country but that was enough to confirm it is an amazing place. Yes, the Basque has their own language, culture and food. But, they speak Spanish too.

  17. It is early morning here as I read this, and I love that I have been able to travel to this beautiful city in Basque Country from the comfort of my living room. Your photos really help me envision the beauty and antiquity of the city. A city founded in 1300 is hard to imagine for many Americans, including me. I love the side view of the buildings in Old Town with the pink one right in the middle. Very eye-catching! Have a lovely weekend.

    • Tara, thanks for stopping by. Felt kind of giddy when you described your experience while reading the post. I love to travel. There is no doubt about that. After visiting a place, I feel like I have to share my experience with the rest of the world (well, to those who want to listen). These places make you feel like something has changed inside you.

    • It would be great if you guys are able to visit. I am sure you would be able to capture amazing photos.

  18. Fantastic that the town has the common sense to locate the tourist bureau at the train station.
    I am sure many visitors to many cities never explore a town properly because they don’t know where to go. It looks like you guys managed to discover so much in such a short time due to the tourist bureau being so helpful.
    Sally@Toddlers on Tour recently posted..Tasting Our Way Around the Margaret River RegionMy Profile

    • Sally, you have a great point. The help provided by the tourist office was of enormous help. I still have the map they gave me. I have it as a souvenir and it help me to write this post too. But, life is easier when there is somebody willing to help you and to share the best of their city with you.

  19. Well, we certainly went to Bilbao for the Guggenheim and would have loved to spend more time in the rest of the city. We didn’t get very far away from the museum though, as there was a massive demonstration going on in the old town!
    jim@reflectionsenroute recently posted..The World Is On My SideMy Profile

    • Wow! Really! I imagine it was a political demonstration. I have read things are can get very “lively” up there.

    • So true. And there are parts of the city I didn’t visit.

  20. Wow, Ruth – Great pictures! I have been wanting to explore Bilbao. You’re right, the Guggenheim is the major attraction but, because it’s a center of Basque country and culture, I’ve really wanted to go and eat there! Okay, and see the architecture and arts. 😉 Your post just makes me want to go more! #WeekendWanderlust
    RobRob @TravelLatte(.net) recently posted..Touring James Monroe’s HighlandMy Profile

    • Rob, a visit to the area is a great idea. I hope I can return soon. You have no idea how the Basque Country has impacted me.

  21. We have good friends who live in Bilbao – and my husband has visited them and they have visited us but I have never been. It’s been on my list for so long – but we always had kids at home. Now we are empty nesters and I think I need to get to Bilbao – it looks wonderful!

    • Jill, you have to take the opportunity to go. Would you imagine all the nice places you would visit with locals? I would love to have friends in the area.

  22. I never ever heard of Bilbao before your post. You hit the right places despite not being prepared well (I must admit I’m an ill-prepared traveler most of the time myself).

    • Hey, thanks for giving me credit. But, I have to attribute it to curiosity. That never fails.

  23. Fantastic photos, Ruth! You’ve really inspired me to visit Bilbao. I love the colour and variety of the architecture – and I’ll always take a trip to a good food market. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Thanks Claire. Our world is full of so many fantastic places! It is a delight to find new, charming cities.

  24. wow I have never even heard of Balbio..what a beautiful place..! I absolutely love the buildings…just gorgeous!

    • Thanks! I know there are other more popular cities in Spain but that doesn’t take away from Bilbao’s greatness.

  25. For a trip where you didn;t do any research you seem to have fared pretty well. Bilbao seems like a wonderful city

    • I know. Tourism center have to be my best friends. They have saved me so many times.

  26. Bilbao was on my list but I ran out of time. I have it mind for my next trip, precisely because of the museum. Thanks for the tour, Ruth! I’m quite impressed.
    Marcia recently posted..The Red Telephone BoothMy Profile

    • Great Marcia! Hope you can visit one day.

  27. Oh, and I forgot to say this: I’ve gone to several places without doing research. My thinking is I don’t want to be influenced by anyone’s biases so sometimes I prefer to fly ‘blind’.
    Marcia recently posted..The Red Telephone BoothMy Profile

    • Totally agree! Sometimes you need a break from the busyness and that includes doing research about a place. I like to go to the places I like not to the places others like.

  28. YES!

    Not only to eat pintxos and shop the Ribera market, but to walk and view the architecture thanks to your fun multi-picture post, Ruth! Seems Bilbao, like other great cities, has kept the best and most precious of the old with the new. Speaking of . . . if you know the name of the Flatiron-like building in 3rd photograph under the heading Alhondiga Bilbao, please tell. Luv that design!
    Melodie K. recently posted..5 Northern California Places & Plates for Your Road TripMy Profile

    • Melodie, I can’t find the name of the building. When you search for “Flatiron,” you get info about New York’s building. I do know the building is located in the Euskadi Plaza.

  29. I didn’t realize there was so much to see in Bilboa. Like you, visiting the Gugenheim would be my sole purpose for going to this town. I really like the mix of the modern architecture with the traditional.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Night Falls on VeniceMy Profile

    • That mix is terrific. I felt like I was not sure of what I was going to find next.

  30. I’ve never been to Spain – but the more I see of your photos, the more I want to visit.

    • You should plan a visit since I believe you will enjoy many aspects of the country.

  31. Wow, such diversity in the architecture!! I love the contemporary look & colors of the buildings. I like the Zubizurri bridge too. It looks like an amazing city to just wander and photograph. I would love that! I think you did great with no plan. haha Thanks for sharing!
    Nancie Lee recently posted..Playing With Fire – Baton Rouge Fire GuildMy Profile

    • Thanks Nancie! I will say locals can give you the best advice on what to visit in a city. In this case, I consulted the Tourist office but the guy who helped me out was clearly passionate about his city.

    • What places have you visited and when did you visit? I think the time of the year has to do a lot with how you perceive and enjoy Spain.

  32. Okay, I’ll confess that this area never held much interest for me. Sure, I knew the Gugenheim is in Bilbao, but not being a fan of modern art it wasn’t much of a draw. That said, however, your photos have shown that there’s more to Bilbao than just one museum. I’m quite impressed by what you’ve shared. I think my favorite of all is the Zubizuri. Too cool.
    Linda Bibb recently posted..Fountains and Squares in Madrid – A Photo EssayMy Profile

    • Good you feel like that Linda! I think the city is presented in a one dimensional way. It appeals mostly to the Guggenheim. But, like you mentioned, not everybody enjoys that type of architecture. I believe there is much more to advertise on the city.

  33. All I ever knew about Bilbao was also just the Gugenheim. Thanks for taking us on this wonderful virtual tour through your beautiful photos. This looks like a city I’d want to visit. I love all the attractions it offers.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..5 Free Things to do in Oahu, HawaiiMy Profile

    • If you like good food (and I know you do), this is an area you will enjoy.

    • I know! I understand it is not easy to hit a lot of places when there are time constraints. Maybe you will be able to visit another time.

  34. On y list too… My list is a very long list haha!
    All the spanish basque region is on my list. xx cathy

  35. Hi Ruth,

    I am glad that the bad train experience from Barcelona did not set off your mood. Bilbao’s old city looks so beautiful! The architecture is fantastic along with the colors. As for the food, I would totally love to have a bite from all the dishes you got! Great post, thank you for sharing your experience!

    Zaria Papa recently posted..Reincarnation and the AfterlifeMy Profile

  36. Bilbao looks like a great city to explore! Ruth, how many days would you recommend to stay in Bilbao to explore the Guggenheim museums and other sights? Thanks!


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