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The northern Spanish city of Bilbao is very different to many other Spanish cities you may have visited. It’s not filled with Moorish architecture like the cities in Andalusia and it’s not a major beach destination like Valencia or Barcelona, instead this once-gritty industrial town is filled with world-class art museums, impressive modern architecture and references to Basque culture. Here are seven reasons why you should visit Bilbao at least once in your lifetime.
The Basque Country, like many regions of Spain, has its own unique culture and even language. You won’t find much flamenco, Spanish guitar music or paella here, instead it’s all about Basque folk dances and music, rural games and pintxos. Visit the Basque Museum, which showcases over 20,000 objects, to learn more or read our article on ‘10 Things You Didn’t Know About Basque Culture‘.
The pintxos experience is one of the must-have Basque experiences, and the city of Bilbao is one of the best places to do it. Pintxos are the Basque Country’s answer to tapas, and are usually small pieces of bread, topped with a variety of ingredients and held together with a cocktail stick. When you enter a bar in Bilbao, you’ll find all the pintxos lined up. Order your drink and simply help yourself to to as many pintxos as you want – at the end, all your cocktail sticks will be counted so that the staff know how much you owe. Each pintxo costs between €1-€3. Check out our list of Bilbao’s best pintxos bars to find out which to visit.
Bilbao is filled with many amazing feats of architecture, which you’ve probably seen pictures of, but seeing these immense structures in person is something else. Some of the best include Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim, Santiago Calatrava’s Zubizuri Bridge, Philippe Starck’s Azkuna Zentroa cultural and leisure centre and the art nouveau Campos Eliseos Theatre. Take a look at our article on some of the most amazing buildings in the city to get you inspired.
Shopping at the art deco-stye La Ribera Market is quite an experience. With over 10,000 metres squared of space, it’s Europe’s largest indoor food market and comprises many food stalls, selling everything from cheeses and cured meats to fresh fish and olives. As well as the stalls, the market also has many bars and restaurants, as well as live jazz music, meaning that it’s great not just for shopping, but for an evening out too.
The Basque Country, and particularly Bilbao, is known for its delicious seafood dishes. You won’t be able to leave the city without trying something containing cod fish (bacalao). Some of its most well-known dishes are bacalao pil-pil (cod fried in garlic and olive oil until it’s crispy), bacalao a la Vizcaína (grilled cod covered in a sauce made from red peppers, garlic and olive oil) or kokotxas (cod or hake cheeks). Other seafood dishes to look out for here are percebes (goose barnacles), txangurros (spider crab) and txipirones (baby squid cooked in their own ink).
The Casco Viejo is Bilbao’s Old Town and one of its most charming areas. The seven major streets which make up this area are great for exploring and getting lost in, discovering small shops and galleries, pretty squares and magnificent churches. The Casco Viejo is also one of the best districts for pintxos bars. Some of the major sights here include the Catedral de Santiago de Bilbao, the Archeological Museum, the Basque Museum and the Plaza Nueva.