An Art Lover's Guide to Bilbao in 24 Hours

See Puppy by Jeff Koons at the Guggenheim Bilbao
See Puppy by Jeff Koons at the Guggenheim Bilbao | © Georges Jansoone / WikiCommons
Photo of Esme Fox
30 April 2017

The Basque city of Bilbao is without a doubt a hotbed of art and design, home to world-famous museums, galleries and magnificent architecture. Make the most of this compelling destination with our art lover’s guide to Bilbao, detailing all that visitors can see and do in just 24 hours.

Must-visit museums

Guggenheim Bilbao

Naturally, you should begin your art tour of Bilbao in the city’s Art District, filled with open-air sculptures by the likes of Salvador Dalí, Eduardo Chillida and Anish Kapoor. Particularly famous are the giant Puppy by Jeff Koons – covered in flowers – and Louise Bourgeois’ Maman sculpture of a massive spider. At its heart lies The Guggenheim Bilbao, a huge modern art museum housed in an undulating metal structure, designed by architect Frank Gehry. One of the world’s most renowned institutions of modern art, the Guggenheim Bilbao will celebrate its twentieth anniversary this year.

Guggenheim museum Bilbao | © Phillip Maiwald / WikiCommons

Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

The city’s second-most famous collection after the Guggenheim, the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum is located in the Doña Casilda Iturrizar park and houses Basque, Spanish and European art from the Middle Ages to the modern day. Some of the masterpieces to be seen at the museum include El Greco’s The Annunciation, Francisco de Goya’s Portrait of Martín Zapater and Paul Gauguin’s Washerwomen in Arles.

Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao | ©Zarateman / Wikimedia Commons

Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art

Just south of the Casco Viejo (Old Town), you’ll find the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art, showcasing over 500 pieces of archaeological interest, dating from the twelfth to the twentieth centuries. The museum is divided into various sections including sculpture, painting, jewellery and ornaments.

Museum of Artistic Reproductions

The Museum of Artistic Reproductions opened in 1927 and aims to bring masterpieces of classical art to Bilbao by making the first casts or reproductions of them. Here you can admire exact reproductions of ancient works such as the Elgin Marbles, the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and Michelangelo’s The Slaves.

Elgin Marbles | ©Yair Haklai / Wikimedia Commons

Artsy Restaurants And Cafes

Nerua Restaurant

Head back to the Guggenheim for lunch to dine in its wonderful Nerua Restaurant. This Michelin-starred fine dining spot, helmed by chef Josean Alija, produces show-stopping dishes that are works of art themselves. Here visitors dine on classic Basque cuisine (particularly seafood) with a creative and innovative twist.

El Perro Chico

A classic looking restaurant, decked in blue tiles, El Perro Chico has served everyone from Sofia Loren to Brad Pitt. It was also a favourite dining spot of the architect Frank Gehry, while he was working on the Guggenheim Museum. He liked the restaurant’s decor so much in fact, that he decided to paint the offices in the museum the same shade of blue as the tiles. In recent years the restaurant has been taken over by new management and has been given a chic facelift, whilst still keeping its famous ‘Bilbao blue’ tiles. Expect classic Basque dishes such as black rice with squid and salt cod, as well as Asian-style tapas and traditional Andalusian plates such as salmorejo (a thick cold tomato soup, similar to gazpacho).

Gran Café El Mercante

A historic cafe, Gran Café El Mercante, formerly named Boulevard Cafe, first opened back in 1871 and became the city’s literary hangout. Writers such as Miguel de Unamuno, Roberto Capa, José Ortega y Gasset and Vicente Blasco Ibáñez used to frequent the cafe often, which still retains its grand art deco interior and serves up delicious coffees, pastries and ice creams.

Galleries And Art Centres

Sala Rekalde Contemporary Art Gallery

After lunch or a coffee break, head to the Sala Rekalde Contemporary Art Gallery. A space dedicated to promoting and raising awareness of contemporary artistic practice, it focuses on contemporary art produced both in Spain and abroad. As well as numerous exhibitions, it also holds workshops, talks and video screenings.

Azkuna Zentroa

Make your way to see the magnificent Azkuna Zentroa, also known as the Alhóndiga building. Redesigned by Philippe Starck, it was once a warehouse for storing wine. Today, its mix of old and new structures are seemingly held up by individually designed columns.

Take A Walking Tour

There are many different walking tours available in Bilbao, from free ones to foodie ones, historic ones and luxury ones. One of the best, focusing on the city’s art scene is Secret Bilbao‘s ‘A Day in Bilbao’ tour, allowing you to discover all about the city’s 700-year-old history and its connection to art and design.

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