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The district of Bilbao La Vieja, not to be confused with the Casco Viejo, or Old Town, lies across the river from Casco Viejo and south of the central Abando district. Ten years ago it was a down-at-heel area, but today it’s Bilbao’s hipster district, which has been likened to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg.
There are a number of theories as to why the La Vieja underwent a period of gentrification and began to attract hipsters, artists, fashion fiends and graffiti artists. The first is the Guggenheim effect, which changed the whole of Bilbao, from a gritty industrial city into an art and design hub, attracting visitors from all over the world. The second reason may be that the restaurant La Mina, which earned its first Michelin star in 2013, has been located in the district for a long time. Thirdly, the new contemporary structure of the Bilbao Arena, when opened in 2011, is also situated nearby. In more recent years, trendy craft beer bars, Nikkei (fusion Japanese and Peruvian cuisine) restaurants and cool concept stores have been opening up in the area.
Bihotz is a coffee and craft beer house, brewing the best batches of both. One of the top places to hang out in the area, it’s white and spacious with a long white-tiled bar and shelves packed with bottles of beer. The staff are very friendly and helpful, and love to recommend various types of drinks to their customers. They also visit all the top coffee and beer events and festivals around the world – so really know their stuff. Homemade cakes, sandwiches and snacks are also sold.
Bihotz Café, Arechaga Kalea, 6, Bilbao, Spain, +34 679 06 03 12
Bar Marzana 16
This quirky little bar sits right across the river from La Ribera Market and has a lovely terrace with tables set up right by the water. Inside is a mixture of old and new, with lovely old tiles on the floor, and pitch black and green-tiled walls covered in odd wooden doors and windows. As well as beers and cocktails, Bar Marzana 16 also serves snacks and light meals such as savoury pancakes, hamburgers and various salads.
Bar Marzana, Martzana Kalea, 16, Bilbao, Spain, +34 944 15 01 37
Dando la Brassa
Bilbao’s first Nikkei restaurant definitely signifies that an area is becoming hip. A fusion between two of the world’s trendiest cuisines – Japanese and Peruvian – Dando la Brassa arrived in 2014 and definitely brings a bit of New York to Bilbao. The menu includes things such as root vegetables with a Peruvian huancaina foam or Tataki red tuna with quinoa, soya, mini courgettes and fish eggs.
Dando la Brassa, Arechaga Kalea, 7, Bilbao, Spain, +34 946 75 61 96
El Perro Chico
This historic restaurant has been a favourite of the stars for years, and everyone from Antonio Banderas to Sofia Loren and Brad Pitt have dined here. Guggenheim architect Frank Gehry, also used to frequent El Perro Chico while working working here. Gehry in fact like the blue colour of the tiles in the restaurant so much that he painted the offices in the museum the same shade. Last year however, the newly renovated El Perro Chico re-opened as a new trendy addition to the area, further cementing the cool vibe La Vieja has going on. Keeping its ‘Bilbao blue’ colours, it serves up classic Basque dishes such as black rice with squid cooked in its own ink, Asian-style tapas, and starters like artichokes and cauliflower.
El Perro Chico, Arechaga Kalea, 2, Bilbao, Spain, +34 946 40 26 65
A bar and restaurant in one, Peso Neto is a great spot to hang out, with its comfy armchairs, classy dining space and room filled with recycled knick-knacks and odd pieces of furniture. Just a few years ago, the restaurant was merely an idea in the heads of three friends, and now it is another spot helping to put La Vieja on the map. They serve an excellent menu of the day for €13.50, and also have a good range of local Basque seafood dishes as well as risotto, burgers and steak. They also have a couple of vegetarian and vegan offerings including quinoa with vegetables, veggie burgers.
Peso Neto, San Frantzisko Kalea, 1, Bilbao, Spain, +34 944 36 01 90
Trakabarraka is a trendy fashion store for those who have a love of unique pieces and lovely bright colours. Its collection of women’s clothing features bold floral and fruity patterns and strong colours of yellows, oranges, pinks and blues. A new dress could be the perfect souvenir to bring back from hip La Vieja.
Trakabarraka, Maiatzaren Biko Kalea, 3, Bilbao, Spain, +34 944 16 83 58