The narrow streets of the Casco Viejo (Old Town) are home to old romantic buildings, beautiful churches, the Catedral de Santiago de Bilbao and some of Bilbao’s best tapas bars and drinking spots. Always lively and buzzing, this is one of the best and most atmospheric barrios for visitors. The Casco Viejo is also where you’ll find the art deco La Ribera Market, Europe’s largest indoor-covered market, filled with stalls, bars and restaurants.
Not to be confused with the Casco Viejo, Bilbao la Vieja lies just across the river from the Old Town. Also old in its appearance and architecture, this is currently Bilbao’s hippest barrio and has been nicknamed ‘Bilbi’. Bilbao’s answer to London’s Soho, it’s a hotbed for urban art, fashion boutiques and bars. You can find everything here from Nikkei cuisine (fusion Japanese and Peruvian food) to craft beer.
Abando is the most central district in the city and its most elegant too. It’s home to the city’s finest boulevards, lined with large shops and department stores, as well as some of its most amazing buildings. The top sight in Abando is of course the Guggenheim Bilbao, filled with some of the most celebrated contemporary artworks. The majestic Campos Elíseos Theatre, the leafy Gardens of Albia and the Abando train station, with its huge stained glass window depicting typical Basque culture, can also be found here.
Indautxu sits just to the west of Abando, also being a very central location. At its heart lies the Azkuna Zentroa, a large culture and leisure centre which was once the city’s wine exchange and storage centre. In recent years, the building was reimagined by the French designer Philippe Starck and is set upon 43 uniquely-designed pillars. Indautxu is also a buzzing barrio for nightlife, filled with many bars and clubs.
The studenty district of Deusto surrounds the university area, which sits north of Indautxu and Abando, just outside of the city centre. It may not have as many sights as some of the other areas, but has a cool young vibe with lots of cheap tapas bars, eateries and local shops. It’s also a nice area for a stroll along the river to see the Deusto University campus.
Santutxu lies just south of the Casco Viejo and is mainly a residential area. This is one of the best areas to mix with the locals, with many hidden bars and restaurants among its pedestrianised streets. The district is often referred to as the most densely populated district in Europe, although this has now been found to be untrue. If you’re looking for some space, however, head to the south of Santutxu, where you’ll find the green Mina Del Morro gardens and the hilly Parque Larreagaburu, offering fine vistas of the city below.
The barrio of San Francisco lies just south of Abando and is an immigrant area and the city’s red light district. Once known for its dodgy vibe, this perception has changed in recent years, and the district is undergoing a period of regeneration. Today it’s filled with interesting shops selling exotic spices from around the world. It has also become a popular gay area, scattered with vibrant nightclubs.