World-class architecture, a first-class food scene and surfer-approved beaches – Bilbao city breaks have got the lot.

A city transformed

Bilbao’s a relative newcomer to the tourist trail – historically, most of the city’s economy was centred around its port and its ironworks industry. The arrival of the distinctive Guggenheim Museum in 1997 was the real gamechanger though. This led to an influx of tourism and innovative architecture springing up across the city, including the striking Zubizuri Bridge and the Azkuna Zentroa – a repurposed warehouse that now houses a cinema, shops, restaurants and more.

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo is Bilbao’s medieval old town, which was protected by city walls until the late 19th century. It now sees the old and the new sitting side-by-side. The old town’s seven main streets, or ‘Las Siete Calles’, are still there, but as well as being lined with historic sites like the 14th-century Santiago Cathedral and the Plaza Nueva, there’s a string of nightclubs, pintxo bars and the Mercado de la Ribera – Europe’s largest indoor market.

Tuck in to txikiteo

Txikiteo – pronounced ‘chee-key-tay-o’ is a deep-rooted ritual in these parts, which involves groups of friends going from bar to bar to sip on small glasses of wine and feast on pintxos – small, tapas-style dishes. There are pintxo routes across the city, with many of the best-known spots in the Abando district around the city centre.

The heart of the Basque Country

It may be part of mainland Spain, but Bilbao’s proud of its Basque roots and traditions. Spanish is the overriding language, but lots of the locals chat to each other in Basque, and many of the signs around the city are in the native tongue, too. The city’s connection to its Basque roots can probably be best summed up by its football team, Athletic Club. Only players from the Basque region can play for the club – a policy that’s been in place since they formed in 1898.

At a Glance

  • Admire the artwork in the Guggenheim
  • Eat your way around the bars on a pintxo route
  • Marvel at the medieval old town