The largest city in the Basque country and capital of the Biscay province in northern Spain, Bilbao’s public image is one of industry, trade and urbanisation. However, in the past few decades, the city has developed into one of the most popular cultural spots in the country.

Founded by Don Diego Lopez de Haro V, Lord of Biscay, in 1300 on a former fishing settlement, the name Bilbao pertains to the regional geography, derived from the Basque ‘bi albo’ or ‘two river banks’. Early development was hindered by noble family in fighting and various natural disasters until the 1500s, when the city was granted a Consulate and became an important part of the export trade. Indeed, the following centuries were extremely prosperous and climaxed with the industrial revolution in the 19th century. While the city stood strong in the face of attempted invasion during the Carlist Wars, it also became the richest city in the country.

Although damaged by major floods in 1983, Bilbao has since recovered and retained its place at the heart of the Spanish economy. Nevertheless, the municipal government have equally emphasised tourism and, with some of the best cuisine, museums and sights in Spain, it’s easy to see why.


Religious buildings compose some of Bilbao’s finest architecture, the best example being the Santiago Cathedral. Despite being officially made cathedral in 1950, the Cathedral’s origins reach back beyond the city’s foundation in 1300. Renovated and reconstructed innumerable times over the centuries, the Cathedral is now stylistically a mish-mash of Gothic features, developed between the 15th and 18th centuries.

Also visually stimulating is the Basilica of Begoňa, dedicated to the city’s patron saint of Bizkaia. Built gradually between the early 16th and 17th centuries in Gothic style, the Basilica is home to Bilbao’s major religious festivals on 15th August (the Assumption of Mary) and 11th October (the saint day of Begoňa).

Perhaps the most impressive secular edifice in Bilbao is the [ Teatro Arriaga]. Built in 1799 originally but since reconstructed, this opera house was named after the Spanish composer Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga and still enjoys a full programme of concerts throughout the year.

Another centre of the city’s culture is the Plaza Nueva. This neoclassical-styled square was built in 1821 and one of the facing buildings housed the provincial Biscay government previously. However, today it hosts weekly markets, restaurants and annual festivals. That said, you can find the Bizkaia Delegation Palace in Bilbao, home of the Biscay executive government branch and built in the 1890s in an architecturally ornate and eccentric fashion.

You cannot visit Bilbao without spending some time at the city’s major museums, which represent some of the finest in the continent. Probably the most famous of these is the [ Guggeinheim Museum Bilbao]. Designed by Frank Gehry and opened in 1997, the building itself is an incredible sight, considered an example of deconstructivism with its radical, reflective and contoured panels. Once inside though, you can find a permanent collection of 20th century art with pieces by Richard Serra, Picasso and Joseph Beuys. Not too far away from the Guggenheim is the prestigious [ Bilbao Fine Arts Museum]. Considered one of the best museums in Spain and specialising in painting and sculpture, the Museum contains works by El Greco, Goya and Francis Bacon to name but a few. If fine art isn’t your thing though, there are alternatives like the [ Maritime Museum Ría de Bilbao].

Reflecting the transformation in Bilbao over the years, the city is home to a number of tranquil and picturesque parks such as Etxebarria Park, Doña Casilda Park and Europa Park.

Football is naturally the dominant sport in Bilbao. The local football team, Athletic Bilbao, are one of the most successful clubs in the country and play their games in La Liga at the Estadio San Mamés (otherwise known as ‘The Cathedral’), which is Spain’s oldest stadium (founded in 1913).


The main shopping districts in Bilbao are the Plaza Moyúa and the Gran Vía. However, anywhere around the Old Quarter is good, particularly for local crafts.

Bilbao is home to a couple of regular markets, including Ensanche Market and The Riverside Market on Ribera Street, which is actually recorded as the most complete city market in the world due to its size and diversity in available goods.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Basque cuisine is generally regarded as the best in Spain and considered some of the most innovative in Europe. Seafood, and particularly hake and cod, represent the staples but you’ll find more than paella wherever you go to eat. Particularly good places to eat out are Baita Gaminiz in Alameda de Mazarredo, Victor in the Plaza Nueva, the restaurant in the Guggenheim in Avenue Abandoibarra and the critically acclaimed Guria in the Gran Vía.

Casco Viejo is a popular meeting point for drinks before the night out, but Bilbao nightlife is not especially celebrated. Nevertheless, the Calle Barrencalle is known for its clubs and bars and you can find other places to dance such as Congreso in the Muelle de Urbitarte and Bataplán in the Playa de la Concha as well as live music at Kafe Antzokia in the C. San Vicente.

Tourist Information

  • Bilbao Tourism & Convention Bureau, Plaza Ensanche 11, Bilbao
  • Tel: +34 944 795 760
  • E-mail:
  • Website: [ Bilbao Tourism]


The city is served by Bilbao Airport, some 11 km from the city centre. As the major regional airport, you can expect to find international and domestic connecting flights available regularly to multiple destinations.

easyJet (London-Stansted) and Iberia (London-Heathrow) both use Bilbao Airport to and from British destinations.

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