Bilbao (Bilbo in Basque) had a tough upbringing. Growing up in an environment of heavy industry and industrial wastelands, it was abused for years by those in power and had to work hard to get anywhere. But, like the kid from the estates who made it big, Bilbao’s graft paid off when a few wise investments left it with a shimmering titanium fish called the Museo Guggenheim and a horde of arty groupies around the world.
The Botxo (Hole), as it’s fondly known to its inhabitants, has now matured into its role of major European art centre. However, in doing so, it hasn’t gone all toffee-nosed and forgotten its past: at heart it remains a hard-working and, physically, rather ugly town, but it’s one that has real character. It’s this down-to-earth soul, rather than its plethora of art galleries, that is the real attraction of the vital, exciting and cultured city of Bilbao.
Best places to stay in Bilbao
Top 10 works of engineering genius
Those monuments you’ve crossed the planet to see – they’re big, but are they clever? Well, yes, actually they are. These 10 works of engineering genius span the centuries and are guaranteed to boggle the traveller's brain and leave mouths agape. 1...
Bilbao destination guides
Lonely Planet: Roads Less Travelled Spain itinerary
A circuit through the northern reaches of Spain, incorporating colourful local festivals, is an Odyssean journey juggling sacredness and savagery, often transforming the traveller in a way sublimely spiritual...
The Sanctuary of Loyola, Getaria, Zarauz and San Sebastian
Follow the highway towards the east, into the province of Gipuzkoa. On the way to the Sanctuary of Loyola, you will be able to admire the areas of inner Basque Country, combined with rural valleys and industrial villages trapped in between mountains like the villages of Durango, Eibar and Elgoibar.
Bilbao City Hop-on Hop-off Tour
Look at Bilbao from a different point of view. Hop on a double-decker bus and discover the highlights of the city. The precise origins of Bilbao have not been determined. However, a settlement had already been established and had significantly developed on both banks of the "ria del Nervion" before it officially became a villa.