Culture, Churches, and Cuisine: the Highlights of Bilbao

Guggenheim Museum

Bountiful Art

One of the most famous museums of modern art is the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The extravagant building designed by the Canadian-American architect Frank O. Gehry has turned the city a top destination in the European cultural landscape. Millions of tourists visit Bilbao solely to see this spectacular temple of art – which inspired the term ‘Bilbao effect’ to describe the economic impact of exceptional architecture on a region. Jeff Koons, Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeois, and Joseph Beuys are just a few of the world-famous artists whose large-scale works can be seen in the permanent exhibition of the Guggenheim building.

Guggenheim Bilbao

Plaza Nueva
Drinks and Sandwiches

Old Town Flair at the Plaza Nueva

There's always something going on in the neoclassical Plaza Nueva in the Casco Viejo district. The bars and restaurants lining the shady colonnades provide a lively atmosphere all day long. This is where the people of Bilbao meet with their friends and guests to drink wine, enjoy some pintxos (the northern Spanish tapas), or visit the flea market on Sundays. The craziest story the place has ever experienced happened in 1872, when Italian monarch Amadeus I of Savoy, then King of Spain, visited Bilbao. A Venetian festival was organised in his honour where the Plaza Nueva was flooded so that gondolas could sail around on it.

Market hall
Serano ham

The Mega Market Hall

La Ribera, Europe's largest indoor market, sits on the banks of the Nervión river like a mighty ship. The building was designed by Gaudí's pupil Pedro Ispizua and is decorated in a rationalist style with many Art Deco elements. The market’s three floors and 10,000 square metres offer the freshest food from all across the region – or try northern Spanish specialities at one of the many snack stands, such as pepperoni pintxos in over 30 different variations or Ibérico ham. The La Ribera café-bar on the ground floor invites you to a special market experience: You can go shopping with one of the chefs at the market, and together you’ll prepare a delicious meal using your groceries to be enjoyed at La Ribera.

Bilbao Tourism Website

Cathedral from Outside
Cathedral from Inside

Gothic for the Faithful

Santiago's three-nave cathedral in the old town was built on the remains of a 13th-century pilgrimage chapel devoted to Saint James. With the exception of the neo-Gothic portal facade, it dates from the end of the 14th to the beginning of the 16th century and is the oldest building in the city. The present façade and tower were built in the 19th century. The choir and the late Gothic cloister are of particular beauty, and the harmonious proportions of the building are also considered exceptional. On the last Saturday of every month, there are Basque dances performances on the square in front of the cathedral.

Cathedral Bilbao

Cultural Center
Designed Column

From Wine Storehouse to Cultural Centre

In the middle of Bilbao, the French industrial designer Philippe Starck has created a spectacular cultural centre: the Azkuna Zentroa on the Plaza de Indautxu. The former wine storehouse, an Art Nouveau industrial building, was expanded with three structures that stand on 43 differently designed columns. The centre is named after the former mayor Iñaki Azkuna (1943-2014), a supporter of the ‘new Bilbao’. The numerous halls, multi-purpose rooms, and cinemas host exhibitions, film series, and events. Apart from the excellent Yandiola restaurant, you should also visit the centre's roof terrace for a spectacular view!

Cultural Centre: the Azkuna Zentroa

Photo credits

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  • Paragraph 2 - Photos by Britta on Adobe Stock
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  • Paragraph 5 - Photo by Juanma Aparicio on Alamy
  • Paragraph 5 - Photo by Jim Monk on Alamy