James Went To Bilbao

Why Bilbao?

We kind of picked Bilbao at random – it was to be the first holiday with my folks since 2018-ish. Somewhere not too expensive, somewhere walkable, somewhere with good food, and hopefully good weather in June.

Weather forecast with lots of rain

Ah. The rain in Spain falls mainly in Bilbao? Actually it poured down elsewhere in Spain, and was more intermittent in Bilbao, but hey, I wanted sunshine.

Something About Bilbao

It likely won’t have missed your attention that some places in Spain are protesting about “mass tourism”, which possibly boils down to not building enough homes for locals – Ibiza is a pretty extreme example of this, though I assume there are also elements of stress on the environment, and poor behaviour from certain types of tourists, that contribute to this.

Yet Bilbao really didn’t seem to have many tourists – on the flight to Bilbao (just £93 return without a bag) there seemed to be far more Spanish than English being spoken, from what I could overhear – perhaps there are more tourists to London from Bilbao, than the other way around.

A relative lack of tourism also tended to mean a lack of English spoken – a joy for me as it meant I could practice my bumbling Spanish. The Basque region does have its own language, though most people seemed to be speaking Spanish.

Something that really surprised us was the price of public transport – a Barik card is their equivalent of an Oyster card, except up to 10 people can use the same card, and journeys cost around €0.40 each. Bilbao is walkable anyway.

What To Do In Bilbao

Well, there is one stonkingly obvious thing to do in Bilbao, and that is visit the Guggenheim museum:

Outside The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

The video on their website is infinitely more infinitely impressive than my shot.

€18 for a ticket to get in, which I think compares favourably to other major exhibitions in galleries. The building itself is stunning, both inside and outside – I’m sure King Charles would call it a “monstrous carbuncle” or something of the sorts, but to me it is a modern masterpiece.

Inside, the main hall downstairs was taken up by these curved structures with nothing inside – which made you feel at least a little dizzy whilst navigating them.

Upstairs there was a Pop Art exhibition – some artists you may recognise:

Then there was the delight of one of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms:

Infinity Room at The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

Plus there was not one, but two Basquiat’s – one of my favourite artists. So much pain and emotion in his pieces.

Basquiat at The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

Get Out Of The Guggenheim

The outside of the Guggenheim is equally stunning, not only the building itself but some of the sculptures such as the spider and the puppy.

We didn’t actually do anything else especially cultural, well, I didn’t – I’m not bothered about visiting churches. There were other art galleries, but seemed a bit fusty to my liking. I did conclude that Bilbao perhaps isn’t making the most of its opportunity to attract and entertain tourists…should it want to, of course.

There were other fun things to do. The funicular takes you to one of the hills grandly looking over the city – and provides stunning views.

View of Bilbao

We also headed north of the city to look at the transporter bridge, which is pretty cool – basically it transports cars and humans across the bridge, on the cables. Time was short so we didn’t go on it…you can also get a lift and walk over, which I’d kind of love to do but also it was really quite windy that day.

Transporter bridge in Bilbao

And we made it to the beach…alas, it was raining. But they do look like golden sands, and only €0.49 or something silly on the Metro to get there. Public transport in Bilbao is insanely cheap.

Guggeneating

Bilbao is famed for its pintxos, basically little bits of food, often on a slice of baguette. I think I’d get pretty bored of this as a cuisine – “another croqueta on a slice of bread”? OK. But it is a fun way to sample the cuisine.

The easiest way to experience this is to go to Erriberako Merkatua, basically the indoor market with 5-6 different vendors selling a fair variety of pintxos (though mostly on a slice of bread), for really low prices. Plenty of seating, even at lunchtime…at least on a Monday.

Probably the traditional way is to bar-hop and have a cana of beer and a pintxo in each, but that ain’t going to work when you are with 70+ year old parents. Tables and normal chairs are necessary.

Thankfully Bilbao has some excellent restaurants – the one that really stood out to me was Los Fueros. I had the pork ribs which were dreamy – though it comes with zero vegetables and zero potatoes – the former is a theme in Spain, and very much in Bilbao too. Why no vegetables? Maybe I need to order them also…but it isn’t like they offer large amounts of side dishes. Bread, though.

Also the cheesecake was out of this world, which wasn’t actually a cheesecake but almost a deconstructed white chocolate sexual affair. Really not far away from Blacklock’s cheesecake.

Guggenhmmmm beer

Of course, Bilbao has no shortage of places to drink craft beer – anyone with an idea of the scene will know of Basqueland, albeit not from Bilbao, but the same region.

I also grew to enjoy beers by Drunken Bros and Gross.

In terms of places to drink them, Penguin Bar was a great little bar, kind of scruffy and warm, but hit the vibe.

And then Singularity was probably the better of them – though I know there were other places we didn’t visit.

Bilbao Bo

I really enjoyed Bilbao – to say I prefer Valencia, Malaga and Madrid is no shame as they are truly excellent cities, yet Bilbao shows a really different side to Spain (with apologies to those that argue for independence for the Basque region…not for me to judge).

Lush scenery, surrounded by forests and mountains, and close enough to the beach.

A world-class art gallery, a wonderful food scene, some really good craft beer places too.

I’m not sure you need more than 2-3 nights here – I had 3 and it felt about right. But you could be more adventurous and head out into the countryside, or the mountains, and/or go hiking.

Flights were cheap – I paid £93.77 (no suitcase), Airbnb was gorgeous and I spent £220 on it, which is reasonable for the area – good hotels were £90-£100 a night. And I didn’t spend much whilst there – maybe £250. Bilbao isn’t the cheapest place in Spain, but it remains very affordable to go out when you are used to London.

Next up…Basel.

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