Bilbao Travel Guide

Chillier and greener than most of Spain, Bilbao is nestled in the Bay of Biscay and is the chief city in Basque country. This lively port possesses some astonishing architecture and breath-taking landscapes of rolling hills, rocky coves and sandy beaches, and its food scene is absolutely first rate.

Bilbao isn't exactly beautiful as many of its buildings are soot-stained, and the Nervion River, which runs through the city, is one of Spain's most polluted waterways. The destination does, however, have a few wonderful surprises to offer visitors, and there are plenty of attractions in the surrounding countryside and around the coast on the Bay of Biscay, which is easily reached on excursions by rail or road.

The main attraction is the outstanding Guggenheim Museum. Designed by Frank Gehry, who is one of the most acclaimed architects of the 20th century and known for his sculptural, unorthodox and often audacious work, this daring, avant-garde building is regarded by many as the beginning of Bilbao's revitalisation.

Serious foodies appreciate that Bilbao rather than Madrid or Barcelona is Spain's gastronomic capital, and that its regional cuisine is spectacular. Tapas may reign supreme in other parts of the country but pintxos are the best-known aspect of Basque fare. Though similar to tapas, they're more elaborate bite-sized snacks that are often served on a small bread base and speared with a toothpick. Popular pintxos include toasted bread topped with tender Iberian ham and olive oil, bacon-wrapped dates, and a whole goose liver that's soaked in brandy, flash-fried and placed on bread. Baby cuttlefish in their own ink and Bacalao a la vizcaína (Biscay-style cod) are other must-try local dishes.

The destination has some good beaches and a few scenic spots, such as a favoured picnic site on Monte Archanda to the north of the old town, which is accessible by funicular. Of the beaches, Getxo is the favourite, particularly with surfers, and features a 100-year-old suspension bridge and some lively bars and nightclubs. Bilbao is an interesting industrial city that is steadily increasing in popularity with tourists and makes for a fantastic weekend getaway.