Bilbao is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the Basque Country. As an emerging tourist attraction, the city has been able to successfully combine tradition and contemporary sophistication.
During the twentieth century, Bilbao grew in influence and population due to its industrialization. Unfortunately, by the 1970s the city's decay had started as pollution levels increased and the economic crisis arrived. However, thanks to an ambitious renewal plan, Bilbao started to prosper again, and it became the affluent and touristy city it is today, and a world-level design
reference. Here are the top attractions of Bilbao:
1-THE GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM
The Guggenheim Museum is doubtlessly the main attraction of Bilbao. Designed by architect Frank Ghery and opened to the public in 1997, it has recently been designated as the most beautiful museum in the world. It's made of titanium panels which are designed to capture light and resembles a futuristic boat. In front of the museum stands a giant sculpture of a dog made of living flowers called "Puppy", designed by Jeff Koons.
2-THE OLD TOWN (CASCO VIEJO)
The Casco Viejo, also known as "las 7 calles", is the heart of the city. If the Guggenheim museum represents the modern face of Bilbao, the old town is a symbol of its traditional, vibrant and colourful part. Its narrow streets and medieval buildings are full of bars offering tasty pintxos. If you visit the Casco Viejo, don't forget to have a look at the St James' Cathedral, dating from the XIV century, and the Plaza Nueva, where you'll find some of the best pintxos in the world.
3-THE ENSANCHE AREA
The Ensanche is the most cosmopolitan area of Bilbao, as well as its financial, business and commercial centre. The main street, Gran Vía, is located in this area, and it is home to the most important institutional buildings, such as the Foral Delegation Palace and the headquarters of several banks. If shopping is your thing, Gran Vía is definitely the best choice, as it is teeming with independent shops and chain stores, and has a department store (El Corte Inglés) and an enormous tech store (Fnac).
The Arriaga theater is the city's oldest theater. Built in the 1880s in a neo-baroque style, it is one of the most elegant buildings of Bilbao, and although it was re-inaugurated after a fire in 1914, and after a flood in the 80s, its red and gold interior with luxurious carpets and furniture still evokes the XIX century. It is conveniently located between the Ensanche area and the Casco Viejo.
5-LA ALHÓNDIGA (AZKUNA CENTER)
The Azkuna Center, named after Bilbao's former mayor Iñaki Azkuna, was once a wine warehouse and was inaugurated in 1909. The original façade remains intact, and is contrasted with the modern interior, designed by French designer Philippe Stack in 2010. The Alhóndiga is a symbol of the transformation of Bilbao, from an industrial city to a culture, business and tourism city. It is a culture and leisure center, and has a cinema, a fitness centre, a library, an auditorium, various restaurants and shops... One of its highlights are its 43 columns, each of which has a different and unique design.
6-THE IBERDROLA TOWER
The Iberdrola Tower is the Basque Country's highest skyscraper, and the headquarters of the international gas and electricity company Iberdrola. It has a triangular shape, and it is covered in glass panels. Inaugurated by his royal highness the King of Spain in 2012, it was designed by César Pelli, who also designed the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur (the 5th tallest towers in the world). Near the Iberdrola tower is the Euskalduna Palace, a futuristic congress centre where important meetings, concerts and representations are held.
As you can see, Bilbao is a city of contrasts, and is well-known for its uniqueness. However,not only is it a beautiful city, but it is also the perfect size to walk around comfortably, and has a fantastic subway line that reaches most of the places listed above. Also, there’s a walk by the river which connects most of the attractions. There is a very wide range of activities that can be done in Bilbao, for all tastes. Everyone who comes to Bilbao agrees that the city is definitely worth a visit.