Bilbao, known as the capital of the Basque Country, is a port city located on Spain’s northern coast. Surrounded by rolling green hills, Bilbao is located in a valley on the banks of the River Nervión, and is the 5th largest urbanisation in Spain. Bilbao city centre is a mix of modern skyscrapers as well as many traditional buildings in the old town. Some say Bilbao is the home of authentic Spanish cuisine, and this was something that I wanted to find out for myself on my recent Bilbao city break.
Getting to Bilbao
About a year ago British Airways commenced a twice daily service from Heathrow to Bilbao. Prices starting from £39 one-way. I have driven through Bilbao many times in the past but never stopped, nor given it a second thought. When British Airways announced this route I decided to book some flights and plan a Bilbao city break. I did upgrade to Club Europe on the outbound flight for 3,750 Avios plus £13.10 in taxes and charges.
The flight time is published at around 2 hours, however the actual flying time is around 90 minutes. The outbound services depart mid-morning and mid-afternoon, with the return flights departing early afternoon and early evening. Perfect flight times for a one night bilbao city break, leaving on a Saturday morning and returning Sunday evening. The only downside to the flight is that it is one of a few British Airways services that operate from Terminal 3 rather than Terminal 5. British Airways partner Vueling also offer a daily service to Bilbao from Gatwick.
Somewhere to Stay on a Bilbao City Break
Using my hotels.com account I booked a standard room for my one night stay in the Hotel Sercotel Coliseo. Prices start from just £79 per night. The hotel is centrally located, just a stone’s throw from the main train station, and a short walk to the old town. Despite only booking a standard double room, it was extremely spacious, comfortable and very modern in decoration.
Sight Seeing on a Bilbao City Break
A trip to the Guggenheim Bilbao Museo should definitely be on the top of everyone’s to do list while in Bilbao. The entrance fee is €16, but it is absolutely worth seeing while on a Bilbao city break. The building was designed by Frank Gehry and and is constructed mainly in glass, titanium and sandstone, with all of the galleries leading off from an impressive central atrium.
Although exhibitions do change over time, the museum is currently home to many famous works by Andy Warhol, along with some interesting works by Louise Bourgeois as well as the stunning Windows on the City collection. There are also some wonderful sculptures that can be seen around the exterior, such as Maman, Tulips, and The Puppy.
I would allow at least 2-3 hours for your visit to full appreciate everything that the Guggenheim Bilbao has to offer. The Guggenheim also has a restaurant where you can indulge in some beautiful local cuisine, as well as a bar for light snacks and refreshments.
Located on the bank of the Nervión River, right in the heart of the old town is the famous Mercado de la Ribera. This spectacular market is arranged over two large floors. The upper level is home to many stalls selling fresh seafood and meat, as well as fruit and veg, cheeses and beautiful cured meats. The lower level, a continuation of the market stalls, is also home to many bars and cafés, all displaying delicious looking treats to tempt you in. The basement has a large restaurant and jazz bar called La Ribera.
A visit to the market during your bilbao city break comes highly recommended, not only for browsing the many stores selling wonderful local produce, but to to enjoy a drink and something to eat in one of the fantastic bars and cafés located here.
Parque de Doña Casilda Iturrizar
While in Bilbao a stroll through the Park is a lovely way to spend a few hours on a sunny afternoon. Whether it is relaxing outside the café with a coffee or a refreshing glass of white wine, or enjoying the sunshine by the beautiful fountains.
During my visit to Bilbao I stumbled upon a car show while I was in the park, a rally for Seat 600 owners and enthusiasts to be exact. Many cars had turned up for the event, and it was interesting to see this wonderful collection of iconic Spanish cars.
Eating While on a Bilbao City Break
On the flight over I was told by the cabin service director that Bilbao has many Michelin star restaurants, I was quite excited about this. Upon arrival I did a bit of research on my iPad to find out where they were, to my disappointment all of them were fully booked that evening, and many for a week or more in advance. This was a disappointment, however I do adore tapas, and there was no shortage of tapas bars in Bilbao.
On Saturday evening I was out looking for a place for dinner, by accident I stumbled upon Plaza Neuva. Plaza Neuva is a beautiful traditional square on the edge of the old town. The square reminded me of Plaza Mayor in Madrid, just much smaller. The square was lined with many tapas bars and restaurants, I found one called Volapié which looked great so I sat down at an outside table on the edge of the square.
They had some delicious sounding food on their menu, I loved the sound of the Iberico ham with artichoke and also their platter of different Iberico hams and local cheeses. I enjoyed these delicious treats with a glass of local Rioja (yes, Bilbao is not far at all from the Rioja region). The food in Volapié was beautiful, but I’m sure that the other tapas bars lining the edges of the square would also not disappoint.
On Saturday afternoon, not long after I arrived I stumbled across a food festival on the banks of the river. Nearly all the stalls were retro style vans in bright colours, all offering a different type of cuisine. For lunch on the first day I sampled a few different treats from some of them. Washed down with some local cervezas from the drink stands located through the centre of the event. I wondered how often stalls were here. It couldn’t possibly be here all the time could it? After talking to some locals while in a queue for one of the vendors, I found out that it was indeed a special event, which happens twice a year. How lucky was it that I booked to visit this particular weekend for my Bilbao city Break!
If you are looking for nightlife in Bilbao head over to Calle Ledesma, where at night the whole street comes to life. By day the bars which line the street have tables and chairs for those who wish to enjoy a drink and some tapas. By night the street becomes packed with people spilling out of the bars in to the street. It is quite a lively atmosphere.
Would I go back?
Since booking my Bilbao city break I was very eager to get there and explore. Now that I have been, I have to say that it is definitely on my list of destinations to re-visit. One of the biggest appeals to me is that the majority of the city is not really geared up for tourists. This means no English menus or menus with pictures on them! Bilbao is a traditional Spanish city, retaining that special unspoilt Spanish charm.