Home to the internationally renowned Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao is now a major European centre of art to which thousands of regular sight-seers and art aficionados alike flock every year. As a result this picturesque Basque city is well provisioned with an outstanding range of hotels, stylish stores and a hectic social calendar.
The Basque city of Bilbao, with the breathtaking Guggenheim Museum at its heart, has a great range of hotels, including, at the top end, the gorgeous Silken Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao (Alameda de Mazarredo 61), with a rooftop terrace overlooking the shimmering metallic curves of the Guggenheim, and the fantastic Meliá Bilbao Hotel (Lehendakari Leizaola 29). There are many elegant four-star properties too, such as the Sercotel Coliseo Hotel (Alameda de Urquijo 13) housed in Bilbao’s former opera house, with the original facade and contemporary interiors, as well as lower budget places, such as Sirimiri (Plaza de la Encarnación 3), with attractive rooms in the Old Town.
Bilbao’s main shopping street is Gran Vía, which has lots of big-name, high-street brands as well as the huge 10-floor department store, El Corte Inglés (Gran Vía 20), which sells clothing, accessories, homewares, leather products and more. There are other interesting shops in the surrounding streets, including the stylish jewellers Sa’d Joyas (Elcano 11). In Bilbao’s charming historic quarter, Casco Viejo also contains big high-street names and a great selection of independent boutiques. You can stock up on jamón ibérico and Basque idiazábal at historic delicatessen Víctor Montes (Nueva Plaza 8), which is also a restaurant.
'Pintxos' are the Basque version of tapas, and locals tend to graze on these between around 7pm and 9pm. Great places to try in Bilbao are much-recommended, old-school Café Iruna (Calle Berastegui 5) and the restaurant-deli Victor Montes (Nueva Plaza 8). Basque cooking has many other distinctive dishes, particularly based around seafood, and there’s a fine choice of restaurants, ranging from Michelin-starred Zortziko (Calle Alameda Mazarredo 17) under the stewardship of chef Daniel Garcia, to cheap-and-cheerful places such as La Deliciosa (Jardines Kalea 1). If you’re planning on dining, rather than plumping for pintxos and beer, make sure you have reservations as places get booked up.
Saint Agueda's Day
This historic festival features parades of children's choirs performing on the city streets, dressed in traditional costumes.
Holy Week is celebrated with many solemn parades accompanied by bands of drummers and trumpeters as well as re-enactments of Christ's final days, and there is bull running in the nearby fishing village of Zumaia.
Bilbao BBK Live
Bilbao’s three-day answer to Glastonbury has a great line-up, balmy camping spots in a great green expanse, cheaper tickets, and more assured weather conditions. Headliners such as Kings of Leon, Depeche Mode and Green Day, and plenty of DJs get the party started.
Attracting huge crowds, ‘Big Week' sees 10 days of cultural events and festivals throughout Bilbao, including traditional music, concerts, dancing, bullfighting, boat races, sporting events and fireworks.
Festival Internacional de Títeres
This famous local storytelling festival attracts puppeteers from countries including Africa and Russia, bringing displays of local traditions and beautifully made puppets, and spectators from all over the world.