“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” – Cesar Cruz
Having done my Erasmus in Bilbao for a year, I have too much to tell you about the Basque Country to fit it all into one blog post. Therefore, I am going to split it up into a series. Who doesn’t love a series? It’s like Netflix but for blog posts!
The first in this series is going to be Bilbao at a first glance. Hopefully, this post will help those of you who might be visiting Bilbao for a weekend trip and can only fit in a couple of things.
Bilbao is an old industrial city that gave itself a makeover all the way back in 1992 and transformed itself from a grey, bleak industry city to the metropolitan city it is today. When undergoing said transformation, the city planners used the then dreary and dirty river as their focal point and today the Nervion river is a popular spot for boat city tours, university kayaking and rowing and for the more talented tourist, paddle boarding!
The guide I am about to give you also focuses on the river, because it was one of my favourite parts of the city. Most obviously, I am going to recommend the mesmerising and magical Guggenheim contemporary art museum. Before arriving in Bilbao, I didn’t care for contemporary art, and I must say the Guggenheim opened my eyes to it. If you don’t care for contemporary art either, give it a chance on this occasion. Its only €10 in for adults, €6 for students and free for kids. Of course if you opt not to, be sure to get a picture from the other side of the river in front of the ‘Goog’, as we used to call it, and walk around the building itself, as there are many sculptures to see outside. There is ‘El Puppy’, the magnificent floral structure of a dog near the entrance and the spectacular sculpture of a tarantula at the back, on the river side – I was lucky enough to jog under the spider on my evening jogs when I lived there.
Another attraction to the Guggenheim, if you can get your timing right, is the event held in the foyer/hall area of the museum monthly, named “Art after Dark”. This is a once in a lifetime experience, where they turn the museum into a nightclub for a few hours and open up a bar inside. As I said, considering they only take place once a month, it might be difficult to plan your entire holiday around it but if you’re flexible with your dates, I would say it’s definitely worth looking up before you get loose on Skyscanner.
For other daytime activities, I suggest, as always, walking! The city itself is big, but all of the nicest parts are walkable in one or two days. I would start with the river again. The Nervion is spotted with magnificent bridges, and if I were you, I would start at Casco Viejo and walk along the beautiful river until you can’t walk anymore! You’ll end up near the port, where you can cross the bridge and walk back.
Explore Casco Viejo, get lost! Casco Viejo in Bilbao is one of the most confusing and complicated old towns I have every tried to get my head around (hence after a year living there, I would still get lost!). They claim there are 7 streets but I beg to differ, it seems never ending. As a tourist, it is enchanting and enthralling. While you’re getting lost in the medieval allies, be sure to ask for directions to the Funicular.
The Funicular is simply a lift. However, it’s my favourite part of this young, vibrant city. Because Bilbao was built in a valley, there are many neighbourhoods at the top of the surrounding hills and in order for those who live there to get home, people commute using the Funicular. But beside the funicular station at the top of the hill, there is the most breathtaking view of the entire city. And because the lift is used as public transport, it’s an extremely cheap activity.
There you have it. My Top 5 things you cannot miss, if you have a limited time in País Vasco… Coming up, what to do if you have time on your side!