Northern Spain’s most exciting city, Bilbao is an urban phoenix that as late as the mid-Nineties was mired in industrial decay. But less than 20 years on, chic restaurants and dramatic architectural statements dot its centre. Pitched 10 miles inland from Spain’s north coast, Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country. Still a busy port, its kernel lies in a valley on the estuary of the Nervió river. The city spreads out on both sides of the water: the Old Town (Casco Viejo) is on the right bank; “newer” districts such as Abando and Indautxu are on the other shore. The best times to enjoy the city is mid-April through June, September, and October as the temperature is ideal during these months.

WHAT TO SEE IN BILBAO

Guggenheim Museum: The opening of Bilbao’s artistic totem – the Guggenheim Museum – in 1997 was the catalyst for this regeneration. The museum hosts works of modern and contemporary art and was designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. Guggenheim museum is seamlessly integrated into the urban context, unfolding its interconnecting shapes of stone, glass and titanium at the industrial heart of the old city. Its architecture is sculptural and expressionistic, with spaces unlike any others for the presentation of art. Bilbao’s most celebrated landmark is not just “unmissable” in a visiting sense. Depending on viewing angle, the Guggenheim Museum resembles a boat, a chimney or a fish, and outshines the contemporary art held within. The museum is wheelchair accessible except for its High Gallery.

Museo de Bellas Artes: It is the second largest and most visited museum in the Basque Country and one of the richest Spanish museums outside Madrid. It houses a valuable and quite comprehensive collection of Basque, Spanish and European art. A quick stroll away the Museo de Bellas Artes does a more classical take on art, with paintings by Van Dyck, El Greco, Goya, Gauguin and Cézanne, as well as pieces by 20th-century Basque luminaries Eduardo Chillida and Jorge Oteiza. Throughout its history, the museum has developed an exemplary model in which citizens, artists and public institutions have determined their configuration through important purchases and donations of works of art.

Plaza Nueva: The Plaza Nueva or New Square of Bilbao is a monumental square of Neoclassical style built in 1821. Its name originally comes from the previously existing Plaza Vieja or Old Square in the place where the Ribera Market was built. The square is enclosed by arcaded buildings and accessed by arches known as cuevas (caves). Apart from its architectural value the Plaza Nueva has the character of an urban reference point. This is helped by the colonnade and arches, where the restaurants and bars keep the atmosphere lively all day. Every Sunday, the square provides space for a traditional flea market where ancient books, stamps, coins and flowers are sold.

Zubizuri: The Zubizuri (“white bridge“), also called the Campo Volantin Bridge or Puente del Campo Volantin, is a tied arch footbridge across the Nervion River. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the bridge links the Uribitarte left bank with the Campo Volantin right bank of the river. In 1990 Calatrava made a design for what at that time was known as the site of the Bridge Uribitarte, referring to a dedicated land swap with the city of Bilbao client. In 1994 the local government commissioned the architect to carry out a new project avoiding any form of association with the previous circumstances. The new pedestrian bridge has a total span of 75 meters.

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