City guide to Bilbao

Introduction to Bilbao

Guggenheim Bilbao at night

Bilbao, Spain is a must-see city for travelers on the Iberian Peninsula. Nestled in the autonomous northern region of Spain known as "El Pais Vasco" (the Basque Country), Bilbao is the 6th largest city in Spain. Once only known as a gloomy industrial city, Bilbao has undergone many changes over the past decades, making it an important tourist destination. While the Basque people have their own language, most native Basques also speak and write in "castellano" (Castilian), the most common form of Spanish in Spain. Many people, especially in the tourist areas, also speak English and/or other languages, so communicating in the city is not a problem for foreigners. There are many restaurants and shops to visit while spending time in Bilbao.

The largest attraction in Bilbao, however, is the $100 million Guggenheim Museum that opened in 1997 and was designed by American architect Frank Gehry. The building's odd shape is a source of either awe or puzzlement for many visitors and those living in Bilbao. Nevertheless, the museum hosts an assortment of modern Spanish art, as well as traveling exhibits from other countries. Guided tours are available for those visiting the museum or one can peruse the museum on their own by downloading guided podcasts of exhibits or simply wondering around. There is also a virtual tour of the museum on the Guggenheim Bilbao website.

The success of the Guggenheim Museum has sparked other new ventures in Bilbao in recent years, including a new metro system and airport terminal by Calatrava. Visitors to the area may notice a more business-oriented culture than in many other Spanish cities. It is not uncommon to see throngs of men and women in business attire hustling quickly through the city. It is an interesting contrast to other Spanish cities and towns than are more dependent on tourist revenue. Tourists should still feel comfortable, however, and the Spaniards in Bilbao are friendly and helpful if you need assistance. While not a large city, Bilbao is a travel hub to other towns in the Basque Country for those wishing to explore the region further. If you are visiting northern Spain, especially the Basque Country, Bilbao is a city you certainly do not want to miss.

Photo by Arrano on flickr

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