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Wandering through Iberian lands

Bilbao – my first contact with Euskadi

20/02/2021 9:58 AM

Bilbao is one of the pearls of northern Spain. It’s a combination of old city where you will feel like in Granada while wandering the narrow streets; multiculturalism, which we will feel at every step, encountering a whole range of shops from African, Arab, British or South American ones; and a breath of modernity, manifested in remarkable architecture and colorful graffiti decorating the walls of buildings.

It so happened that I am on the road once again. Unfortunately, temporarily alone, which I hope will change soon. My journey began in the south-west corner of Andalusia, from where by train and later by bus I set off on a journey to a mystical land where it is said that it always rains. In fact, after covering a little over 1000 km, we drove into the mountains where the temperature dropped drastically, the sky was covered with dark clouds and rain appeared on the bus windows. I've always thought that this is what crossing the border of the Basque Country would be like. You are probably wondering why? Well, I have never had the opportunity to visit this beautiful region, but I wanted to do it since I saw "Ocho Apellidos Vascos" for the first time, the film I wrote to you about earlier ("Spanish Affaire" in English). See how the main character enters the Basque Country! It was pretty much the same for me!

However, as soon as I entered Bilbao, the sky cleared, it got warmer and nicer. The first impression was also completely different than I expected. I had only one day to see the city, so I did some research and planned an 18 km walk, during which I was able to see practically everything I wanted. If you ever happen to be in the area, be sure to visit Bilbao and if you are looking for inspiration on how to plan a short stay in the city, read on!

Bilbao - the pearl of the north

Bilbao is the largest city of the Basque Country, but not its capital (which is Vitoria-Gasteiz). It is also the capital of the Biscay province, one of the three in the entire autonomous community. Bilbao is located in the north of Spain, on the River Nervión and on one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostella. By far the most interesting point for me was visiting the Guggenheim Museum, which has been in the city since 1997 and is one of three in the world. If you are planning a short stay in the area, a visit to the Guggenheim Museum should be the first on your list.

Guggenheim Museum


Buy tickets to the museum online, because they are cheaper than the same tickets available at the ticket office. When entering, scan the QR code and download the application, thanks to which you will be able to listen to everything about almost every piece of art that is inside. To be honest, I was surprised by the amount of information their virtual audioguide contains. I, not listening to everything but only 80%, needed almost 3 hours to see all the exhibitions. I love museums and art, and contemporary art is incredibly intriguing to me. The Guggenheim Museum boasts perhaps the best collection of contemporary art in Europe. Besides, the building itself is a work of art.

Make sure you go around the building before you go inside. It is incredibly photogenic, and the usually cloudy Basque skies make it look even better than we expect! More importantly, some works of art are outside and this is where you can start your visit. Two sculptures by the American pop-art artist Jeff Koons are, in a way, symbols of the city. Of course I am talking about Tulips and Puppy. Two other monumental works of art will also catch your attention - a huge spider by Louise Bourgeois Maman, and a mesmerizing sculpture by Anisha Kapoor from India entitled Tall Tree and the Eye (73 mirror balls visible in the photos above)

Inside, we will find, if I'm not mistaken, a permanent exhibition by Richard Serra The Matter of Time. One of the less interesting parts if you ask me, because it represents the part of contemporary art that does not appeal to me at all. Bilbao y la pintura presents the visual history of the city of Bilbao during the 19th century.

For me, however, the best was the exhibition by Olafur Eliasson, a Danish-Icelandic artist who turns the world around us into art. Inspired by care for nature, it creates using such materials as moss, fog or glacier water. In addition, with his works, he draws attention to extremely important issues that, unfortunately, many of us do not remember on a daily basis. It forces us to reflect on the understanding and perception of the physical world in which we are immersed.

As they write on the museum's website:

Eliasson's practice extends beyond making artworks, exhibitions, and public interventions to include architectural projects. Convinced that art can have a strong impact on the world outside the museum, Eliasson has created solar lamps for off-grid communities, conceived artistic workshops for asylum seekers and refugees, created art installations to raise awareness of the climate emergency, and in September 2019, he was named Goodwill Ambassador for the UNDP. “Art,” Eliasson says, “is not the object but what the object does to the world.””

In addition, at the Guggenheim Museum we can now see the works of Kandinsky - a Russian painter, co-creator and representative of abstract art. My favorite period in his work is definitely the '20s. At the top floor, more amazing works of contemporary art await us, including Andy Warhol.

As you can see, I devoted a lot of attention to the Guggenheim Museum because it is a really amazing place that you should not miss. However, Bilbao has more to offer! If you love painting, the Museum of Fine Arts is nearby. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to go there, but maybe you will make it!

Mercado de la Ribeira, Casco Viejo, Cathedral of St. James - where to shop, try pintxos and learn about the Basque Country

Walking along the river, you will definitely come across Mercado de la Ribeira, an indoor market with an area of ​​over ten thousand square meters (it is the largest covered area in Spain), where you can find almost everything - vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, flowers, meat ham, seafood, seeds, canned goods, sweets, cakes, pastries, bread ... During the pandemic it was incredibly deserted, but the building itself made an impression on me. From there we go straght to the nearby Casco Viejo (Old Town). On the way, be sure to stop by the Cathedral of St. James, which is of course one of the pilgrims' stops on the northern road to Santiago de Compostela. From there, it is worth going to Plaza Nueva, or New Square, where the Basque Museum is located (Museo Arqueológico, Etnográfico e Histórico Vasco / Euskal Museoa). The admission costs a symbolic EUR 3 and the collections of this museum will beautifully introduce us to the canons of Basque history and culture. Within a radius of two kilometers, there are plenty of bars that will serve you delicious pintxos, i.e. Basque tapas - small snacks/sandwiches that will perfectly satisfy your hunger while sightseeing.

Parque Etxebarria, Bilbao-Abando Station, San Francisco

After a snack, you will have the strength to climb the stairs to Etxebarria Park, which offers a panoramic view of the entire city. If you don't feel like eating in pubs, you can also have a little picnic on the grass, watching Bilbao from the top. While walking down towards the district commonly known as San Francisco, it is worth stopping for a moment in front of the amazing building of the City Hall. In front of it there is a very characteristic sculpture of the Baku artist Jorge Oteiza Escultura Variante Ovoide. After that, all you have to do is cross the bridge and head towards Abando Indalecio Prieto Station located right next to the San Francisco district. The station itself is also an interesting point on the agenda, which will undoubtedly delight you with a stained glass window on the first floor.

Azkuna Zentroa, Parque de Doña Casilda and San Mamés Stadium

Next on my list was Azkuna Zentroa, a somewhat multifunctional building designed by French designer Philippe Starck in collaboration with Thibaut Mathieu. It is difficult to clearly define what it is - inside there is a library, gym, multiplex cinema, shops and restaurants . A bit of a shopping center and a bit of an office building. Honestly, it's not one of those must-see places. Football fans will not miss the stadium of Atheltic Bilbao - San Mamés. I went not because of my love for football (or rather lack of it), but because of the building itself. Finally, the Doña Casilda park, where you can stop for a longer break. A charming place where dogs play together and run without a leash, parents walk in the shadows of the trees with their children, others play soccer, someone smokes a joint, and students read books while lying on the bright green grass. It was so nice there that it was hard for me to go back to the hotel.

In Bilbao you can still do and see a lot of things, unfortunately I didn't have enough time, but I find my whole day walk very successful. I hope you will like my suggestions! I am waiting for comments.