The largest city in Spain's Basque Country, Bilbao is a cultural magnet, attracting millions of art lovers to its galleries and museum. But it's more than that; with great food, sport and coastal attractions in the area, Bilbao rewards everyone who visits.
Opened in 1997 and designed by superstar architect Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim is one of Europe's most spectacular galleries and is packed with modern and post-modern masterpieces.
A great complement to the Guggenheim, the Museum of Fine Arts houses a wonderful collection of pre-19th-century art, there's an engaging Basque Museum and an equally fascinating Archaeological Museum to explore.
Central Bilbao (the "Casco Viejo") dates back over a thousand years. Don't miss churches like San Nicolás de Bari and the cafes and boutiques on the Siete Calles.
Another gem of the city's attractions is the Cathedral of Santiago, a key link on the pilgrimage route to Compostela. It's a stunning work with Gothic decorations and an astonishing feeling of peace and tranquility.
If you love rock music, July's BBK Live is one of Spain's biggest events, while the BAD dance and theater event in October is a showcase for the finest Basque talent.
Designed by Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is itself a work of art. Established in 1997, the museum lies on the Nervion River and is a worthy addition to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation museums. The gallery houses a collection of modern art that includes masterworks by Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Clyfford Still as well as contemporary pieces by Jenny Holzer, Francesco Clemente, Anselm Kiefer and Richard Serra.
Located in the Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park, the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao -- The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum -- is the second-largest museum within the Basque Country and features an impressive collection of Basque, Spanish and European works ranging from the Middle Ages to the present. Highlights include masterpeices by El Greco, Goya, Van Dyck, Cranach, Murillo, Ruisdael and Bellotto as well as works by James Ensor, Henri Le Sidaner, Sorolla, Mary Cassatt, Peter Blake, Gauguin and Francis Bacon.
Set in a 16th century convent, the Euskal Museoa Bilbao Museo Vasco focuses on life in the Basque Country with insight into Basque culture, history and farm and maritime life. With works dating back thousands of years to the Iron Age (including animal drawings as well prehistoric artifacts found at the Santimamiñe caves at Kortezubi), the museum also showcases scale models of the region dotted with its bugling mountains and the five peaks of Vizcaya, from where the general assemblies were called.
Celebrates the history of the Basque region with two floors displaying prehistoric artifacts as well as contemporary pieces. Intended to preserve the archaeological finds of the Basque Country, the museum highlights fishing and pastoral culture, the steel and shipbuilding and traditional crafts such as pottery and weaving as well as kitchen utensils, keys, axes, iron wedges, coins and religious items.
Designed by Ricardo Bastida and Juan de Eguiraun in 1907, the Casilda Iturrizar Park, also known as Doña Casilda Park, is a stunning 100-year-old English-style garden housing a central pond with ducks, swans and peacocks as well as century-old trees. The park also features a pergola, which hosts live performances, a cybernetic fountain, which offers holiday sound and light shows, and an antique carousel. The Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao is located in the park.
Weather-wise, June and July are good times to go, with sunshine and warm weather almost guaranteed. You can see the sights (and perhaps avoid peak season crowds), while the beaches of San Sebastian are within reach as well.
Plenty of regional airlines fly into Bilbao Airport. From there, take Bizkaibus A3247 (EUR1.45, 25 minutes).
Renfe trains run from Madrid and Barcelona. Fares from both cities range from EUR14-30.
From Barcelona, take the AP-2, then the AP-68 at Zaragoza, before taking the AP-15 at Alfaro. From Madrid, take the E-5, the AP-1 and then the AP-68.
ALSA and PESA run intercity buses into Bilbao from San Sebastian, Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza and Burgos. Buses from Madrid take around 5 hours and cost EUR15.
The Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao is a great option near the Guggenheim. The Hotel NH Collection Villa de Bilbao is a good city center upscale alternative and the Meliá Bilbao is another comfortable luxury option.
Casco Viejo - Bilbao's oldest neighborhood, Casco Viejo is utterly charming, featuring attractions like the cathedral and hundreds of cafes, restaurants and stores.
Indautxu - The city's liveliest neighborhood Indautxu is crammed with bars and clubs and is also home to Athletic Bilbao, one of Spain's biggest soccer teams.
Deusto - One of the best places in town to try Basque tapas, Deusto is home to gourmet eateries like Antioqueño and La Gabarra as well as thousands of students.
Bilbao has a subway, buses, trams and regional trains. Single journeys cost EUR1.20 minimum and you can save money by purchasing a rechargeable Barik Card.
Taxis in Bilbao charge a meter drop of EUR4, followed by around EUR3 for every subsequent mile.
Car rental options in town include Thrifty, Avis and Budget, with rates starting at around EUR15 per day.
Gran Via and the Plaza Federico Moyua are the city's main shopping areas, where you'll find elite apparel stores like Max Mara or Carolina Herrera and plenty of international chains.
Supermarkets include BM Supermercados and Opencor, where you can expect to spend around EUR3.30 on a gallon of milk.
Bilbao has some of Spain's finest tapas restaurants, but standouts include the Michelin-starred Zortziko, Mandoya at the heart of the old town and Irrintzi, specialists in "pintxos" (tapas served skewered on a toothpick). Expect main meals to cost around EUR20-25 and tapas to cost EUR3-5 per portion.