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Bilbao is the largest city of Spanish Basque Country. Up until not long ago Bilbao was famous for its grayness, but in recent decades the city has worked hard to rid itself from this negative image. The renewal accelerated after the flood of 1983, which caused a lot of damage. And with success! Bilbao is a gem, not only for its historical and modern architecture, but also for the enjoyable nightlife and not to forget the delicious Basque cuisine.
The symbol and at the same time the catalyst of the city's 'refreshment' is without a doubt the Guggenheim Museum. Like a Guggenheim should, the museum in Bilbao is housed in a modern, somewhat surrealist looking buildings, designed by the Canadian architect Frank Gehry. It houses a beautiful collection of modern art with works by Picasso, Tàpies, Warhol, Klein and Rauschenberg.
The Museo de Bellas Artes has a beautiful collection of works by Basque artists. The paintings have been divided by time: from the twelfth century to present. If you want to know more about the Basque history, you can't skip the Euskal Museoa, although some knowledge of Basque or Spanish is required, as there is no English or French explanation!
Fun for kids is the Museo Maritimo Ría de Bilbao. Of course it covers the maritime history of the town, but for kids the outdoor area is the highlight. They can play pirates on boats.
The heart of the old town is formed by Plaza Nueva, or New Square. Named this way because it was 'only' constructed in 1821 in neoclassical style. This square is surrounded by an arch gallery with many cozy eateries, cafes and terraces. A flea market is held on Sundays on the square.
North of Plaza Nueva stands the Iglesia de San Nicolas de Bari, the church of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. In the octagonal prayer room, the wooden carving of the altar is especially notable. From this church, an lift runs to the Begoña district, where the gothic church Basílica de Begoña looks out beautifully over the city. Bilbao is bursting with historical churches; we will only name two more here. On the site where the Santiago Cathedral now stands, there was already a church in the fourteenth century, but it was destroyed by a fire in the sixteenth century. The current cathedral is a blend of Renaissance, Gothic and Neo-Gothic styles. This church is in the heart of the Casco Viejo, the old town. The Iglesia de San Antón dates back to the fifteenth century, but the baroque bell tower was added three centuries later.
The cable car up to the top of Artxanda is a true experience. You can enjoy a spectacular view, not only when you are on the summit, but on the way to there too. On top of the hill is a park with various restaurants and sport opportunities.
Europe's largest covered market, the Mercado de la Ribera, is not only worth a visit for its colors and smells, but for the special building it is houses in too. Thanks to the translucent floors, allowing the sunlight to penetrate all the way to the ground floor!
From Bilbao you can make beautiful trips to the Basque and Spanish interior with your rental car. Drive south for example, towards the town of Ezcaray, in the Spanish province Rioja. On the way there you can enjoy impressive nature, and in the town itself the special architecture, including the Palacio del Conde de Torremúzquiz. From Ezcaray you can make excursions to the origin of the Oja river in Llano de la Casa, or to the top of the Pico de San Lorenzo(2271 m). Or visit one of the many famous Rioja vineyards.
With the refreshment of Bilbao many new hotels have been built in the city in recent years. These modern accommodations mostly stand in the so-called 6th district of (Abando). You can find many cheap hotels and pensions in Casco Viejo. Be aware that this is also the noisy entertainment district!
Driving in Bilbao is not easy. The town is very hilly and the center consists of narrow streets where often a one-way traffic system applies. For street parking you have to pay at a parking meter. It's more convenient to park your car in an underground parking garage.
Bilbao airport is located twelve kilometers north of the Loiu district. With a rental car, the city is easily accessible from the airport. Firstly, follow the BI-631 to the south This roads connects to the N-637 north of Bilbao where several turns lead you to the center. West of Bilbao, this road connects to the A8, the highway along the Spanish north coast.