Normally, when I hear people rave about Basque Country in northern Spain, they’re raving about San Sebastian; I have nothing against San Sebastian, except that I’m cranky I haven’t been there yet, but those who skip over Bilbao in favor of the food mecca to the east are missing out on a world of equally delicious food, world-class museums, and just a generally good vibe. Here’s why I would never miss a chance to visit this hip Basque city.
The food. My traveling partner-in-crime and I never missed a chance to gorge ourselves on food for a weekend, and in Bilbao, you have a built-in excuse. Famous for pinxos, small pieces of bread topped with any number of delicious concoctions, a sparkling white wine called txacoli, and the delectable Idiazabal sheep’s cheese, you would have to try hard to eat poorly in this city. Hashtagging each photo we took with #pintxosbeforebros (we were down on our luck guy-wise), my friend and I really took full advantage of the culinary paradise we found ourselves in.
I recommend Gure Toki, a small bar centrally located in Plaza Nueva, where the selection of award-winning pintxos is unbeatable. Do as the Spanish do and order and eat at the bar, picking out your pintxos as you go—and don’t forget to wash them down with a class of refreshing txacoli.
The art. You might have seen photos of the Guggenheim Bilbao before, and it may actually be more famous for its exterior than its contents. Bilbao can be rainy, and if you’re faced with a stormy afternoon like we were, a few hours spent meandering through the Guggenheim would be a perfect way to escape the weather. Modern art fans will especially enjoy the interior, but the exterior of the museum was the highlight for me, with the exception of the giant spider sculpture, which I swear I’ve seen before in my nightmares.
The good vibes. If you’ve read my post about duende, you’ll know what I mean when I say that Bilbao has an undeniable, indescribable laid-back vibe that makes it irresistible to me. I can’t pin it on one thing or another, but I can say that strolling along the river, even in the incessant rain, I felt at ease and happy to be there. My friend and I mused about what it would be like to live there and agreed that it’s just a generally amiable, cool place.
If you find yourself without an agenda in Bilbao, stop by The Beetle in Plaza Miguel Unamuno for some breakfast, coffee, or a sweet snack. In the evening, try Stromboli for some great cocktails and a hip atmosphere. The hostel we stayed in, Ganbara, was cool, had nice staff, and clean rooms for a really great price, too. But really, I don’t think you can go wrong in Bilbao!
Gure Toki, Plaza Nueva 12, +34 944.158.037, http://www.guretoki.com
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Avenida Abandoibarra, 2, +34 944.359.080, http://guggenheim-bilbao.es/en
The Beetle Bar, Kale Barria, 3, +34 944.009.872, http://www.facebook.com/thebeetlebar/
Stromboli, General Concha 12, +34 944.051.872, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stromboli-Bilbao/572142772827668
Ganbara Hostel, Prim Kalea 13-bajo, +34.944.053.930, http://www.ganbarahostel.com/pub/en.