Bilbao (pop. 370,000) is a city transformed; what was once industry is now new, avant-garde, and futuristic. 20th-century success showered the city with a new subway system, a new bridge, a stylish riverwalk, and other additions designed by renowned international architects. But above all else, the shining Guggenheim Museum has most powerfully fueled Bilbao’s rise to international prominence.


Flights depart from the airport (944 86 93 00), 8km from Bilbao. To reach the airport, take the Bizkai bus ( 914 48 40 80) marked Aeropuerto from P. Moyua, in front of the Hacienda building (20min.; M-F every 30 min. 6:30am-9pm; Sa-Su every hr. 7am-9pm; ‚1). Buses return from the airport to PI. Moyua (M-F every


30min. 6:45am-10:45pm, Sa-Su every hr. 6:30am-10:30pm). Trains (902 24 02 02) arrive at the Estacion de Abando del Norte, PI. Circular 2, from: Barcelona (9-llhr. Su-F 10:45pm, ‚43); Madrid (6-9hr. Su-F 4:30 and 8:45pm, ‚38); and Salamanca (5Mshr. 2pm, ‚24). From PI. Circular, head right around the station and cross Puente del Arenal to reach PI. Arriaga, the entrance to the casco viejo and PI. Nueva. Most bus companies leave from the Termibus terminal, C. Gurtubay 1 ( 944 39 50 77; M: San Mames), on the west side of town, for: Barcelona (7V4hr. 4 per day, ‚35); Madrid (4-5hr.; M-F 10-18 per day, Su 2 per day; ‚23); Pamplona (2hr. 4-6 per day, ‚11); and San Sebastian (l’ihr. every hr. ‚8).


The city’s main thoroughfare, Gran Via de Don Diego Lopez de Haro, or just Gran Via, connects three of Bilbao’s main plazas. Heading east from PI. de Sagrado Corazon, to the central PI. Moyua, and ending at PI. Circular, it is the axis for many important stops and stations. Past PI. Circular, you will cross the Rio de Bilbao on Puente del Arenal, which deposits you on Plaza de Arriaga, the entrance to the casco viejo and Plaza Nueva. The tourist office is on C. Rodriguez Arias 3. ( 944 79 57 60; Open M-F 9am-2pm and 4-7:30pm, Sa 9am-2pm, Su 10am-2pm.) Surf the Internet at Ciberteca, C. Jose Maria Escuza 23, on the comer of C. Simon Bolivar. (‚.60 per lOmin. ‚2.10 per hr. Open M-Th 8am-10pm, F-Sa 8am-midnight, Su lOam-lOpm.) Postal Code: 48008.


During Semana Grande (Aug. 17-25) rates are higher than those listed below. Plaza Arriaga and Caile Arenal have budget accommodations galore, while upscale hotels line the river or are in the new city off Gran Via.

Hotel Arriaga, C. Ribera 3 (944 79 00 01; fax 79 05 16). Large rooms with private bath and AC. Singles ‚39; doubles ‚60; triples ‚72. AmExV. O

Pension Mendez, C. Santa Maria 13, 4th fl. (944 16 03 64). Take C. Bidebbarrieta from Pte. del Arenal; after 2 blocks, take a right onto C. Perro. Turn right on C. Santa Maria. Rooms insulated from the raging nightlife below. Singles ‚25; doubles ‚33.

Pension Ladero, C. Loteria 1, 4th fl. (944 15 09 32). From Pte. del Arenal, take C. Corre; after 3 blocks, take a right onto C. Loteria. Modern common bathrooms and winter heating. Singles ‚18; doubles ‚30.

Pension de la Fuente, C. Sombreria 2 (944 16 99 89). From Pte. Arenal, turn right on C. Correo, follow it 2 blocks past PI. Nueva, and then turn left. Singles ‚18; doubles ‚26-28, with bath ‚36.

Hostal Mardones, C. Jardines 4, 3rd fl. (944 15 31 05). From Pte. Arenal, take C. Bidebarrieta, then the 1st right onto C. Jardines; the hostel is on the left. Some rooms with balconies, all with marble sinks. Singles ‚32, with bath ‚38; doubles with 1 bed ‚34, with 2 beds ‚42, with bath ‚38-45; triples with bath ‚45-50.

Albergue Bilbao Aterpetxez (HI), Ctra. Basurto-Kastrexana Errep. 70 (944 27 00 54; fax 27 54 79). Take bus #58 from PI. Circular or PI. Zabalburu. Internet access, currency exchange, bike rental, and laundry facilities. July-Sept. singles ‚18, under-26 ‚16; bed in a double or triple ‚14, over-25 ‚16. Oct.-June ‚1 discount. MCV.


Restaurants and bars in the casco viejo offer a wide selection of local dishes, pintxos, and bocadillos. The new city has more variety. Mercado de la Ribera, on the bank of the river at the bottom of the casco viejo, is the biggest indoor market in Spain. (Open M-Th and Sa 8am-2:30pm; F 8am-2:30pm and 4:30-7:30pm.) Pick up groceries at Champion, PI. Santos Juanes. (Open M-Sa 9am-9:30pm.)

Restaurante Vegetariano Garibolo, C. Fernandez del Campo 7, serves delicious and creative vegetarian meals. Menu ‚9.80. Open M-Sa l-4pm. MCV.

New Inn Urrestarazu, Alameda de Urquijo 9. Features both authentic local cuisine and home-cooked comfort food. Try the idiazabal cheese (‚2.60). Entrees ‚2-7. Open M-Th 7am-llpm, F 7am-midnight, Sa 8am-lam, Su lOam-lOpm.

Restaurante Peruano Aji Colorado, C. Barrencalle 5 (s944 15 22 09), in the casco viejo. Specializes in ceviche (marinated raw fish salad; ‚9.65-11.40). M-F luncheon menu ‚12. Open Tu-Sa l:30-3:30pm and 9-ll:30pm, Su l:30-3:30pm. MCV.

Restaurante Bar Zuretzat, C. Iparraguirre 7 (944 24 85 05), near the Guggenheim. High-quality seafood. Don’t miss the incredibly sweet cinnamon rice pudding (‚3.20). Menu ‚10. Open daily 7:30am-llpm. MCV.

THE GUGGENHEIM. Frank O. Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao can only be described as breathtaking. Lauded in the international press with every superlative imaginable, it has catapulted Bilbao straight into cultural stardom. Visitors are greeted by Jeff Koons’s Puppy, a dog composed of 60,000 flowers and standing almost as tall as the museum. The main attraction is undoubtedly the undulating shapes and flowing forms of the building itself. Sheathed in titanium, limestone, and glass, the US$100 million building is said to resemble an iridescent scaly fish or a blossoming flower. The amazingly light, dramatically spacious interior features a towering atrium and a series of non-traditional exhibition spaces, including a colossal 130m by 30m hall. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to take your shoes off, lie on the floor, walk through mazes, or even sing throughout your visit to the various eccentric exhibits. The museum currently hosts rotating exhibits drawn from the Guggenheim Foundation’s collection. A cafe on the ground floor serves snacks and drinks; the restaurant on the second floor provides a more decadent dining experience and is a work of modem art in itself. (Av. Abandoibarra 2. s944 35 90 00; Open daily July-Aug. 10am-8pm; Sept-June Tu-Su 10am-8pm. ‚10, students and seniors ‚5. Under-12 free. Audio tour ‚3.70. Guided tours in English Tu-Su 11am, 12:30, 4:30, and 6:30pm. Sign up 30min. before tour at the info desk.)

MUSEO DE BELLAS ARTES. Although it can’t boast the name-recognition of the Guggenheim, the Museo de Bellas Artes wins the favor of locals, who insist its the superior attraction. Hoarding aesthetic riches behind an unassuming facade, the museum boasts an impressive collection of 12th- to 21st-century art, featuring excellent 15th- to 17th-century Flemish paintings, works by El Greco, Zurbaran, Goya, Gauguin, Francis Bacon, Velazquez, Picasso, and Mary Cassatt, as well as canvases by Basque painters. The sculpture garden in back is perfect for a relaxing stroll. (PI. Museo 2. Take C. Elcano to PI. Museo, or take bus #10 from Pte. Arenal. s944 39 60 60, guided visits s944 39 61 37. Open Tu-Sa 10am-8pm, Su 10am-2pm. ‚4.50, seniors and students ‚3. Under-12 free and IV free.)

MUSEO VASCO. Located appropriately enough in the casco viejo, this museum celebrates the region’s inhabitants, from prehistoric times to the present, with special attention to Basque craftsmanship. (PI. Miguel de Unamuno, 4. From the Pte. Arenal take C. Correo, to the left of Cafe Boulevard, or 2 blocks, turn left onto C. Sombreria, following it to the end; the museum is on the right side of the plaza. s944 15 54 23. Open Tu-Sa llam-5pm, Su Uam-2pm. Temporary exhibition hours Tu-Sa llam-8pm, Su 11am-2pm. ‚3, students ‚1.50. Seniors, under-12 free and Th free.)

OTHER SIGHTS. The best view of Bilbao’s surrounding landscape and the perfect place for a picnic is at the top of Monte Archanda, north of the old town and equidistant from both the casco viejo and the Guggenheim. (Funicular to the top every 15min. M-F 7:15am-10pm, Sa June-Sept. 7:15am-llpm ‚0.70. Handicap accessible, lift ‚0.25. With your back to the casco nuevo, turn left from PI. Arenal and follow the riverside road past the Ayuntamiento. On Po. Campo de Volantin, turn right on C. Mugica Y Butron and continue until PI. Funicular.) A short Metro ride to the north (5-50min.) leads to various beaches, including Getxo, Sopelana, and Plencia (Plentzia). For Getxo, get off at any stop near Neguri or Algorta, then walk km to the beach. Along with Sopelana, Getxo attracts a surfer crowd and lies just a little nearer to the Bay of Biscay; its illuminated Puente Colgante (a suspension bridge constructed over 100 years ago) spans the river, leading to a plethora of all-night bars.


Bilbao has a thriving bar scene. In the casco viejo, revelers spill out into the streets to sip their txikitos (chee-KEE-tos; small glasses of wine), especially on Calle Barrenkalea, one of the original seven streets from which the city of Bilbao has grown. Teenagers and 20-somethings fill Calle Licenclado Poza on the west side of town, especially between C. General Concha and Alamede de Recalde, where a covered alleyway connecting C. Licenciado Poza and Alameda de Urquijo teems with bars. Try flower-themed Twiggy, across the street from the alley on Alameda de Urquijo, and Big Ben, where the dancing is as crazy as the cow on their logo. The Cotton Club, C. Gregorio de la Revilla 25 (enter on C. Simon Bolivar), decorated with over 30,000 beer caps, draws a huge crowd on Friday and Saturday nights, while the rest of the week is a little more low-key. (Beer ‚2-3.50. Over 100 choices of whiskey for ‚4.50 per copa. DJ spins W-Th at 11pm and F-Sa at 1pm. Open M-Th 4:30pm-3am, F-Sa 6:30pm-6am, Su 6:30pm-3am. Cash only.) For a more mellow scene, munch on pintxos (‚1-1.20) and people-watch at Bilbao’s oldest coffee shop, Cafe Boulevard (est. 1871), C. Arenal 3. This Art Deco cafe was once an important site for literary meetings and one of Miguel de Unamuno’s favorite haunts. Put on your dancing shoes and get ready to tango on Fridays at 11pm. (944 15 31 28. Open M-Th 7:30am-llpm, F-Sa 8am-2am, Su llam-llpm. MCV.) Climb your way to a peaceful drink at Bar Zaran, C. Calzadas de Mallona 18, towards Campos de Mallona. Ascend the long stone stairway next to the casco viejo Metro entrance. Take your drink outside for great views of Bilbao. (Beer ‚1.40. Red wine ‚0.40. Cigars ‚0.40-1. Open daily 8am-12:30am.)

The massive fiesta in honor of Nuestra Senora de Begona takes place during Semana Grande, a nine-day party complete with fireworks, concerts, theater beginning the Saturday after August 15. Documentary filmmakers from all over the world gather for a week in October or November for the Festival Internacional de Cine Documental de Bilbao. During the summer, the municipal band offers free concerts every Sunday morning at the bandstand in Parque Arenal. Pick up a Bilbao Guide from the tourist office for event listings.

DAYTRIP FROM BILBAO: GUERNICA (GERNIKA). Founded in 1366, Guernica (pop. 15,600) long served as the ceremonial seat of the Basque country. On April 26, 1937, the Nazi Condor Legion released an estimated 29,000kg of explosives on Guernica, obliterating 70% of the city in three hours. The nearly 2000 people who were killed in the bombings were immortalized in Pablo Picasso’s stark masterpiece Guernica, now in Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofia (868). Trains (902 54 32 10; roll in from Bilbao (45min. every 45min. ‚2). To reach the tourist office, C. Artekalea 8, from the train station, walk two blocks up C. Adolfo Urioste and turn right on C. Barrenkalea. Turn left at the alleyway; the office will be on your right, (a 946 25 58 92; Open July-Sept. M-Sa 10am-7pm, Su 10am-2pm; Oct.-June M-Sa 10am-2pm and 4-7pm, Su 10am-2pm.) The office can direct you to several memorial sites, including the newly renovated HGernika Peace Museum, PI. Foru 1, which features an exhibition chronicling the bombardment. Postal Code; 48300.

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