A city that entrances with their architecture, culture, and cuisine.
Cuisine: Pintxos, Rioja wine, Pulpo, Jamon, Churros con chocolate
Museums: Guggenheim, Museo des Bellas Artes
REMEMBER THE RIOJA:
I can't even begin with the love I have for the Rioja wine. Every bar we went to had their special house Rioja and they were fantastic. The region is a dynamic wine producer and if you don't try any local red wine while in Bilbao then you don't deserve to go there, if however, you did sent me a case while you were there, I'd forgive you.
The city is totally walkable, however check the weather beforehand and bring a rain coat or buy one of their cute umbrellas, the entire time I was studying there, it was raining (mind you its not that strong gusty UK rain, but still it drizzled constantly). Despite the weather, we certinaly walked around the entire city multiple times, they have a metro but we never used it as it only took about a half hour to get across the city. Enjoy the walking as you will have the opportunity to see all the artistic details and unique food options the city has to offer.
Museums & Churches: Although the Guggenheim is the main draw for the city's museums, we found we really enjoyed the Bilbao Fine Arts museum. With a ton of art and special shows cycling through it's certainly a treat (and it gets you out of the rain). Another side trip we enjoyed was the Santiago Cathedrale. In the middle of the old town part of Bilbao, this beautiful cathedral has a quaint little cloister (you pay a cute little nun some euros to enter, but the main church is free).
Shopping: Bilbao has significant shopping, but comparing it to the resort town of San Sebastian, it lacks in diverse shops. However what it lacks in special clothing options, it makes up for with the variety of specialty pintxo bars.
Festivals: While we were there we were fortunate enough to enjoy a festival they had along the river in the old part of Bilbao that featured a crew race. Keep abreast of events happening, the city turns out for the the free music, specialty foods, drinking, and celebration.
OVERALL, I enjoyed walking around in this city and immersing myself in their culture and cuisine. Its a great base in the Basque region for your other day trips (SEE: San Sebastian), and after a little while feels like home after enjoying the welcoming nature of the locals and the attachment you quickly get for the lifestyle.
Located in the northeast part of Spain, Bilbao was previously a significant shipping city until the 80's when reform prompted it to change its image to industrial to an inspiring epicenter of art. Bilbao currently boasts a Guggenheim museum (made in partnership with the Guggenheim in NYC), incredible views, and, most importangly, the most amazing cuisine and culture.
PINTXOS, POR FAVOR:
Bilbao prides themselves on a culture of Pintxos (said pinchos, like a pinch of food). You can find these pintxos located in cases displayed beautifully on bars. A local told me that this was because we eat with our eyes before we eat with our stomach, and people will not be tempted by unattractive food therefore the bars pride themselves on the presentation of these pintxos. As you can see with the pictures, they certainly are a marvel to behold with all the detail and variety of food. Predominately, the cuisine is focused on seafood, hams, and cheeses.
Things to try:
Pulpo- It's octopus but don't let that turn you off, it's got an amazing lightness to it, also taking into account freshness and the way they season the pulpo, it's divine.
Jamon- The bars will have legs of ham all around the bar to show their jamon quality. Although you can get some great jamon at any bar that carves it fresh, I enjoyed getting the jamon from the butchers where they let me taste it as they carved it. The Iberian ham is a specialty of the region, make sure you enjoy it, it melts like butter in your mouth, I still can not find anything to compare it to.
Churros con chocolate- I was suprised that the hot chocolate in Bilbao was rather thick (I had mine with a spoon), however this is so that you can dip your churros in it and it coates it beautifully. Definitely a grand way to finish your rounds of pintxos.