Thanks to an earlier posting on this website, we discovered bilbaogreeters.com, an organisation that provides, free of charge, an English-speaking guide to Bilbao. The Guggenheim may be the initial draw for tourists, but there is much more to this fascinating city.
My top tip? Meet up with a guide as early as possible in your stay. Ours told us: where to eat outstanding seafood; how best to use the excellent public transport system;and what is worth seeing, apart from the "Guggy".
If you have a long weekend and you want to combine Spanish town, sea and village (well almost) Bilbao could be your Bocadillo. Culture in the city (Museo de Bellas Artes and other smaller museums), an atmospheric old town, beaches (Sopelana to name one of a number) and history (Guernica) can all be combined thanks to an excellent and cheap transport system. Oh yes, and the Guggenheim! Few places we've visited have such contrasts.
Don’t just dash into Bilbao to “do” the Guggenheim. Bilbao is a wonderful place to visit, full of beautiful buildings, independent shops, lovely views, terrific bars, gorgeous food – and above all, people as friendly as you could possibly wish. There is so much to the city that you could just wander around blindly for days, stumbling upon the delightful and the intriguing without fully realising what you’ve chanced upon. You could, too, plough your way through a list of sights, museums, galleries, churches, historical places etc, dutifully reading all the facts.
But there’s also another option which is much more rewarding and enjoyable, and that is to be taken around by a friend who knows the place. This is essentially what you will experience if you get in touch with Bilbao Greeters and, incredibly, it is free. All you have to do is contact them in advance with an idea of what you’re interested in (culture, bars, shops, markets, architecture, football, food, perhaps even nothing terribly specific), and a wonderfully friendly local volunteer will spend up to about four hours showing you the best Where and What and How as only someone local can.
On top of that though, you’ll be getting the privilege of unique insights into the life of the city as you chat with them, finding out all sorts of things that you hadn’t even noticed, getting a real feel for the place, and you’ll part feeling that a genuine friendship has been made. That was certainly our experience and we can truly say that our contact with bilbaogreeters.com was what made our holiday so enjoyable – if only there were people like this everywhere we went!
What’s so special about the pavement? Which is the best museum to visit (clue: It’s not the Guggenheim)? Where can I see people swimming overhead? How do you stop a wet brolly soaking the shop floor? The Bilbao Greeters answered these and other questions we had not asked, and they did it for free. Best of all though, they were such lovely people. You really can’t go wrong.
The Feve narrow gauge train service runs along the rugged northern coast from Bilbao through Santander, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. It stops at all the coastal towns as it plunges through ravines and tunnels.
It is very easy to hop on and off, no need to book, you can get several bikes on it easily and it is cheap. Even cheaper if you are over 60. A brilliant way to explore this dramatic coastline on public transport. You can also do the tourist thing and go on the Transcantabrico line which offers seven day trips, luxury accommodation, full board and excursions.
All public transport in Bilbao is very cheap, clean and regular.
The bus from the airport runs every 30 minutes, costs 1.30 euros to the bus station (termibus) and you pay on the bus. It will cost you between 25-30 euros in a taxi.
On the regular buses you can get single or return tickets which you purchase from the individual bus stops. Tickets have to be validated there before you get on the bus. It's easy to understand after the first go.
On the metro it is exactly the same, the machines have all the destinations and it is a touch screen process in various languages. The longest trip we could take on the metro only cost 3.40 euros return. Tickets have to be validated at the same machines.
You can purchase a Bilbao Card from various places which covers all public transport in Bilbao itself but you will need to pay more for trips further out. The cards can be bought for a single day but there are other time periods.
I have recently returned from a long weekend learning to surf on amazing beaches just outside Bilbao with the surf-school Wellentime. It’s run by Holger, a friendly German chap, and the instructors are all colourful locals with a passion for surfing and an infectious enthusiasm. Although one of them, Danny, is apparently one of Spain’s top surfers, he seemed genuinely overjoyed when I first managed to stand up (just about) on the board (and not immediately fall off). I found it so helpful to have that encouragement to motivate my aching limbs back into the waves for another go.
The setting was fantastic – the beach’s name roughly translates as the ‘wild beach’ and like a lot of the coastline there it is low-key and unspoiled.
The surf lessons were up until lunchtime, so in the afternoon you can hop on the metro to the centre of Bilbao. It’s a really interesting place to explore – a working city that’s less touristy than other parts of Spain with a really nice relaxed atmosphere where you can enjoy fabulous pintxos (the local, unique and utterly delicious form of tapas) in the early evening. The Guggenheim is amazing – you’ve really got to see it to appreciate the unique architecture. And the artworks inside are brilliant.
The Wellentime guys shuttle you from your accommodation to the beach and make the whole experience so enjoyable and hassle-free. They make sure it all goes smoothly but leave you do your own thing in your free time.
c/o Camping Gorliz
Uresarantse s/n 48630 Gorliz (Bilbao) Spain
+34 610 779 340
The Guggenheim is such a contrast in an otherwise old and somewhat industrial Bilbao. Ultra modern and unmistakable building - both inside and out, it should not be missed. After your visit, wander down from the Guggenheim to the 'old town' for great old buildings that house terrific traditional tapas bars and cafes where you can sit and watch the world go by whilst dipping your churros into some thick hot chocolate!
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