Bilbao is having a moment. With the Guggenheim Museum celebrating its 20th birthday in 2017 and the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards (the “Oscars of eating”) landing here in 2018, it’s clear there’s an ever-escalating cultural and culinary buzz around this once down-at-heel, now fabulously bounced-back, Basque city.
Ogle art, inside and out
The glittering Guggenheim (guggenheim-bilbao.eus) sparked Bilbao’s renaissance when it opened in October 1997. In the subsequent 20 years, Frank Gehry’s striking shimmer of steel hasn’t dated one bit. The exterior of the building – guarded by Puppy, Jeff Koons’ giant topiary dog, and Maman, Louise Bourgeois’ super-size spidery bronze – is arguably more impressive than what’s inside, though the constantly changing exhibits include a range of Rothkos, Warhols and more. Also, the Artean Pass ticket (€16) covers entrance to the nearby Mueso de Bellas Artes (museobilbao.com), where a less eye-catching facade conceals a wonderful collection of more than 7,000 works, ranging from the 12th century to the modern day.
Stroll the Seven Streets
Bilbao’s Casco Viejo is the oldest part of the city, first laid out at the end of the 14th century. Cleaned up of late, its Siete Calles (Seven Streets) are ideal idling territory – browse shops selling tinned fish and live snails, incense-wafting hippy stores, time-warp haberdashers, cute boutiques and tempting bakeries, such as Labeko Okindegia at Carnicería Vieja 4. There are bars aplenty too, where you can stop for a cheap txakoli (slightly sparkling white wine) or zurito (small beer), just as the locals do.
The Guggenheim in Bilbao turns 20 this year (Getty Images)
Find out what’s SUP on the Nervión River
The Nervión River winds through the centre of Bilbao. You can stroll along its cleaned-up promenades, cross it via Santiago Calatrava’s sail-like Zubizuri Bridge, or you can take to the water: Bilboats (bilboats.com) runs cruises….