A generation ago the idea of Bilbao as a design hub would even have made the locals laugh. However, as our Bilbao design guide will show, much has changed in the Basque country’s biggest city. Once grey with industrial complexes, it has undergone an impressive Renaissance. Attracting the world’s leading architects, it now boasts a reputation as one of Europe’s design capitals. Modern iconic landmarks rub shoulders with older structures. At the same time, a host of unique eateries, stores, and places to stay offer visitors a full design experience.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
The city’s rebirth has been so successful that for many Bilbao goes hand in hand with Guggenheim. Once a charitable foundation set up by the American donor which funded this museum and art gallery, it’s now a magnet for art lovers. Unlike other cultural spaces, the museum’s architecture is perhaps as important as the artworks in its permanent collection. Designed by Frank Gehry, it seems to lack any straight lines. The result is a curving spaghetti of interior spaces clad in titanium, glass, and limestone. Its riverside location becomes almost part of the structure, as it bounces off the reflective surfaces. One of Spain’s largest museums, it is famous for Jeff Koon’s giant Puppy sculpture, among other important works of contemporary art. We also feature this, among other attractions, in our guide to the best things to do in Bilbao.
Avenida Abandoibarra, 2, 48009 Bilbao
Dedicated to Saint James the Great, known as Santiago in Spanish, Bilbao’s cathedral has a rather more classical structure. Its constructed was began in the 1300s, during the years immediately after Bilbao’s foundation. It has been an important point on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela for centuries. Its main façade is a great example of the Gothic Revival style, as is its main spire and clocktower. However, the cloister and main vault date from the original Gothic era, making it possible to compare the two forms together.
Done Jakue Plazatxoa, 1, 48005 Bilbao
When it comes to modern urban renewal, few structures can compete with architect Philippe Starck’s Azkuna Zentroa. This building started out life as a corn exchange designed by the Basque architect Ricardo Bastida in 1909. Its red bricks were then abandoned before it was finally agreed to convert the space into a multi-use venue. The sheer bulk soars several stories over the heads of visitors to its cinemas, shops, and restaurants. Azkuna Zentroa’s redesign demonstrates that there is life for any structure however unloved and forgotten it may currently be. Discover more of the city’s unique history on our Old Town tour.
Plaza Arriquibar, 4, Bilbao
Irrintzi Pintxos & Friends
Situated in Bilbao’s Old Quarter district, Irrintzi Pintxos & Friends is a trendy modern space in which to sample traditional foods. The food in question are pintxos, which can be thought of as Basque tapas. They sit on plates on the glass-topped counters in front of a black and white mural. But far from offering the standard menu of flavors, here you can sample new variations, including a kangaroo meat kebab. Try more traditional offerings on our Old Town and tapas tour.
Andra Maria Kalea, 8, 48005 Bilbao
At the upper end of the spectrum, Mina is a restaurant celebrated with a Michelin star. Its cool interior has an almost Scandinavian feel through the use of whitewashed surfaces and lightwood furniture. The open kitchen dedicates itself to using local, seasonal ingredients. Many of these are purchased from the Ribera Market visible from its windows. Each service is limited to just 25 diners, split between the well-spaced tables and bar of oak. The latter gets you up close and personal with all the action of the kitchen.
Muelle Marzana, 48003 Bilbao
Silken Indautxu Bilbao
The Silken Indautxu Bilbao has an almost Bavarian exterior. Its white exterior plaster and overhanging black tiled roofs make the modern interior all the more of a surprise. Here, there are stylishly incorporated original features, such as bright skylights. They compete for attention with modern wallpapers and furnishings. Altogether, this hotel provides a modern and sophisticated space in which to relax.
Plaza Bombero Etxaniz, s/n, 48010, Bilbao
Smaller in scale that Skilen Indautxu Bilbao, if anything, Basque Boutique is even more charming. Its otherwise simply decorated interiors are studded with historic artefacts. These include wooden beams etched by centuries of use, and bare undulating walls of bricks so thin they could be roof tiles. These contrast with more modern additions, including lighting that stretches out on limbs like the branches of a tree. Further, each of the rooms are uniquely decorated, giving a real experience of Old Quarter life. If you’re looking for something else, we offer other hotels in Bilbao.
Calle de la Torre, 2 – 1º, 48005, Bilbao
Bilbao’s Ribera Market is one of the largest covered marketplaces in Europe twice over. First, in size, at 10,000 square meters, and second in the number of regular traders it hosts. It is used by everyone from elderly housewives to the city’s top chefs. As a result, a visit to the Ribera Market lifts a lid on a slice of life in Bilbao. More than 60 different stalls display everything from seafood to fresh fruit. Even if you have no intention of buying, a stroll along its internal alleys is still an interesting one. Look out too for the delightful art deco stained-glass windows. It’s one of our favorite stops on our Bilbao design guide, and can be added to our customizable bike tour!
Erribera Kalea, s/n, 48005 Bilbo
Turronería Adelia Ivañez
A turronería is a sweetshop specializing in the Spanish nougat candy called turron. Turronería Adelia Ivañez is one of the oldest such stores in Bilbao. Dating from 1855 and currently run by the fifth generation of the same family. Though most usually associated with the Christmas period, turron is available right throughout the year here. In addition, this family-run store has also become known for its ice cream, and polvorones shortbread. It’s the most decadent stop on our Bilbao design guide.
Calle Correo 12, 48005 Bilbao
Design in Bilbao
When it comes to design-savvy destinations, its hard not to put Bilbao top of the list. Our Bilbao design guide leads you through the very best locations in the Basque country’s main city, for architecture, food, and shopping. You can see a list of tours in Bilbao to further explore this hidden hub of beauty. Some of our other favorites cities to wander can be discovered in our Seville design guide and our Madrid design guide.