This blog post was updated on October 3, 2018.
I’ll admit it, the only reason I booked a stay in Bilbao was, like many others, to see the Guggenheim. However, as I explored this captivating fishing town in Spain’s Basque region, I couldn’t help but fall in love with many aspects of its history, culture and architecture.
- Bilbao has one of the nicest underground transportation systems I’ve ever been on. Built in 1995, it is clean, efficient and services greater Bilbao. I’m typically impressed by European public transportation systems in general, but Bilbao’s user-friendly metro is a cut above the rest.
- Calimotxos (pronounced “calimocho”) and picas are the perfect summer drinks. Calimotxos (red wine and Coke over ice) and picas (blond beer and lemonade) are the go-to summer drinks in Bilbao. Both are delicious, refreshing, and an unexpected change from my usual summer beverage staples. Since visiting Spain, these two incredibly simple-to-make cocktails have served me well at many summer parties.
- Basque sound nothing like Spanish. Basque (Euskara, in Basque), which is spoken in the Basque region (southern France and northern Spain), has nothing in common with Spanish. In fact, it’s not even an Indo-European language.
- The siesta is alive and well in Bilbao. We arrived in Bilbao by train at 2:00 in the afternoon and nearly every business (save an Internet café) was closed for siesta.
- Pintxos (pronounced “peencho”) are to the Basque region as tapas is to the rest of Spain. Pintxos are the ultimate finger food. Served on slices of bread, pintxos can be topped with anything from cheese and olives to potatoes and baked eggs, to pickled fish and various meats. Bars in Bilbao set out spreads of delicious pintxos starting around 5pm that are served on the honor system. You simply keep track of how many you’ve eaten and tell your bartender before you leave.
- Bilbao is architecturally diverse. From the neoclassical arches of Plaza Neuva to the striking modernist Zubizuri bridge, there are plenty of architectural attributes to appreciate during your stay in Bilbao (not least of which is, of course, the Guggenheim designed by American architect Frank Gehry).
- There are few things in life better than exploring northern Spanish beaches. There are a variety of beach towns located near Bilbao that are easily accessible using the regional train system. Pack a picnic, towels and a large straw hat and settle in for a relaxing afternoon.