A couple of weeks ago I took a pretty last minute trip to Bilbao, to visit a friend (Abbie) who is living there this year. I had never visited the city and was so excited to see what it’s like. I was not disappointed.
If you know me, you will probably know that my favourite city in the World is Edinburgh. I love the buildings, the atmosphere and pretty much everything that it has to offer. Bilbao reminded me a lot of Edinburgh: it has gorgeous, old and tall buildings surrounded by cobbled streets and small market squares, but in a way was even more wonderful, because the city itself is surrounded by mountains.
Despite the rain, which, to be fair, I was told to expect, I had a great weekend exploring yet another new (to me), Spanish city. So, read on to find out what I got up to and what I would recommend!
If you’re looking for food in the old town of Bilbao, you pretty much can’t go wrong. If you’re after a snack there are so many gorgeous-looking (and smelling) bakeries to try or, if you’re really hungry, all of the restaurants offer a ‘menu of the day’ throughout the afternoon and early evening. This offers a variety of options which build up to a three course meal, for around €15 per person. I don’t think it gets much better than that.
The rain meant that going for a walk down the river, which runs through Bilbao, was not really all that appealing. So, we decided to check out some of the architecture instead. There is a cathedral and a gorgeous church in Bilbao’s old town, Santiago Cathedral and La Iglesia de San Antón respectively. So instead of walking in the rain, we decided to absorb some of Bilbao’s history, which I would highly recommend.
Both buildings are absolutely gorgeous and definitely worth a look around. A ticket for the cathedral, which I’m pretty sure was around the €5 mark, includes entry to the Church, too. So as well as the beautiful interiors you’re also getting some great value for money!
If you’re feeling a little spendy, Bilbao also has some amazing shops. I was very good and didn’t buy too much, because I am a massive hoarder and definitely need to clear out my wardrobe before I treat myself anymore, and because I only travelled with hand luggage and so really didn’t have the space, but oh-my-goodness I could have.
Also, if you are gluten free like me, check out El Corte Ingles. The one in Bilbao specifically has the biggest gluten free section in their food market that I have ever seen, in any supermarket. Aisles of biscuits, bread, pizza and loads of frozen options as well. Coeliac heaven.
After a pretty busy day, we decided on a Friday night in with homemade curry and wine. We know how to live. This also meant that we were fully prepared to get up on Saturday morning and have a whole day of wandering and exploring. Well, that’s what I was doing, Abbie was leading the way and playing tour guide, for which I am very grateful.
As you can see, it was still raining. Turns out it does this a lot in the north of Spain, so if you are thinking of visiting please be smarter than I was and take an umbrella. Even in the rain, though, the Guggenheim is seriously cool. It’s unlike any building I have ever seen before, and there are some incredible art installations that surround the whole thing, so even if you don’t feel like walking around a gallery it is definitely still worth a visit.
My personal favourite of these displays is the Bilbao puppy – it’s made of flowers and is seriously cute. And bloody huge.
After our little excursion we decided against grabbing a bite to eat inside the Guggenheim (it just seemed too pricey), and instead crossed to the other side of the road in search of a cafe or restaurant that would suit our ‘I don’t know what I want but I know I want something’ cravings.
After hardly any searching at all, we came across Sua San, which advertises itself as Bilbao’s healthy restaurant. Sua San is relatively small, and so soon filled up over the lunchtime period. But if you do find yourself having to wait for a table, I would say that the food is worth it.
We weren’t too hungry, so I went for the carrot and cheddar soup, and Abbie had one of the wraps (I am a terrible blogger and cannot remember which one, and I also didn’t get any pictures, sorry!). The soup was delicious; surprisingly filling for such a light meal and apparently the wrap was great too. It was open at both ends, though, so eating it neatly seemed like a bit of a struggle!
Whilst it might not be the best place if you’re feeling ravenous, or after greasy comfort food, I would highly recommend Sua San for a healthy food fix, or just a light lunch/dinner/brunch. It’s pretty and perfectly located, with a view of the Guggenheim, and so it’s also pretty good for a spot of people watching.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering, kind of aimlessly I guess, and trying to avoid the rain. We ended up in Starbucks for quite a while, which I am not complaining about; the Starbucks’ in Spain have an amazing gluten free, chocolate chip cookie, which I’m really hoping is available in the UK as well. Then, having not quite gotten our cultural fill from the Cathedral, Church and Guggenheim, we decided to check out the Basque Museum, which is situated in Bilbao’s old town.
Entry to the museum was only €1.50 for students, and 100% worth it, I would have happily paid more. It was just the right size to walk around without getting a little bored (because I won’t lie, that does sometimes happen to me), and the perfect mix of interaction and information. You also got to choose from a range of free postcards as you left, which was a really nice touch.
I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting Bilbao to be so full of culture and history, because I very much thought of it as an industrial, business city. I’m very happy to tell you that I was wrong, though, and that I had the best time. Hopefully I can visit again soon, and in better weather!