The Basque city was once known for its heavy industry and thriving ports; not particularly attractive prospects for attracting tourism. Over the past couple of decades though, like a phoenix from the ashes, Bilbao has reinvented itself as a young, dynamic and aesthetically beautiful holiday destination.
The cultural renaissance really took off in 1997 with the opening of the Guggenheim Museum. Designed by the famous American-Canadian architect Frank Gehry, this European mecca of modern art is truly an architectural masterpiece, a genuine wonder to behold. The extent to which the Guggenheim Museum catalysed such deep change in the city has even been coined as The Bilbao Effect.
Bilbao is by no means an architectural one trick pony though. The Iberdrola Tower is another feast for the eyes, this is the tallest building in the city and a relatively new addition, opened in 2011. The 4,800 panes of glass on the exterior are certainly worth a look. There are amazing bridges too, firstly the Zubizuri (Basque for “white bridge”), this footbridge has an unusual curved eyelid design and allows for a relaxed stroll over the Nervion river. Far more imposing and historically significant is the Vizcaya Bridge, the oldest transporter bridge in the world (1893). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and at 164 metres long, a very impressive feat of engineering.
Beyond buildings and bridges, the city has a lot to offer food lovers too, and not just by way of the fantastic restaurants. The famous Mercado de la Ribera in the Old Town is a luxuriously spacious playground of flavour. At ten thousand square metres, this is one of the largest food markets in Europe. There is a dizzying array of local produce, from cheeses and jams to fish, vegetables, meats and spices. The mouth watering spectacle is also a great place to pick up local souvenirs. Try to get there early and bring your haggling hat for some amazing bargains!