Bilbao is the perfect example of being faithful to its roots while wearing a beautiful contemporary outfit. We can see it in its gastronomy, where it combines local ingredients with traditional and innovative techniques to offer us one of the best cuisines in the world.
The same is true of its architecture and urban planning, recognised worldwide by a large number of international awards and a growing number of visitors.
If you are one of them, here is a complete list of monuments and buildings that you cannot miss during your stay. Here are the basic and indispensable ones.
Main Monuments, Buildings and Attractions in Bilbao
It is an almost impossible task to list the main monuments and must-sees in Bilbao and not start with the Guggenheim Museum. It is a symbol in itself, not only of modern art and avant-gardism, but of Bilbao's awakening as the city we know today. If you are interested in art, don't miss the most complete list of museums and art galleries in Bilbao here.
With the unmistakable design of the Canadian architect Frank Gehry, it has become a world reference both in terms of art and architecture.
In the vicinity of the museum you can't miss visiting several statues and sculptures that guard it, such as:
- Puppy: The museum's guard dog, guarding the entrance and exit of visitors. A 12-metre tall dog covered in flowers.
- Maman: Next to the Estuary you will find another guardian of the museum, but this one a little more intimidating; a sculpture of a giant spider, almost 9 metres tall, with long legs.
- Fog Sculpture: Born from the mind of Fujiko Nakaya, this work of art plays with the museum's surroundings, water and fog.
As you can see, a visit to the museum is a must, and it all starts long before you walk through the doors.
From a well-known architect to another genius in the same field; Norman Foster. The British architect has also contributed to the development of the city and his are the city's underground stations, commonly known as "fosteritos", in honour of his surname.
Incidentally, we will soon see another of his works in the capital, as he is in charge of the extension of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, a recommended and unavoidable stop.
Teatro Arriaga (Arriaga Theatre)
We move from the avant-garde to the classic, to that which is rooted in local culture and intermingled with the roots of the city's own history. This is Bilbao, constant contrast, a contemporary tradition.
The Arriaga Theatre, majestic and stately, stands welcoming Casco Viejo, the Old Quarter, a sign and seal of the golden Bilbao of the end of the 19th century. It is a neo-baroque building, inspired by the Paris opera, named after the Bilbao composer Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola.
Its interior lives up to, even surpasses, the impressive exterior. A visit and tour of the interior is highly recommended.
Ayuntamiento de Bilbao (Bilbao Town Hall)
Joaquín Rucoba, the local architect in charge of the design of the recently mentioned Arriaga Theatre, was in charge of the creation of another emblematic building of the city in 1892; the Bilbao City Hall.
Its incredible exterior is a match for the luxury and splendour of its interior, where no expense was spared, as you can see on the free guided tour offered and which we highly recommend.
We return to one of those changes so common in Bilbao, we return to our century, and we contemplate one of the great constructions of our era; the Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall.
It is a modern construction, with a surprising interior that hosts great music and theatre events, thanks to its privileged acoustics.
You won't have any trouble finding it next to the estuary, just look for a 60-metre red crane and it will be right next to it. La Carola, in operation from 1957 to 1987, is another monument you should visit, a reminder of a not so distant industrial past. You'll also find the interesting Maritime Museum nearby.
Puentes de Bilbao (Bilbao Bridges)
We have to bring them all together in the same section, because we would need a whole article just to talk about each one. You can cross the Ría by means of the many bridges that mark out Bilbao.
They are icons in themselves, works of art such as Calatrava's Zubizuri Bridge, which leads to the Isozaki Towers, a visit to which is also a must, or the Euskalduna Bridge, which takes us to the aforementioned Euskalduna Palace.
Not forgetting the Pedro Arrupe Zubia footbridge or the bridges of San Antón, La Salve or Deusto, which leads to the majestic building of the University of Deusto, another stop you must make on your route around Bilbao, whether you are in the city for an afternoon, two days or three full days.
Basílica de la Virgen de la Begoña
As with the bridges, religious buildings are scattered throughout the centre and surrounding areas of Bilbao, and visiting them is one of those things you can't leave behind in your time in Bilbao. There we find churches such as the Church of San Nicolás de Bari, the Church of Santos Juanes, the Church of the Encarnación, the Church of San Antón, the Church of San Vicente Mártir de Abando or the Church of the Sagrado Corazón, as well as a cathedral, the Cathedral of Santiago.
Although it would be fair to say that the one that holds a special place in the hearts of the people of Bilbao is the Basilica of the Virgin of Begoña. The patron saint of Biscay receives us in her 17th century Gothic building, welcoming all those who make their way to Casco Viejo, the Old Quarter, and the Ensanche.
Estaciones de Bilbao (Bilbao Train Stations)
When we refer to stations, they are not the fosteritos, but old stations with charm and history, true works of urban art such as the Estación de la Concordia or the Estación de Abando.
The former is located next to the Puente del Arenal, Arenal Bridge, another bridge that you must visit, as well as its park. Its ceramic, iron and glass elements on the façade will make you feel like you're in a film. Don't leave without visiting its interior.
The second station, Abando Station, is in the Plaza Circular and its great beauty lies mainly in the interior and its impressive stained glass window.
Mercado de la Ribera (La Ribera Market)
A must to recharge your batteries and lose yourself among the traditional food and drink stalls. You should also take a moment to contemplate its marvellous façade. The whole building is a work of art, as it simulates a ship in the harbour, a magnificent sight.
Estadio San Mamés (San Mamés Footbal Stadium)
The football cathedral is waiting to give you another lesson in modern construction. Whether you are a fan of the team or not, or even if you like football or not, you will be able to enjoy this building that gives a voice to the people of Bilbao on match days.
We are not the only ones who speak of its beauty, it is a unanimous public opinion. So much so that it won the World Design Awards in the category of sports and recreational facilities in 2020.
Escape if you can to its interior tour, and if you have the opportunity to get tickets for a match, do not hesitate and enjoy a unique experience.
Palacio de la Diputación Foral de Bizkaia
Imperial in its place on the Gran Vía de Don Diego López de Haro, in the heart of the Ensanche, stands this building inaugurated in 1900. Its majestic exterior is clearly in harmony with the interior.
It is curious, and exemplifies the idiosyncrasy of the new Bilbao, how this building contrasts with another essential building in the city; the modern Biblioteca Foral de Bizkaia (Provincial Library of Bizkaia). Their architecture is totally opposite, yet they coexist in a perfect and harmonious balance.
Biblioteca de Bidebarrieta (Bidebarrieta Library)
Speaking of libraries, we cannot miss the opportunity to mention the Bidebarrieta Library, located in Casco Viejo, which has as much history on the outside as in the thousands of archives and books inside.
Alhondiga Bilbao o Azkuna Zentroa
This former wine warehouse, dating from 1909, is another clear example of the direction in which the city of Bilbao is growing and evolving. Converted into a cultural and leisure centre, it has once again attracted the attention of locals and tourists alike.
You can't leave without seeing its interior and admiring the works of art that are its 43 columns, as well as its three upper buildings.
One of the latest and most modern buildings in Bilbao. The impressive Iberdrola Tower reigns in the Bilbao skyline and is the standard-bearer of the most modern Bilbao. Following this trend, we cannot forget to mention the building of the Basque Department of Health, as well as the University Library of Deusto.
Lugares de Bilbao (Places in Bilbao)
To put an end to our list of essential monuments in Bilbao, we cannot forget its places and corners. Bilbao itself is a work of art, visit the Plaza Nueva, Plaza de Don Federico Moyúa, Plaza de Euskadi, Parque de Doña Casilda de Iturrizar, Mirador de Artxanda or lose yourself in Casco Viejo, the Old Town we mentioned before, and enjoy its gastronomy.