Bilbao has become, on its own merits, one of the most cosmopolitan and interesting cities in Europe. It combines the contemporary with the traditional like no other, and holds true gems for all those who wish to visit it.
The quality of life in Bilbao is extraordinary, and this can be seen in the cleanliness of its streets, the friendliness of its people and the excellent quality of its food. Food is a subject that is taken very seriously throughout the Basque Country, and in Bilbao you will be able to see what we mean.
Let's take a look at the things you can't overlook or miss out on in this unique, ancient city; Welcome to Bilbao.
What NOT to do in Bilbao
Don't leave without your star
We mentioned earlier how important food is throughout the Basque Country and how seriously they take it. Well, everything has its reward, and the city of Bilbao currently has six Michelin-starred restaurants.
We are talking exclusively about the central area of Bilbao, because this award is spread all over the Basque Country thanks to their good work, the quality and freshness of their products and the love they put into each dish.
Not starred but deserving
Don't leave Bilbao without trying its pintxos. It's something logical and obvious, but in case there's anyone out there who's lost their way, you have to try the pintxos. Their small size does not detract one iota of work or flavour from these small tributes to Basque cuisine.
And if you're in any doubt about where you can enjoy them, head for the Casco Viejo or the Ledesma and Diputación neighbourhoods. Wherever you go, you'll get it right as soon as you walk through the door. To help you in your search for the perfect pintxo, here are the best Pintxo bars in Bilbao.
By the way, above all, the best known, the one with the longest history, the number one in tradition, the Gilda. Don't leave without trying this pintxo created in the 1940s, in the Casa Vallés bar, and named after the Rita Hayworth film, "Gilda".
Stick with olives, pickled chilli pepper and an anchovy, as simple as it is delicious. This is step one in your lesson of the best pintxos.
Much more than Pintxos
Don't leave Bilbao without looking for something more, without trying something other than pintxos. Immerse yourself in tradition and always ask for the most typical thing they have in the place you have entered.
We will reveal one of the many classics that live in the Casco Viejo: the Carolina. It is a typical Bilbao dessert named after the daughter of the pastry chef who created it. For more information, ask your trusted waiter and check this link out.
Don't leave without seeing the Basilica
The Basilica of the Virgin of Begoña in Bilbao can be seen in two very different ways; the first is by walking up to it and enjoying both its exterior and interior. The second is from the corner of Pelota and Santa María streets.
It is the only point in the Old Town from where you can see the much-loved Basilica. It is marked on the ground with a symbol and is a great attraction with a fantastic story behind it. Go there and check it out.
This is one of the most important monuments in the city, and a place not to be missed. Here are the rest of the places you must visit before leaving Bilbao.
Don't miss the stories of Bilbao
You can't leave Bilbao without getting to know its stories, all those legends that the locals in the city centre know and that are passed down from father to son and from locals to tourists who are awake and eager to learn.
They can tell you things like how, when Amadeo of Savoy visited the city in 1871, they walled up all the arches in the Plaza Nueva and filled it with water so that the good man would feel as if he were in his beloved Venice.
We have already told you that the people of Bilbao are friendly and hospitable, and this is the clearest example.
You don't need to know Basque
Don't worry about Basque; all the signs and signposts are written in both Basque and Spanish.
Don't worry about speaking it either, everyone speaks Spanish and understands you perfectly, although it would be a great gesture if you could say a few words to let them know that you are as good a tourist as they are a great host; Aupa!
Don't get lost
Bilbao is a very safe city, and the only thing you should beware of is pickpockets and the odd modern minstrel who challenges you to "play the shell game" or read the future in the palm of your hand, giving you rosemary.
There is no danger at all, but it is still a big, well-known city. So just be careful with your belongings and your wallet, though no more than you would be in your own city. Beware of being absent-minded.
Change your point of view
Even if you don't have a licence to fly a drone, which is exactly what you need, you will be able to see Bilbao from a bird's eye view. To do so, you will only have to climb Artxanda mountain.
If your knees are not what they used to be, or have never been very muscular, don't worry, since the beginning of the 20th century Bilbao has had the Artxanda Funicular, which connects the Ría with the top of Artxanda mountain.
In order to use the funicular, as well as the rest of Bilbao's transport, you have the Barik transport card, which we recommend you buy to move freely around the city.
Beyond what you see
This phrase from Rafiki of the Lion King is a reality in Bilbao. We don't mean that you should bring out your zen side, but that after seeing the main monuments, you should go for more.
The Arriaga Theatre, the Guggenheim Museum, one of the best museum of Bilbao, Bilbao City Hall, the Ría, which is very lively in summer, and the Calatrava Bridge are symbols of the city that you should visit and get to know, but what about the Ensanche area or the Alhóndiga Bilbao, now known as Azkuna Zentroa, where Bilbao's culture and leisure activities are born?