Bilbao Tourist Attractions

Bilbao, lying 14km/9mi from the sea on the Río Nervión, is chief town of the Basque province of Vizcaya. It is also Spain's leading port in terms of revenue from goods handled, and the center of a gigantic industrial conurbation.


From its foundation in 1300 by Don Diego López de Haro, feudal lord of Vizcaya, Bilbao played an important part in the maritime trade on the north coast of Spain. Iron ore was exported from here to England, and the town's pre-industrial iron and steel industry brought it prosperity. Its rise to become one of Spain's leading industrial centers began in the mid 19th century with the development of industrial smelting of iron ore from the mines in the hinterland. During this period, particularly in the sixties and seventies, large numbers of people came to Bilbao from the poorer country regions in search of work. Heavy rainfall in 1983 led to floods which caused severe damage in the industrial areas.

Old Town

San Anton BridgeSan Anton Bridge
On the right bank of the Río Nervión, between the Puente de San Antón and the church of San Nicolás, extends the old town of Bilbao, linked by five bridges with the new town (the Ensanche). The core of the old town lies around the "Siete Calles" ("seven streets") - Somera, Artecalle, Tendería, Belosticalle, Carnicería Vieja, Barrencalle and Barrencalle Barena - with numbers of enticing shops, bars and cafes.

Teatro Arriaga

Visitors approaching the old town from the north by way of the Puente del Arenal find themselves in the Paseo del Arenal, the main artery of this part of Bilbao. To the right, in Plaza de Arriaga, can be seen the Teatro Arriaga, built in 1890 and now renovated, the cultural hub of the city.

San Nicolás de Bari

To the left of the bridge leading to the new town, the Paseo leads to the church of San Nicolás de Bari, on an octagonal plan, which dates from the 14th century but which was completely rebuilt in 1756. The beautiful carved altar was the work of Juan de Mena, who was also responsible for some of the paintings in the church.

Basílica de Begoña

The district of Begoña lies on a higher level and is not part of the old town. Its pilgrimage church is most easily reached by taking the lift from behind the church of San Nicolás. There is also a footpath (20minutes' walk) to the top of the hill, from which there is a good view of the city. The church (16th C.) has an image of the Virgin of Begoña, patroness of the city, and an interesting painting of "The Pilgrimage of Begoña".
Address: Virgen de Begoña 38, E-48006 Bilbao, Spain

Plaza Nueva

The Plaza Nueva, to the south of San Nicolás, is enclosed by three-story buildings with arcades on the ground floor. It is the scene of popular fairs and colorful markets selling a great variety of local produce.

Museum of Basque Archeology, Ethnography and History

The former Jesuit college of Santos Joanes is now occupied by the Museum of Basque Archeology, Ethnography and History, with three departments documenting the history and way of life of the Basques.
The archeological section, on the ground floor, displays prehistoric finds from burials in Basque territory. The cloister houses various tombs, memorial stones and pieces of sculpture, with the mysterious idol of Mikeldi in the center.
The ethnographic section displays selected objects illustrating the fisheries, agriculture, folk art and crafts of the Basque country. In a separate room is a large relief model of the Basque provinces.
The historical section includes examples of woodcarving and weapons, but is mainly devoted to the history of the Consulate of Bilbao, which regulated shipping and commerce in Bilbao from 1511 to 1829.
Address: Plaza Miguel Unamuno, E-48006 Bilbao, Spain


Southwest of the Museum in Plaza de Santiago, in the center of the old town, is the Catedral de Santiago, built in the early 14th century on one of the pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela. The original building was badly damaged by fire in 1571 and was then rebuilt in its present form, with a Renaissance porch on the south side and a Gothic cloister. The Neo-Gothic facade and tower date from the 19th century.
Address: Plaza Santiago 1, E-48005 Bilbao, Spain

San Antón

From the cathedral one of the "seven streets" leads down to the bank of the river. Along this on the left are the fine Market Hall and, at the end of the Puente de San Antón, the church of San Antón, which was built by Guillot de Beaugrant in the 15th century on the site of an earlier castle. The tower dates in its present form from the 18th century. There is a beautiful retablo by Beaugrant in one of the chapels.

New Town

Museum of Fine ArtMuseum of Fine Art Clar Gueibol

Gran Vía

The new town of Bilbao, the Ensanche, occupies the left bank of the Río Nervión. Its main artery is the 1.5km/1mi long Gran Vía de Don Diego López de Haro (whose statue stands in the Plaza de España at the near end of the street, just over the river). Farther along the street to the west is the Palacio de la Diputación Provincial (by Luis Aladrén, 1897), seat of the provincial government. Beyond this the Gran Vía cuts across the spacious Plaza Federico Moyúa to end at the tall memorial in honor of the Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (1927).

Museum of Fine Art

To the right of the western section of the Gran Vía, one street away, is the Parque Doña Casilda de Iturizza (named after a benefactress of the city), at the northeast end of which are the two buildings of the Museum of Art, with a collection of outstanding quality.
The older building displays work by many great European masters. Dutch and Flemish painting of the 15th-17th centuries is well represented, with such masterpieces as Quentin Matsys' ''Money- Changers'' and Dirk Bouts' ''Virgin and Child'' and works by van Dyck and Vos of the 17th Century Flemish school. Spanish painting of the 14th and 15th centuries is represented by Jaime Huguet, Bartolomé Bermejo and Pedro Serra, the 16th and 17th centuries by El Greco (''Annunciation''), Zurbarán (''Virgin and Child with St. John'', his last dated work), Velázquez and Jusepe de Ribera. There are three extraordinary portraits by Goya, the most remarkable of which is that of the poet Fernández de Moratín.
Other rooms are devoted to Italian painting of the 16th and 17th centuries, 19th Century French painting (Gauguin's ''Washerwomen of Arles'') and Romanesque and Gothic sculpture. On the first floor are works by Basque artists, including 22 pictures by the landscape painter Darió de Regoyos (the largest collection of his works in any museum). The modern building is devoted mainly to work by contemporary Spanish artists.
Address: Plaza del Museo 2, E-48011 Bilbao, Spain

Other Sights

Guggenheim MuseumGuggenheim Museum David Baron

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao encompasses two major aspects of art & architecture.
The modern curved and undulating structure (built 1991-7) was designed by Frank O. Gehry on what was an estuary of the Nervión River. Even one of Bilbao's principal bridges passes through it and thus the museum wraps itself around the very heart of the city. Partly clad in Titanium, the structure has been interpreted as a silver-scaled school of fish. Other sections are covered with sandstone, glass curtain walls, and staircases which serve the fact that much of the structure is below grade so as not to conflict with the surrounding city.
The interior contains 19 variously shaped galleries. The modern art collection places particular emphasis on sculpture.
The museum features a rotating permanent collection as well as special exhibitions.
Address: Abandoibarra Et. 2, E-48001 Bilbao, Spain

Bilbao River Maritime Museum

The Bilbao River Maritime Museum is comprised of an outdoor exhibition area and an enclosed building. The exterior portion consists of the docks with restored vessels and heritage buildings. Inside the museum, exhibits focus on the physical environment of the Estuary, the history of trade and business in the area, and the evolution of industry as it relates to the vicinity.
Address: Muelle Ramón de la Sota 1, E-48011 Bilbao, Spain

Memory Lane

Memory Lane is a tribute to the industrial past, with sculptures by modern artists line the path.
A la Deriva, a twisted mound of metal, was inspired by a Walt Whitman poem and is symbolic of the industrial history of the area. It was created by José Zugasti.
"Judith", by Markus Lüpertz, is a neo-expressionist depiction of this biblical heroine.
"Begirari IV", a steel watchtower, was created by Eduardo Chillida.
"Maia" is a bronze statue by William Tucker, depicting woman and earth.
This blue granite block, entitled "Piezas", is the work of Ulrich Rückriem.

Benedicto Bilbao Museum

The Benedicto Bilbao displays sculptures inspired by the paintings of Benedicto. The collection includes works by Jorge Castro, Dolores Ortega, Felix Etxebarria, Victoria Gordejuela, Paolo Nutri, Guille Isa, Jacobo Muria, Victor Sneider, José Ramón Nazabal, Leonidas Brazze, Esther de la Croix, Rosse Zinkie and Satur Peña.
Address: Iparraguirre 55, E-48010 Bilbao, Spain

Euskalduna Music and Conference Hall

The Euskalduna Music and Conference Hall was designed by Soriano and Palacios and built in 1999. The building is meant to symbolize the last ship built at the old Euskalduna shipyard. The facility covers 53,000 square meters and hosts symphony and ballet performances, as well as major conferences.
Address: Avenida Abandoibarra 4, E-48011 Bilbao, Spain

Bullfighting Ring (Museum)

The Bullfighting Museum explores the eight main periods of the history of bullfighting. Guided tours include the Bullring, Chapel, Bullfighters quarters, individual bull pens, Dining-room, and Bull enclosure.
Address: Martín Agüero 1, E-48012 Bilbao, Spain

Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art

Housed in the old Dominican convent, the museum displays a collection of religious art and artifacts, including sculptures, paintings, furniture, silverware, and liturgical garments.
Address: Plaza de la Encarnación, E-48006 Bilbao, Spain

Industrial Region

The industrial region round Bilbao now extends for some 18km/11mi from Galdácano, to the east of the city, along both banks of the Río Nervión down to its mouth. Within this region there are 28 independent communes, including Barracaldo, Portugalete, Sestao and Las Arenas which have developed into industrial towns and grown together into a conurbation with a population approaching the million mark. The left bank of the river is traditionally dominated by iron and steel, shipbuilding and engineering, to which in recent years the chemical industry and an oil refinery have been added. In this area the blocks of flats in which the workers live are frequently sited next door to the industrial installations. The right bank is less heavily industrialized, with small and medium sized establishments, residential areas and a number of small seaside resorts. Bilbao has become an administrative and banking center.


The starting-point of Bilbao's industrial development was the harbor. Ocean-going vessels of up to 4,000 tons can sail inland on the Río Nervión; at the end of the 19th century a deeper outer harbor was constructed at El Abra, in the estuary of the river; and in recent years huge port installations capable of handling vessels of up to 500,000 tons have been built at Punta Lucero and Punta la Galea, far out in the estuary.
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