Possibly the most audacious art gallery ever built, the Guggenheim is a cross between a giant tin-foil corsage and a space-age ship, It’s also beautiful on the inside, with a glass atrium and visible lifts and walkways that, according to the audio guide, “pump people round the museum like arteries”. You’ll need half a day at least to explore the Guggenheim inside and out, but it isn’t the only gallery in town. Head north and you’ll reach the newly renovated Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, home to a world-class collection.


The Guggenheim isn’t Bilbao’s only design boast. Others include the white, arched Zubizuri footbridge – a futuristic harp propped over the River Nervion designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who’s also responsible for the bird-like airport terminal – and the wooden-slatted Pedro Arrupe bridge. Another emblem of new Bilbao is the huge Euskalduna conference centre and concert hall, built in a former shipyard and designed to look like a vessel under construction. It’s not just the quayside that’s changed. In town you’ll find flashes of modern design, from tree-like lamps and funky benches of Plaza Indautxu to the crumpled glass facade of the Basque health department headquarters.

Old Town

Bilbao hasn’t forgotten its medieval roots. The old town, Casco Viejo, remains an important part of the city, home to the Basque Museum, the Mercado de la Ribera – one of the biggest covered markets in Europe – and the gothic Santiago cathedral. Look out for Plaza Nueva, a neoclassical square enclosed by arched arcades, most of which house bars and restaurants.


The BBK Festival is Bilbao’s biggest music festival and takes place every July just before La Fiesta de San Fermin (Running of the Bulls) in nearby Pamplona so you can combine the two. This year the likes of Basement Jaxx, Kaiser Chiefs and the Tings Tings played.