Come to enjoy the charm of Christmas in Bizkaia
- 1 · 6 january
Christmas in Bilbao are composed by activities such as the ice-skating rink, street markets and fairs like Gabonart or Santo Tomas, choirs and workshops for children, and so on. For the first time this year, all this activities are concentrated between the Arriaga bridge and the Town Hall Bridge, in the area called El Arenal.
During the Christmas season, Bizkaia acquires a special colour. When it gets dark, around five o'clock in the afternoon, Christmas lights sparkle at all the towns and villages of Bizkaia bringing a magical halo to the environment. Joy fills the atmosphere: children play in the streets taking advantage of holidays, the delicious smell of roasted chestnuts and the melodies of Christmas carols animate these dates.
As a novelty this year, Bilbao opens its own “Christmas City”. These events, inaugurated by the light up of the Christmas lights at the end of November, will fill the capital with a full programme of activities for all audiences until January 6th 2019. In this way, the city's main initiatives will be developed between the Arriaga and Town Hall Bridge, creating a true Christmas City at both sides of La Ria (Bilbao River). The programme includes a new ice skating rink, Gabonart craft market, Santo Tomas market (December 21st), street theatres, workshops for children and choirs among others.
In Christmas season, Bilbao and Bizkaia´s streets and shops are full of people. You will see long queues for shopping for Christmas lunch and dinner. We recommend that you visit the market of La Ribera, the place par excellence where you can buy the best meat, seafood, fish, sausages and fruit for these dates as well as being the largest covered market in Europe. On the other hand, in the Old Part, it is typical to buy cured ham for the aperitifs of these dates and, of course, the turrones (nougat), a typical sweet of Christmas. In fact, in Bizkaia we have our own nougat, sokonusko, made with three different chocolates and praline. This nougat, of Mexican origin, will delight the sweet lover’s palates.
Buying lottery is another of our deep-rooted traditions at Christmas time. From October onwards, Lottery administrations present long queues at the door. Everyone wants to find the winning ticket for both the draw on December 22nd and January 5th. If you feel like trying your luck, you will be interested to know that in Bilbao, the most popular Lottery administrations are Azcarreta, in the Old Town, and Ormaechea in Indautxu. Historically, both have distributed the most prizes.
Bailen Street Market. The Christmas market that is placed in this central street of Bilbao, next to El Arenal Bridge, is held until January 7th. It has more than 40 wooden booths where there is no shortage of handicrafts, products made in the Basque Country such as sheep's cheese and Basque cake, as well as other typical Christmas gifts.
Gabonart handicraft market. Located on the dock of El Arenal from December 14th 2018 to January 6th 2019 you will find the craft fair 'Gabonart' another of the main markets for Christmas shopping. The stands installed offer ceramics, jewellery, toys, leather products, woodcarvings or textiles ... All handcrafted and of the best quality.
Santo Tomas Market. December 21st is a very important date in Euskal Herria. The most popular Basque market is celebrated this date, Santo Tomas. On this day, festive and rural atmosphere flood the city and attract thousands of people to taste the different talos (chorizo, black pudding, bacon ...), and drink cider and txakoli. It is also a perfect opportunity to buy exquisite products 100% made in Euskal Herria such as honey, beans, vegetables and fruits or Idiazabal D.O. cheese. In addition to this, you can enjoy concerts in the street and demonstrations of farm animals. You cannot miss it.
Christmas carols and songs exude a special warmth. These soft and candid melodies animate our streets. It is also common that choral groups perform in churches. This is a unique opportunity to sing the traditional songs of this period with family and friends.
In addition, Christmas cribs are present throughout all the festivities. Their staging has a long tradition in Bilbao and the rest of Bizkaia. When this period approaches, the richness and originality of all this craftsmanship of cribs approaches the public in different spaces. The best known in the capital are the Nativity Scenes of the Nativity Scene Association of Bizkaia, exhibited in the Museum of Passages, in the Old Town. This year, it is also worth mentioning the Retrospective of the Nativity Scene Makers Association, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary in the La Bolsa building, also in the Old Town. It is worth noting the exhibition of cribs from different parts of the world that can be seen at the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art in Atxuri. Of the rest of Bizkaia, the living nativity scenes of Gatika, Balmaseda and Bermeo are worth highlighting for their spectacular nature.
Izenaduba Basoa. Basque children are looking forward to the arrival of Olentzero, the character in charge of bringing gifts on Christmas Eve to homes all over Euskal Herria. His house, the hamlet Landetxo Goikoa, is in Mungia and it can be visited. In addition, the first interpretation centre on Basque mythology is also located there, where you will learn about the legends and the life of the most emblematic mythological creatures of our culture from their own mouth.
Olentzero and the Three Wise Men Parade. Christmas would not be the same without the parades of Olentzero and the Three Wise Men. These are the most important dates for Basque children.
The first appointment takes place on December 23th, the day when Olentzero comes down to the city from his farmhouse and stars in a marvellous parade mounted in a pottoka (colt) together with his companion Mari Domingi, who smiles and waves on top of a huge goose. Other characters accompany them, famous symbols from Basque mythology such as the galtzagorris (elves) or the Basajaun (lord of the woods). This kalejira (parade) begins at Plaza Moyua at 6 p.m. and ends at the Arriaga Theatre. Here, the morning of Monday December 24th, Christmas Eve, Olentzero welcomes all the children who want to chat with him about the gifts they have received.
The other important date is Saturday January 5th 2019. From 6pm to 07:30 pm, the youngest children will be able to enjoy the awaited Parade of the Three Wise Men. These three men are accompanied by their pages and other artists, along the Gran Vía, Plaza Moyua, Plaza Biribila and which ends at Bilbao City Hall. There will also be music, dance shows and, of course, the classic candy throwing.
Children's Christmas Park (PIN). It is another of the most eagerly awaited events for kids. Like every year, the Children's Christmas Park returns to the BEC! in Barakaldo from December 19th to January 5th 2019. It comes loaded with proposals for fun: from barracks, craft workshops, electric go-karts as well as shows of all kinds.
Ice skating rink. This year, the traditional skating rink is moved from La Casilla, to a new stage, outdoors, El Arenal where also for the first time, the rink has been made with ecological ice. It is available from the end of November to January 6th and it will have a 400 square metre rink and a six-lane slide. Ticket sales are located at the Ripa Quay ticket offices next to the track itself.
How to reach us
The Christmas City of Bilbao is located in the centre of the city, next to the Old Town. The best way to get to this area is by public transport. The nearest stops are by tram (Arriaga), by train and underground (Casco Viejo and Abando). In addition, by bus, many Bilbobus and Bizkaibus lines stop in this area. Bear in mind that on parade days, there will be schedule changes, so it is advisable that you look at the websites of the respective transport companies so as not to miss any event.
Where to eat
Choosing where to eat is one of the most difficult decisions. Remember that you are in the centre of Bilbao. There are more than a hundred restaurants and bars in this area, with an unlimited offer: meat, fish, vegetables, desserts... If you come to Santo Tomas, we recommend that you go to the stalls of El Arenal or Plaza Nueva to taste the delicious talos with chorizo or morcilla next to a glass of txakoli or cider.
On the other hand, if your idea is to make a pintxos route, we recommend that you do not miss these snacks in the bars of Unamuno, Plaza Nueva and Somera. There you will find a wide variety of pintxos ranging from the most traditional such as potato omelette, mushrooms or gildas to works of art of haute cuisine. If you prefer to sit down to eat in a restaurant, we advise you to take the small walk that goes from Calle del Perro to Santa María, full of restaurants with menus for all pockets; all of them of great quality.
Where to sleep
In the streets of the Old Town you will find many pensions and hostels where you can stay. Keep in mind that Casco Viejo is an area with a lot of atmosphere during the day and night. If you are looking for tranquillity, it is best to go to the surroundings such as Ensanche or Abandoibarra to look for accommodation. In both areas, you will be able to choose between a great variety of hotels, hostels, B&B and even holiday apartments, for all tastes and pockets. Do not forget to book your accommodation in advance as December is high season and almost all places are taken up.