Our #UrbanLover Cristina Caballero shows us a different Bilbao
The Urban Lover Cristina Caballero shows us the lesser-known corners of the city and the best way to enjoy Bilbao.
To get to know Bilbao in depth, Cristina tells us everything there is to know about its urban art and the murals that decorate its walls, about the best ways to get around the city, where to go shopping to find the most innovative and the most traditional shops, what to do in those alternative zones of the city that are filled to the brim with culture, or where to find the most original souvenirs.
No one better than our Urban Lover Cristina Caballero, a travel agent whose passion is travelling and exploring new places, to guide us around Bilbao and show us all the things the city has to offer. Although Cristina lives in Etxebarri, a small town adjacent to Bilbao–just a few minutes away thanks to Metro Bilbao–, she is extremely fond of the ‘Botxo’–the name locally given to the capital for nestling amount mountains. She is so proud of Bilbao that she takes every opportunity to boast about it, as in her view, ‘our culture, gastronomy, landscapes, and regional language are things that deserve to be discovered!’
Just as any good ambassador, Cristina is familiar with every nook and cranny of Bilbao, a city with over 700 years of history that has always managed to evolve without losing its identity and character. The labyrinthic medieval streets in the Casco Viejo still maintain the mercantile spirit Bilbao had when it was founded. The city and its charms extended towards the Ensanche at the end of the 19th century, when this commercial and economic hub that came into being, and towards Abandoibarra, which is now a showcase for the artistic avant-garde movements of the last few decades and surprises us with its architecture and dynamism.
The vestiges of an industrial and mining past by the estuary of the River Nervión in Olabeaga, the singular Basurto Hospital, the colourful houses of Irala, the former Encarnación convent in Atxuri, the walk alongside the Estuary in Campo Volantín, the distinctive personality of the Deusto neighbourhood, the Basilica of Begoña, the traditional ‘txikiteo’ in streets like Somera or Barrenkale, the atmosphere found in the pintxo bars of Pozas and Indautxu, and San Mamés Stadium, home of Athletic Club (a football club with a unique philosophy)–they are all part of the essence of Bilbao.
Our Urban Lover Cristina wants us to get to know Bilbao from a different angle, and we do it by following the Mural Route with her. This is a perfect plan for street art lovers and for those visitors who want to see an alternative side of the city since the route allows us to enjoy the urban art that decorates its facades and walls. The route starts in Olabeaga, at the evocative “Soñar” (“Dreaming”) mural, a large painting on the front of an old building that is already a city landmark. The route continues alongside the left bank of the Estuary among the parks, walks and monumental buildings of a renewed Bilbao, to eventually get to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and La Salve Bridge–from where legend has it, sailors used to sing songs to the Virgin of Begoña before setting sail. On that spot, Cristina shows us another mural titled “La llave / Giltza bat” (“The Key”), a work of art that invites us to reflect on the need for dialogue and mutual understanding.
From there, we accompany Cristina on a journey to the past and visit Bilbao La Vieja and its mural paintings. This is one of the oldest and most alternative neighbourhoods of the city, but its buildings, bridges and walls are now awash with light and colour, transforming the area into a street art museum with dozens of impressive murals. The tour around this lively and multicultural district begins in Calle Urazurrutia, continues across Iturburu and Bilbao la Vieja, goes towards San Francisco, past Plaza Corazón de María, Concepción and Olano, and gets to Calle Mena. Cristina suggests then going to Muelle de Marzana for a walk. Apart from admiring the creativity of its wall art, you can sit on a terrace to rest your feet and enjoy an excellent view of the Casco Viejo, the Mercado de La Ribera, and the church of San Antón with its bridge.
To show us another face of Bilbao, our Urban Lover Cristina invites us to get on the Bilbao Tram and spend the day shopping with her while we discover the most authentic shops in Bilbao. In them, we can find typical and artisan local products, all of them made with love and respecting the techniques used by our ancestors: jewellery with Biscayan motifs, traditional blue and white pottery, regional costumes, our well-known berets also called ‘txapelas’, ‘txikito’ glasses–short heavy wine glasses with a small capacity used for ‘potear’–, or replicas of the famous tiles that cover the streets of Bilbao–recognisable due to their characteristic floral pattern. Other souvenirs that are worth buying include preserved vegetables, jarred sea products such as tuna or anchovies, or sheep’s milk cheeses like Idiazabal or Karrantza, all of them examples of regional gastronomic delicacies.
The tram also takes us near old-established local shops, businesses that have always been there, genuine places that offer a good variety of products which are a delight for any Urban Lover. For those who have a more modern taste and want to keep on trend, the design and fashion shops that dot the city centre are a shoppers’ paradise. Bargain hunters and people who look for originality should definitely pay a visit to the many markets that are regularly held across Bilbao to get the best deals. There are markets to suit all tastes: a busy vintage market is held in Calle Dos de Mayo on the first Saturday of each month, the Flower Market at El Arenal is open every Sunday, stalls are also set up in Plaza Nueva to sell collectibles, and you can get tasty seasonal produce in the Gure Lurreko Merkatua.
Cristina’s vocation for “showing the world every single corner of Biscay” takes us to Zorrotzaurre, a new island in the middle of the Estuary, on the outskirts of Bilbao. Zorrotzaurre is reinventing itself day by day. Industrial buildings and abandoned factories are increasingly giving way to a new cultural and leisure space, only a few minutes’ walk from the city centre. It is precisely here that two of the liveliest markets in the city are held: the Open Your Ganbara flea market and the incomparable mix of art and leisure offered by the Espacio ZAWP.
Nowadays, not only markets but all kind of events take place in Zorrotzaurre. This former industrial area is gradually being turned into an alternative leisure space, a cultural and creative ecosystem, home to street markets, stages for cutting-edge artistic expressions and terraces where you can enjoy a completely singular atmosphere in a totally different setting. What once was a lumber mill is at present a multi-purpose space used for creation and exhibition. Former industrial plants are now used for live performances and circus arts. Factories accommodate indoor skate parks, climbing gyms, and design schools, and offer hundreds of cultural activities all year round. Zorrotzaurre is, as our personal ambassador Cristina puts it, ‘a place those Urban Lovers who look for alternative leisure options shouldn’t miss’.
No one better than our Urban Lover Cristina Caballero, a travel agent whose passion is travelling and exploring new places, to guide us around Bilbao and show us all the things the city has to offer.