A modern, open-air museum
Bilbao has become a mosaic of contemporary architectural styles by the most renowned architects and designers
The Guggenheim Museum was a turning point in the history of Bilbao, in a way giving birth to a new city. Today, wherever you look in town, you will find an architectural treasure designed by an internationally acclaimed architect.
Take a walk in Abandoibarra and the new Ensanche to see how Bilbao became an art and culture hub. The high concentration of fabulous buildings in such a small area is just amazing.
Bilbao boasts the most striking, eclectic and futuristic sights, built right from the ground or standing on the remains of past icons. Today, the city is a veritable compendium of global early-twenty-first-century architecture.
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null A modern, open-air museum
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is considered to be the most iconic building of the late twentieth century. It triggered the so-called Guggenheim effect – the zeal to rehabilitate cities and furnish them with extraordinary buildings. The transformation of Bilbao has a name. Or rather, many names: those of the renowned local and international architects who have made it possible.
Abandoibarra and the new Ensanche are the districts were Bilbao’s architectural transformation becomes more evident. Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum is only the beginning. Take an art walk along the Ría to spot the other sights: César Pelli’s 165m-high Iberdrola Tower, the gateway to futuristic Bilbao; Rob Krier and Marc Breitman’s Artklass Building, adding a modern twist to the traditional style of the houses in the Ensanche; Javier Mariscal’s Gran Hotel Domine; Arata Isozaki’s twin towers, two sky-scraping residential buildings; Robert A. M. Stern and César Pelli’s Zubiarte Shopping Centre in Abandoibarra…
Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacios designed the Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall. It stands next to the Ría de Bilbao Maritime Museum, a project by Juan Francisco Paz, who used naval construction materials. The University of the Basque Country (UPV) Hall, by Álvaro Siza, and the University of Deusto Library, by Rafael Moneo, stand opposite the University of Deusto. San Mamés Barria, Bilbao’s new football temple, was designed by César Azcárate. In the hotel department, we can mention the Hesperia Bilbao, whose box balconies in various colours catch your eye, by the Iñaki Aurrekoetxea practice, and the Meliá Bilbao, whose design by Ricardo Legorreta draws inspiration from the work of Eduardo Chillida. The list could go on and on.
Creativity in Bilbao shows not only in architecture but in sculpture as well. Paseo de la Memoria (Abandoibarra, designed by López Chollet) is an open-air museum and garden from La Naja to Olabeaga. Abandoibarra is peppered with outdoor sculptures by Salvador Dalí, Jeff Koons, Eduardo Chillida, Yves Klein, Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois, and the like. Almost every street, square or corner in town is embellished with art.
Beyond Abandoibarra, twenty-first-century Bilbao emerges in other areas too. In the Ensanche, the multi-faceted façade of the headquarters of Osakidetza (Basque Health System), designed by Coll-Barreu, does not go unnoticed. Its folds and edges give off reflections of the nearby buildings and streets in a fascinating array of visual effects. In Plaza Bizkaia, the Government of the Basque Country has its office building, a remarkable design by Soriano and Palacios.
On your way to the new Ensanche, you will find ground-breaking buildings like the Osakidetza headquarters or Azkuna Zentroa
Azkuna Zentroa, a reinterpretation of Ricardo Bastida’s Alhóndiga (wine warehouse), offers a glimpse of the most furious avant-garde in the form of the audacious columns designed by the French industrial designer Philippe Starck.
On Diputación Street stands the Biblioteca Foral (Bizkaia’s Library) – an old building extended to house a modern wing. The area is swarming with bars and restaurants. It is certainly a must on your pintxo tour of Bilbao.Miribilla, over Bilbao La Vieja, gives further example of the city’s latest trends in architecture. Bilbao Arena, the sports centre built on the premises of the old iron ore mining site, won the ArchDaily Award for Sports Architecture in 2011. Frontón Bizkaia, the largest Basque pelota court in Euskadi, featuring a playing area in black (rather than green), hosts the most exciting pelota games.
How To Get There
On Diputación Street stands the Biblioteca Foral (Bizkaia’s Library) – an old building extended to house a modern wing. The area is swarming with bars and restaurants. It is certainly a must on your pintxo tour of Bilbao.
Most examples of twenty-first-century architecture in Bilbao are to be found in Abandoibarra and the Ensanche. Both districts are accessible by public transport and on foot. They can also be reached by car; there are several parking areas nearby.
Trains coming from other towns in Bizkaia or Euskadi and other cities in Spain or Europe stop at Abando, Atxuri or La Concordia Stations. All three are within walking distance of the sites of interest.
The closest station to Abandoibarra is Moyúa. For the Ensanche, you can get off at either Moyúa or Indautxu.
The tram is one of the best means of transport for an architectural tour of modern Bilbao. You can get off at Euskalduna, Guggenheim or Uribitarte to explore the Abandoibarra district.
There are many Bilbobus lines serving the centre of town (Abandoibarra and the Ensanche). Several lines (e.g. 71 or 30) get to Miribilla as well. For full information about bus lines in Bilbao, visit the Bilbobus website.
Where to eat
There is a wide variety of bars and restaurants to choose from in both Abandoibarra and the Ensanche. Some of them, close to the river estuary, afford stunning views of the most iconic buildings. The variety includes both modern, Michelin-starred restaurants serving signature cuisine and traditional taverns where you can order the dishes Bizkaia is well-known for.
Not-to-be-missed pintxo areas in the Ensanche include the streets and squares in the vicinity of the Biblioteca Foral (Diputación, Ledesma, Jardines de Albia) and those around Azkuna Zentroa (Maestro García Rivero, Licenciado Poza).
Where to sleep
Being a top travel destination, Bilbao offers a huge number of hotels, hostels, lodges and holiday apartments. You can stay in a five-star hotel with views of the Guggenheim Museum or find accommodation in less sophisticated facilities without leaving the centre of town.
Abandoibarra and the Ensanche are centrally located districts, which means you will find lots of venues to have a drink or a meal al fresco during the day or have fun by night.