All over the region, we can see the indelible imprint left through the years by the people who lived in Bilbao Biscay before us. This historical inheritance ranges from remnants of the first human settlements in prehistoric times to vestiges from the industrialization period; including rests of an iron ore mining industry, symbols of our provincial institutions, tower houses that once belonged to medieval lords, the imprint of fishermen’s activity, and the weight of the baserris in rural areas. The museums in Bilbao Biscay not only preserve our cultural heritage, but also allow us to have access to all-time universal artworks and to the creations of new artists alike–an offer extensive enough to suit all tastes.

The ever-changing titanium skin of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has put Bilbao Biscay on the map of international art. This oustanding building, designed by Frank Gehry, has become a reference point for art lovers thanks to its bold architecture and its shapes, without forgetting the high quality of the exhibits it houses. The museum’s collection takes visitors on a journey through the artistic trends of the 20th century both in painting and sculpture. It features works of art by artists as prestigious as Mark Rothko, Richard Serra, Anselm Kiefer, Eduardo Chillida, Jenny Holzer, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Antonio Saura, Jorge Oteiza, Miquel Barceló, Francesco Clemente, Willem de Kooning, Julian Schnabel, Antoni Tàpies, or Andy Warhol, among others. The museum’s permanent collection is complemented by temporary exhibitions–a programme that combines the best of modern and contemporary art.

The surroundings have turned into an open-air museum themselves. Everyone can admire the product of the creativity and the imagination of some of the most relevant artists of the last few decades. The main protagonists on the exterior of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao are the sculptures. Puppy, a lovely dog covered with flowers created by Jeff Koons, is always guarding the entrance to the museum. The Wish Tree for Bilbao, by pioneering conceptual artist Yoko Ono, listens to the wishes of the people who go past it. The shiny spheres of The Tree & The Eye by sculptor Anish Kapoor welcome those who approach the museum from the Estuary, establishing a conversation with the Fire Fountain by Yves Klein and the Fog Sculpture #08025 by Fuyiko Nakaya–both installed in the pond of the museum–and with the colourful balloon-like Tulips by Jeff Koons, located in the terrace by the atrium. The colossal spider Maman by Louise Bourgeois and the Arcos rojos / Arku gorriak by Daniel Buren built on La Salve Bridge put the last touches to a distinctive space created by and for art.

The offer of museums in Bilbao is complemented by the Fine Art Museum, adjacent to Doña Casilda Park, whose collection is made up of over a thousand pieces which encompass the history of art from the 20th century up to the present. You can feast your eyes on masterpieces produced by painters like El Greco, Zurbarán, Murillo, Goya, Gauguin, Sorolla, Zuloaga, or Bacon, and enjoy a broad programme of temporary exhibitions. Besides, occupying part of what once was a shipyard under Carola Crane, is the Itsasmuseum Bilbao–a journey through the maritime heritage of the Estuary of Bilbao and its port–which includes a display of vessels at the museum’s docks.

The most historic neighbourhoods of the Biscayan capital are home to the most long-standing museums in Bilbao. In Casco Viejo, near Plaza Unamuno, the Basque Museum has on exhibit a collection of more than 20,000 objects that let us take a glimpse into the essence of Biscay–a lifestyle that is intimately connected to the sea and the countryside, to the foundries and the baserris, to our ancestors’ daily life and the traditions passed down to us. Right opposite, at the bottom of the Calzadas de Mallona–the stairs that lead to the Basilica of Begoña–, the Archaeological Museum preserves a wide variety of archaeological materials in an exhibition where you can discover the imprint of the prehistoric inhabitants of Biscay. A former Dominican convent in Atxuri–one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Bilbao–houses the Museo Diocesano de Arte Sacro, where you can know more about the evolution of the artistic creation in the diocese of Bilbao from the 12th to the 20th century. On the other side of San Antón Bridge and its Church, in the alternative neighbourhood of San Francisco, if you visit the Reproductions Museum Bilbao you will find exact replicas of some of the most prominent sculptures of all time: the Parthenon Frieze, the Slaves and the Moses by Michaelangelo, the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Laocoön, the Apoxyomenos, the Diana of Gabii, the Apollo Belvedere, and the Belvedere Torso.

Biscayan towns and villages also have an important cultural heritage. Connecting Portugalete and Getxo, for instance, is the Vizcaya Bridge. This colossal iron structure was erected in 1883 to facilitate the transit of people and vehicles between both banks without impeding the passage of ships, being the first transporter bridge in the world with a metallic structure. Commonly known as Puente Colgante, this architectural wonder was granted World Heritage status in 2007 in the 20th Century Industrial Heritage category. This recognition was obtained thanks to its technical creativity, which beautifully combines aesthetics and functionality, to the influential and innovative use of steel cables, and to the impact it had on the building of future bridges.

What best proves its construction was a real success is the fact that the bridge is still functional nowadays. Its gondola keeps carrying passengers comfortably and efficiently, allowing us to enjoy the short trip the same way people did at the end of the 19th century. If you want to make the most of the Vizcaya Bridge, you should climb up to its highest platform, at a height of 45 metres. The views over the Estuary as it makes its way towards the sea, with the cliffs of Punta Galea in the background, are truly spectacular. The Vizcaya Bridge is also the perfect scene for extreme adventures such as rappelling down from the panoramic platform at full speed, bungee jumping into the estuary, or going up to the top of its 61-metre towers.

Other must-see museum is the Euskal Herria Museoa in Gernika, where you can learn about the historical and social evolution of Biscay through the centuries, paying special attention to our culture (folklore, sports, mithology, music, dances, and festivals). On the Puerto Viejo of Bermeo in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, we cannot miss the Arrantzaleen Museoa. Inside this historic building, you can find out how people lived and worked in our coastal towns and on the shipping boats when they set sail to catch the fish. You will also be taught how fish markets were organised by the guilds and the importance of fish preservation.

El Pobal Forge Museum in Muskiz is the perfect place to learn about the life of the people who worked in the foundries. In this museum you can see for yourself how the iron extracted from the nearby mountains was made into ploughing tools, weapons, building materials, or kitchen tools. Also in the region of Enkarterri is La Encartada Fabrika - Museoa, a former textile factory based on Balmaseda that remains almost intact, where you can have a look at the techniques used to transform different fabrics into diverse items of clothing, including the famous txapelas. Apart from paying a visit to any of the Biscayan wineries, you must go to the Txakoli - Txakolingunea Museum in Bakio–in the Uribe region–to discover the secrets of txakoli. There you will immerse yourself in the history of the local wine par excellence, learning everything there is to know about the traditions and the manufacturing process of this young fruity wine. The visit finishes, as it could not be otherwise, with a guided tasting accompanied by delicious pintxos, our small gastronomical jewels.

  • Bizkaia boasts world-class museums, theatres and art galleries organising all kinds of cultural events. In Bilbao you will be able to attend street performances, dance shows, music festivals and ahead-of-the-curve exhibitions. You can also visit design stores to keep abreast of the latest trends or buy exclusive gifts to bring back home.