Whether it’s the flow of its boundary pushing architecture, delights of its finger food tapas, or sweeps of gorgeous shoreline nearby, Bilbao is a city that places a premium on aesthetics. The relentless drive to all things beautiful may be a reaction to the city’s industrial past, but it has led this Basque city to emerge as a new beacon of artistry. American architect Frank Gehry’s masterpiece of flowing metal is the shining standout here, a perfect harmony of smooth titanium and glass, and a thrilling piece in itself. Inside the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, world-class exhibitions are exhibited in the bright, expansive interior - which practically begs you to explore more.
The city has gorgeous historical presence too. Casco Viejo - the medieval area - is its historic core, and home to the original seven streets and cathedral, dating back to the 14thcentury. Tall banks of coloured buildings rise either side as you walk, dwarfed by a tide of pretty facades, overflowing flower boxes, and intricate rail balconies. Plaza Nueva is Bilbao’s neoclassical square, with a procession of arches all around you. Morning flea markets regularly overtake it, offering opportunities to pick through piles of coins, dusty books and rusted antiques on the hunt for bargains, in this most elegant setting.
The titanic Mercado de la Ribera market looms tall by the river. Explore to eat your way through an endless pile of Basque pintxos – the local take on tapas. Cocktail sticks will quickly stack up as you gorge on plump olives, organic cheeses, and feather thin slices of curled hams, while orbiting Europe’s largest covered market. Described as a perfect blend of beauty and function by UNESCO, the Vizcaya Bridge is an unusual but spectacular piece of industrial architecture. The world’s oldest, gigantic transporter crane is still in use today, swinging cars and passengers from one side of the gaping Nervion River’s mouth to the other.