When Frank Gehry drew up plans for the Guggenheim Museum, he couldn’t possibly have predicted the effect it would have on Bilbao. Since the ribbon-cutting ceremony in 1997, millions have visited his wacky titanium masterpiece that’s been likened to a ship, a mermaid and a whale. And once you’ve finished admiring the curvaceous work of art, you can turn your attention to the city’s buzzing bar and café scene.
• To see Bilbao of old, head for the Casco Viejo. The pin-thin lanes will lead you to Siete Calles, where you’ll find tapas bars, a Gothic cathedral and Spain’s biggest covered market.
• If you’re more of a foodie, then don’t miss San Sebastian. It’s an Art Nouveau swirl of a seaside town with a galaxy of Michelin stars to its name.
SHORE EXCURSIONS► View all EXCURSIONS
Bilbao City Tour►
You’ll start your day in Bilbao, a vibrant city founded in 1300, which has developed into a cultural hub. First up is a guided drive around the highlights. You’ll visit the Albia Gardens – a downtown park popular with the locals and home to many memorial statues. Then, you’ll head up to Mount Artxanda for a panoramic view of the city. A hop across the river will lead you to the Iglesia de San Nicolas – an 18th-century church with a remarkable Baroque façade. Your adventure will then take you to the old quarter, where your guide will show you around the Santiago Cathedral, the bridge of San Anton, and finally Spain’s oldest covered market, the Ribera Marquet. Before you head back to port, you’ll have some free time to explore under your own steam.
Scenic Bilbao & Castro Urdiales►
This excursion will see you pounding the cobbles, as you take in some of the region’s best-known landmarks, so bring your comfortable shoes. You’ll begin with Bilbao’s old quarter – a chocolate box of Renaissance, Baroque and Modernist buildings. On your walking tour, you’ll come across the Cathedral of Santiago, the Gothic Church of San Anton and the Plaza Nueva – a Neoclassical square accessed through tightly-packed archways. Afterwards, you’ll drive to Castro Urdiales, a fishing town with a rich heritage. Here, you’ll have some time to unearth the history of the place. You can take a stroll up to the 13th-century church of Santa Maria, or meander along the promenade to the scenic harbour. It’s dotted with charming bistros and has a great view of the bay.
Discover San Sebastian►
You’ll get to explore the Pearl of the Cantabrian Sea today. San Sebastian is known for its beautiful bay, and Michelin-starred eateries. First, you’ll head to the old town, which is found at the foot of Mount Urgull. From here, you’ll begin your guided tour, which will snake through the traffic-free, bar-lined streets to the town’s best sights. You’ll pass the impressive City Council building, before reaching Santa Maria La Real – a monastery and popular pilgrimage stop. You’ll then move on to the Plaza de la Constitución, with its distinctive numbered balconies that once served as boxes for bullfights. Here, you’ll have free time to explore, and perhaps sample the local breaded snacks known as pintxos. After, you’ll drive to Mount Igueldo – on the west side of the famous La Concha bay. At 170 metres above sea level, you’ll get some impressive views – look out for Santa Clara Island with its hilltop lighthouse.