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- 18 Jan 2021, 3 nights
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Bilbao is a dream destination for architecture buffs, with an ultra-modern centre. Following the completion of Gehry's iconic Guggenheim Museum building, a boom of international designers arrived to give the Basque country's industrial heartland an edgy new identity. Yet you'll still find locals spilling from tapas bars on a Friday or taking an evening paseo (walk) along the river.
Most Bilbao hostels have social areas with free Wi-Fi where you can plan your day or get last-minute concert tickets. There's a revamped historic building with sun terrace, a rural casa with sea views and a modern hostel with sleek monochrome rooms. You could even stay in a Bilbao hostel with an on-site bar spilling out onto the medieval streets of the old town. Both dorms and private rooms are available, and some options have free breakfast.
Casco Viejo (Old Town) is the oldest neighbourhood in Bilbao and home to Las Siete Calles (The Seven Streets), the city's original medieval heart. Over the river, Bilbao la Vieja is the old town's cool alter ego, full of designer boutiques, arty bars and international cuisine. Head to Zorrotzaurre neighbourhood to discover a riverside space where you can swim or picnic on 100%-recycled furniture. Irala isn't on most visitors' lists, but this unusual neighbourhood of brightly painted houses built like English terraces is 10 minutes' walk from the river and well worth checking out.
To see the city's sights from above, take the funicular railway up to Mount Artxanda viewing point. You can take a boat ride along the Ría del Nervión to explore the architectural attractions on the riverside – or better yet, hire a kayak. Head indoors to Azkuna Zentroa, a wine warehouse turned cultural space (complete with swimming pool) or wander the stalls at the historic Mercado de la Ribera on the edge of Casco Viejo. This is the biggest covered market in Europe, where you can buy fresh produce, eat in the restaurants and even catch a live gig.
You can fly into Bilbao Airport, 20 minutes from the centre by bus. If you're travelling by rail, Abando train station has services from Madrid (5 hours) and Barcelona (6 hours) and sits across the river from the old town. Termibus, the main bus station, connects to cities across Northern Spain and France. Good public transport makes getting around Bilbao straightforward. Use the metro for the beaches to the north and the tram to go between the city's attractions.