Leaving San Sebastián, I was super psyched to continue on to what I understood to be the culture capital of Spain’s Basque Country. I knew Bilbao was the home of the world famous Guggenheim Museum, and expected its cuisine and other attractions to be equally worldclass. Well… shame on me for not researching more!

While the city did have some lovely sites, and its displays of avant-garde architecture completely lived up to expectations, beyond its museums and walks alongside the river and old town, there wasn’t much to sustain my five day visit. When looking up things to do in Bilbao, the majority of the Top 10 list included daytrips out of the city, mostly highlighting the wonderful things to do and see in San Sebastián! Fortunately (or rather unfortunately) somewhere between San Sebastián and Bilbao I’d picked up a nasty cold, so happily welcomed a few days worth of downtime.

(For the record, I blame the pintxos for my cold – I usually avoid exposed food like the plague, but resisting those little bites of heaven was next to impossible! Anyone who knows my love for tortilla española will understand.)

Bilbao’s 700 year old casco viejo is cozy and charming, and easily walkable within an hour. A central metro line runs through the city connecting most everything on a visitor’s itinerary, as well as many smaller outlying towns within a 20-minute metro ride.

Pictures from Portugalete, a small town north of Bilbao and home to the Eiffel Tower-inspired Unesco World Heritage Vizcaya Bridge are shown below. I was pleasantly surprised to find the town in full party-mode celebrating San Roque Festivals when I arrived! From Bilbao it was super easy to jump on the metro and head north for an afternoon trip visiting both the cute bayside town and famous bridge.

I was surprised initially upon arriving to Bilbao to learn how small the city was geographically, but less so when I learned it’s not actually the capital of Basque Country (I was clearly in cruise control when planning this leg of my trip). Despite gaining in popularity since the Guggenheim Museum opened in 1997, the city still has a somewhat sleepy atmosphere, magnified in the middle of August when everyone is out of town on vacaciones.

Like most of Spain, Bilbao doesn’t lack for cathedrals. (Basílica de Begoña and Catedral de Santiago shown above.) They say Catholicism and the Bilbao Athletic Club are the two main religions in Bilbao, so I was happy to catch the above shot featuring them side by side!

Besides its old town, Bilbao is first and foremost known for its museums. Here’s a sneak peek of the Guggenheim on my way to the Fine Arts Museum… (I see you, Puppy!)

The Fine Arts Museum, or Museo de Bellas Artes, was phenomenal! They didn’t allow pictures inside, but in addition to a permanent exhibit showing artists including Picasso, Goya, el Greco and Velásquez, they had the coolest temporary exhibit showcasing French haute couture from the 1950s! The exhibit had one hundred remarkable models and accessories in perfect condition dating back to 1947-1957, explaining the global transition to ready-to-wear fashion after WWII. For hours I geeked out over fashion history, gaping over original pieces from Chanel, Balenciaga, Dior, Givenchy, Balmain, Yves Saint Laurent and more!

Afterwards I moseyed on over to the Guggenheim.

A quick word here – I by no means claim to be an art connoisseur. I know what I like though, and more often than not that includes artwork in the classical sense. In other words I know next to nothing about modern art and, frankly, gaining an appreciation of it is on the lower end of my to-do list. (I do however LOVE Mark Rothko, but won’t even attempt to talk about his work in an artistic manner…)

With that being said, I share with you now a short collection of my own. I call it ‘Mes réactions à Le Guggenheim’.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, right?… Of course my favorite pieces ended up being those located outside, absolutely free of charge to view! Both involved flowers…

First, the below Jeff Koons metallic tulip sculpture:

And second, another piece by Jeff Koons, the beautiful, absolutely one-of-a-kind, Puppy of Bilbao!

‘Puppy’ and the fashion exhibit were without a doubt my favorite parts of Bilbao. For anyone considering a visit, I’d recommend learning from my experience and instead extending your stay in San Sebastián. With Bilbao only an hour away from San Sebastián by bus, this allows for an easy daytrip to visit its world famous museums while still enjoying the beaches and superior restaurants of San Sebastián.

Thanks for reading!

xo Carrie