If you are not a fan of boiling weather and beach holidays, moreover, you want to plunge into the Spanish speaking environment, and finally break the language barrier, you should definitely visit Northern Spain: Bilbao & San Sebastian.
The Basque Country
For the previously visited tourists, a trip to the capital of Basque Country, Bilbao, will be an amazing opportunity to return in, perhaps, the most beautiful part of Spain. And for the first time visitors, the impression of Bilbao will be something between a culture shock and a cause for thinking about the meaning of the life.
Basque country is completely different from other parts of Spain. It can be seen with a naked eye of any traveller, after crossing the border region. Here, it seems that there is nothing to worry about, people on the streets seem to be unusually relaxed and peaceful.
The trip by car from Madrid to Bilbao takes about 4 hours plus a stop for lunch along the way. So, what is it waiting for us in such an unusual Basque Country?
Autonomous Community of the Basque Country is made up of three provinces: Alava , Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa. For you, it will not be difficult to travel all three provinces, as the Basque Country has excellent transportation links. In particular, from Bilbao comfortable buses depart in any point of the region.
“Bilbao – Green capital of The Basque Country”
But, lets go back to Bilbao – one of the cultural centres of Spain. Every year, many concerts, festivals, art exhibitions and other events take place. Bilbao is not a small city at all. Some think that for the total perfection, Bilbao lacks ocean. However, a deep river Nervion, with well-appointed beaches, crossing the entire city, partially replaces the ocean promenade. By the way, we strongly recommend you to walk in the boulevards and parks along the river.
Up to three millions tourists visit Bilbao annually. Most of them come to visit Guggenhein museum, while other just to wander through the beautiful avenues and taste some delicious Spanish food. These are the people from all over the world, from children to elderly couples.
Without any doubts, Bilbao is one of the world’s cultural centres, where every Earthman is obliged to visit.
Places to visit in Bilbao
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
“The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao looks like a great adventure”. Eduardo Chillida
This is a major branch of the world-famous New York Museum of Modern Art Guggenheim. Millions of tourists visit it every year. All collections are located in the futuristic building. The building itself is a piece of art. It looks like a giant flower with trimmed sheets of titanium. If you have interest in the art of the second half of the XX century, the museum collections will catch your attention.
Dona Casilda Park
Dona Casilda is a huge park with flowers and dancing fountains, which is located behind the Museum of Fine Arts (Museo de Bellas Artes). Children can enjoy the carousel and the ducks in the pond, meanwhile, parents can have a rest in a café with great view of the park.
There are a lot of greenery and benches for rest. The park offers you a great view of the Guggenheim Museum and the main attractions of Bilbao.
Old city in Bilbao
The medieval quarter old city of Bilbao, or in Spanish “Casco Viejo” is located among seven historical streets in Bilbao of the XV century. They are “Las Siete Calles”: Somera, Artekale, Tenderja, Belostikale, Barrenkale, Barrenkale Barrena and Belostikale. In addition to the narrow streets, you will find here noisy and cramped bars, shops in the vibrant Old Town, Cathedral and St. Nicholas Church.
If you fancy to buy some trinkets, welcome the Sunday flea markets in Plaza Nueva. Do you want to buy some flower and make happy the ladies, welcome to Sunday flower market on the nearby Plaza del Arenal. Here, in the very heart of Bilbao, located the most well-known and oldest market Ribera throughout Europe. Of course, if you need to buy some rare and exceptional clothes, welcome to the street Correo. We would also suggest you to visit Arriaga Theatre, named in honor of the eminent Basque composer.
Plaza Nueva Bilbao
New Square of Bilbao or “Plaza Nueva” is like a huge courtyard. Currently, the area is for the Academy of the Basque Language. You can enjoy pleasant atmosphere here, in the nearby cafes and tapas bars. On Sundays, the flea market takes place here. Where you can become an owner of sudden tattered books, ancient coins, even birds in wooden cages, as well as mice and turtles.
Plaza Nuevo is the favourite place for organising various markets. Be it Santo Thomas New Year market or mass sale of flowers on St Valentine’s Day.
Places to eat in Bilbao
Gure Toki Tapas Bar
*Photo taken from the official Gure Toki Bar Facebook page
Cute and affordable place in Bilbao, where you can have a snack and a glass of perfect homemade wine. The cost of meals – from € 1.90. Bar Gure Toki is located in the corner of the Plaza Nueva, in the heart of the old town of Bilbao.
Cafe bar Bilbao
It is a small and authentic bar. Cafe bar Bilbao might be not the best place for a proper lunch or dinner, but for a glass of wine and plate of snacks, definitely, yes. In Bilbao you can taste “sandwiches” prepared in various options. It can be stuffed cheese balls, Roquefort cheese, anchovies, duck roles and etc. Everything in Basque and on a piece of bread. The menu has salads and seafood dishes. Grab a snack at the bar or at a table on the outdoor terrace.
San Sebastian, definitely, is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. It is even called the Spanish Paris for the borrowed architectural style from the French capital.
Places to visit in San Sebastian
The pride of the town are its two main beaches: La Concha and Ondaretta. Both of them are located in the city center. La Concha Beach is located opposite the Royal Palace of Miramar.
The beach has a length of almost half of kilometer of fine and pleasant sand and a beautiful waterfront area. The beach gained great popularity because of its proximity to the palace. The palace is used as a summer royal residence for many years. The palace attracts not only Spanish and European nobility, but also tourists from all over the world.
The second urban beach, Ondaretta, is located right behind the palace, closer to Mount Igeldo. At the end of the beach, you will see a sign of modern city. Famous sculptor, born in San Sebastian, Eduardo Chillida created this unusual piece of art “Comb of the Wind”.
Places to eat in San Sebastian
Undoubtedly, San Sebastian is a place for gourments. There is a number of restaurants with Michelin stars, that can compete only with Paris. Apart from it, there is no need to be a connoisseur of fine dining in order to enjoy the flavors of local cuisine. One of the specialities of San Sebastian cuisine are pintxos, small appetizers. Their divertsity amazes the eyes. If usual Spanish tapas are primarily small sandwiches, the Basque pintxos is a work full of creativity, taste and even humor.
From ourselves, we would like to recommed you to try pintxos from crab meat, octopus and with duck liver (foie gras).
For instance, in San Sebastian, it is very common to move from one bar during the evening, talking and eating delicios specialities. Additionally, San Sebastian is a great place to taste “txacoli”. It is like a cider drink, but less sweet. Traditional Txacoli is fermented in foundres (very old and large oak barrels).
Among the restaurants we would like to mention Rekondo. The restaurant is located on the way to the top of Monte Igueldo. It is just incredible place with incredible cuisine, and no less stunning collection of wines.
Another advantage of the city’s location, is that it is so close to French border. You can take a car, and in 30-40 minutes you can enjoy traditional French croissant with a cup of coffee. You might also try some of the best Atlantic oysters, for example in the town of Saint Jean de Luz, Bayonne or Biarritz.
A trip to the place such as San Sebastian or Bilbao is suitable for all lovers of “special” places. It is just a kind of elegance, not inherent in mass tourism. So, we are very pleased to invite you to visit and explore the beauty of Northern Spain!And we are always here for you to make your #funplan trip even more special!