Bilbao: The perfect mini-break for the architecture buff

Art reigns in Spain.

Sheltered between fine beaches and rolling hills, Bilbao has reinvented itself in recent years as a world-class weekend-break destination. The Guggenheim Museum is the big draw and it’s astonishing, a swirl of glittering titanium rising above the River Nervión.

Once a major port, in recent years, the city has attracted the great and good of architectural talent. Frank Gehry designed the museum, Philippe Starck converted the Alhóndiga warehouse into a buzzy cultural centre with a rooftop pool and Norman Foster is responsible for the Metro stations, which look like giant shrimps. A walk through town is a journey from medieval alleys to sleek Modernism.

If you fancy escaping the urban spaces, the seaside suburbs of Sopelana, Plentzia and Getxo are just a Metro ride away. The latter is the grandest: an old fishing village with good beaches and an elegant promenade. Jonathan Lorie

Getting there

The author travelled courtesy of Vueling (, which offers daily flights from London Gatwick from €70 return

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Dish of the day

Basque food is arguably some of the best in Spain. For traditional fare, try Restaurante Asador Guetaria, where the locals go to celebrate – its elegant back room harks back to colonial days. For cutting-edge New Basque cuisine, book a table at Nerua, the Michelin-starred restaurant inside the Guggenheim. Here, local chef Josean Alija’s exquisite menu deconstructs the cookbook, from pil-pil cod to sheep’s-milk ice cream. For a more relaxed meal, wander the bars in the pretty Plaza Nueva sampling local speciality pintxos – thin slices of baguette topped with an array of ingredients, often fresh fish – washed down with a glass of dry white Txakoli.

The old and the new


Sculpture and modern buildings sit along the redesigned riverside promenade, once home to the old docks. Start at the Maritime Museum and make your way past the Guggenheim and the soaring Zubizuri Bridge, finishing in the atmospheric old town or Casco Viejo. The Gothic streets are home to lively bars and historic sites, including the refurbished food market, La Ribera, a church on the Camino de Santiago and the excellent Basque Museum.

Sleeping pretty

The best hotel in town is the suitably Modernist five-star Gran Hotel Domine (; 00 34 9 44 25 33 00). Plump for one of the spacious
suites overlooking the neighbouring Guggenheim and enjoy breakfast on the rooftop terrace, with panoramic views across this vibrant city.