In 1300 the lord of the province of Vizcaya, Don Diego López de Haro V, saw the potential of the riverside fishing village of Bilbao and granted it permission to become a town. The people graciously accepted, and by the end of the 14th century history records that the town had three parallel streets: Somera, Artekale and Tendería. These were soon added to: Belostikale, Carnicería Vieja, Barrenkale and Barrenkale Barrena, forming the Siete Calles – the seven original streets of the city. It was a time of much strife and the fledgling town was walled, but at the end of the 15th century these original fortifications came down and the city began to grow.
Bilbao suffered during the first Carlist war in the 19th century, when the liberal city was besieged (ultimately unsuccessfully) by the reactionary Carlist forces. The one bright spot to emerge was the invention of bacalao al pil-pil, now the city’s signature dish, but originally devised due to lack of any fresh produce to eat. Not long after the war, Bilbao’s boom started. The Vizcayan hills harboured huge reserves of haematite, the ore from which the city’s iron was produced. By the middle of the century, it had become evident that this was by far the best ore for the new process of steelmaking. Massive foreign investment followed, particularly from Britain, and the city expanded rapidly as workers flooded in from all parts of the peninsula. The good times didn’t last, however, and by the early 20th century things were looking grimmer. Output declined and dissatisfied workers sank into poverty. The Civil War hit the city hard too; after the Republican surrender, Franco made it clear he wasn’t prepared to forgive the Basques for siding against him. Repressed and impoverished, the great industrial success story of the late 19th century fell into gloom. The dictator’s death sparked a massive reflowering of Basque culture, symbolized by the bold steps taken to revitalize the city. The Guggenheim’s opening in 1997 has confirmed Bilbao’s as a cultural capital of Northern Spain, and ongoing regeneration works proceed apace.
Bilbao’s summers are warm but not baking. This is the best time to visit, but be sure to book ahead during the boisterous August fiesta . At other times of year, Bilbao is a fairly wet place, but never gets especially cold. The bar life and museums provide ample distraction from the drizzle.
Eire, T944 912 575; France, T944 249 000; Germany, T944 238 585; South Africa, T944 641 124; UK, T944 157 600; USA, the nearest consular representative is at the embassy in Madrid, T915 872 200.
There are various free wireless zones around the centre of Bilbao, including Plaza Nueva. El Señor de la Red, Alameda de Rekalde 14, T944 237 425, €2/hr; Laser Internet, C Sendeja 5, T944 453 509, Mon-Fri 1030-0230, Sat and Sun 1100-0230, €0.05 per min, handy and quick, also offers photocopier and fax services; Ciber Latino, C Carnicería Vieja 6, internet at €2 per hr; La Basca Universal, C Viuda de Epalza 12, T944 792 865, cheap phone calls and internet on the Arenal.
In August is the Main Week o Aste Nagusia in basque, great fiesta with lot of activities for everyone but especially for younger people.
In June you have the Music Festival of Kobeta Sonik, if you love metal music don´t miss it, this year in in june 20 and 21 and you can see there great bands like KISS, Judas Priest, Halloween, DIO, Europe.......
In July is another Music Festival in the same place the Bilbao Live Festival, from 4 to 6 of July you can enjoy with the music of The Police, REM, Madness.....
Central Bilbao isn’t too large and is reasonably walkable. The Guggenheim museum, as far afield as many people get, is about 20 minutes’ walk from the old town along the river. For further-flung parts of Bilbao, such as the beach or the bus station, the metro is excellent. Sir Norman Foster’s design is simple, attractive and, above all, spacious. Although there’s a reasonable network of local bus services in Bilbao, they are only generally useful for a handful of destinations; these are indicated in the text. The newly re-established tram network is handy, particularly for reaching the Guggenheim from the old town. There’s just one line so far; a scenic one, running from Atxuri station along the river, skirting the Casco Viejo (stopping behind the Teatro Arriaga), then continuing on the other side of the Nervión, stopping at the Guggenheim and the bus station among other places.
Bilbao’s airport is one of two international ones in Euskadi, and is a good gateway to Northern Spain with connections to several European destinations. There’s also a ferry service from Portsmouth, which is cruise-like in style and pricing. The city is well served by buses from the rest of the nation and is exceedingly well connected with Vitoria, San Sebastián and smaller destinations in Euskadi. There are a few train services to other Spanish cities and a narrow-gauge line along the coast to Santander, Oviedo and Galicia.