Bilbao Isn’t Just About Art

What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you see the name Bilbao? Would it be a certain museum by any chance?

There are few cities in the world which tourists link with one specific attraction as much as Bilbao with the Guggenheim. This is as much to do with the amazing design of the building as it is with the massive collection of contemporary art inside it.

I have to confess that I’m not a great fan of modern art but when I spent a weekend in Bilbao a while back I felt as though I couldn’t not go there. However, there are other things to do in this fine city that are far better in my opinion.

See the Countryside

índice2I have mentioned before how much I enjoy walking whenever I visit somewhere, and Bilbao is great for that. If you have been to the south of Spain you will know that this is mainly a dry area with little rain. However, Bilbao is in the Basque Country in the north of the country and it rains a lot more here than in other regions. This means that it has some lovely, lush countryside which looks more like the UK than Spain. Coming from Scotland, I immediately felt that the place had a Scottish type feel to it, but others feel that it is more like Wales, for some reason. In fact, it has even been suggested that the Welsh folk largely descend from the Basques, although if they went to Wales looking for less rain they must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Anyway, Pagasarri isn’t as big as Mount Snowdon but it is the iconic mountain which overlooks the city and which you can walk up to the summit of right from the city streets.

The Basque Culture

You might have heard of the Basque fight for independence in the past. Things have settled down a bit in recent years it seems but when I lived in Spain the Basque separatist group ETA were big news. What we shouldn’t let that do is blind us to the incredibly strong culture of this region. While Spanish is spoken here, the fantastic Basque language is still spoken. This looks and sounds like no other language on the planet and certainly nothing at all like Spanish. No one knows where it came from and why it is so different from other tongues in the region, which makes it really fascinating. You can check out the Basque culture in a number of ways. For a start, you could just go to the Plaza Nueva and enjoy some fine pintxos while listening to the locals. Alternatively, you could go to the nearby Basque Museum and find out more about them. During the Semana Grande in August you can also watch Basque Rural Sports, which involve weird stuff like stone lifting and wood chopping.

The Football

I love going to see local football games but it is a real challenge to get a ticket for Athletic Bilbao. They have a fanatical support and it seems as though just about all of their games are sold out. Tickets go on sale at the stadium a couple of days before the game and big queues tend to form there really quickly. There are a couple of interesting facts about the local team which are worth knowing. First, there is the Basque-only signing policy. This has been relaxed a little in recent years but for a long time they would only ever sign players who were born and brought up in the Basque Country. Secondly, along with Real Madrid and Barcelona they make up the group of teams to never have been relegated from the top division.  Taking in a game would be a great way to end a trip to Bilbao.

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