Basilica of Begoña dominates the city from its hilltop location. It dates from the 16th Century and its most outstanding feature is the Renaissance-style main entrance. The main altar is an important example of the transition between the Romanesque and Gothic styles of architecture. The Basilica attracts tourists, agnostics and believers alike. No tourist visits are allowed during mass.
Gran Vía Don Diego Lopez de Haro, better known as simply Gran Vía, is one of Bilbao's main drags. The street begins at the famed Plaza Circular and runs northeast all the way to the Plaza del Sagrado Corazon. Gran Vía runs by many of the city's most famous attractions like the Plaza Moyua and the Palacio Chavarrí. A visit to the Gran Vía is almost impossible to miss during a trip to Bilbao.
You'll find this park alongside Bilbao's Gran Vía and you can escape from the traffic to spend some peaceful time walking along the pathways amongst an amazing diversity of majestic trees. It was laid out between 1912 and 1920 along the lines of an English country house gardens and it boasts four ponds. The most popular sites are the duck pond and the pergola pond, with its spectacular cybernetic fountain that offers a veritable sound and light show during the summer. Next door, you can visit the impressive Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum). All parks in Bilbao are open 24 hours a day.
The Catedral de Santiago was constructed in the 16th Century, but the exact date is uncertain. What is known is that at that time it could be seen from any street in the city, with the cloister on the west and the porch on the north west. Times change, however, and it is now somewhat hidden behind new buildings. It could be considered the foundation stone on which Bilbao was built, as the seven streets of the old city converged at the Gothic-style Cathedral, which dates back to the time of St. James, before the city was built. The Cathedral is located in the Plaza de Santiago, which shares its name.
Presided over by the statue of Don Diego López de Haro, Lord of Vizcaya and founder of Bilbao in 1300, the Plaza Circular constitutes one of the Gran Vía's end points. The buildings surrounding this much frequented and traveled through Bilbaoan square are mostly large and provide the headquarters for the main banks and other financial institutions. Among them stands out the BBVA bank skyscraper. In the entrance of this building there is a sculpture by the Basque artist, Eduardo Chillida, and next to it one of most famous fountains in Bilbao, used daily by many as a meeting place. From the Plaza Circular and going down Navarra street you will head towards the traditional Casco Viejo (Old Quarter), in the opposite direction there is the Gran Vía, the city's main thoroughfare.
Opened in 1892, the building that houses Bilbao's city council is the work of the architect Joaquin Rucoba, who also built the Arriaga Theatre. Among its principal features is a main exterior wall lavishly decorated in the Baroque style. The busts and statues adorning the Ayuntamiento de Bilbao are of illustrious personages of the Bilbao social scene. It was built upon the ruins of the old San Agustin convent. Climbing the exterior steps and entering the building, the first thing that stands out is the central staircase which meets with the most attention-grabbing spot in the town hall: the beautiful and singular Arab salon or reception area. This is a place of unusual beauty in which the main public evens take place. The town hall's interior can be visited during the mornings all week at no charge. The most important features can be seen through a half hour guided tour. Check website for more details.
Bilbao has only recently come to the attention of tourists, a characterful Basque city that was for so long hidden behind the guise of an industrial hub. The foundation of the Guggenheim Museum changed all that. The silvered, sinuous facade of the museum shelters an impressive collection of contemporary and modern art, ranging from the mind-boggling to the subtly enticing work of master artists from across the globe. The Guggenheim may be Bilbao's most iconic, but it is only one of its many charms. Stroll along the riverside in Casco Viejo and you'll encounter a beguiling array of pastel-hued facades. This is the Medieval town of Bilbao where stand some of its oldest architectural gems. Of these, the Santiago Cathedral is believed to be the most aged; built in the 15th Century, it still retains much of its original design. Here, also stands the bustling Mercado de la Ribera, a treasure trove of local specialties like fresh seafood, cured meats, cheese, sausages and a variety of produce. Along the way are Michelin-starred restaurants and chic designer boutiques. Nearby, are some fine day trip destinations, including the secluded San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a rocky outcrop off the coast, topped by a 10th-century church with spectacular views of the hills and sea. All this and more mark Bilbo as a well of delight just waiting to be discovered.
The Moyúa, also known as Elíptic, divides the Gran Vía in half. It was re-opened in 1997, though the original dates back to the 1940's. Because of the metro building works, it was dismantled in 1990 to be restored and re-opened years later respecting its original design, which was based on the formalist style of French Gardens. The low boxed hedges and great variety of flowering plants are an outstanding feature. The gardens near the central fountain, alongside their neighboring buildings—the mythic Hotel Carlton and the Civil Government headquarters, the Palacio de Chávarri are also an attractive feature.
Among the notable buildings around the Plaza Moyúa, halfway down Bilbao's Gran Vía, is the Chavarri Palace. This is a beautiful building by Belgian architect, Paul Ankar, constructed in 1889 as a commission for businessman, Víctor Chávarri, who wanted it as a residence. The Chavarri Palace is built in a Flemish neorealist style, and is considered one of the most unusual examples of its kind in the city. The combination of colors and formal features result in a beautiful building that today houses the Gobierno Civil de Vizcaya (Biscay Civil Government). Stunning windows, balconies, gables, staircases and pointed garrets form an interesting structure which deserves to be admired.
In Gran Vía, between Plaza Moyúa and Sagrado Corazón, is a grand structure built in 1919 and occupied by the Sota family during its early days. One striking feature this magnificent building has (an early example of luxurious residential architecture in 19th century Bilbao) is its facade, with towers, arched galleries, pronounced eaves, turrets and pinnacles. It is a clear example of the regionalist tendencies and mountain influences that are evident in its creator's earlier work, the Atxuri station. Social drawing rooms and rooms formerly designed as family quarters are today partly used to house various offices. On the ground floor of the building are several important fashion outlets.
Built in 1920 by Gregorio Ibarreche, the Palacio de Ibaigane houses one of the most loved and followed institutions in Vizcaya: the headquarters of the hundred-year-old Athletic Club de Bilbao. Initially intended to be the La Sota family's residence, and later to house the Vizcayan Military Government, today this building in the style of the palaces of the first Baroque, holds within its walls the secrets of the football club supported by thousands of Vizcayans. On its facade, notice the outstanding and popularly inspired architectural motifs, the main characteristics of which are the framework of exposed brick, a short-arched entrance and the gables of the many projections. The trophies hall can be visited too.