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Bilbao is the economic and cultural centre of Spanish Basque country (although not its capital, which is Vitoria). In recent years, the city has experienced a cultural survival. Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum, the flashy design of the metro and the glass pedestrian bridge Santiago Calavatra have given the city a new boost.
The city itself has 360,000 inhabitants, but the entire urban area surrounding the river Nervion has a population of over a million. The Basques are clearly different from the Spanish. They have a more collective attitude and are less temperamental. In addition, they have their own language, the Euskera.
Bilbao is located in the north of Spain, to the west of the Pyrenees and not far from the border with France. The city is built on the two banks of the river Nervion, which flows into the Gulf of Biscay. Due to its location, the climate in Bilbao is milder than that in the rest of Spain. There is more rainfall, which means that you cannot be sure the weather will be good for sunbathing. On the other hand, the surrounding area is very green.
The economy is still based on the discovery of iron ore in the 15th and 16th centuries. This means there is much steel industry, machine manufacturing and metallurgy. In addition, rubber, plastic and paper are produced. It is an important industrial centre, not least because of the port of Bilbao, the third largest in Spain,
In addition, there is a considerable graphical industry, and Bilbao is developing as a centre for high-tech research and development.
The airport of Bilbao is located 12 kilometres to the north-east of the city. The national airline company Iberia operates flights to Madrid, Barcelona, Belgium, France and Great Britain. Budget airline EasyJet flies to London-Stansted. Bizkaibus connects the airport to the central bus station in the city.
Ryanair uses the airport of Santander, to the west of Bilbao. Other airports in the region are Hondarribia (San Sebastián), Vitoria and Pamplona. From the latter airport there are two flights a day to Madrid and Barcelona.
Since 1995, Bilbao has a metro. There are two lines that connect the two parts of the city. There are plans for a third line.
The bus network is excellent, there are 30 bus lines, including five with minivans. The latter drive in the city centre, because large buses cannot enter there. There is one tram line from the Atxuri station to Basurto. The tram moves along the river and also stops at the Guggenheim Museum.
Destinations outside Bilbao are serviced by BizkaiBus, which will take you virtually anywhere in Basque country.
There are daily direct train connections to Chamartin Station in Madrid. There are also trains to cities in the area (Santander, San Sebastián, Pamplona, Vitoria, and Logroño). Some lines of the regional train company FEVE move through stunning landscapes.
Driving in Bilbao is not easy. The city is very hilly and the centre consists of narrow streets, many of which are one-way streets. In addition, the streets are often closed due to construction work. The banks of the river Nervion are connected by 13 bridges.
However, we recommend getting a rental car to explore the impressive environment of Bilbao. The roads are generally good to very good.
The A8 is the motorway along Spain's north coast. To the south is the A68 motorway. From Miranda del Ebro, that road connects to the A1 to Madrid. Bilbao is located 397 kilometres from the Spanish capital.
In recent years many new hotels were built in Bilbao, which match the glitter and glamour of the Guggenheim Museum. These glass and steel accommodations are located especially in the so-called 6th district (Abando). However, many visitors prefer an older hotel with an atmosphere, like the Carlton or Lopez de Haro, which is considered the city's best hotel.
In Casco Viejo (the 'old town') there are many cheap hotels and pensions. Be aware that this is also a noisy entertainment area, which may spoil your peace and quiet. Hotels in the seaside resorts to the east (San Sebastián) and to the west (Santander) are pricey.
For more information about Bilbao, we recommend Google, and the following sources: