Planning a trip, or thinking about relocating? Why not give Bilbao a bash? The Basque capital has rapidly transformed itself into one of most exciting, enterprising places to be in Europe. It has great neighbourhoods for just about anyone – from digital nomads to expat entrepreneurs, and savvy students to friendly families. There are 8 districts in Bilbao, each with their own characters and neighbourhoods – here’s our at-a-glance guide to Bilbao’s brightest and best places to hang your hat. Our 5 best neighbourhoods in Bilbao.
Deusto - A study of good living
We’ll start our tour in Deusto, which is in the northwest of Bilbao and borders the estuary. The famous University of Deusto is located in this district, which, of course, makes it a firm favourite with students and young people, especially the San Pedro neighbourhood, which apart from the university itself, offers a perfect view of the entire estuary, where you can take in some of the most iconic sights of the city, such as the Guggenheim Museum or San Mamés, where Athletic Bilbao play.
However, one of the most delightful aspects Deusto is that despite being so well-connected and close to the city centre, walk up a few streets behind the university, and you’ll find yourself in mountainous countryside, with a great view of the whole city! A neighbourhood with a more family-orientated ambience, and a little further north up the estuary is San Ignacio. Here, you’ll find a lot of new houses due to post-industrial renewal projects. In fact, a new walkway has recently been opened which connects the two neighbourhoods with a leisurely 2km stroll along the river.
Urríbari - A touch of class from the past
This district is home to Castaños and Matico; two neighborhoods, next to each other that share fairly similar characteristics. They are two of the most classical in the city. We are talking about areas characterized by a bourgeois past that has given them distinctive, high quality homes. Castaños is next to Deusto, and, in common with the university, the southern part of the neighbourhood enjoys the embankment of the River Nervión.
There are quite a few bridges crossing the river, including a pedestrian one designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava, known as Zubizuri. You can also enjoy some typical Basque cuisine in the number 4 rated restaurant by tripAdvisor, out of over 1,200 in Bilbao, at Bikandi Etxea. And you’ll be happy to know that the prices are more than reasonable. And for another spectacular view take the Artxanda Funicular railway, which connects downtown Bilbao to a great view, 250 metres at the top of the Artxanda Mountain – And, it’ll only take you about 3 minutes to get there!
Oldies but Goodies - Casco Viejo
It is sometimes known as Seven Streets, or Zazpikaleak in Basque and is to be found in the district of Ibaiondo, just south, and bordering Castaños and Matico. Obviously, it is the oldest neighborhood, but it’s also the beating heart of Bilbao, being full of life, leisure and the pursuit of happiness!
The Casco Viejo is full of charming houses ideal for sampling life as a true local, despite the presence of tourists.
One of the typical Basque ways to get merry is by going on a rip-roaring red wine bar crawl, known locally as a txikiteo.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the fun and games of the typical bars and restaurants you can go for a relaxing stroll along the river – yes, that’s right, it’s also next to the Nervión!
But when you’ve finished stretching your legs don’t forget to do the shopping, in Europe’s largest covered market.
With a visit to La Ribera Market you can buy all the fresh food you can eat, and then after, indulge yourself in a glass of wine and a pintxo, typical Basque tapas with an enormous array of ingredients atop slices of fresh Basque bread, and held in place by a cocktail stick, or a ‘pintxo’, hence the name.
You’ll need to keep these, as the amount of pintxos you eat is the amount you pay. The Casco Viejo is famous for its pintxos, and a lot of the best places are in and around the Plaza Nueva, but my personal favourite, with an absolutely astounding variety of ingredients that look as good as they taste, is ‘Con B de Bilbao’, which is in Calle Santa maria, with a great outdoor terrace and near the river. That is why it’s in our 5 best neighbourhoods in Bilbao ;).
Santutxu - Family favourite
This neighbourhood is one of most southern in Bilbao and is found in the district of Begoña. It may not be as close to the centre as the places mentioned previously but does have a lot going for it, especially if you are a family. Here’s an interesting fact; it’s the third most densely populated neighbourhood in Europe. Ah, but don´t let that put you off – this also means that it’s extremely well-catered for in terms of amenities and services and has a real neighbourly feel about it.
Another plus is that it’s quite a bit more affordable in comparison to more central areas, especially when considering the prices of renting or buying property in Bilbao. And if you are the active, outdoor type, you’ll love the recreational facilities of the Larreagaburu Park. It’s quite big too, with an area covering about 22 football pitches, a wonderful green lung for Santutxu.
There are plenty of benches, picnic tables, trees, playgrounds and areas to go biking or hiking. You get marvellous panoramic views from a place in the parked called Mina del Morro, named so because it used to be the mining area of Bilbao, and because it’s at the top of sixty-five metre hill. There are games, made using the slopes of the hill, for children and also for the disabled, there are 2 sports courts and 5 tracks that run around the hill between oak, beech and holm oak trees – A great escape from city life. And, yes it does have an embankment area next to the river!
Cultured City Living in Abando
Abando is where one of the most important modern art museums in Europe is located, the Guggenheim museum, but did you know that once a month the museum turns itself into a nightclub called Art After Dark? Yes, an interesting idea, mixing music, drinking, dancing and art.
There are also a good number of green areas and some of the best views of the city to the estuary, of course it’s next to the river! Shopaholic? Then the Gran Via is the perfect place for you. There’s also a buzzing nightlife with music and partying for all types and tastes. Indautxu is where you’ll find one of best parks in Bilbao, the Doña Casilda Park, where you can take a wonderful walk to the Fine Arts Museum to get delightfully enlightened. But, for me, the best thing about Indautxu is the Azkuna Zentroa, which was designed by Philippe Starck and called Alhóndiga Bilbao before.
It was transformed from a wine warehouse. Inside you can enjoy a film at the cinema, get in shape at the gym, take in a play at the theatre, and, get even more art. However, the absolute best thing, is the roof terrace, where there is a swimming pool, and even a bar! Of course, being so central doesn’t come cheap, but if city life is your kind of life, either of these two neighbourhoods are the place to be without a doubt.