Bilbao - A thriving expat community in a cool Spanish city

Bilbao - A thriving expat community in a cool Spanish city

Ever wondered about moving to Spain but don’t want to tread the same old beaten track that everyone else has? Let us introduce you to Bilbao. An exquisitely modern, intriguingly urban, lush green city, with the summer heat of Spain.

Bilbao, right in the middle of the Basque country is one of the most entertaining cities in Spain, and what makes it even more special is largely unknown to expats and tourists. For various reasons:

  • It sports one of the most iconic buildings in the world
  • The old town is full of great bars
  • The biggest bands always tour here
  • The food is just amazing
  • It has a ten-day long summer festival
  • It’s a wealthy region

Sounds impressive right? Let’s go through these things one by one and you’ll start to understand why expats move to Bilbao.

It sports one of the most iconic buildings in the world

The Guggenheim Museum is an architectural testament to Frank Lloyd Wright. Completed in 1997 by Frank Gehry it is simply stunning. It has brought more people to Bilbao simply to see it. But most of all it spells the end of an era for Bilbao. Let’s dig a little into recent history Bilbao was known up until the millennium as an “industrial” city. There were many factories, and the rest of Spain always saw Pais Vasco as a place that produced goods. But things changed following the millennium and Bilbao changed radically. This building made a statement as to the future direction of Bilbao. Tourism grew and Bilbao has now become a modern city with contemporary landmarks and newly designed parks to attract more tourists. If you visit Bilbao for only one reason, make it visit the Guggenheim, it truly is a masterpiece of architecture.

The old town is full of great bars

The “7 streets” or siete calles is where to go for good food and good times. The taverns and bars in this area serve up the best pinchos in the country. And it’s cheap. The local region of Navarra has set up a growing industry in Rosé wine, which in Bilbao is 1€ a glass, and along the bars, you can feast on elaborate pinchos which are small bites to eat. This is Bilbao style, perching along the bar with a Rioja or a beer and tasting the food as you hop from bar to bar.

The biggest bands always tour here

Bilbao is the fourth biggest city in Spain, but the culture reflects a much bigger place. What you find in Bilbao is huge affiliation to some serious rock music. Bands doing European tours invariably do a gig in Bilbao; Radiohead, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Coldplay have all performed here recently.

It has  a ten-day long summer festival

Aste Nagusia (Grand Week), is a fiesta only to be rivalled by San Fermin and the Feria de Abril in Seville. But the beauty of Fiesta in Bilbao is that they are not so many tourists as in the other Spanish festivals. But with marques on every street corner, music, fireworks, dancing, and full streets, this is one of the best places to go in August. The people are really welcoming in Bilbao, and they know how to have a great time. Be warned though, this is a non-stop, 10-day long party and by day eight, only the most hardened party-goers are still on their feet.

It’s a wealthy region

Bilbao is located in the autonomous Basque region. It feels more “European” than other cities in Spain as the character of the locals is more reserved and frankly quieter. Again, you have to look at recent history to see what happened to the city and why a pivot was important.

In 1975 Bilbao suffered an industrial crisis leading to 30% unemployment. There was a fundamental structural crisis as the rise of the BRICs took business away from European industry. Bilbao is, fortunately, a nimble place with an autonomous government that took rapid action to change the direction of the city to a post-industrial city geared towards tourism.

It worked. Today you find most of the tourism boating along the Nervión or crowded around the Guggenheim centre, the city has transformed into an urban hub of business and tourism sporting a metro system designed by Norman Foster, and the Euskalduna Conference Centre designed by Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacios.

If you want to know more about you can find more information in the Bilbao Expats Facebook group. And of course, you can contact us at Globexs if you have any questions about where to stay and what to do in Bilbao. It is great to be an expat in Bilbao!

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