Bilbao has often been described as an 'urban phoenix', a colourful phrase reflecting the city's rise, in blazing colour, from a decaying industrial city in the nineties to the cultural powerhouse it is today. The arrival of the magnificent Museo Guggenheim helped, but this city's appreciation of food, and football, and festivals are what's kept its culture fresh while it's been beavering away industriously. The selection of the best places to stay in Bilbao also reflect its renaissance and some are as hip as the city's art installations.
Bilbao isn't the prettiest of cities, but since the opening of the Guggenheim in 1997 several other architectural treasures have sprung up, including Philippe Starck's converted wine warehouse exhibition centre, giving the whole city a much more dramatic look.
The largest Basque city, Bilbao is a busy port, but it's just inland from the coast, spreading out around the estuary, with the Old Town on the right bank and the newer areas on the left. Its centre is a good size to explore on foot, but if you want to spread your wings further there's an excellent, easy to use, public transport system.
If there's a must-see sight in Bilbao it's the Guggenheim, but that's partly because you can't avoid seeing it! Though depending on the angle you're viewing Ftank Gehry's creation from, it might resemble a boat, a fish or a chimney. Sunlight bounces off its glass and titanium, lighting it's graceful curves and cutting angles like a beacon.
At the other end of the architectural scale is the Basilica de Begona, which sits like Sacre Coeur on a hill, also the Catedral de Santiago, and the neatness of the Parque de Dona Casilda.
Bilbao is a great destination for foodies. In the Basque Country, tapas is called pintxos, and is a slightly more gastronomic affair. Friday and Saturday are the big pintxos nights. If you're here for the food you'll also want to visit the Mercado de La Ribera, which is open in the mornings, and evenings and closed in the afternoons. There's been a food market on this spot since the 14th Century, so the deliciousness has been well honed. This is also a great spot for soaking up local colour.
A lovely 17th century palace in the Basque countryside, with stunning views in every direction. Spacious rooms and suites are traditional in style but with all mod cons. Great facilities include pitch & putt, spa, pool and restaurant specialising in Basque cuisine. Close to Bilbao and the beaches.
A lovely country house B&B close to the beach and mountainous areas. Simple chic rooms in neutral tones with all the mod cons and balconies. Fabulous spa offers a number of niche treatments. Excellent value and perfectly positioned for an active holiday at the beach or in the countryside.
A gorgeous farmhouse hotel with contemporary chic rooms, wonderful views, and delicious food. Lots of greenery, family suites, and easy access to beaches, the nature reserve, and pretty neighbouring villages. A great value, family friendly spot with lots to do on the doorstep.
A fabulous contemporary designer hotel opposite the Guggenheim and close to the river. Sleek modern rooms and enormous suites have all the mod cons and fantastic views. Excellent tapas restaurant, spa, gym, and meeting rooms. A super stylish choice.
A wonderful country house hotel in a luscious green valley. Romantic stone walled rooms with wooden beams and rustic chic furnishings. Lovely views from terraces and the restaurant. A peaceful country escape in the Basque region.
Charming country house hotel. Rooms have four poster beds, terracotta floors and antiques. Indoor pool, spa and jacuzzi. Excellent Basque cuisine in the white-linen tablecloth restaurant. Extensive leafy gardens. Pretty, quiet and romantic.
A quirky Five Star hotel close to the Guggenheim and the river. Each area of the hotel is designed according to era, Bauhaus, the sixties, 90s minimalism. Rooms and suites are contemporary with balconies and all the mod cons, some with gyms. Fabulous Basque cuisine. A trendy choice.
Getxo, Basque Country, Spain
In the heart of the port-town Getxo, this hotel has wondrous views over the bay from many room as its terrace, where you can while away days with traditional Basque food & drink. Only a short underground journey from Bilbao, and short walk from a World Heritage Site: Puente Colgante.
Bilbao (Gautegiz de Arteaga)
Hotel in 19th century castle. Gorgeous rooms have stone walls, beamed ceilings, antiques and wall murals. Large gardens and terrace. Superb restaurant serving locally sourced regional dishes, and extensive wine cellar. Romantic, peaceful and luxurious.
A grand hotel in central Bilbao. Contemporary classic rooms and suites have seamless furnishings and all the mod cons. Traditional elegant living areas and restaurant. Meeting rooms and a gym. A stylish spot for tourists and business visitors.