The industrial port city of Bilbao is the political capital of the Basque people, who inhabit Spain's three northern provinces (an area known collectively as Euskadi). The city is not exactly beautiful - the buildings are soot-stained and the Nervion River running through it is one of Spain's most polluted waterways.
But Bilbao does have some wonderful surprises to offer visitors, and there are plenty of attractions in the surrounding countryside and around the coast on the Bay of Biscay, which can be easily reached on excursions by rail or road.
The main attraction in the city is the Guggenheim Museum, relatively new on the scene, having been opened in 1997. The city regard this avant-garde building as the beginning of Bilbao's revitalisation, and the city has also recently acquired a new metro system and airport terminal.
Bilbao has some good beaches and a few scenic spots - a favoured picnic site is on Monte Archanda, north of the old town, accessible by funicular. Of the beaches, Getxo is the favourite, particularly with surfers, and features a 100-year-old suspension bridge and some lively bars and nightclubs. Bilbao is an interesting industrial city which is steadily increasing in popularity with tourists and makes for a fantastic weekend getaway.
The climate of Bilbao is oceanic, rather humid and often rainy, but without extremes of temperature. Bilbao doesn't enjoy the hot, dry and well-defined summer common to Spain, and the city has quite fluid seasons. The average temperatures in summer, between June and August, range between 55°F (13°C) and 78°F (26°C), making the city unusually cool by Spanish standards. The winters are similarly mild, with temperatures between December and February averaging between 40°F (4°C) and 56°F (13°C). The average annual rainfall is high, but is spread fairly evenly throughout the year, with the most rain being experienced during spring and autumn. November and April are usually the rainiest months. Light snow is possible in winter, but sleet is far more common. Summer is the most popular time to visit Bilbao, partly because it is by far the most popular time to visit Spain in general. During the warm summers the beaches around the city are at their best. The most festive month of the year is August, when fireworks and parades are common as the city celebrates Semana Grande, giving tourists another reason to travel to Bilbao in summer.
Bilbao has a comprehensive public transport network that consists of a two-line metro system, a city bus service and a single-line tram system. Those using public transport regularly should consider investing in a Creditrans card which charges commuters at a reduced price. While it is possible to hire a car in Bilbao, it is not necessary as public transport covers much of the city. It is actually fairly difficult to drive in Bilbao due to the city's complex road network on hilly one-way streets and construction projects that contribute to heavy traffic congestion. Taxis in the city are run by a single operator, Taxi Bilbao. Vehicles are metered and reasonably priced for short journeys.
Bilbao is a fabulous city for travellers wanting to take in the sights, especially during the summer months between May and September when the weather is warm and perfect for spending days outdoors. From cultural and historic attractions to good old-fashioned fine dining and entertainment, Bilbao has plenty to offer.
Start at the world-famous Guggenheim Museum, if only to marvel at the exterior of the building's innovative architecture with its titanium twists and curves. Art lovers also shouldn't miss the Museo de Bellas Artes, which boasts more than 6,000 works dating back to the 12th century, while the Basque Museum focuses on the history and archaeology of the region.
For the perfect holiday snaps, climb the Mallona stairs from the Plaza Unamuno to Parque Etxebarria for breathtaking views over the city. History buffs should check out the Cathedral de Santiago, the oldest building in Bilbao, or the beautiful Gothic Basílica de Begoña which dates back to the early 1600s and whose spires can be seen throughout the city.
A very popular and worthwhile excursion from Bilbao is Pamplona, the scene of the famous running of the bulls which takes place in July each year. The nearby resort of San Sebastian makes the perfect summer beach getaway.
Travellers in Bilbao who plan on doing lots of sightseeing should look into buying the Bilbao Tourist Card, which is available from all tourist offices around Bilbao and can be used for discounts on public transportation fares, admissions for museums , shows, shops, and restaurants.