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A visitor’s guide to Bilbao’s landmark buildings

Bilbao, the capital of the province of Bizkaia, is home to a number of iconic buildings, monuments and places that are the hallmarks of the city’s grandeur, and a tourist attraction for the ever-increasing number of visitors that come here every year.

Some of these landmark buildings in Bilbao have survived the passage of time and combine history and modernity. We shall now describe some of them.

Bilbao’s five most iconic buildings

  1. San Mames football stadium

San Mames Stadium, popularly referred to as the “the cathedral of football”, is Athletic Club’s home ground, and one of the most unique buildings in Bilbao. This local icon has its own importance and charisma within the context of extremely devoted, dedicated and passionate fans. And they have plenty of reasons to be proud. Founded over a hundred years ago (1898), Athletic Club is the oldest team in La Liga, and the only one that fields players that have either come up through its own junior teams or are from the Basque Country itself. This emblem of Bilbao, moreover, has gained even further prestige through the recent construction of this new stadium in 2013. What’s more, in 2015 it was awarded a prize as the best new-build sports arena, and UEFA has rated it a category 4 Élite Stadium. The Athletic Club Museum is inside, and will shortly be opening to the public. It houses and displays items from the red-and-white’s past, and will be holding dedicated exhibitions related to the world of football. The stadium also holds a hospitality facility called San Mamés BAT, a series of exclusive venues for enjoying Athletic’s games and many other experiences. From here you can feel the warmth of San Mames, with a perfect view of the pitch, services of the highest quality, and local chefs with considerable prestige abroad that have been awarded Michelin stars. All this makes it one of the world’s most unique stadia and, of course, one of the most iconic buildings in Bilbao that you simply have to visit.

  1. La Alhóndiga or Azkuna Zentroa

Another of the buildings that has withstood the ravages of time and reinvented itself is the iconic Alhóndiga building. What was once a wine exchange, is now the city’s foremost culture and leisure centre. After standing empty for 30 years, it became the pet project of the former, and sadly missed, mayor of Bilbao, Iñaki Azkuna, after whom it is now called the Azkuna Zentroa. The building has been refurbished by the architect Philippe Starck. The facility is equipped with new installations and imbued with cultural diversity thanks to the 43 pillars in its ground-floor Atrium, which undoubtedly make it a unique setting in which history and modernity are interwoven.

  1. The Arriaga Theatre

The Arriaga Theatre is another of Bilbao’s landmark buildings, as it still retains the majesty and grace of past times. It is a theatre with history. A historic building in a neo-baroque style, built between 1886 and 1890, and inspired by the Theatre of the Opera in Paris. It was restored in 1914 following a major fire, and refurbished between 1982 and 1986, which was when the imperial staircase was built that imbues the inside of the theatre with a grandiose and majestic air. It is a venue for major events and galas; hosting internationally acclaimed performances, concerts and shows.

  1. La Carola

The famous Carola is not a woman, although it is indeed named after one. Neither is it a building, but it is a symbol of Bilbao’s industrial past. It is, in fact, a dockside crane, being also the emblem of the Maritime Museum. In its day, it was the most powerful lifting machine in the whole of Spain. The story goes that a woman called Carola crossed the river every day from Deusto on her way to work at the Tax Office. She was so beautiful that work stopped at the Euskalduna shipyard as everyone watched her go past. Seeking to avoid the disruption this caused, the shipyard manager offered to have Carola taken to work by car, but she refused, and continued to cross the river just as she had always done.

  1. Guggenheim Bilbao Museum

Finally, there is Bilbao’s most quintessential landmark of our times, namely, the Guggenheim Museum. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is one of the world’s most instantly recognisable modern art museums and Bilbao’s most iconic building. Its construction ushered in a new era for Bilbao, with the city’s reconversion from industry to services. The building, designed by the renowned architect Frank O. Gehry, is in itself a work of art. It fits in perfectly with the cityscape around it, and is a fine example of the 20th century’s most avant-garde architecture. Any visitor to Bilbao should make sure these five sites are on their bucket list. If you would like to discover the city’s heart and soul, visit these five major icons that make Bilbao one of the world’s most unique cities.     


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