Bilbao Wow

I just arrived in Bilbao near Spain’s northern coast. Bilbao is the capital city of Basque country and it’s beautiful! Part of its charm is how it seems to have been engineered for humans. Walkers and bikers enjoy the wide path along the tree-lined River Nervion. The city’s mix of old and new architectural styles seem to complement each other, as if to say “of course we get along — we’re all Spanish.” Lots of public transportation, no traffic, sidewalk cafes everywhere. But the real stand-out in Bilbao is the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry. There are so many reasons to love this museum!

First, the Guggenheim’s design is powerful and perplexing and soothing all at the same time. As strange as it appears at first sight, it seems so perfectly situated along the river, with green hills on one side and downtown on the other. The museum is home to some important work by such artists De Kooning, Rothko and Basquiat. During my visit today, I also saw (and loved) a temporary exhibit of 20th century art from Paris and a moving performance of modern dance — held in the foyer and therefore within view of visitors on every floor. The museum is also a gathering place. Kids play among the sculptures in the courtyard while grown ups sip coffee at the museum’s outdoor cafes and listen to the music of local buskers. The Guggenheim is also credited with bringing back back this once-industrial city from the brink of economic disaster. I read a review of the museum that said “It’s a lot of modern art — you either hate it or love it!” But you don’t have to love any kind of art to love this museum.


  1. While I “don’t know much ’bout architecture”, I can appreciate the uniqueness of this edifice. What I like most about your pic is that the plaza has a bunch of people walking around or just hanging out. That to me is one of the most important parts of public facilities such as this- bringing people together in a safe and inspiring shared space. While initially I didn’t love the museum’s appearance from your pic, it was intriguing and motivated me to learn more about the museum. That made me reconsider my initial impression.

  2. Hi Kim, I have always wanted to visit here. Thanks for your wonderful descriptions of Bilbao. Hopefully I will get there someday! Janet

  3. Hi, Kim. April and I were there in 2015 as part pf our NE to NW pie wedge tour, ending at the wedge apex of Madrid. Besides the Guggenhaim, we enjoyed Bilbao’s street level trolley system and ESPECIALLY the early evening “paseo” that brought all ages out for a stroll and “pinxtos” — eaten elbow to elbow while standing at narrow ledges and high table tops in the bars. Might you go on to San Sebastian? We discovered their WONDERFUL aquarium out at the end of a harbor pier. Truly special. Enjoy!

    1. Yes, I went out this evening at about 7 and the streets are already packed! Spaniards just love to be out of the house at a table! I haven’t been sure about San Sebastian since it’s not beach weather (as I know from my time in Tarifa!) but I may go there on your recommendation to see the aquarium. My sister and her family lived there one summer to learn Spanish and they loved it.

  4. Hi Kim. I’ve hitchhiked across northern Spain but missed the stop in Bilbao or the famous museum. I do remember not caring much for Rothko until I walked into a room full of his paintings (NY’s MOMA??). The immersive experience was much different than the flat screen.

    1. It’s so true about seeing paintings in real life. You have probably heard of “thin places,” where heaven and earth seem closer to each other, where we find something spiritual. A screen can never do that. You will have to visit Bilbao!

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