Should you rent a car in BilbaoSpain>Bilbao

The Basque city of Bilbao is known above anything else for one big draw, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. This ship-like structure was designed by the architect Frank Gehry. It was rated by Time Magazine as the building of the 20th century. Whilst this building is truly dramatic, Bilbao is some distance from other major Spanish cities. If you are going to come this far out, you might as well spend a few days here and visit other locations nearby.

Can you do this using public transport, or should you rent a car?

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  • Wineries — Bilbao isn’t just a city of architecture. Tthere are also two spectacular wineries which are both worth a visit, whether you appreciate the plonk or not!
    Marques De Riscal, on the edge of Elciego, is also designed by Frank Gehry.
    Nearby Ysios (near Laguardia / Biasteri) is designed by Santiago Calatrava.
    There are plenty of other less architecturally spectacular wineries which can be visited.
  • Northern Pyrenees — drive towards the twin national park of the Northern Pyrenees. You can continue towards Lourdes in France. (Check with hire company re: driving across borders).
  • Picos De Europa — head west to explore the fantastic Picos De Europa. Take the cable car from Fuente De to enjoy a spectacular, but hair-raising cliff edge path.
  • Pamplona — Pamplona is perhaps most famous for its annual running of the bulls, but it’s still worth a visit at any time. Going by train from Bilbao to Pamplona involves a circuitous route. It is much quicker to drive.

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Within Bilbao

  • Architour — when it comes to architecture, Bilbao really isn’t just a one hit wonder. Any architectural tour of the city starts where it should, when you arrive at the airport. Calatrava’s ultramodern bird shaped terminal might not be practical for some of the airlines that use it, but it is a beautiful creation for the first-time visitor. Head into the city, and you can visit yet another one of Calatrava’s seemingly off-balanced creations, the Zubizuri bridge. This is near to the Guggenheim Museum, and it is certainly worth taking the short walk along the Nervion river to appreciate both.
  • Casco Viejo – like any Spanish city, Bilbao has an impressive historic district, which is a counterbalance to the modern developments.
  • Bilbao Metro — can declare a biased hand when it comes to transport structures, but the Bilbao Metro, designed by British architect Norman Foster, really is truly impressive. The underground stations are true monuments to simplicity, and whereas Moscow might be famous for its lavish works of art, Bilbao’s more modest system has much more in common with that of Washington DC. Locals seem to agree with this too, and the delightful steel and glass entrance canopies have been affectionately named Fosteritos (and no, you can’t eat them). Even the font and their system logo have been carefully designed by Foster, and no doubt, were this a system for a larger city like Madrid, it would be an international style icon like the London tube roundel.

Beyond Bilbao without a car

  • Northern coast — why not hire a bike and head out of the city on the Metro towards the impressive north coast, where you’ll see many fine merchants’ mansions.
  • Guernica — best known for Picasso’s Spanish Civil War painting, Guernica can be easily reached by train from Bilbao. Why not continue to the delightful fishing village of Bermeo?
  • Basque cities — take the narrow gauge coastal line towards delightful San Sebastian, and even on to Biarritz in neighbouring France. From here you can take the scenic route up the Nive valley to St Jean-Pied-de-Port.
  • Santander — another scenic train route is to take the narrow gauge FEVE towards Santander, where you will enjoy Green Spain at its best.
  • The Wineries of Rioja can be visited without a car, although it takes a bit of planning. The Racimo Train is a tourist road train that follows two routes out of Laguardia (Biasteri), including one route which takes in Ysios – but you will still need to get to Biasteri, which is around 10 miles northwest of Logrono. Marques De Riscal is on the edge of Elciego, also a similar distance from Logrono, about 5 miles southwest of Ysios.

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There is clearly much more to enjoy here than just the world-famous Guggenheim Museum, but this can generally be done perfectly well without a car. Considering that many of Bilbao’s transport facilities are impressive features of architecture in their own right, it is certainly best to appreciate a little bit more of this city on foot and by Metro before instantly reaching for the car keys. A hire car will of course give you more flexibility outside of the city, but there are also many enjoyable and scenic train routes which can be taken.

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Author: Carometer

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