Bilbao walking tour along the river to the Guggenheim

Bilbao walking tour along the river to the Guggenheim

10th July 2019 2 By Biggsy
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Last Updated on 24th July 2020

Bilbao is a beautiful port city in north eastern Spain’s Basque country and is becoming an increasingly popular place to visit. In no doubt significantly boosted when the Frank Gehry–designed Guggenheim Museum came to town. The museum’s curvaceous titanium-clad outer skin getting as much attention, if not more, as its wonderful collections inside. Sign up to a Bilbao walking tour along the river and have the “Guggenheim” be your destination.

The walking tour meeting point

We decided to explore the ‘Modern Tour‘ with the guys at ‘Free Tour Bilbao’. The meeting point for this is outside the Plaza del Arriaga next to the Teatro Arriaga. Check out that website for an up-to-date view of their schedules. However for the summer it normally runs Thursdays and Saturdays commencing at 18:00.

The walking group stood in front of the Teatro Arriaga
The meeting point in front of the Teatro Arriaga

Where does the walking tour go?

Upon leaving the Teatro Arriaga you will head north along the eastern side of the estuary of Bilbao. At just under 3km and with a pretty flat route the tour should be achievable for all. You’ll be stopping and starting fairly frequently which is why this short route will easily fill the 2 hours devoted to it. Here’s the approximate route below from Google Maps.

Bilbao walking tour Google Map
Meet at the Teatro Arriaga and then you follow the route to the Guggenheim

Just some of the sights you’ll see …

Now if I mention too much here it might ruin the surprise for you on the day! Needless to say you will amble past bandstands, flower markets, town halls, statues, sculptures plus multiple bridges to name but a few things!

Your tour guide might make a slight 50m detour at the very beginning of the walk. However if not make sure you wander over to the front of the San Nikolas Eliza church at some point. There you’ll see this plaque 10 feet above the ground. This was the high tide mark of the infamous 1983 flood which inundated the old town (Casco Viejo). That’s a LOT of unwanted water where it shouldn’t have been.

The 1983 flood mark on the side of the San Nikolas Eliza church
The height of the 1983 flood mark on the side of the San Nikolas Eliza church.
The Udaletxeko Zubia road bridge and Town Hall Bilbao
Where you’re heading! Off in the direction of Bilbao’s Town Hall

This particular Bilbao walking tour will have lots of nods to the city’s seafaring past. From inscriptions in buildings, insignia on bridges and leftover naval docking points along the quayside. Even the entrance to the subway was built to look like cargo boxes stacked in the shade ready for collection (below). The alternative ovoid sculpture is a more obvious nod to the importance of iron in the making of Bilbao (two below).

The Mercado de las Flores Bilbao
The Mercado de las Flores flower market and boxes set to look like old cargo containers
The alternative ovoid sculpture in Bilbao
The alternative ovoid sculpture – a nod to the importance of iron in the making of Bilbao

Sometimes there’s more to a bridge than its fancy looks

We were given a lot of information on The Zubizuri bridge, an arched bridge which marks the halfway point of your walk. Learn about this cream-coloured bridge’s slight “issues” over the years. From its material and light colour not faring to well in this area’s maritime climate., which has led to some unsightly staining above.

Furthermore the designer, architect Santiago Calatrava, used clear glass for people to walk on. Wet glass = slippy! To prevent any injuries it’s now covered with a black carpet for health ‘n’ safety reasons. Leave this part of the walk thinking you could probably have done a better job of designing the bridge yourself! 😉

The Puente Zubizuri bridge Bilbao
Not the best colour to paint a bridge near water and with a climate like Bilbao’s

The magnificent Guggenheim museum

Soon after as you approach the Puente de la Salve bridge you’ll get your first peek of the quite amazeballs Guggenheim museum. If you time it right you might first be welcomed by a mist cloud enveloping the spider sculpture of the Fujiko Nakaya. As you walk directly opposite the Guggenheim you can see the whole of the titanium structure and get some epic landscape photos of this world famous structure.

The Spider sculpture and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Your first sighting of the Spider sculpture and the Guggenheim Museum

A little of the old too …

Not everything is this ‘modern’ tour is shiny though. Although the Guggenheim hit the ground running back in 1997 there are original, older colonial homes to see too. This red-cricked one set back on the river bank looks fairly unassuming, but hides an older past when much of the river’s eastern shoreline would have contained many wonderful homes like this.

Bilbao colonial building frontage
One of the few remaining colonial buildings alongside the riverfront

On the only bridge crossing of the tour find out more about the Iberdrola Tower office skyscraper and how it was built to be one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the city.

The Iberdrola Tower office skyscraper in Bilbao and the tour group
The energy efficient Iberdrola Tower office skyscraper

You saw the back of the Guggenheim before, when you might have thought it was the front. Or maybe they have the entrance at the back? Either way you now see the Guggenheim’s entrance!

The entrance to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
The entrance to the Guggenheim Museum

The name’s Bond, James Bond!

If at this point you’re wondering whether it’s worth going on a tour when you can simply amble along the river yourself then this fact might convince you. This attractive looking building opposite the flower ‘puppy’ (but here covered in scaffolding) was used in the filming for James Bonds’ film ‘The World is Not Enough’. Check out the YouTube below and maybe stand in the exact spot he lands on the pavement? These are the snippets of information you are quite unlikely to find out for yourself so it’s really worth going on the tour.

The Bilbao building James Bond jumps out of in 'The World is Not Enough'
.The building James Bond jumps out of in The World is Not Enough (1999). You Tube link

As the walking tour of Bilbao comes to an end

At this point you come back to the front(?) back(?) of the Guggenheim museum and your tour guide will bid you farewell. Obviously it’s a “free” tour but please tip your guide based on your enjoyment and depth of your pockets. I *think* we gave €10 each as it had been a fine way to spend a few hours on a sunny, Bilbao afternoon.

Puente de la Salve bridge and spider sculpture
The end of the tour just next to the Guggenheim’s spider sculpture

Find out more about ‘Free Tour Bilbao‘ on their website.

If you’ve enjoyed this summer time walking tour in Bilbao you might want to see what’s it’s like to take part in a winter walking tour in Romania as well 🙂

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