Welcome back to another exciting post on the Northern Spain series.
This time around, I’ll be taking you with me to the bustling city of Bilbao. A number of medieval towns can be found very close to Bilbao. These localities, with a huge wealth of heritage and great charm, are true depositories of the history of Bizkaia.
You will explore everything from narrow cobbled streets, colourful cottages, stately buildings to luxurious palaces. However, in today’s post I will go beyond the main attractions to share with you some of the hidden gems that I think you need to visit when you come here. There’s so much to see and do, but here are a few hidden sights that I think are worth ticking off on you bucket list. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
The neighbourhood of Irala
Just 10 mins away from the city centre is the neighbourhood of Irala. This is one of the secret places in Bilbao that is noteworthy for its colourful houses built at the beginning of the 20th century. They are designed in an English style and are far different from the image of the more grey and avant-garde Bilbao. You’ll feel like you’re in London or even, when you find yourself on a hill, you can be reminded of the Victoria-style of San Francisco. The mist picturesque ones are between Zuberoa Avenue and Baiona Street.
The above text from espanafascinante.com explains this beautifully. This neighbourhood truly is magnificent. I felt myself being transported to old England, as the style resembles the British architecture very well. I don’t see much of this on travel brochures or anywhere else to be honest but I would highly recommend this place. It is hidden away in the maze of streets but just so easy to spot when you’re getting nearer it suddenly everything seems to brighten up.
Oh and if you do make it to this beauty, then note there’s a beautiful (yep and colourful) cafe waiting at the corner of the hill. Of course, after all that walking a well earned cup of coffee is most certainly needed. *wink* Def worth a visit!
Atxurri and Abando Train Stations
If you’re an architecture lover like myself, then you’ll love this little piece of art.
Nearly opposite each other, as if guarding the Nervion River from opposite shores, are the train stations of Atxurri and Abando. Atxurri station is a new-Basque style building built in 1912, from where the tram and train lines leave ending in Bermeo. After walking the riverbank, you can cross the Areatzako bridge and go up to the circular square to enter Abando Station, a classic-style building inaugurated in 1948.
Here you can see the spectacular stained glass window of the Union of Glass Artists of Irun and the sculptures of Agustin Ibarrola. It’s absolutely huge piece of art and truly is spectacular in real life. I’m not sure if the picture does it justice but it’s a beautiful display of light and colour playing hide and seek with each other along with the sun. Truly marvellous!
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe – The real Dragonstone!
Sssshhhh this is my favourite hidden gem from the Bilbao series. Well, I guess not so hidden anymore especially if you’re a Game of Thrones fan. Say what?!
Yes, you’ve heard it right. If you’re a fan of GOT then you’ll know that Gaztelugatxe, an islet in Spain’s Basque Country was used by Game of Thrones to represent Dragonstone. This stunning real-life location sets the scene of the first episode of season seven, and is the location from which Daenerys Targaryen has been plotting war against her enemies.
And while Gaztelugatxe may not have a giant castle or dragons flying around it, it sure is a sight to behold. It’s topped with a church believed to have been built over a thousand years ago, reached by a long footbridge with 241 steps to be precise. Yes, that’s a whole lotta hiking but let me assure you it is worth the sweat, tears and blood.
The real island is home to a small church called ‘Juan de Gaztelugatxe’, where you can ring the bell three times and make a wish.
I’m going to be sharing a lot more photos of this location in a separate post as I believe it deserves one if its own. So do keep an eye out 👀
Cafe’s in Spain are generally full of delicious treats and ever so affordable. I say this in comparison to England where a cup of coffee and a slice of cake can cost you anything from £5 – £8. This includes nothing fancy and usually the coffee is from a franchise chain that has no taste or flavour to it.
Well, head over to Spain my caffeine lovers, as Spain shows you how it’s done and rightly so. You only need to walk down a street and you’ll see an enchanting line of the most quaint and quirky coffee shops all huddled together. The colourful line of cafes and restaurants with their doors wide open, enticing and alluring people into their space is nothing short of a spectacle.
This is pretty much what Spain is all about. There’s colour, culture, music, dance, good food, gypsy carefree vibes.. There’s nothing quite like it.
Oh let’s not forget the delicious beautiful aroma of the freshly baked cakes and croissants that the Spaniards love so much. Every cafe pretty much has a oven where freshly baked treats are being cooked right in front of you. Such a visual delight!
(All of the above only cost us €4.50 which is hardly £3.50 in England. Does this mean I can order twice as much! 😁)
Well that brings me to an end with my Bilbao trip, I hope you enjoyed these hidden gems as much as I did exploring it.
The next and final post on my northern series (for now due to Ramadan coming up) will be on the most enchanting and romantic city of all, yes you’ve guessed it San Sebastián.
Oh, and if you’ve been to Bilbao and spotted any hidden sights, then do share below. I’d love to know.
And off I go to explore the remaining charming cities of northern Spain.. as they say in the land of the Spanish, ‘hasta luego amigos!’ 👋🏻
Until next time,