Written by Matthew Dykes, the Spotahome Copywriter
With its world-class architecture, sublime cuisine, evergreen mountains, rugged beaches and a mysterious language and culture – Bilbao is one of our favourite cities in Spain. Once you’ve decided to say kaixo! (hello) to Bilbao, the only hard thing is deciding which neighbourhood to live in. So, from Otxarkoaga to Txurdinaga, and from Zazpikaleak to Indautxu, I have explored them all to bring you my top 5:
Abando is the modern heart of Bilbao. Like Barcelona’s Eixample, it was built as an extension to the old city, and boasts wide streets (kept immaculately clean, like in all northern Spanish cities) and stately 19th century architecture.
Sound boring? The Guggenheim spaceship landed by the river in the 90s and blew any monotony away. Designed by Frank Gehry, its metallic curves reflect the water and the sky, so it changes every time you look at it. The best time to explore is once every month at Art After Dark, when DJs are brought in and the museum becomes a nightclub (drunk people +priceless art = surprisingly good idea!)
Abando isn’t just architecture though; there’s a river path to jog or cycle down, great shopping along Gran Vía, and excellent nightlife—Kafe Antzokia regularly has live music.
If you love city living, you’ll love living in Abando.
In Indautxu, walk through the gorgeous Doña Casilda Park and explore the city’s Fine Arts Museum before finding yourself in the futuristic Plaza Euskadi, home to the Torre Iberdrola skyscraper.
My favourite place in Indautxu is Azkuna Zentroa, formerly called Alhóndiga Bilbao. This former wine warehouse contains a cinema, a gym, a swimming pool, art, and best of all, a huge roof terrace.
At night, head to the street called Pozas (probably because its full name, Pozas Lizentziatuaren Kalea, is too difficult even for Basques to pronounce), which is livelier when the students are in town and twice as lively on Athletic Bilbao match days!
Central, easygoing and cultural: everybody wants to be IN-dautxu!
Deusto is home to the city’s prestigious Deusto University, as well as some faculties of the University of the Basque Country.
Students at Deusto must enjoy one of the best views of any university in Spain—I used to pass the time in boring classes by gazing out of the window at the Guggenheim just across the river.
You can get really close to nature here—venture 3 or 4 streets behind the university, and you’re in the mountains, listening to the birds and looking down over the city in its green bowl.
Deusto is small, but is moments from the centre, and a short metro ride to the beach. If you’re a student and want the best of everything Bilbao has to offer, Deusto is for you!
Uribarri (it gets a tilde in Spanish: Uríbarri) is underrated and unpretentious. It has everything I love about Bilbao (a mix of traditional and cutting-edge architecture, lots of green, good bars and good pintxos) with zero fuss. What’s more, it’s tightly sandwiched between Abando, Deusto and the Casco Viejo, so you get all the benefits of living in those neighbourhoods, too!
Quirkily, elevators and escalators are a big form of transportation here. That will change soon though, with the arrival of the metro in 2017, making Uribarri even better connected.
What can you do in Uribarri? Take the funicular up to Mount Artxanda for a satisfying view of the city; stroll, jog or cycle along the river, or explore the Etxebarria Park.
1. Casco Viejo
Tightly-packed streets festooned with red, white and green ikurrinas (Basque flags); authentic, spit-and-sawdust bars, and a picturesque riverside setting—living in the Casco Viejo (Old Town) is an in-at-the-deep-end way to experience Basque culture.
Its Basque name, Zazpikaleak, means ‘Seven Streets’ and comes from the neighbourhood’s 7 ancient thoroughfares, which still exist today: Somera, Artekale, Tendería, Belostikale, Carnicería Vieja, Barrenkale and Barrenkale Barrena.
When living in the Casco Viejo, you’ll soon adopt the custom of txikiteo – a typically Basque, red-wine-fuelled bar crawl. On sunny days, relax with a beer and munch on pintxos in Plaza Nueva.
Alternatively, taste your way around the Mercado de la Ribera or take a romantic riverside walk past the Arriaga Theatre.
Sure, it has its downsides (it can be touristy and there’s not much space), but for me, nowhere else in Bilbao is as Bilbao as the Casco Viejo. Ongi etorri!
BONUS – Getxo
Getxo (Spanish: Guecho) is technically a separate city, not a neighbourhood per se, so I didn’t include it in my top 5. But with its wide yellow beaches, elegant, turn-of-the-century seaside town airs, handsome villas and and the landmark Puente de Vizcaya transporter bridge, I couldn’t not mention it. To top it off, it’s just a short metro journey to Bilbao city centre. Got to get to Getxo!