Once known for its steel and shipbuilding industries, the Basque city of Bilbao is now celebrated for its art and culture. The government has invested heavily in the city’s culture and heritage in recent years – so much so that the city won the 2018 European City of the Year.
Perhaps the most famous cultural landmark on the cityscape is the Frank Gehry Guggenheim Museum but there are plenty of other museums that are well worth a visit.
If you’re wondering how to plan your time in the city then take a look at these five brilliant Bilbao museums.
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Bilbao’s Best Museums
The Guggenheim Museum
Designed by American architect Frank Gehry, it’s worth visiting the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao just to admire the building itself. Set on the edge of the Nervión River, the spectacular structure has been constructed out of titanium, glass, and limestone.
Exhibitions change regularly but irregardless of what’s on inside the museum, take the kids to see the contemporary art on the museum grounds. Jeff Koons’ enormous “Puppy” stands guard near the entrance as does the giant spider, Maman, by Louis Bourgeois. The sculpture garden is also fun to explore.
The Maritime Museum
Bilbao’s Maritime Museum is a brilliant place to take the kids with lots to keep them entertained. Housed in an old shipyard, the museum is enormous with lots of space for kids to run around. Bilbao was once Spain’s largest port and this museum follows the city’s maritime history. There are lots of interactive exhibits and ships that kids can climb on board.
Painted Forest of Oma
Although not technically a museum, the Painted Forest of Oma should be filed under ‘outdoor museum’. Located approximately 45 minutes northeast of the city is the town of Kortezubi, in the heart of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve. This is where you’ll find the work of painter and sculptor Agustín Ibarrola, colourfully painted trees decorated with eyes, figures, animals and abstract designs, hidden among the forest. Kids will love it!
Learn more about the Basque history and culture at the Basque Museum. Exhibits include old fishing equipment, a wolf trap and a 3D topographical map of the region built to scale. Of particular interest to kids are the enormous, colourful costumes worn in traditional festivals.
Museo de Bellas Artes Bilbao (Bilbao Museum of Fine Art)
This might be an art gallery too far for some kids (mine included!) but even if it’s just for a quick visit, it’s worth stopping by the Museo de Bellas Artes Bilbao, Bilbao’s fine arts museum. Here you’ll find a large collection of works by Basque, Spanish and European artists including Goya and Gaugin.