Start your day right
I often pop into Copper Deli (Mazarredo 6) first thing for a coffee or a smoothie – they do tasty sandwiches and delicious cakes too. If you fancy something more traditional, have breakfast sitting at a marble table at the splendid Café Iruña (Jardines de Alba), which has been going for more than a century, and is decorated with ornate tiles. I always find a yoga session and a walk along the waterfront an energising way to start the day, which is handy, as my studio is just two minutes from the beach, in Getxo.
The shimmering, titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum is a must. After taking in a few Picassos, walk along the riverbank to Santiago Calatrava’s Zubizuri footbridge, which looks like a harp made of white cotton threads, then cross the river to take the funicular up Mount Artxanda, one of the green hills that virtually encircle Bilbao, for panoramic views across the city.
For a great view of the old town, cross back over the river to the Marzana quayside. The art deco building with stained-glass windows opposite is the glorious La Ribera market. Surrounding it are galleries, boutiques and cafes, such as Bihotz (Arechaga 6), where you can order a craft beer, sink into a vintage sofa, and sit back and watch Bilbao’s hipsters in their natural environment.
I also highly recommend renting a bike to ride to the old port of Algorta. The hour-or-so’s ride will justify a reward – a glass of wine and some pintxos (Basque tapas) – in one of the characterful bars you’ll find there.
Eat, drink and be merry
Basques are seriously dedicated to good food, and know how to throw a good party too.
The old tradition of having a glass of vermouth before lunch is now rather fashionable again, and at Promenade (Astarloa 5), they make cocktails with it too – the house mix uses rum, Campari and orange juice. Try not to spoil your appetite by scoffing too many of their irresistible crisps, though.
This part of Bilbao, known as the Ensanche, has broad avenues lined with shops, restaurants and galleries. For lunch, everyone loves La Viña (Diputazio 10), where you can eat at the bar or sitting at a table. Everything on the menu is good, and the Ibérico ham toasts are legendary. If it’s heaving, El Globo, next door, is great too.
The stylish Mr Marvelous (Heros 18) is a great spot for an afternoon glass of wine and a slice of tortilla, or if you’re sliding into evening mode, join the locals drinking massive “afterwork” gin and tonics two doors down, at Morrocotuda (Heros 14).
To get right into the Bilbao groove, you must also do a pintxos crawl around the Casco Viejo – the old town. Have lunch at the Plaza Nueva, a porticoed square full of bars with outdoor tables, then join the locals for dinner at stylish Zapirain (Juan Ajuriaguerra 22). The citizens of Bilbao are very fussy about their fish, and here they’ll usually order turbot or hake to share between two people. Not cheap but just superb.
Finally, there’s Michelin-starred Mina (on Martzana Street, often spelled Marzana) – undoubtedly one of Bilbao’s best restaurants, you’ll need to book ahead to get a seat at one of its eight tables.
Shop like a stylish local
As you walk around the city, you can’t help noticing how well-dressed people are. Bilbao has lots of fabulous boutiques, such as N32 (Ledesma 32), in which I always find something I like. Man 1924 (Ercilla 21), which was founded in Bilbao nearly 100 years ago, uses top-quality materials to create menswear that is contemporary but draws on the firm’s Basque heritage. Another local brand I love is Mercules (Neguri 9), which has a shop in Getxo that sells beautiful buttery-soft leather bags and accessories.
Kat Webster was speaking to Annie Bennett
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