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Bilbao for under £100 a night: how the old town and Basque culture make for an ideal weekend getaway

Once just another industrial port, Bilbao’s fortunes changed when the Guggenheim Museum arrived and put the Basque capital on the international map.

Frank Gehry’s masterpiece and works by greats like Santiago Calatrava make Bilbao a must for architecture geeks.

Foodies flock here for pintxos – Basque tapas – while the old town, lively bars and Basque culture make for an ideal weekend getaway.

On a weekend trip to Bilbao, pictured, see Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum and works by greats like Santiago Calatrava – the city is a must for architecture geeks

Where to stay

Caravan cinema

Hidden behind a chic navy blue door in the heart of Bilbao’s old town is this five-room guest house inspired by the film world. Each room is inspired by a director, with the decor subtly nodding to their films. All rooms have memory foam mattresses, air conditioning and Marshall radios. Rooms without breakfast from £50, (caravan-cinema.com).

Barcelo Bilbao Nervion

Enjoy bright rooms with large, comfortable beds at Barcelo Bilbao Nervion, a hotel located between the Guggenheim (pictured) and the old town

Enjoy bright rooms with large, comfortable beds at Barcelo Bilbao Nervion, a hotel located between the Guggenheim (pictured) and the old town

This modern hotel is located on the river, right between the Guggenheim and the old town – just a ten minute walk each way.

It has bright rooms with a sleek and minimalist finish and large, comfortable beds. Rooms without breakfast from £89 per night (barcelo.com/en-ww/barcelo-bilbao-nervion).

Pension Manoli

This guest house is within a stumbling distance of pintxos hotspot Plaza Nueva, in a pretty pink building. The simple rooms have traditional street-facing balconies, ideal for people-watching, and the shared bathrooms are spotless. Rooms from £51 per night without breakfast (pension-manoli.basque-country-hotels.com).

Pension Basque Boutique

In this quirky central hotel, the eight themed rooms are all inspired by Basque culture. La Baldosa, for example, pays tribute to the paving stone that has become a symbol of the city, with the blue-and-white floral pattern adorning the headboard of the bed and continuing over the tiles in the bedroom. Rooms start from £50 per night without breakfast (basqueboutique.es).

Where to eat

Plaza Nueva

Fill your belly with pintxos – Basque tapas – as you hop between the bars of Plaza Nueva. Bar Bilbao (pictured) is a good traditional choice with excellent tortilla

This neoclassical square filled with bars is the best place for pintxos hopping. These giant canapes — often meat or fish snacks on bread — are in every bar, so just order what you like and then move on to the next spot.

With its pretty blue and white tiles, Bar Bilbao is a good traditional choice with excellent tortilla (£1.80), while Gure Toki lives up to its popular status and offers a refined version – think yakitori chicken sticks or goat cheese with apple and rose petals ( from €2.20).

Eliptica

Love the Spaniards and eat your big meal for lunch – ideally an affordable menu del día (a daily changing set menu). This unassuming spot near the Guggenheim offers three courses and wine for a bargain at £13.90. The generous servings of Basque regional dishes include simple dishes such as anchovy and tomato salad, lemon sea bass with potatoes, and homemade flan (Alameda de Recalde, 33).

La Ribera Market

Wander the maze of stalls selling everything from Iberico ham and salt cod to aged cheese and seasonal fruit at La Ribera Market (center)

Wander the maze of stalls selling everything from Iberico ham and salt cod to aged cheese and seasonal fruit at La Ribera Market (center)

La Ribera Market is a good pintxos place

La Ribera Market is a good pintxos place

Claimed to be the largest covered market in Europe, there’s no better introduction to Basque cuisine than strolling through the maze of stalls selling everything from Iberian ham and salted cod to aged cheese and seasonal fruit. Also a good pintxos place – enjoy it on the terrace by the river. Don’t miss Gildas’ vast selection at La Bodeguilla, these ‘pre-meal pintxos’ (from £1.20) are served on sticks and make an excellent salty snack (Erribera Kalea, s/n, 48005 Bilbao, Bizkaia).

What to see and do?

Visit the Guggenheim

As it celebrates its 25th anniversary, no visit to Bilbao is complete without a trip here. To take in all its glory, walk the other bank of the river, but don’t miss it inside. Start with the permanent collection featuring Warhol, Rothko and Basquait, then the temporary exhibitions and outdoor sculptures. Online booking saves €2 (guggenheim-bilbao.eus, Abandoibarra Etorb, 2, 48009 Bilbao, Bizkaia).

UNESCO-approved bridge

Watch the sunset over Vizcaya Bridge, pictured, the world's oldest transport bridge and a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Watch the sunset over Vizcaya Bridge, pictured, the world’s oldest transport bridge and a UNESCO World Heritage Site

A 20-minute tube journey from the Old Town (£3 return) takes you to the world’s oldest transport bridge and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Vizcaya Bridge. The best way to see this ‘hanging bridge’ up close is to take the gondola that runs underneath (34p). It’s great at sunset (Puente de Vizcaya Zubia, Getxo, Bizkaia).

The city from above

For panoramic views, take the cable car from Matiko (£3.80 round trip). It takes you to the top of Mount Artxanda in five minutes and gives a great view of the city, the green hills and the river (cable car artxanda.bilbao.eus).

Explore the Old Town

Take in sights such as Santiago Cathedral (pictured) on a walking tour of Casco Viejo - Bilbao's Old Town

Take in sights such as Santiago Cathedral (pictured) on a walking tour of Casco Viejo – Bilbao’s Old Town

The best way to see Casco Viejo, Bilbao’s old town, is with a walking tour (donation £5-10). Take in sights such as Santiago Cathedral and Bidebarrieta City Library, and learn about Basque culture (civitatis.com).

How to get there

Easyjet flies from London Gatwick to Bilbao from £35. The Bizkaibus line A3247 runs every 15 minutes from Bilbao airport to the city center and takes 20 minutes (£2.55 one way).

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