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Five things to do in Bilbao

Neil Sowerby on the joys of the northern Spanish coast capital

Written by . Published on March 15th 2011.

Five things to do in Bilbao

EASYJET has launched the first direct service to Bilbao from the North Wesr. Tickets are now on sale for the three-times-weekly service from Manchester, which will begin operating on June 17. Flights start from £29.99 (one-way, including taxes).

It opens up the Basque country’s largest city as well as other prime destinations in northern Spain such as San Sebastian and Pamplona.

On March 12, the low-fares airline began operating its new route to Palma from Manchester. The launch of Bilbao will brings easyJet’s total number of destinations on offer from Manchester to 24.Visit www.easyjet.com.

Bilbao has much to offer the visitor, beyond access to fine countryside and coastline. Here are five things for all you Planeteers to do there...

1. Eat, eat, eat. Lots of high end dining on offer and private eating clubs (if you can get in), but we say just go on a pintxos (tapas) crawl. Pick of the bars? Try Restaurante Rio-Oja at c/Perro 4. It specialises in cazuelas – wide pans of bubbling casseroles displayed in rows along the bar. Maybe hake in salsa verde or marmitako, a stew of tuna, tomatoes, peppers and onions. No local wines, so wash down your cazuela with a large glass of white Rioja.

2. Rio-Oja’s in the old town on the east bank of the Nervión River. Don’t miss the atmospheric alleys of the Siete Calles (seven streets), the Gothic church of San Miguel and the porticoed Plaza de Espana, perfect for evening people-watching. Great bars abound. K2 in Ca/Someras’s for nighthawks, while the more traditional Bizkendi is a shrine to the Athletic Bilbao football team. On the river end of the Siete Calles is the Mercado de la Ribera. On three levels, it’s reputed to be Europe’s largest indoor market. Awesome fish stalls.

3. For a bit of neo-baroque fantasy visit Jaquin Rucoba’s Casa Consistorial, Bilbao's original town hall, opened in 1892, with its gorgeous Arab Salon reception area. Or behind the cathedral, seek out the red brick and wooden beamed Renaissance trading house, El Portalon, in stark contrast to the golden stone of buildings all around it. It’s now (no surprise) a swanky restaurant.

4. Bilbao’s innovative Metro system, designed by Sir Norman Foster, is a more modern architectural draw. Its transparent shell allows passengers to see the vast strides the city had made to turn itself into a tourist draw. For a slower pace, walk the transformed riverfront (lots of quality shopping, if you must) from the lovely Puento del Arenal Bridge to Bilbao’s must-see architectural wonder...

5. You thought we’d forget the Guggenheim? Architect Frank Gehry's glass and limestone masterpiece (pictured), is the symbol of modern Bilbao. Totally tactile. Even the audio tour asks you to run your fingers along the museum's walls. If this gets all too iconic for you, Planet suggests another amazing piece of modern architecture nearby. The Palacio Euskaldena performance and conference complex was designed as a tribute to Bilbao’s shipbuilding industry. Shiplike stairways emerge all around its massive marble-coated foyer. ,/p>

PlanetConfidential is wary about recommending a hotel it has no experience of... but is intrigued by Bilbao’s new cutting-edge Miro. Nothing to do with the artist Joan of that ilk, it was created by fashion designer Antonio Miro. It describes itself as Avantgarde, Superior Boutique Hotel. www.epoquehotels.com. Reports please from all you avantgarde superior readers.

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