Casco Viejo, Bilbao: Seven Historic Streets
Bilbao's Casco Viejo is where it all began. The old town gave birth to what has become the largest Basque city. Located 15km up the Niviorn river from the Cantabrian Sea, Casco viejo is the quintessential Biscay experience. The narrow, bustling streets of this cultural cradle provide delectable cuisine, architectural delights, and an experience that will last a lifetime.
Along the seven streets and less known adjoining ones, there is enough good shopping, and picturesque patios, with pintxos and spirits, to lose all sense of space and time. That's why we put together this list of places that you need to see.
When you first cross the Estuary of Bilbao on the Areatza Bridge, you will see the Arriaga Theatre on your right. The Arriaga Theatre is a traditional opera house. Built in 1890, it has been a staple in the Basque community of arts for over 125 years.
If you are interested in a guided tour of the Arriaga Theatre they are offered on weekends and last just under an hour. They do offer these tours in English.
Across the street from the Arriaga Theatre is Areatza Park. This park is a great place to chill for a while. There is lots of room to relax under the shaded canopy provided by the large deciduous trees freckled throughout the park.
The park also has a small outdoor auditorium that occasionally hosts performances. It is located next to the children's playground. Below the playground is a large green monument that says Areatza. It doubles as a bouldering structure for youth and a place for people to pose in front of for photos.
Plaza Nueva is the main square of the Old Town. It possesses a ton of cultural significance and is always active. Built in the 1850's, Plaza Nueva has been one of the city's main gathering spots for over 150 years.
There are large arched pathways that surround the plaza. Inside contains a number of restaurants and cafes; all of which have their own patios, that invite relaxation. This is one of the most popular places for people to have a glass of wine and a pintxo. It is also one of the best places to show some swagger on your social accounts. Great food, drinks, and surroundings, what's not to love?
It is impossible to spend time in Plaza Nueva without feeling European. There is nothing quite like it. Perhaps it is due to the fact that you are literally surrounded by the neoclassical architecture that you have no choice but to be immersed in the culture and vibe of the region.
Miguel Unamuno Plaza
Miguel Unamuno Plaza is located on the east side of Casco Viejo. This plaza stands out for being one of the largest open spaces in the Old Quarter. It is a popular gathering place with quite a few restaurants and cafes. The patios are often busy and full of storytellers and laughter.
There is a staircase that rises dramatically up the hillside and around the Archaeology Museum of Bilbao. If you're interested in learning more about this region and it's history, then here's your chance.
Miguel Unamuno Plaza also contains one of the entrances to the Casco Viejo Metro Bilbao station. This entrance is located just to the right of the staircase heading up the hillside, and under the Archaeology Museum.
View spot to the Begona Basilica
There is only one spot in all of Casco Viejo that allows you to see the Begona Basilica. The Basilica sits on the hill way above the old town, however, due to the buildings and grade of the slope you can only see the bell tower of the Basilica from one spot in particular.
What you have to do is look for a tile on the ground that has a compass rose. It's at an intersection of three streets on the south west side. If you find yourself at the corner of Pilota Kalea (street) and Andra Maria Kalea then you're warmer.
There are four main cathedrals and churches in Casco Viejo. If you manage to see them all you've likely seen the majority of the Old Quarter.
The Church of Saint Nicholas is located at the entrance to Casco Viejo. You'll find it just across the street from Areatza Park, facing towards the Arriaga Theatre. This baroque church was built in the mid-18th century. Saint Nicolas Cathedral's exterior stands out for its two large bell towers on either end of the front facing facade. There is a large clock tower in the center, directly above the main entrance that provides a look of strength.
Joan Santuen Eliza is on Gurutze Kalea near Miguel Unamuno Plaza. It is by far the least assuming of the churches in the Old Quarter. This baroque cathedral was built in the 17th century.
Santiago Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church in the center of the Old Town. It was built at the end of the 14th century as the main parish for Bilbao. The white stone and dramatic arches make this cathedral stand out. The tall thin steeple points up towards the heavens and it's much taller than the surrounding buildings. If you wander around to the back, there are impressive arched vaulted ceilings.
San Anton is the most famous church in Bilbao. Is it the largest or most ornate? It is not. It is, however, the church that is on the crest of Bilbao. Without even knowing it, you see San Anton dozens of times a day.
San Anton is located around the riverbend from the front of Casco Viejo. This catholic church's construction began in the 15th century. Architecturally designed in the gothic styling that was popular at the time. It possesses multiple chapels and many vaulted ceilings. The belfry tower is the highpoint of the church, which was built in 1774 to replace the preexisting one.
The San Anton Bridge is located next to the church. When examining the bridge you will notice two large canines between the two arches. The dogs of this arched bridge play a prominent part on Bilbao's crest. Being the first bridge that crossed the estuary, it was essential to early trade between Biscay and Leon.
San Anton Bridge has had to be rebuilt multiple times due to a variety of floods and wars. It's most recent reconstruction was in 1937, after the Spanish civil war.
When taking photos of the San Anton church and bridge you may find it easier to capture from the far side of the river. It offers a wider angle and a more dynamic approach.
La Ribera is the main market. It is conveniently located alongside the river, next to San Anton Church. This multistoried market is one of the largest markets that isn't exposed to the elements. From butcheries to fish mongers and fruit stands to bakeries, this market has the culinary world covered. There is even a cooking school that offers classes and tutorials.
La Ribera restaurant brings an interesting element to gastronomy by creating dishes your way. Not only does it have it's regular menu but they will cook whatever you. If you make a reservation, the restaurant will make whatever dish you desire from the ingredients that you buy from the market. It's a very cool and delicious venture.
If you're going to go to Casco Viejo you don't need to plan. Just make sure you have enough time to wander the seven streets with leisure. The Old Quarter is best enjoyed slowly. Spend your time getting lost, exploring the tapestry of culture and history. Pop in as many tabernas, cafes, and restaurants as possible. We recommend only having one pintxo or drink at each in order to maximize your immersion in the region's gastronomy. The Old Quarter, where it all began and where you should end up.
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