River walk: The Guggenheim to Casco Viejo (Bilbao)

12/09/2021

The river walk from the Guggenheim to Casco Viejo is a right of passage. This mile long walk will let you see some of the best sights in the city as well as experience the growth and advancement of the city. The quest from La Campa de los Ingleses to the Areatza Park is a relaxing stroll that allows you to digest the city, one step at a time.

Bilboat on the Nervion River
Bilboat on the Nervion River

When you're at the Guggenheim you'll want to head off to Casco Viejo by walking by the Spider statue and under the Salve Bridge. The Salve bridge is known for its bright red arches. These arches were added to celebrate the 10th Anniversary or the opening of the Guggenheim Bilbao.

Monuments

The red arches are supposed to replicate three circles. The middle of them is the only one that is completed in the structure. The bottom one is meant to symbolize a grounding to the Earth while the upper one is connected to the sky and heavens.

Monument behind the Guggenheim Museum
Monument behind the Guggenheim Museum

Continuing past the bridge you will see a two piece monument that celebrates the Basque politician Ramón Rubial. The first part is a life sized sculpture of Mr. Rubial while the second part is a large iron block that the protagonist is walking towards.

The grassed area next to the walking path is where the tram operates. You will see it passing back and forth every few minutes. The Bilbao tram opened in December of 2002. It is 5.57km long and is a convenient way to get around the core of Bilbao.

The next monument that you will come to is known as the Suffrage of the Woman. This is a new monument that was inaugurated in 2021. It is five women, all of whom are carrying a rope together. This is meant to symbolize the struggles women have had to face for generations. 

Women of  Suffrage Monument
Women of Suffrage Monument

5 Awesome Hotels Along the Nervion River

Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao (5 star) is located across the street from the Guggenheim. It is one of the most exclusive hotels in Bilbao.  To view the Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao, follow this link.

Vincci Consulado de Bilbao (4 star) is located right next to the Guggenheim and the La salve bridge. It also has one of the nicest patios in the city. To view the Vincci Consulado de Bilbao, follow this link.

Hotel Conde Duque Bilbao (3 star) is located directly in front of the Zubizuri Bridge. It is one of the few hotels where you can request a balcony. Glass of wine on the balcony with an amazing city view interest you? To view the Hotel Conde Duque Bilbao, follow this link.

Zubizuri Bridge and  Isozaki Towers
Zubizuri Bridge and Isozaki Towers

Barcelo Bilbao Nervion (4 star) is located on the Casco Viejo side of the river. It has beautiful views of the Zubizuri bridge and the Isozaki Towers. To view the Barcelo Bilbao Nervion, follow this link.

NYX Hotel Bilbao (4 star) is located in Casco Viejo, across the street from Arentza Park. It's a classy and trendy spot that is closer to where the nightlife is. To view the NYX Hotel Bilbao, follow this link

Entrance to Casco Viejo
Entrance to Casco Viejo

Zubizuri Bridge

Continuing along the river walk, you will get to the Zubizuri bridge. Zubizuri means white bridge in Basque. This pedestrian bridge is a popular link between the Ensanche district and the Uribarri neighbourhood. The bridge is 10 meters (33 feet) above the walkways on either side of the river. It opened in May of 1997.

Zubizuri bridge
Zubizuri bridge

Although it is one of the most recognizable sites in Bilbao, it is also one of the most controversial. Designed by the world renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, the Zubizuri has had to be retrofitted multiple times at large cost to the city.

The bridge has a black non-slip carpet placed on top of see-through glass tiles, which were originally installed so that you could see the river below.  The tiles became slippery on rainy days. After many falls and injuries, it was deemed to be in the public interest to cover the tiles for safety.

On the Zubizuri bridge
On the Zubizuri bridge

There was also an extension made to the Zubizuri that extends towards the Isozaki Atea Towers. This was done to make access to this area easier and more efficient. This was designed by a different architect and without Calatrava's permission. He ended up suing the city under the moral rights section of the law. Calatrava was successful in his court dealings.

Below the Zubizuri bridge
Below the Zubizuri bridge

Isozaki Atea Towers

The Isozaki Atea Towers are two twin towers that are on either side of the Zubizuri bridge. The name Isozaki is in honour of the architect who designed the towers, while Atea means gate in Basque. The project was designed to be a gateway to the city. These matching 23 story buildings are the tallest residential buildings in the Basque Country.

Isozaki Atea Towers
Isozaki Atea Towers

Pro tip: Take photos of the Zubizuri bridge from the Uribarri side of the river so you can include the Isozaki towers with more flare.

Uribarri

Once you've crossed the Nervion River on the Zubizuri, you'll find a nice sized playground for the youngsters. There are also public fountains and washrooms nearby. The walkway on this side of the river is shaded with giant oak (gernika) trees. It is a very peaceful section of the walk that takes you to Bilbao's City Hall.

Riverwalk along the Nervion River
Riverwalk along the Nervion River

The City Hall building is one of the most famous and beautiful buildings in the city. Built in the 1890's this Baroque masterpiece is stunning. There are statues that don that facade along with many other detailed features. There is a large clock tower above the entrance way that is still operational. This is definitely one of the best photo spots in the city.

Bilbao City Hall
Bilbao City Hall

After you are done admiring Bilbao's City Hall, cross the street and head towards Areatza Park. The first section is an area that is currently being used as an open air farmers' market. It is not open every day, but you will know you are there by the vacant kiosks in the plaza.

Just past the kiosks is the Areatza Park. This park has large oak trees, playgrounds, fountains, and much more. It is a great place to relax and people watch before heading into Casco Viejo. This area is where Bilbao was born. Read our article about what to see and do while in the Old Quarter.

The walk from the Guggenheim Museum to Casco Viejo is an adventure unto itself. The Guggenheim has played a large role in the recent rejuvenation of the city, while Casco Viejo is where it all began. Journey from one point to the other and progress through Bilbao's evolution, one step at a time.

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