A city in transformation
Stretching for some 14km beside the Río Nervión, Bilbao (Bilbo) is a large city that seldom feels like one.
Even though its urban sprawl now fills the narrow valley, you can always see the green slopes of the mountains to either side beyond the high-rise buildings of the city centre. You can make Bilbao a stop-off on your MSC Cruises holiday in the Northern Europe.
The biggest city in the Basque Country, serving as the capital of Bizkaia province, it has plenty to offer, from its exuberant cutting-edge architecture and stimulating museums to its friendly inhabitants.
Despite its name, the Casco Viejo (“old town”), is not in fact the oldest part of Bilbao. The city started out as a cluster of small fishing villages on the left bank of the river, whereas the Casco Viejo grew up across the river between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries. All the oldest buildings that still survive, however, are now concentrated here, and during a shore excursion it’s the most enjoyable area to explore on foot.
This tight-knit labyrinth of old stone lanes, filled with bars and restaurants and cradling the delightful arcaded main square, the Plaza Nueva, also holds some interesting museums.
Frank Gehry’s astounding Museo Guggenheim looms over the left bank of the Río Nervión, ten minutes’ walk west of the Casco Viejo. Completed in 1997, it was hailed by architect Philip Johnson as “the greatest building of our time”.
MSC Cruises also offer excursions to San Sebastián, which ranks among the great resort cities in Europe. While the superb sheltered beach on its very doorstep is the biggest attraction of all and an ideal cruise excursion, San Sebastián also boasts a charming old-town core, the Casco Viejo, squeezed up against the foot of verdant Monte Urgull.