My parents went to Bilbao last year and loved it so much that they invited us to go with them this year.
Bilbao is situated in the north-central part of Spain and therefore the journey time from the UK only takes one hour and thirty minutes. Over the last few years, Bilbao has increasingly become a popular tourist destination and because of this there are now more direct flights flying from the UK than ever before. So for a quick weekend break, it’s the perfect little get away. We flew from Heathrow with British Airways which was very cheap (under £100).
When we arrived at the airport we were faced with the decision of whether to get a taxi in to the city (which is about a twenty-minute journey) or take the bus. It turns out that a taxi is around €25 whereas the bus is only €1.50 …and only two stops. So the bus was a no brainer and as promised, it was a very straight-forward journey.
We stayed in Hotel Ercilla which is about a ten minute walk from the Guggenheim (and a five minute walk from the bus stop). The reason for our trip to Bilbao was the Soul4Real music weekend that is held in October every year. For those of you that know me, you’ll know that my parents (particularly my dad) are avid fans of soul music. Throughout their lives they have followed the Soul scene with a keen eye (or ear) and the Soul4Real weekend sees people come from all over the world to dance to their favourite records and on some occasions, meet some of their childhood heroes before watching them take to the stage again. My dad has written many articles on Soul music over the years. He has also appeared on the radio with his DJ friends to both discuss Soul music whilst listening to some of their favourite hits. More notably, he recently wrote an encyclopedia on every American soul LP record that has ever been made. This took him three years and focuses on American Soul artists from A-K (he is now spending the next two years writing the remaining letters of the alphabet). The book has been a great success with it being the number one selling music book on Amazon for a while. With this in mind, a few of his books came along with us to Bilbao as a number of people out there had arranged to to buy them at the festival.
We had been looking forward to this little holiday all year as it was always going to be something very different to what we’re used to. I mean, how often do you get to go away with your parents and dance to Soul music into the early hours of the morning?
On our first day we wandered down to the Old Town where we stopped in a nearby cafe called La Compania Del Ron for Iberico ham and Martini Preparado’s (which I can highly recommend!)
Two of the many great attractions to Bilbao are the ham and the Pintxos on offer. Almost everywhere that you go you will see legs of ham dangling from windows and above bars and I wouldn’t be lying when I tell you that this ham is quite possibly the best-tasting that I’ve ever eaten. Top tip – when ordering it, be sure to ask for the price before you eat, as we ordered some on arrival and by the time we left we realised that the two plates of ham that my dad had bought costed £40 (thanks dad!). After speaking to some local people over the weekend we were told that even they ask for the price as it’s known for various places to charge differentiated prices according to who you are.
(Photography – debbielias.co.uk)
The Pintxos are something else! Over the weekend we saw an abundance of Pintxos of all shapes, recipes and sizes and my golly they are incredible! Small little bites made with all sorts of toppings, they’re some of the most moreish little snacks I’ve ever eaten. You start with one and before you know it you’re on numbers five and six. There’s an indoor food market near the bridge in the Old Town that is full of our Pintxos.
They’re all so pretty!
During the first day we walked around the city, visited a number of different bars and sampled some of their gin and tonics which again are great in Bilbao. We came across an entertainment venue during the evening called Azkuna Zentroa which bared resemblance to the Barbican centre. Whilst we were there a group of people had surrounded a woman who was about to perform some sort of dance which at first-hand, looked like it might be quite interesting. But after watching her parade around half-naked for ten minutes we realised that this in fact was quite boring and so continued on our way. The great thing that we did notice about this place was that it had a glass-bottomed swimming pool on the roof which you could stand underneath and look up toward – it’s quite a cool little feature.
During the first evening we attended the Soul4Real festival which began at the Cotton Club. This part of the evening focused mainly on the ‘slower’ Soul records and the enjoyment that people had just hearing some of the old classics being played in a social space again. The second part of the evening was based in our hotel and comprised of a DJ playing various upbeat Soul records from way back then! This was a great little evening as we got to see how the ‘older’ generation tear up the dance floor! Let me tell you – they’ve got some serious mooooves! In preparation for the evening there is actually a special floor laid down to help accommodate for all the twists, turns and slides that people create in response to some of their favourite hits! This was a place where all the moves I’d created over the years to some of my favourite hip-hop tunes bared no relevance. I was back to the drawing board. Me and Louis took to the floor and before we knew it we were clicking our fingers, kicking out or legs and spinning around in circles – it was great! It was also a successful night for my dad who had set up a little book stand for anyone that wanted to come along and look at his book. He generated so much interest that evening that by the next morning he completely sold out of all the books that he’d bought to Bilbao.
On our second day we continued exploring Bilbao. By early morning we came across a very quaint little cafe called Cafe Iruna which sold a brilliant selection of Pintxos. The cafe was also somewhat famous for it’s chicken kebabs (that we indulged in when we went back there later that evening). This place apparently opened in 1903 and still remained true to it’s origins with beautifully coloured tiles and period decor, creating a really nice feeling to the place. One thing that we loved about Bibao – and I guess this is similar for lots of other places in Spain too – is how everyone seems to come together during the evenings, standing out on the streets and having a drink whilst eating good food. There’s a really friendly and social vibe around the city and this cafe was just one of many places where we felt that.
Bilbao has got some really interesting architecture throughout the city. Everywhere you go you see Buildings of all shapes and sizes.
One of the most famous buildings in Bilbao is undoubtably the Guggenheim Museum. This has been around exactly twenty years and looks very cool. We originally intended to go inside but our walk around the city meant that we ran out of time. So we took a few photos and were on our way.
(photography – debbielias.co.uk)
On the second night we attended another Soul music evening. This night was very different from the first with their being live performances from two special guests. Before the evening began my parents had the joy of meeting the artists Margie Joseph and Lenny Williams. It was such a nice moment for my dad as he was able to introduce himself and give them one of his books in which he had reviewed their music. Margie was over the moon when she was presented with the book shouting out “I made it in to the book ya’ll!”
The shows they both put on in the evening were great! This was the first time that Margie had been on stage in thirty years and you could tell that she wanted to soak up every second of it. Their voices were still incredible and the band supporting them were on point! This was a really nice night again, dancing to some live music and hearing some very catchy tunes. Go check out Tower of Power – “This Time It’s Real“. This song raised the roof and we might have listened to it a few times since coming home too 😉
Our last day was Sunday and you need to be quite mindful if you are in Bilbao on Sundays that the whole city pretty much shuts down with not many shops or restaurants open. So we headed up in to the hills of Bibao. With the city being situated in the middle a valley, there’s lots of opportunity for exploring Bilbao beyond the buildings. We took the Artxanda Funicular Railway from downtown Bilbao to the Artxanda Mountains. The views up there were amazing and the railway ride was great fun too! And again at €1 each way per person, you can’t go wrong!
After our little tour of the surrounding areas of Bilbao, we HAD to stop at a place that my parents visited last year and have raved about ever since. We headed to a rooftop bar called La Terraza Del Yandiola where you can buy the craziest gin and tonics infused with fruits and topped with dry ice which was quite a spectacle!
This was a great little way to finish off our time in Bilbao and the weather couldn’t have been any better for the occasion.
So if you’re looking for a great little city break, Bilbao easily gets a five-coconut rating from us! Definitely the ideal mini-break destination.
Credit to these two for inviting us to spend an amazing weekend with them both. Love from us both x