Thirteen hours after I left Lisbon, I reluctantly left my comfy sleeper cabin and arrived in Miranda. With three hours until my train from Miranda to Bilbao, I used my time wisely and got the pedicure I was looking for in Lisbon. I easily found a nail salon and I made it back in time to catch the train to Bilbao. Mission Pedicure: Complete
Once again, I found myself in those super comfy individual seats for the Mirando to Bilbao ride. I thought of them as little work stations because I had a table, a garbage can, and coat hangers. I was able to put my luggage in the oversized luggage rack.
It was a smooth train ride into Bilbao. The common cold was no match for the rest I got in my sleeper cabin. Regardless of how I felt, I couldn’t contain my excitement to discover a new city.
Ganbara Hostel is a 15 min walk from the train station. Contrary to Lisbon or Porto, Bilbao is very modern. So modern they even have elevators to connect streets at the top of hills to the bottom of hills, making the whole city accessible. I only discovered the elevators AFTER I struggled to climb up the small ramp to Ganbara Hostel. Please heed my advice and look for the elevators!
Oiane is one of two owners and managers of the hostel, and greeted me upon arrival. She showed me my room, told me of their daily activities, and encouraged me to relax because she had a full itinerary planned the following day.
I sat in the lounge area to watch some Netflix and to work. As it happens, I met a girl. We did the usual hostel introduction, quickly became friends, and decided to grab a bite to eat in the city centre.
We had heard about Pintxos, which are snack sized meals, so we tried it at La Viña del Ensanche. Order pintxos was an experience in and of itself. It took us about 15 mins because we hardly understood what the procedure. But luckily, the waiter managed to help!
The pintxos were a bit expensive but for the quality, it was totally worth it! We tried Joselito Iberian Pork Cheek, which was so tender it basically fell apart as I placed my fork in it. The pork cheek was submerged in a béchamel sauce which complimented the tenderness! We also tried the Joselito Coppa, slow grilled for 720 mins! It was the best piece of barbecued meat I’ve ever had! It was accompanied with some grilled asparagus, drizzled with a sweet sauce. Needless to say it was very yummy!
When we left the restaurant, I decided to go back to the hostel but my new friend and I agreed to meet up later on for dinner. At the hostel I introduced myself to Aurora, a receptionist I hadn’t met yet. She t old me Oiane left a message for me. I had to be at the reception desk the next day at 11 A.M. for a tour of the area. No further explanations were given but it added an element of excitement!
I wrote in the lounge area and until my new friend came back for a late dinner. We went to Plaza Nueva, known for its bars. But instead of bar hopping, we went pintxo hopping! We had limited time as my new friend was leaving on a bus home in an hour, so we efficiently selected two bars!
The first was Cafe Bilbao, one of the oldest in Plaza Nueva. We had vegetable tart and the Iberian ham with spanish omelette! It was pleasant to be in a bar that was bustling with people in no rush to pay.
We also went into Victor Montes, an aesthetically pleasing dining experience! It had gold accents, perfectly polished glasses, and the waiters wore white button up shirts with black ties! The tapas were well garnished. We tried the blood sausage pastry roll (my fav) and croquetas! After our late dinner we went back to the hostel and said our goodbyes. I went to bed to prepare myself for my mystery day!
I was bubbling with excitement as I got ready in the morning. With no idea where we were going, I fuelled up with the complimentary breakfast (served daily from 7-10 a.m.). They serve a variety of fresh juices, assorted meats and cheese, breads, condiments, fruit, and more!
Don’t make the same mistake I did and get there after 10 because there won’t be much left!
I met Oiane at 11 and we got coffee at the The Beetle Bar before starting our day of adventure. We talked about the plan for the day and how we were going to start off with a little scenic treat since I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan!
I knew Game of Thrones had filmed bits in Northern Spain but had no idea how far it was from Bilbao! After a beautiful 45 min drive we made it to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe! And luckily, it wasn’t too crowded!
We didn’t climb the steps of Dragonstone (San Juan de Gaztelugatxe), but we admired it from afar. You could see the steps and a church on top of the rock from the lookout point.
We then drove to a town named Bermeo, which used to be a big port and fishing community. Bermeo has a beautiful marina and has maintained the colourful house facades! The many memorials for fisherman lost at sea, and the wives who waited for their return really pulled at my heartstrings. It was a beautiful homage to Bermeo’s history.
Oiane’s town of Mundaka was next on the list, and was completely breathtaking with the colourful houses and the beach! While there, we saw many people surfing and I found myself imagining how amazing it would’ve been to have a playground like that in my backyard!
We had lunch at the Mundaka Hostel & Sports Cafe and for the first time in my life I tried Megrim (Gallo in Spanish)! It’s a fish prepared with olive oil, garlic, and herbs which resulted in a delightful lunch! Afterwards, we walked along the coast to help digest. We stepped to the beat of waves crashing against the shore and the breeze rushing past us before we travelled to the neighbouring town, Gernika.
Gernika is the city Pablo Picasso references in the painting ‘Guernica’. It was heavily bombed on April 26, 1937 during the Spanish Civil War and destroyed the town. Gernika was full of history lessons. It felt bizzare to see how peaceful the once destroyed town looked, as if nothing ever happened.
We visited the Gernika Peace Museum to get a better historical understanding. It was really interesting to learn about the Spanish Civil War, and Spain under the Franco regime. They also had many thought provoking statements about peace along the bottom of the walls, and pictures with commentary on how peace can be achieved. It was very inspiring and made me reflect on the state of current world events.
Once we finished our visit, we toured around the grounds of the Tree of Gernika, a symbolic meeting place for Basque. It marks the place where they were granted autonomy in the middle ages, which has allowed them their socio-economic liberties of today. After we wrapped up our day in Gernika, I took a bus back to Bilbao, that had WIFI for only 2,50€ and arrived right in the city center. I did some window shopping, got some dinner and went to bed. The surrounding areas of Bilbao were definitely worth seeing if you have the chance! Muchas Gracias Oiane for a fantastic tour!
Once again, I started my day off with breakfast in the common area and some delicious pineapple juice (my personal fav)! I needed all the energy I could get because I was going on the noon Spanish walking tour The walking tour was great and concise, only about 2 and a half hours. We started near the Arenal Park and circled the historic parts of Bilbao. We walked around Plaza Nueva, then towards the Mercado de la Ribera (a must if you have the chance), through the charming streets to the Cathedral, and finally back to the Teatro Arriaga.
After the walking tour I met Josan (the co-owner and manager at Ganbara Hostel) for lunch at the San Mamés stadium. The European Professional Club Rugby finals were being hosted at the stadium so it was exciting to see everything being set up! After lunch we made our way to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The Guggenheim took my breath away with the curved lines of the building and its sheer size.
As I headed back to the hostel, I stopped by the Champions Rugby Village and enjoyed the atmosphere! Everyone sported their team’s jersey and danced to the beat of the music. I would’ve loved to have experienced a game first hand but that’ll have to be another time!
I called it a day after visiting the village, prepared my bags for the early train to Madrid, and went to bed! All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by Bilbao and its surrounding areas. I really wish I could’ve spent more time here to fully enjoy northern Spain. Already looking forward to my next visit!
Recommendations for Bilbao:
Please say Hello to Oiane and Josan on my behalf!
Do a Free Walking Tour
English Tour is at 9:30 A.M.
Spanish Tour is at Noon
English Tour is at 3:30 P.M.
Spanish Tour is at 6:00 P.M.
Rent a car and visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Bermeo, Mundaka, and Gernika
Visit the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Get lost in the Casco Viejo (historic part of the city)
Visit the Mercado de la Ribera
Food + Drinks:
Try Txakoli wine (special to the area)
Unwind at The Beetle Bar with a café con leche and any of their delicious treats