Thirteen hours after I left Lisbon, I reluctantly left my comfy sleeper cabin and arrived in Miranda. I had a three hour layover until I got on the next train from Miranda to Bilbao and figured the smartest thing to do to kill time was to finally get the pedicure I was looking for in Lisbon. I found a nail salon, got my pedicure done and I made it back in time to catch the train to Bilbao. Mission Pedicure: Complete
Once again, I found myself in those individual seats that are super comfortable on the train for the Mirando to Bilbao train ride. I thought of them as little work stations because I had my laptop/food table that dropped down in front of me, a garbage can, coat hangers and I was able to put my luggage…more specifically my backpack, in the oversized luggage rack.
It was a smooth train ride into Bilbao. The common cold was no match for the rest that I got in my sleeper cabin. Regardless of how I felt, I could not contain my excitement to discover a new city. I was ready to get to Ganbara Hostel and see what was in store for me during my first visit to this northern city of Spain. I arrived into Bilbao around 1:30 P.M. and I was ready for ‘Day 1’ to begin!
Ganbara Hostel, the Famous Hostel location in Bilbao, is located a short 15 minute walk from the train station. Obviously with a backpack it feels a little longer, but once you are settled in it feels like a stone throw away! Contrary to Lisbon or Porto, Bilbao is a very modern European city. So modern that they even have elevators that connect streets at the top of hills to the streets at the bottom of hills making the whole city very 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!
Once I reached the hostel I was greeted by Oiane, one of two owners and managers of the hostel, she toured me around, showed me my room and encouraged me to relax because she had a full day planned the following day. She also informed me of what activities they have to offer on a daily basis like free breakfast in the morning till 10 A.M. and walking tours of Historic Bilbao and Modern Bilbao in English and Spanish!
I sat in the lounge area watching some Netflix and working on some blog material when I met the girl who was also watching tv. We did the usual hostel introduction : “where are you from?” “what brings you here?” “what is your name?” and then decided to go grab something to eat. I was especially hungry after having lugged my backpack to the hostel. We made our way into the city centre based on a recommendation Google gave for the best pintxos in town. Pintxos are the snack sized portions of meals they offer in bars. After a walk through some gloomy weather, we found La Viña del Ensanche. Learning how to order pintxos was an experience in and of itself. It took us a about 15 minutes because we hardly understood what the proper procedure was. Luckily the waiter managed to help!
The pintxos here were a bit expensive but for the quality it was totally worth it! We had Joselito Iberian Pork Cheek, which was so tender that 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 that had been slow grilled for 720 minutes! It was the best piece of barbecued meat I’ve ever had! It was accompanied with some asparagus that were grilled perfectly and drizzled with a sweet sauce. Needless to say it was very yummy!
When we left the restaurant it was still dark and rainy outside so I decided to quickly go back to the hostel but my new friend and I agreed to meet up later on for dinner.
I went back to the hostel and there was a new receptionist that I hadn’t met yet, Aurora. I introduced myself and asked her if Oiane left a message for me?
She let me know that I had to be at the reception desk the next day for 11 A.M. because I was going to be given a tour around the area. No further explanations were given but I was alright with that because it added a sense of excitement!
I set up camp with my laptop in the lounge area and wrote until my new friend who went to the Guggenheim came back ready for a late dinner. We went to Plaza Nueva where all the bars were and instead of bar hopping, we went pintxo hopping! We had limited time seeing as my new hostel friend was leaving on a bus home in an hour, so we were efficient in selecting two bars to eat at! We went to Cafe Bilbao, which is one of the oldest in Plaza Nueva and tried their vegetable tart and their Iberian ham with spanish omelette tapa! It was pleasant to be in a bar that was bustling with people who were in no immediate rush to pay.
We also went into Victor Montes and it was an aesthetically pleasing dining experience! It had gold accents everywhere, with perfectly polished glasses, and the waiters were all in white button up shirts with black ties! The tapas were well garnished when we tried the blood sausage pastry roll and croquetas! The blood sausage pastry roll was my favourite here! There were so many options but not enough time, I guess I will have to come back to Bilbao!bAfter our late dinner we said our goodbyes back at the hostel, I went to bed to prepare myself for my mystery day while she left to catch her bus!
I was bubbling with excitement as I got ready in the morning. I had no idea where we were going but could only imagine it was going to be AWESOME. I fuelled myself with the complimentary breakfast that was served daily at Ganbara Hostel from 7 A.M. till 10 A.M. They served a variety of fresh juices, alongside dairy and soy milk. They also had an assortment of morning treats like madeleines, pound cake and chocolates.
And most importantly a diverse array of food to make a hearty breakfast, like assorted meat and cheese plates, with different types of bread and condiments. Also a selection of fresh fruit is also available! Don’t make the same mistake I did and get there after 10 A.M. because there won’t be much left!
At 11 A.M. I met Oiane at the reception desk and we grabbed some coffee at the The Beetle Bar before we started our day of adventure. Over coffee we talked about the plan for the day and how we were going to start off with a little scenic treat since I was a huge Game of Thrones fan!
I knew that Game of Thrones had recorded some bits in the north of Spain but had no idea how close or far it was from Bilbao!After a beautiful 45 minute drive we made it to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe! It apparently was an odd day because there weren’t many people there. Apparently it is normally packed after being featured in the show, rain or shine.nThe drive itself to get there was full of leafy green trees, random houses in mountains, rolling hills and beachscapes!
We did not climb the steps of Dragonstone (a.k.a San Juan de Gaztelugatxe) since we had a full day of activities planned but we admired it from afar. From the top of the view point you could see the steps and a church on top of the rock!
From there we drove to a town named Bermeo. It was once a big port and even bigger fisherman community where the men were always at sea and women were the head of the household. The town has a beautiful marina and has maintained the same colourful house facades as always! What really pulled my heartstrings was the many statues used to commemorate the fisherman who devoted their life to the sea and their wives waiting for them to return that were found in the town. I found it to be a beautiful homage to Bermeo’s history.
Then we went to Oiane’s town of Mundaka which was completely breathtaking with all the colourful houses and the beach right next to it! While we were there we saw many people go down to the water and surf! I thought of how amazing it would have been to have a playground like that in my backyard!
We stopped for lunch at the Mundaka Hostel & Sports Cafe and for the first time in my life I tried Megrim! It is a fish that in spanish is called Gallo, it was prepared with olive oil, garlic and herbs which resulted in a delightful lunch! The fish itself was light but since we had appetizers and dessert, we were so full once we left that we decided to walk around and see the coast as an excuse to digest the food. The walk was relaxing. We stepped to the beat of waves crashing against the shore and the breeze rushing past us before we travelled to the neighboring town, Gernika.
Gernika is the city that Pablo Picasso referenced in the painting ‘Guernica’ due to the bombings that took place on April 26, 1937 that destroyed the town. Gernika was full of history lessons. Even though the bombings took place years ago, it still felt bizzare to see how peaceful the once destroyed town looked, as if nothing ever happened.
We visited the Gernika Peace Museum so I could get a better historical understanding of the area. It was really interesting to learn about the history of the Civil War in Spain and Spain under the Franco regime. Being a Peace Museum 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 to read the statements along the walls because it made me reflect to the state of current events around the world today.
Once we finished our visit, we toured around the grounds of the Tree of Gernika which was a symbolic meeting place for Basque people since it was the place where they were granted autonomy back in the middle ages that has allowed them their socio-economic liberties of today.nAfter we wrapped up our day in Gernika, I took a bus back to Bilbao, that had WIFI for only 2,50 EUR and it 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 favourite)! I needed all the energy I could get because I was going on the noon Spanish walking tour around Bilbao!bThe walking tour was great and concise, only about two hours and thirty minutes in total. 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 (which is a must if you have the chance), through the charming streets to get to the Cathedral, and finally back to the Teatro Arriaga.
After the walking tour I met with Josan for lunch, the co-owner and manager at Ganbara Hostel, at the San Mamés stadium. The European Professional Club Rugby finals were being played at this stadium so it was exciting to see everything being set up for the busy weekend ahead! 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 was sporting their team’s jersey and dancing to the beat of the music. I would have loved to have experienced a game first hand but that will have to be for another time!
I called an end to Day 3 after I visited the village, prepared my bags for the early train to Madrid, and went to bed! All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by what Bilbao and the surrounding areas had to offer. I really wish I could have spent more time there to fully enjoy northern Spain. I am already looking forward to my next visit!
Recommendations for Bilbao:
Stay at Ganbara Hostel
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:
Enjoy the fresh juices offered at Ganbara Hostel
Explore Plaza Nueva and go pintxo hopping
Try Café Bilbao and Victor Montes
Step out of your comfort zone and try some pintxos from La Viña del Ensanche
Try Txakoli wine (special to the area)
Unwind at The Beetle Bar with a café con leche and any of their delicious treats