It’s no secret that the atmosphere inside San Mames, Athletic Bilbao’s home ground and spiritual centre, is electric. Like many fiercely independent corners of the world, football runs deep here; a unifying spectacle of power, strength and skill. But there are plenty of other things to do in Bilbao outside of the stadium. Combine its heady atmosphere with one of the most eclectic and vibrant culinary scenes in Europe, and you’re surely onto a winner.
Wend your way from bar to bar in the historical district, treat yourself to an evening of glamour at one of the many Michelin starred restaurants, or head straight to Licenciado Pozas, where the clamour of local fans awaits you. With so many ways to get to the game, all that’s left to do is begin.
Introducing the Art of Pintxos
Easing yourself into the melting pot of Basque culture is easy in the medieval district of Casco Viejo. Tucked in among its quaint streets and squares are dozens of bustling wine bars just waiting for you to begin your txikiteo tour with them. A small glass of wine or beer, txikiteos is traditionally enjoyed across several bars in the same evening, and is almost always accompanied by a delicious side of pintxos. Similar to Spanish tapas, pintxos are small bites, traditionally pierced by a toothpick, which are designed to be eaten stood up at the bar alongside your drink.
This quintessentially Basque take on the traditional bar crawl gives you the chance to experience the very best of the city, and to try whichever tasty morsel catches your eye as you go.
Even better, this picturesque part of the city is only a five minute metro ride away from the stadium, making it the perfect way to whet your appetite for the game to come.
For some ideas on where to start your txikiteo tour, try:
- Cafe Bar Bilbao. Situated in the iconic Plaza Nueva, Cafe Bar Bilbao has developed a reputation for serving quality pintxos in a homely, traditional setting. Tiled floors and rustic decor make this a cosy place to spend an hour. (Time to stadium, 10-15 minutes by metro). Plaza Nueva is also the place to sit back and people watch, or you could pay a visit to nearby Iglesia de San Nicolas, a small but perfectly formed Baroque church just off the square.
- Irrintzi. Popular with the locals and reasonably priced, Irrintzi is one of the only pintxos places in town which offers a good range of gluten and meat free options. (Time to stadium, 15 minutes by metro)
- Gatz. Another favourite among locals and tourists alike, the specialty pintxos at Gatz is its salt cod in pil-pil (Time to stadium, 15 -20 minutes by metro). After eating, take a brisk stroll across the bridge and along the river to see where life in the city is truly lived – on the banks of the River Nervion.
The Basque country is world renowned for the quality of its culinary scene, and Bilbao is no different. The San Mames stadium alone is surrounded by not one, but three Michelin starred restaurants. Each offering a different take on traditional Basque cuisine and all within easy reach of the football, what better way to kick start your evening.
- Etxanobe. Situated on the top floor of the Euskalduna palace, views out over the river complement the exceptional food. Beautiful, chic decor creates an elegant setting for the perfect evening. (Time to stadium, 10 minute walk). Continue through the park and you’ll find yourself at Bilbao’s top attraction, the revered Guggenheim Museum, where the architecture is just as impressive as its collection of world-famous modern art.
- Nerua. Situated within the Guggenheim itself, Nerua is a minimalist restaurant with a reputation for stunning presentation and delicious, locally sourced dishes. (Time to stadium, 20 minutes by metro)
- Zarate. With a particular focus on typical Basque dishes, this small restaurant is a cosy and more affordable option for the astute traveller. (Time to stadium, 10 minute walk)
Get Straight into the Action
There’s a whole world of things to do in Bilbao which will launch you straight into the domain of the beautiful game. Working your way along the bars of Licenciado Poza, or Pozas, as the locals call it, will take you right up to the stadium itself. Hang out with the Athletic Bilbao fans as the pre-game atmosphere begins to build, and follow the crowd as they make their way into San Mames in time for the game. This is a true slice of footballing culture and a great way to integrate with local fans. Go for a bar showing the Athletic Bilbao colours for the best experience. (Time to stadium, 5-10 minute walk)
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