|The city of Bilbao is divided into eight
districts, but we get a better picture of the true topography if we keep
in mind that the city is divided by la ría del Nervión (the Nervión
estuary) into two halves.
To get to District 1, called Deusto, we have to cross either the recently-built Puente (bridge) de Euskalduna or the older Puente de Deusto, which up till a few years ago still used to be raised to let big boats pass under. Walk along the Ribera (bank) de Deusto to get a glimpse of how one part of the estuary flows through city life. While here, a must-see is the Universidad de Deusto. Established in the 19th century and run by Jesuits, this university has been the alma mater of such luminaries as the banker Mario Conde, the politician Arzalluz or the former president ("Lehendakari") of the Basque government, Garaikoetxea. All in all, the neighborhood has a rather student-like feeling and is filled with bars, cafés, restaurants, etc. If you've been out partying all evening, this is a great place to pass the very last hours of the night.
Still on the same side of the estuary, use either the Calatrava footbridge or the Puente del Ayuntamiento to get to District 2, called Uribarri. Take a stroll in Campo Volantín or get a closer peek at the Ayuntamiento de Bilbao (City Hall). From here we can take the Funicular de Artxanda to the top of Archanda Hill, from where we can enjoy the fantastic views and the fresh air, or have a bite to eat in one of the many restaurants.
From here it's straight over to District 4, Begoña, where we find the Basílica de Begoña, the "Amatxo" (mother) of Bilbao. Walk to the church along the Calzadas de Mallona, which begins in the Casco Viejo, or if you're the lazy type, there's always the elevator or the metro.
We've arrived in District 5, the Casco Viejo. It's clear how one spends the time in this lively neighborhood -- eating or drinking (or both) in one of the numerous establishments, listening to the street musicians, and doing a bit of shopping. But before diving into the sensual delights of the Casco Viejo there's a few other things you could see, such as the Edificio de la Bolsa (the stock exchange building). Or try and sneak into la Sociedad Bilbaína, one of the old-established and most elegant cultural and recreational societies in Spain. Or if you're the gaming type you can try your luck at the Casino Nervión. Or for more high culture, cross the Puente del Arenal to visit the Teatro Arriaga and the San Nicolás de Bari church. Once there we can slowly make our way to Siete Calles by way of the Ribera, taking in the Puente de La Merced on the way to the Iglesia de San Antón (but don't forget to stop in the Mercado de la Ribera and admire the amazing selection of vegetables, fish and meat!). Finally we've gotten to the heart of the Casco Viejo, and just like a pilgrim tracing the route of the Camino de Santiago, let's make our final stop here at the Catedral de Santiago.
Time to hop over to the other side of the estuary, to Abando, District 6. Beginning at the monument on the Plaza del Sagrado Corazón, stroll down the Gran Vía de Don Diego López de Haro. Measuring one-and-a-half kilometers, this avenue is lined with houses with charming façades -- keep an eye out especially for the Edificio Sota and the Edificio de la Diputación. A stroll down the Gran Vía will take you along the relaxing Parque de Doña Casilda Iturrizar with its Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) de Bilbao. Halfway down the Gran Vía we come to the quaint Plaza Moyúa, on which are located the Palacio del Gobierno Civil and the Hotel Carlton. At the far end of the Gran Vía we come to the Plaza Circular with a monument in honor of the founder of the town. Other places worth checking out in this area are the Palacio de Justicia, the Iglesia de San Vicente Mártir (a church in 12th-century Basque Gothic style), the Plaza de Albia and the Mercado del Ensanche. As well, we're not far from two streets that are very popular for bar hopping, Ledesma and Licenciado Poza. From here we can see the city's "other" cathedral, that is to say, the Estadio de Fútbol de San Mamés, which may not be quite as spiritual as the Catedral de Santiago, but you can be sure there are many citizens of this town that consider the city's soccer team, the Athletic de Bilbao, to be sacred! Real soccer funs should come all the way to Mazarredo street and visit the little palace that houses the headquarters of the Athlétic. The area around Mazarredo is another very popular night haunt, as are the pubs found in the Urquijo galerías (passageways). And for lovers of a bloodier sport, we're not far from the Plaza de Toros de Vista Alegre (whose name ironically means "Happy View Bullfighting Ring") and its bullfighting museum, the Museo Taurino. There's a lot of other places to visit in this district, such as the Museo Guggenheim, the Palacio Euskalduna, the Estación de Abando (a.k.a. Estación del Norte) with it's magnificent stained-glass windows, the Santa Casa de Misericordia, and the Alhóndiga.
The last district, District 7, called Rekalde, is reached by crossing the highway to Larrasquitu. This is a popular excursion for people wanting to scale the Pagasarri hill. At the top there is a little refuge from where one gets some splendid views of the south side of the "botxo" (the pit). If you don't know already why Bilbao is known affectionately by this name, you will once you see it from here!