The Spanish city that’s closest to UK – with £29 flights & amazing tapas

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BILBAO is the Spanish city that is fastest to reach from the UK, with flights taking just 1hr 45mins from Bristol.

But it’s far from the typical sun, sea and sangria you might expect from other destinations in the Costas.

You can’t miss Jeff Koons’ eminent Puppy — the world’s biggest flower statue at the Guggenheim Museum

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You can’t miss Jeff Koons’ eminent Puppy — the world’s biggest flower statue at the Guggenheim MuseumCredit: Alamy

Here’s everything the holiday hotspot has to offer.

WHY SHOULD I GO?

AS the unofficial capital of Spain’s Basque Country, which is known for its lush green landscapes, Bilbao is a vibrant city that recently transformed from an industrial hub to a modern urban destination.

With a blend of culture, art and natural beauty, it’s a compelling destination. But what really sets it apart is its culinary focus.

BEST FOOT FORWARD

YOU won’t need a cab to get around. The city is small enough to walk from one end to the other within 30 minutes. There’s also a very well-connected and affordable network of buses and trams.

READ MORE TRAVEL DESTINATIONS

Or you can easily rent a bicycle for just a few pounds and cycle around the city.

Not sure where to go? Take a bike tour. Tourne Bilbao offers two types, a standard pedal around the main city sights or — if you’d like to get to know the city like a local — an underground tour that takes you to lesser-known trendy neighbourhoods such as Bilbao la Vieja and San Francisco and Zorrotzaurre.

BUCKET LIST MUST-SEES?

The scenic Bilbao Old Town is a must-visit when in the city

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The scenic Bilbao Old Town is a must-visit when in the cityCredit: Getty

THE world-famous Guggenheim art museum is the city’s main attraction. This three-storey, 24,000sq metre centre showcases popular works by artists such as Richard Serra, Robert Rauschenberg and Yayoi Kusama.

You can’t miss Jeff Koons’ eminent Puppy — the world’s biggest flower statue — guarding the entrance. This Instagrammable, 40ft-tall sculpture is covered with more than 38,000 flowers, which are changed twice a year.

Casco Viejo, also known as the Old Town, is worthy of an afternoon stroll. As the historic heart of Bilbao, this picturesque district is a treasure trove of narrow cobblestone streets and medieval architecture.

Or go off the beaten track and visit upcoming neighbourhoods Zorrotzaurre, which hosts the Open Your Ganbara flea market every month, or the arty San Francisco district.

Here you’ll find independent galleries and cafes such as Contenedor, where you can buy the very furniture you’re sitting on.

WHERE SHOULD I EAT?

You can’t visit without indulging in pintxos — the Basque version of tapas

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You can’t visit without indulging in pintxos — the Basque version of tapasCredit: Alamy

AS food is part of Bilbao’s cultural identity, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to great restaurants.

You can’t visit without indulging in pintxos — the Basque version of tapas. These elaborate snacks are served on small skewers and can be found on the counters at most bars.

Feeling adventurous? Pair your pintxos with the local tipple Kalimotxo — a surprisingly moreish concoction of red wine and cola.

If al fresco dining is your thing, head over to Plaza Nueva in the old town, where you can discover a host of charming traditional restaurants with large outdoor terraces, such as Victor Montes.

Here, walls are decorated with photos of past celebrity visitors including Jeremy Irons and Bono, alongside floor-to-ceiling glass cases showcasing its collection of spirits. Highlights include its legendary butterfly anchovies from the Cantabrian Sea and Iberian acorn-cured ham.

If it’s steak you’re after, you can’t go far wrong with Restaurante Amaren, lauded as one of Bilbao’s top grill spots and serving up some of the best beef in the city.

Another top pick is the Guggenheim Museum’s very own Bistró ­restaurant, with stunning views overlooking the city’s meandering River Nervion.

Expect modern takes on traditional Basque recipes in a minimal yet stylish space.

But best of all, a five-course taster menu costs just £34pp.

I FANCY A DRINK

FINISH your evening with a few drinks in Las Siete Calles, a lively area teeming with small bars and people spilling out into the streets.

Hotel Ercilla also has a great rooftop bar, La Terraza, serving up cocktails with views across the city.

WHERE SHOULD I STAY?

STYLISH but affordable hotels are in abundance in Bilbao, and Ercilla Hotel is bang in the city centre. Dating back to the 1970s and thought to be the first purpose-built hotel in Bilbao, Hotel Ercilla has been recently renovated to its former glory with “vintage glamour” themed decor.

GO: BILBAO

GETTING THERE: Flights from London, Bristol and Manchester cost from  £29 each way with easyJet. See easyjet.com.

STAYING THERE: The 4-star Hotel Ercilla has rooms from  £115 per night.  See bilbaoturismo.net.

OUT & ABOUT: Bike tours start at  £30 for adults. See tournebilbao.com.



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