Bilbao (in Basque also called Bilbo) is situated in the very north of Spain. With a population of about 350 thousand in Bilbao and nearly one million in Greater Bilbao, it is the fifth largest metropolitan area in Spain (after Madrid , Barcelona , Valencia and Seville ).
Bilboa is also the largest and most important city in the autonomous Basque Country. Due to the repression of Basque culture, language and law during the conservative dictatorship of Franco, the Basque people today set a high value on their autonomy. Many of them explicitly speak Basque, a language completely different from Spanish or other Romanic languages. In Bilbao many people also speak Spanish as their first language, and you will notice that street names on maps or street signs vary between Basque and Spanish. (On this website, we use the Basque street names, with the Spanish version appended in parentheses.)
For centuries, the development of Bilbao and the Basque Country was determined by iron and the sea. Iron, already mined by the old Romans, was the basis of the industrial boom of the region since the late 19th century and made it one of the most developed and prosperous provinces of Spain. The houses and shops of the wealthy upper-class of that time (to be seen at the right part of the Gran Vía, for example) are witnesses of this period.
Many jobs in and around Bilbao are still linked to the iron industry, but structural change didn’t steer clear of this area as well. However, Bilbao managed to use this change for its advantage and turned from a widely charmless port and industrial town to a city world-renowned for extraordinary architecture. In the 1990s, the famous Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, built of glass and titanium and designed by star architect Frank Gehry, replaced the former port in the city. It now attracts one million visitors every year. This and other projects – such as the Zubizuri bridge by Santiago Calatrava and the new subway stations by Norman Foster – resulted in an enhancement of the city’s status which in turn strongly influenced the overall atmosphere, creativity and dynamics in Bilbao. (Developments like these are now described internationally as the so-called ›Guggenheim effect‹.)
There is also an active gay and lesbian community in Bilbao. Although the gay scene counts only a few venues, they usually get very busy at weekends when Bilbao becomes the gay center of the whole north-west of Spain.
Most of the gay bars , clubs and cafes are situated in the so-called San Francisco quarter (to the right of Calle de San Francisco) and vis-à-vis in the Old Town of Bilbao. ( Bilbao Gay Maps : Overview and Old Town & San Francisco )
A typical habit of nightlife in Bilbao – as anywhere in Spain – is bar-hopping. Most bars and clubs have a peak of only one or two hours after which their patrons move on to the next bar. A Saturday night in Bilbao could start, for instance, in one of the many Pintxos bars (similar to Spanish Tapas bars) in the Old Town. Then it’s time for a pre-clubbing drink in one of the gay bars in Calle de la Pelota till approx. 01:00. Now shake your booty in the mixed club Conjunto Vacío until approx. 03:00 and afterwards in the club Balcón de la Lola.