Bilbao seen from the air
Bilbao seen from the air ©Getty Images

Bilbao is ...
• The tenth biggest city in Spain, and the biggest in the Basque region.
• A city noted in Shakespeare's time for its swords, known as 'bilbos'.
• The city of Athletic Club, who famously only field players from the greater Basque region.
• Home to Rafael 'Pichichi' Moreno after whom the annual award for Spanish football's top scorer is named.
• Where Jeff Koons' famous topiary puppy statue stands, outside the Guggenheim Museum.

Where is it
On Spain's northern shores and the hub of the Basque region, Bilbao is a port city which prospered due to the local iron industry, but it has refitted itself for the modern age with some landmark buildings.

Estadio San Mamés reopened in 2013
Estadio San Mamés reopened in 2013©Getty Images

Estadio de San Mamés
• Opened in 2013, the new stadium replaced the old Estadio de San Mamés which was built in 1913 and staged games at the 1982 FIFA World Cup.
• The new venue will host the 2018 European Rugby Challenge Cup and Champions Cup finals before holding matches at UEFA EURO 2020.
• Athletic beat Napoli 3-1 in the first European game at the new ground at its full capacity on 27 August 2014, a result that helped them reach the UEFA Champions League group stage.
• The stadium can be illuminated from the outside.
• A statue of goalscoring legend Pichichi was moved from the old stadium to the new; visiting club captains traditionally present a bouquet at the statue to mark their first visit.

Matches at the Estadio de San Mamés
15 June, time tbc – Group E match
20 June, time tbc – Group E match
24 June, time tbc – Group E match
28 June, time tbc – Round of 16 (1B v 3A/D/E/F)

Getting to and around Bilbao
Bilbao Airport, the largest in the region, lies around 12km from the city. The city is served by a three-line metro system as well as buses, trams and suburban trains, but a walk is recommended. There are 13 bridges crossing the Nervión to explore, while many Athletic fans walk from the city centre to San Mamés as a matchday ritual, following the Calle Licenciado Poza and surrounding streets, which are punctuated with bars and facilities for football supporters.

Where to stay
Bilbao is a major tourist destination, and has a substantial stock of centrally-located hotels, but there are plenty of cheaper options further out. See useful links below.

Jeff Koons' Puppy in Bilbao
Jeff Koons' Puppy in Bilbao©Getty Images

What to see
For culture: The word 'starchitecture' was coined after Frank Gehry's extraordinary Guggenheim Museum updated Bilbao's profile, but Philippe Starck's Azkuna Zentroa culture centre is as impressive.
For atmosphere: Known locally as the 'Seven Streets', Bilbao's old town is closed to traffic and features the dramatic 14th-century Santiago Cathedral as well as a large indoor market.
For fresh air: A trip along the banks of the Nervión is highly recommended – up the west bank as far as the gleaming Zubizuri bridge, then cross and come back along the other side.

Eating and drinking
Food is at the heart of Basque culture, with pintxos – bite-sized rounds of toast topped with everything from salt cod and sea urchin – a must, especially the 'gilda' (a combination of olive, anchovy and pickled chili pepper). Piperade pepper stew mirrors the colours of the Basque flag, and local txakoli and rioja wines are excellent, while the region specialises in cider, served in special cider houses, Sagardotegi, often accompanied with cod in a thick pil-pil sauce.

Football in the city
Athletic Club are the first and last word in club football in Bilbao; formed in 1898, they were founder members of the Liga and have the honour of never having been relegated. The Lions' principle is to field only players native to the greater Basque region, and the red-and-whites' main local rivals are the blue-and-whites of Real Sociedad, based 100km east in the region's other big city, San Sebastian.

Get out of the city
The Basque region is beautiful, with plenty of picturesque walks and beaches within reach of Bilbao, and there are plenty more attractions within an hour's drive of the city: San Sebastian with its urban beach, historic Vitoria-Gasteiz, the vineyards of the Rioja Alavesa region and the city of Pamplona.

Useful links
Bilbao Tourism: http://www.bilbaoturismo.net/BilbaoTurismo/en/tourists
Basque Tourism Site: http://www.euskadi.eus/gobierno-vasco/turismo/
Lonely Planet:
https://www.lonelyplanet.com/spain/aragon-basque-country-and-navarra/bilbao
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bilbao
Estadio de San Mamés: http://www.bilbaostadium.com/
Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF): http://www.rfef.es/

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