Long one of the industrial capitals of Spain, Bilbao only very recently became the welcoming, green city that it is today. Twenty years ago the winding river Nervión, which cuts the city in half, was lined with factories, steel foundries and shipbuilding operations. Those industries have now spread to the city’s outskirts, leaving a beautiful cultural capital nestled in lush valley on Spain’s north coast with a surprising amount of life for its size.
Unlike the major European capitals, Bilbao is a very manageable size. With just under a million inhabitants, it is big enough to have thriving music and arts scenes, a variety of cultural events and some very innovative restaurants, but still small enough to be very connected to nearby mountains, coast and countryside. From the city center, you can be in the countryside in twenty minutes by bike, on one of Europe’s best surf beaches in a half hour by metro, and on the top of the mountain overlooking the city in two hours by foot.
Because of the Bilbao’s industrial history, it has also evolved to be one of Spain’s larger business centers. Throughout the recent economic downturn, the Basque Country has consistently maintained an unemployment rate half that of Spain. A number of large international businesses are headquartered here, including BBVA, Iberdrola, Tubacex CAF.