Azkuna Zentroa ($$$)
Designer Philippe Starck transformed this wine warehouse into a cultural complex, now home to a public library, lecture hall and cinemas. Stroll among the atrium’s 43 unique pillars – watch out for the protruding talon – on your way to screenings from the 64th annual San Sebastian Film Festival (September 26 to October 2).
Kafe Antzokia ($)
Housed in a restored art deco cinema (red velvet drapes still hanging), this cultural centre is dedicated to preserving Basque culture. Bilbao Hiria, a Basque-language radio station, has its studios above the concert hall, where local expert Juan Antonio Urbeltz holds Urbeltzen Dantza Ganbara, a monthly folk-dance session (open to all).
Asador Etxebarri ($$$)
A 40-minute drive from Bilbao, Etxebarri offers a parade of ingredients from the region (squid and anchovies, wild mushrooms and white asparagus), most cooked over charcoal made daily in-house from oak, orange and olive wood. The highlight of the meal is the beef chop, a bone-in mainstay, perfectly rare with a rich crust.
Casa Julián ($)
In Tolosa (about an hour from Bilbao), chef Matías Gorrotxategi silently tends to thick T-bone steaks as a fire crackles beneath the corner grill, a few feet from diners. The dark red colour streaked with buttery fat is a hallmark of Basque beef, which comes from imported retired milkers, raised to the ripe (and deeply flavourful) old age of 16.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe ($)
The islet of Gaztelugatxe epitomizes the beauty of the region’s coast, battered by the green-blue Bay of Biscay. After a breezy 40-minute ride from Bilbao, hike across a narrow footbridge to reach this fairy-tale sight: a stout hermitage, with bright orange roof tiles and thick stone walls, dedicated to John the Baptist.
Santa Maria Josefa Eliza ($$$)
Completed in 2008, this modernist reinterpretation of classical church architecture swaps wooden beams and stone walls for gleaming steel and poured concrete. A visit during Mass highlights the architects’ most brilliant touch: a mosaic of cascading prisms, which fill the space with a rainbow of light.