Bilbao BBK is one of Spain’s most loved festivals, but Brits don’t often go. Alongside a decent line-up of music and the opportunity to explore a fascinating part of Spain, the Basque Country, Bilbao BBK offers you the chance to party like a Spanish local.
Here are five things we loved about visiting the festival, which returns next year from 11 – 13 July 2024.
The weather serves up a properly dramatic festival setting
Bilbao gets a lot of rain – but it gets a lot of sun too. Over the course of the festival you’ll likely get a bit of a scorching but also a bit of a downpour. But the rain adds a dramatic layer to sets. With the festival taking place at the top of a mountain, downpours can feel biblical, especially with the city looming in the background. Don’t worry though: with the heat, the wet doesn’t last long. An hour after it rained this year we were back sitting on the grass again, which had gone bone dry. Even when it rains, it’s so warm that you don’t really care.
More than that, the festival has a brilliant atmosphere in general
The Spanish know how to party. What does that mean? It means the dancefloors, whether it be for DJs like the Chemical Brothers or bands like Arctic Monkeys, are full until 6am. And not just with the people who’ve partied so hard it looks like they’re on another planet, but with ordinary beer-drinking folks who just expect to stay up until 6am every night to have a good time. It can feel tiring if you have the British sensibility of going to bed way earlier than that – but you can always rest earlier one night if you need. The crowds are also never overly packed: for Arctic Monkeys, although the crowd was big, it was relatively easy to get a good spot, and even at the front you could dance well, without feeling packed in like sardines and like you’re about to be pushed over by someone ramming past you. Good vibes all round. (Don’t miss the opportunity to go for a beer at the main concreted food and drink area, which has a lovely view out over the city. Great if you need a break from the dancing.)
Bilbao is a fascinating city to explore
The festival takes place from 6pm to 6am so you’ve got plenty of daytime to visit the city. Top of the pile is the Guggenheim museum, which opened in 1997 and was part of a charge to nourish the city’s cultural landscape. It’s properly impressive, with the same curvatures and shapes you’ll recognise from the New York original in the architecture. Collections span 20th and 21st century artists, and there aren’t millions of pieces in each room, instead just one or two artworks so you’re never overwhelmed.
An immersive Richard Senna piece made out of cast iron that you can walk through on the ground floor is not to be missed. Then spend the day wandering along the river, notice the political protest signs demanding “freedom” from Spain – this is the Basque country, after all – and then take the funicular up to the gardens and wander back down to town on foot, ending up in the old town. Visit the Rio-Oja restaurant in the town centre for some properly local Basque food.
You can go to the beach during the day
The upside of the variable weather is that it’s sunny half the time! Ignore the miserable photos of the Bilbao beaches on Google: when the weather is good the beaches are glorious. The water’s a good temperature, and you’ll likely be the only non-locals taking a dip. They’re all sandy too, and there are good restaurants along the fronts of the beaches closest to town. The closest ones, like the Las Arenas beach, are about a 20 minute subway journey away, and the train costs just a few Euros. Walk to the far right at the Las Arenas beach and you’ll enter an intriguing labyrinth of local tapas restaurants and cute little bars where the quality is top notch. Daytimes sorted.
There’s a mix of fresh and classic acts
This year Arctic Monkeys, Florence and the Machine, Phoenix and Chemical Brothers played, but so did a raft of new talent. A stage as you first enter has new music all night long, and earlier in the night, more experimental and upcoming bands are given big spots on main stages. Oh, and there’s more than the music, too: art installations, yoga, and local traditional dancing all featured. Get to the festival earlier one day, by 6pm, to experience more of these attractions. (Also, arrive at the festival the Spanish way: get to the top of the mountain a few hours early, around 4pm, to enjoy a few drinks outside the gates, on the grass, where locals gather to enjoy the fantastic view ahead of the festival opening.)
Visit the Bilbao BBK website to learn more