Just a few blocks off Bilbao’s main Plaza Moyúa is one of the city’s most unique and surprising structures: the Azkuna Zentroa (formerly known as the Alhóndiga Bilbao). The multi-purpose venue marries culture and leisure, the past and the present, and is a free-to-enter stop you should definitely add to your list of things to do during your visit.
Indeed, the Azkuna Zentroa didn’t start out as such an innovative concept, but instead as a wine warehouse. Inaugurated in 1909, it was designed by Ricardo Bastida, and, come the 1970s, had an uncertain future, with proposals to turn it into public housing, a museum of modern art, and even to simply demolish it. But the structure had a more promising future in store: the Basque Government decided to declare it a “Public Property of Cultural Interest,” and henceforth it has become the center that you find today.
In its 43,000-square-foot interior designed by world-renowned French designer Philippe Starck, you’ll discover a host of different things to do, from a cinema to a gym, library and shops. To get a taste for local cuisine, even stop by the restaurant, Yandiola, where you can dine a la carte or sample via a preset menu. Wander the space’s column-filled ground floor (each column with its own design), and don’t forget to look up and admire the transparent rooftop pool, which can be seen from below.
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