If I’m offered a drink, I’m looking around for a snack. I simply hate knocking back the booze on an empty stomach. Why in England is a measly bag of crisps or pork scratchings deemed an extravagance? For me the perfect bar crawl involves eating and drinking in equal measure. Which is why my heart and stomach fell so deeply for Bilbao, a city that embraces the art of picoteo or ‘bar crawling with intent to snack’.
For foodies that hate to share their carefully sought out culinary treats, pintxos win hands-down. These tasty bite-sized mouthfuls on sticks or bread topped with anything from crispy seafood to tortilla de patatas hit the spot every time.
Although you can find good pintxos anywhere in Bilbao, one of the most atmospheric places to wander is the busy narrow old town streets of the Casco Viejo. Commonly known as ‘Siete Calles’ or ‘Zazpi Kaleak’ in Basque, these seven streets formed the original medieval town and it’s here you can sample some of the best pintxos in the Bizkaia capital.
Most of the bars have been running for decades, and it’s best not to plan too much, just wander until you find a packed one and elbow your way to the bar and get stuck in! Open until the early hours of the morning, start at the Plaza Nueva and work your way round, then out into the warren-like alleyways of shops, bakeries and pintxos bars of the Casco Viejo.
Don’t miss Gure Toki (c/ Plaza Nueva), which offers traditional pintxos with a modern twist "haute cuisine in miniature” such as grilled foie with apple and Pedro Ximenez sherry and soft shell crab. Always rammed but worth it for the friendly, attentive staff and good vibes.
And our other favourite bar, El Sacacorches (c/Henao Kalea, 28), serves a great selection of fine wines and the best gildas in town. Great atmosphere with friendly locals – best to visit late afternoon or early evening.
Another place to sample a wide variety of pintxos is the Mercado de la Ribera, to the south of Casco Viejo, next to the river and by the Bridge of San Anton. The largest covered market in Europe, the small bars inside the food hall offer pinxtos that have all been prepared using fresh ingredients from the market stalls. Although there has been a market in the same location since the 14th century, the stunning art-deco style Ribera market was built in 1929 by the architect Pedro Ispizua and was very modern for its time.
Top picks of pintxos bars in Casco Viejo
Gure Toki, Plaza Nueva
Bar La Olla, Plaza Nueva
Bar Charly, Plaza Nueva
Bar el Berton, Calle Jardines 11
Irrintzi, Calle Santamaria 9