The Best of Bilbao: Santiago Cathedral

A short ride from the Guggenheim museum on the MetroBilbao light rail will take you to old town (Casco Viejo) Bilbao. The area here is full of narrow streets, unique shopping, and historic churches. Buried in the middle of Casco Viejo is one of the best historic sites Bilbao has to offer: Santiago Cathedral.

the walk towards Santiago Cathedral
the walk towards Santiago Cathedral

This Catholic cathedral dates back to the 1300’s, and is the oldest church within Bilbao. Architecture buffs will appreciate the mix of styles that went into the design, although the building is primarily Gothic – i.e. Notre-Dame-looking.

Although much smaller, the Santiago has some features in common with the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, most notably the main entry portal (peaked front door) and circular, center-stage stained glass windows. The peaked doors are featured throughout the church, as is the stained glass.

front fascade of the Santiago Cathedral
front fascade of the Santiago Cathedral

The Santiago also features flying buttresses at the opposite side of the building from the main entry – just like Notre Dame. These give you an idea of the size of Santiago. The buttresses at Santiago span only about 20 feet, versus the 50 foot span at Notre Dame.

The two cathedrals were completed in the same century, which helps makes sense of the similarities.

In contrast to Notre Dame, the Santiago features an inner courtyard, filled with greenery and often lined with pots of colorful flowers around the edges.If you exit the MetroBilbao at the Arriaga station, you’ll wind through a couple of narrow streets before finding the Cathedral. Be sure to check out Done Jakue Plazatxoa; a small outdoor café on the terrace just outside the main Cathedral entrance and spire. It’s a perfect spot to grab a drink and a bite to eat.

The keepers of Santiago Cathedral host one-hour tours Monday through Friday at 11:00 AM and 5:00 PM. Weekend tours are also available on request.

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