There’s a famous quote attributed to Ernest Hemingway that goes like this:
“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”
Bilbao has a home for the first real sport at Vista Alegre bullring.
Vista Alegre is just west of the downtown area. The place is about the same size as a U.S. arena for an NBA basketball game, holding about 15,000 people. The best time to catch an event here is the last two weeks of August during the Corridas Generales festival, although events are held year-round.
For most visitors, a bullfight is a new experience that should not be taken lightly. There are some important things to know before you decide to head into your first bullfight in Bilbao:
- Most bullfights, by design, are bloody. The object of the sport is to kill the bull. Know this going in.
- However, some bullfights are, by design, not bloody– see point 6.
- The typical Spanish bullfight has three matadors (the guys with the gold capes), and six bulls. As the math works out, each matador fights two bulls.
- In Spain, bullfighting is treated with high respect. It’s like a piece of art. It could be described as a ritual as much as it is a sport. It’s a core part of the culture.
- The typical bullfight has three distinct stages – sort of like a hockey game has three periods. The first period is just getting to know the bull. The matador watches the bull’s speed, and how it behaves running around the ring. In the second period, there are guys assisting the matador. These guys stab the bull with sharp sticks, with the intent of slowing the bull down a bit. In the third period, the famous red cape comes out. The cape is used to get the bull in the best position to kill with a sword.
- You might get to see a form of bullfighting called Recortes. Here, the bull is not injured, and goes home alive and well. In Recortes, the bullfighter basically does a gymnastics routine near, around, and over the bull. You’ll actually see the bullfighter jump over the bull, like someone jumping over an oncoming car.
- Sometimes, the matador is injured, but not very often. The bullring has a chapel with a priest just incase anything goes wrong for the matador.
If you can’t make it to the Vista Alegre bullring in person, have no worries. In the months of July and August, you will find bullfights on TV in Spain almost 24 hours a day. It’s like ESPN just for bullfights.
Bilbao also is home to the Bilbao Bullfighting Museum. Here you’ll find historical bullfighting posters, costume examples, and the actual heads from famous bulls of the past. You’ll find that the sport of bullfighting goes back hundreds of years.
The Bullfighting Museum is accessible on the BilbaoMetro, just off the Indautxu station. Museum hours are March to December from 10:00 AM to 1:30 PM, and 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM. Hours are shortened in January and February to just 10:00 AM to 1:30 PM. Admission to the museum is a modest 1.20€ ($1.50 U.S.).