This grand 1920’s palace overlooking Moyou Plaza is the crème de le crème of old-world luxury in Bilbao. Its historic reputation precedes the landmark property, but the hotel has done a good job to still capture the timeless splendor of staying here while providing the modern comforts of a contemporary hotel. Located at the epicenter of the city, the hotel is an easy commute to all of the attractions and it houses a tasteful restaurant, enchanting lounge spaces, and comes at a reasonable price for such a property.
The first thing you’ll notice about any of the 145 rooms of the hotel is the sheer amount of space; even standard rooms have their own little lounge areas. A recent renovation changed the rooms from old-fashioned to a more contemporary blend of classic and modern, with clean lines, cool lighting, and shiny accents. All rooms come with new flat screen TVs, Nespresso machines, AC, and free Wi-fi.
The Imperial Suite is the largest suite in the entire Basque Country, bathed in aristocratic grandeur, and has its own private terrace overlooking Moyou Plaza.
Bathrooms are clad in either supple marble or chic stone tile depending on the room and come with double sinks, big vanity mirrors, and inviting bathtubs.
Suites will get you a bigger Jacuzzi style tub to soak in.
Passing through the doors of The Carlton’s magnificent Beaux Arts façade is like stepping into a time portal into the high-life of the 20’s. The dome stained-glass roof of the central hall shimmers light into a palatial salon with enchanting alcoves and halls branching out from it lounge within. It is enthralling to know you are walking through the same halls that have seen the likes of such figures as Ernest Hemingway, Lauren Bacall, and Albert Einstein just to name a few.
On the first floor is a roomy fitness room, by hotel standards, with a standard array of cardio equipment, free weights, and strength machines.
There is a nifty steam room adjacent to the gym that makes for a great post-workout recovery.
Within a charming banquet hall is Restaurante Artagan, the hotel’s freshly redesigned fine dining establishment with creative Basque cuisine with mostly set menus but a la carte on the weekends. The prices are much more affordable than your typical five-star hotel restaurant. But unless you’re in a crunch we would recommend going out on the town for dinner over here.
If you’re here between July and September, skip the restaurant and head to the spectacular rooftop terrace of the hotel. Guests can have drinks, lunch, dinner, or smaller snacks up here while taking in the busy plaza below.
Bar El Grill might be our favorite public space in the hotel. With patterned marble floors, purple accents, velvet furniture, and an oak bar, this lounge is straight out of the Années folles. Guests can have a coffee here during the day, pintxos in the afternoon, and well-made cocktails by night.
Another wonderful place to have a drink is the Bunker Private Bar, an English-style speakeasy under the hotel, bathed in red with impeccable charm tucked away on the ground floor of the hotel.
The central location in Bilbao and its immediate proximity to the subway station makes getting around by foot a cinch. If you’re arriving by car, the hotel has its own private parking for a nightly fee. Otherwise it is a pretty manageable walk (or quick metro) from both the bus and train stations.
Just down the street towards the Bizkaia Delegation Palace are two sensational pintxo bars, La Viña del Ensanche (4-minute walk) and El Globo (4-minute walk). A well-to-do crowd can always be found hanging around here in the early evenings snacking and drinking out on the terraces.
After a visit to the Guggenheim, make sure to dine at Bistró, one of the museum’s restaurants. It’s sister restaurant inside the museum has the Michelin star but we prefer the views from the terrace at Bistró and the creative Basque gastronomy is equally good.
Calle Ledesma (7-minute walk) is a pedestrian-only promenade that is one of the most popular streets in town. An after-work clientele fills the street in the afternoon and a younger, more vibrant mix of locals and tourists patrol the various pintxo bars by night. Bar Iruña (8-minute walk) is a historic staple here worth the visit for its century-old Moorish design.
For something strong after a trip to the museums, Residence Café (8-minute walk) is a classic British-style pub with a great selection of scotch.
WHY WE LIKE IT
While post-Guggenheim Bilbao is renowned for its avant-garde modernism, Hotel Carlton still offers the quintessential classical European elegance complete with a stately staff that knows the city inside and out. The location is great, the rooms are big, and you truly feel like a piece of the city’s history staying here.