The Best Things To Do On A Rainy Day In Bilbao

January 5, 2019
Casco Viejo, Bilbao Spain

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring: A Rainy Day in Bilbao, Spain

At first TripAdvisor glance, it may seem like there isn’t much to do in Bilbao, Spain. The city has the Office of Tourism as their #3 must-see attraction on TripAdvisor, so even the slightest bit of rain can conceivably put a damper on the already limited things to see in and near Bilbao.  Well, I am hear to tell you that there are actually a plethora of things to do on a rainy day in Bilbao; I was in Bilbao for four days and between all of the phenomenal day trips to Portugalete/Getxo and San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (Dragonstone) plus an annual festival called Semana Grande, I could barely fit in all the popular Bilbao attractions and pintxos bars. Seriously, I almost missed my bus to Oviedo on my last day in the Basque Country because I was rushing to get to the top of the funicular for a beautiful overview of Bilbao. While the rain does put limitations on some of these experiences, there are still so many things to do when it is raining in Bilbao that you won’t help but fall in love with the city even if you are drenched by the end of it.

Bilbao funicular

Bilbao Weather

Bilbao is located in the northern part of Spain in the Basque region. The city has on average 128 precipitation days a year and is characterized by milder temperatures in the summer as compared to the rest of the country. Yes, it does rain a lot, but the mountain landscape with sprawling greenery will shock even the most experienced Spain travelers.

What To Do on a Rainy Day in Bilbao

Maman at the Guggenheim Bilbao

1. Guggenheim Museum

There are some museums, like the Guggenheim, that should simply not be missed. As someone who generally gets quite bored staring at pieces of art, I am happy to report that I not only spent too much time here, but also found the exhibitions absolutely mesmerizing. I was fortunate enough to see the Brazilian artist Joana Vasconcelos and an exhibit of Chagall paintings in his breakthrough years, 1911-1919, both of which absolutely blew my mind. I mean…learning about impressionism, pointillism, and cubism were the best parts of 3rd grade, am I right? Now, these particular exhibitions do change, but I did enjoy much of the permanent exhibition with featured artists like Richter and Warhol as well. And, of course, the actual building itself is an architectural masterpiece created by American architect, Frank Gehry. The museum is on such another level that there are even works of art outside of the actual building like Jeff Koons’ Puppy and Louise Bourgeois’ Maman that will give you the chills. General tickets are 16 euro and lines can get ridiculously long, so make sure you arrive prior to the museum’s opening or later in the day when crowds have dissipated. Just make sure you leave enough time to see everything! 

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

2. Museo de Bellas Artes 

I would be remiss if I did not include the Fine Arts Museum as a potential attraction for a rainy day in Bilbao — especially if it is a Monday when the Guggenheim is closed. Fine art isn’t exactly my cup of tea (I’m selling it really well here I know), but the museum does contain works by local artists as well as  the Spanish greats like Francisco de Goya, El Greco, and Gaugain. The museum recently reopened with 31 rooms, one for each letter of the Basque alphabet. Each letter stand for a theme around which the collection is ordered. For example, P stands for Portraits, so you will see a collection of portraits in that room from the Middle Ages to contemporary.  It costs 10 euro for a general ticket.

Pintxos at La Ribera market

3. Take a Food Tour in Bilbao

The Basque country is famous for their food and more specifically, pintxos culture. Besides a visit to the Guggenheim, the culinary phenomenon aka pintxos is probably the most important reason to come to Bilbao. To do it right, why not splurge on a food tour and try some of the most innovative pintxos from bars with some of the highest accolades in the city. The best part is that most of the bars will be localized in Casco Viejo, the Old Town, so you won’t have to walk too far in the rain. You will spend the rest of the time indoors trying a pintxo or two at each place and perhaps a glass or two of txakoli, the Basque Country’s homegrown white wine. Here are some popular food tours in Bilbao for you to choose from:

Bilbao: Guided Pintxos Tour

Bilbao Food Tours

The Best of Basque Food & Wine Tour

txakoli white wine

4. La Ribera Market

When my hostel-mates recommended that we go to La Ribera Market for dinner, I was a bit hesitant. The market’s interior and exterior architecture was so beautiful, I expected the pintxos to be overpriced — similar to what you would find at markets like Mercado San Miguel in Madrid. Luckily, my initial judgement was off-base. Not only can you sit on tables alongside the river, but the pintxos were actually quite reasonably priced. La Ribera Market would be the perfect spot for a rainy day in Bilbao because you can get a glass of wine or beer at each of the different stands along with a pintxo or two and watch the rain pour along the river. The upper story of the market is dedicated to a market filled with produce, fish, and raw meats, so it is worth it to take a stroll upstairs too. Just keep in mind that while it may be the biggest indoor market in Europe, there are better markets out there in terms of products and display; the real highlight at La Ribera Market are the pintxos stands on the first floor.

rainy day in Bilbao

5. Catedral de Santiago

I have a severe case of cathedral fatigue — def: visiting so many cathedrals in Europe over your lifetime that they all blend together and even the most ornate and detailed architecture seems ordinary. However, if it does happen to be raining outside, a stop at the Bilbao Catedral might be worth your while (especially if you have not yet been diagnosed with c.f.). The cathedral is centrally located in Casco Viejo; so, if you prefer to spend most of your day cozying up in your hotel, but still feel like a being a productive tourist, you can check off a historical sight or two in about 30 minutes to one hour. It does cost 5 euros to go into the cathedral and that also includes a ticket to visit the nearby San Anton church. If you want to avoid the fee, come when a service is beginning and have a quick look around. The gothic cathedral was built in the 15th century but has since been restored from a fire in 1571. Highlights include a cloister with gargoyles positioned on the walls above.

Burgos cathedral

6. Day Trip to Burgos, Logroño, or Pamplona

You can pretty much guarantee that if it is raining in Bilbao, it will be raining in other popular Basque cities as well like San Sebastian, San Juan, Portugalete, and Santander. That is why it may be worth looking a little farther out for a Bilbao day trip. All of these suggested cities are between 1.5 and 2.5 hours away, and if you leave on an early bus or train, you will have plenty of time to explore each town’s city center. To determine the quickest and cheapest way to get to any one of these cities, I recommend using the search feature on GoEuro. Just put in Bilbao and your desired destination, and GoEuro breaks down your transportation options (bus, train, plane, and blablacar) by time and duration.

Burgos, the capital city of Castile-Leon, is known for its medieval architecture and the city’s key attraction, the French Gothic Cathedral of Saint Mary. Believe me when I say, it’s a stunner. Logroño is the capital of the Rioja wine region. Wine is cheaper than tapas and the quality is some of the best in the world. There are many different tours and tastings you can book nearby, just make sure to do so in advance if you are an English speaker because most tours are done in Spanish. If tours for the day happen to be booked, don’t despair because Logroño is known for two streets Calle del Laurel and Calle San Juan, where you will embark on the ultimate pinchos crawl. Many bars only serve one pincho, but they serve it well. Pamplona is the capital city of the autonomous community, Navarra. Truth be told, I have only been in Pamplona for San Fermin (Running of the Bulls –read that crazy story here) which as you can imagine is an entirely different atmosphere; but, I imagine the city would be a great day trip and much less crowded and hectic than it was when I visited.

la rioja wine

7. Wine Tours from Bilbao 

What better way is there to avoid the rain, then going on a tasting and tour of various wineries! Basque Country is located just north of La Rioja, Spain’s premiere wine making region. Consequently, there are plenty of tour options available in which you can take a coach from Bilbao and explore various wine centers like Vitoria (Basque Country) and Laguardia (La Rioja). You’ll forget all about the rain a couple of tastings into the day. Your guide will share lots of historical information on the regions, so all in all, a perfect combination of drinking and education. 

Vitoria & Rioja Day Tour from Bilbao

Essential Rioja Private Wine Tour from Bilbao

market in Bilbao

8. Pintxos Cooking Class

At a popular Pintos joint, elbowing your way to the front of the bar to get your hands on that coveted pintxo can be like trying to get that tv from Best Buy on Black Friday in the USA. If you are over the struggle, then perhaps you would like being a bit more hands on with your dinner. You could always opt for participating in a cooking class if it is raining in Bilbao. You’ll have to look into the specific company’s offering, but some classes make a pit stop at a local market to pick up goods for dinner while others are hosted in a local’s home well away from the crowded bars.

Please be careful when booking to make sure the class is in Bilbao. Many tours are titled “Basque Cooking Class” but they are based in nearby Basque city, San Sebastian. Check the details in the description!

Bilbao: Basque Cooking Lesson

Private Pintxo Cooking Class

tortilla española at Baster

9. DIY Pintxos Crawl in Casco Viejo

For those who are more budget-conscious, why not create your own Do-It-Yourself food tour in the Old Town area of Bilbao. You can ask for recommendations from the concierge or host at your accommodation, check TripAdvisor, scour the web via a “best pintxos bars in Casco Viejo Bilbao” Google search, or ask locals for some tips. I will personally add Baster to the DIY list; this pintxos bar in Casco Viejo was recommended to me by my hostel manager. Baster, known for their excellent vermouth cocktaildoes a tortilla espanola happy hour for 2.20 euro that is delicious. Other recommended spots include Gure Toki (Michelin Star!) and Café Iruña.

Cafe Iruna Bilbao

10. Enjoy a Tasting Menu at a Michelin Star Restaurant

At the time of posting, Bilbao is home to 22 Michelin star restaurants! Options abound for quality eats and on a rainy day in Bilbao, sitting down with a multi-course tasting menu sounds heavenly. Mina, for example, is a Michelin Star restaurant housed above a former mine (mina). The restaurant has a choice between three different tasting menus, a full 14-course menu, 10-course, and a light tasting menu for reasonable prices (Michelin-Star speaking). Other Michelin Star restaurants  like Zortziko, a bit more of a splurge, have a set menu as well. You can browse all 22 restaurant options here and choose where you would most like to visit based on price and cuisine!

Have you been caught in the rain before while visiting Bilbao, Spain? What did you do to stay dry all the while enjoying your time in the city? Please share in the comments below!

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Looking for an awesome travel cookbook so you can recreate what you ate at home?

1. Basque Country: A Culinary Journey Through a Food Lover’s Paradise