Had I known Bilbao was such a rainy city, I might have ended up here five years ago on my first trip to Spain. Due to Bilbao’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, it has a temperate climate, never too hot or too cold.
I am a definite lover of rain and was overjoyed to experience the rain on and off, sometimes as a sprinkle and other times as a downpour, between moments of sunshine, fog, or clouds.
When most people think of Spain, they think of hot sunny days, beaches, sangria, paella, and tapas. Although Bilbao has elements of those things, it is a different kind of Spain.
Due to the significant and persistent rain, the traditional residential Bilbao architecture often consists of windowed balconies for rainy moments beside open-air balconies for those sporadic sunny times. Ever social, bilbaínos can move between closed-in and open terraces while enjoying their morning coffee or evening drink without missing a beat.
Once an industrial town, Bilbao has experienced tremendous growth and transformation since the re-urbanization of the river waterfront and the opening of the Guggenheim Museum. Along with various other museums, galleries, sites, and excellent dining and accommodation, Bilbao offers a unique Spanish destination.
The creation of the Guggenheim Museum, designed by famous architect Frank Gehry, has long been considered one of the most critical additions aiding in the evolution of Bilbao.
Revered by scholars, architects, and tourists alike, this magnificent building is breathtaking and impressive. If you have time, be sure to spend hours basking in the architectural brilliance and modern art inside, but also take a riverboat ride to marvel at the outside of this unbelievable structure.
Filled with permanent and short-term works of art and installations, the projects on display at the Guggenheim will challenge your senses, perceptions, beliefs, and amazement for what is possible and how the artistic mind creates and provides commentary on culture.
Guggenheim museum Abandoibarra Etorb, 2
If you are not a beach-type tourist, Bilbao and the Basque country would be an excellent destination any time of year.
Most Spanish people in larger cities where tourism plays an essential economic role are very kind and friendly, and Bilbao was no exception. I was traveling with a fellow blogger, and many restaurant owners and staff warmly welcomed us.
With laser-like focus, we visited several vegan and vegan option establishments on our short trip.
Whereas other parts of Spain pride themselves on a healthy selection of tapas, the Basque region will have you try pintxos.
Similar to tapas, pintxos are usually smaller in portion size and can range from sandwiches and deep-fried fare to bread stacked with different offerings.
My tour guide informed me that the best pintxos market stalls or restaurants in Bilbao distinguish themselves by specializing in different types of pintxos. If it’s seafood you’re after, Mercado del la Ribera is the place to go, whereas meat or poultry pintxos are better in other areas of town.
Green Bistrot Calle Juan Ajuriaguerra Kalea,13
Not to be left out, Green Bistrot offers a fantastic selection of vegan and vegetarian pintxos from early morning to late at night. Super busy with seating upstairs, downstairs, and high tops outside, this restaurant is a weekend hot spot.
I enjoyed this place so much that I returned alone after a long walk one morning and found the bocadillo pintxos and a cafe latte super tasty.
Green Bistrot made me want to open a similar place with long service hours, fast, good food, and a fun casual vibe. I can’t wait to bring my husband and son here one day for the faux duck rolls, deep-fried artichokes, croquettes, and the tasty Heura and seitan sandwiches.
La Camelia Vegan Bar Villarias Kalea 3
This delightful eatery is just up from the river and artisan markets. This place offers a variety of delicious dishes including salads, sandwiches, soups, and sushi. They also make their own seitan and vegan cheese in-house – so amazing!
TXU KRUT Vegan Bar San Frantzisko Kalea, 25
This delightful eatery is just up from the river and artisan markets. This place offers a variety of delicious dishes, including salads, sandwiches, soups, and sushi. They also make their own seitan and vegan cheese in-house – so amazing!
This restaurant was charming and eclectic. Owned by the same people who own La Camelia, this restaurant gave me vintage West Coast vibes, and I expected vegan burgers, maybe Tex-Mex fare.
However, the food served was beautiful and flavorful dishes that would make just as much sense in a more upscale, decorative environment. We had homemade seitan in a demi glaze with autumn vegetables alongside a sumptuous vegetable lasagna in a rich tomato sauce.
Located within walking distance to La Camelia – the local vegans sure are a lucky bunch. If I lived in Bilbao, I would dine in or order from these two restaurants for casual meals and special events weekly.
As is my traveling custom, I took a walking tour with a friendly, knowledgeable local who explained everything from the history, architecture, language, daily life, and habits of bilbaínos. I highly recommend booking a private or group walking tour or joining the free walking tours that meet at the Teatro Arriaga (Theatre.)
Although my trip was short, I will plan a more extended trip with my family. We could easily spend two weeks in Bilbao, San Sebastian, and the surrounding area.
Thankfully, this trip involved a lot of great vegan restaurants, artisan market shopping, and cozy accommodation. There are many great hotels, Airbnbs, and backpackers throughout Bilbao, but if you are interested in staying in the old town area, I highly recommend the Basque Boutique.
Great location, professional staff, clean and artistically decorated; this small hotel offers a good night’s sleep. Each room is equipped with an ensuite washroom and a flat-screen TV.
Basque Boutique Dorre Kalea 2
Bilbao really resonated with me. If Bilbao were a person, we would be besties. The rain, landscapes, architecture, art, food, and people felt like a giant box of almost everything that delights me in life.
If I were single, I could see myself moving to this city with nothing and being completely inspired to try my hand at personal transformation – just like the city once did and continues to do.
Maybe it’s the well-executed urban planning in the shadows of the colossal feats of the Guggenheim or the deep foundations of varied types of industrialism. Still, Bilbao feels like a town where art, math, and science collide.
It seems like many engineers live here or at least pass through here for one reason or another on business, for conferences, or out of curiosity.
Bilbao feels like the perfect place to think…
The vast achievements and endless rain give one the perfect backdrop and nowhere better to be than hard at work on something extraordinary. If my son ever wanted to go to university in Bilbao, I would be thrilled and, much to his dismay, visit way too often.