Bilbao Spain | A Quick Day Trip From La Rioja Or San Sebastian
Are you planning to be in San Sebastian or La Rioja doing some wine touring? If you have enough time I can’t recommend a day trip to Bilbao in the Basque region enough. I did two separate day trips to Bilbao and pretty much did the same thing both times. I do plan on returning and staying longer next time but a day trip is definitely worth it if you are short on time.
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Here is an old photo in front of the Guggenheim from when I first visited Bilbao in 2011
My cuñada (or sister-in-law in Spanish as I prefer to call her) and I went for a weekend trip up to Northern Spain last December. You can read about it here. We had some winery tours in La Rioja arranged but she had never been to Bilbao before and asked if I was interested in going for the day. A few hours at the Guggenheim Bilbao, eating Basque pintxos, and explore a bit? Obviously, I said yes!
The drive is about an hour and a half from Laguardia, where we were staying in the La Rioja region. As we ventured north, we started seeing snow on the tops of mountains and could tell that the temperature was dropping. It was cold!!! As we arrived in Bilbao something about the city reminded us of Vancouver. Perhaps it was the port city surrounded by mountains and the grey weather but it has a similar vibe!
We circled for parking for quite some time. It was a Saturday and a long weekend so perhaps it was extra busy. We ended up parking in a mall because we tried other parking garages and they were all full. We went straight to Museo Guggenheim and explored the museum. I had been there before but I wanted to see if much had changed or if there were any new exhibitions. I do recall seeing a Jackson Pollock in 2011 that was no longer there.
- 4-Days tour Northern Spain
- 5-Day Spain Tour: Basque Country from Madrid
- 8-Day Spain Tour: Northern Spain and Galicia from Madrid
- North of Spain
Read more here: La Rioja Weekend: A Weekend of Wine, Architecture & Culture In Northern Spain
From a distance you can see Frank Gehry's architecture while you're driving so, you can't miss it. We walked to the museum from our parking spot which was only a few minutes. There was a bit of a line for admission since it was a weekend and holiday but nothing too long. We both paid 16 Euros each to get in and it included headphones for an audio guide. Check here for prices since admission is different depending on the date.
I am a huge museum nerd and usually, I like to go alone so I can go at my own pace but since I had already been to the Guggenheim Bilbao, I didn't mind making a shorter visit with my sister-in-law. I am enjoying travel with companions these days rather than being solo so I can make some exceptions hahaha!
In front of Jeff Koons Topiary Puppy outside of the Museo. Photo by my Cuñada
Louise Bourgeois' "Maman" and Daniel Buren's "L'arc rouge" on the Salve Bridge
Tall Tree & The Eye by Anish Kapoor (who did Cloudgate in Chicago)
Tulips by Jeff Koons (I've also shot this at the Broad in LA!)
A Jenny Holzer installation & Cuñada
The Matter of Time by Richard Serra
After the Guggenheim, we decided to look for food. We were starving! Travelling with my cuñada is great because we have a general idea of what we want to do but we play a lot by ear. I didn't really seek out anything specific other than going to the museum for Bilbao so we just popped into places that were open because 1) it was a bank holiday and lots were closed 2) it was raining and cold. We popped into a place called Gredos and the service was good and the food, tasty.
Enjoying the Basque pintxos
I may have found a mirror in the middle of Bilbao for a selfie
One of the best things about travel is random discoveries. It was cold as we walked around Bilbao so we decided we needed to warm up with some coffee and tea and perhaps a snack. We peered in the window of a panadería (bakery) and it looked good so we went in. We ended up ordering two slices of cake (one caramel and one pistachio, both amazing) to share. I searched Bertiz bakery and discovered they had a few in Madrid but a ton in the Basque region.
Dos rebanadas de pastel
Day trips are never enough when you like a place. I have never set aside more time for Bilbao but after two separate day trips, I definitely want to. It's the biggest city in the Basque region and I know there are amazing galleries and restaurants there! So here's hoping for another future adventure!
Have you ever been to Bilbao? What did you do there?