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Extra day in Bilbao

The Best of Basque tour in 2022 ends in Bilbao, Spain. The tour spends a day and half there, with half a day for the Guggenheim. Does anyone recommend spending another day, post-tour there? If so, what would you visit or see that tour doesn't cover.
Also no need to go to San Sebastian for the day, the tour visits that stop.

Posted by
19161 posts

Are you on the "Basque Country of Spain and France in 9 Days" tour? The Guggenheim is rather large, as is the historic center (Casco Viejo). The walk between the two is nice if your legs aren't too tired. The Museum of Fine Arts was closed during my visit, so I have no idea how much time one might spend there. The transporter bridge at Getxo is close to Bilbao.

There are two excellent side-trips from Bilbao: Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of the interior Basque Province of Alava, and the seaside town of Bermeo. Both are accessible by public transportation.

In addition, the train between Bilbao and San Sebastian (which I realize you will have seen) is very slow but runs through very nice countryside. A bus back would be faster than returning by train.

Posted by
5078 posts

The old town is marvelous, and on our trip back in 2013, we visited the Guggenheim the day we arrived by train from Madrid. We stayed in the Bilbao old town that night, before picking up our rental car and heading east, to San Sebastián and elsewhere. The old town was worth more exploring, but we needed dinner and wee scheduled to head out early the next day. Having one additional day further just for Bilbao would’ve been preferable, in retrospect, except our schedule didn’t give us 2 Bilbao days. If you can get more than just 1/2 day, Bilbao will reward you if you linger another day or two.

Posted by
270 posts

As Cyn said the old town is great for wandering and eating more pinxto! There’s also a market if your into that.

Posted by
3981 posts

There is a small Basque museum in Bilbao, practically free.

Posted by
159 posts

As a Bilbao local, I´d recommend one extra day to visit the funicular (106 year old) to the top of Artxanda hill for the best view of the city (surrounded by mountains, in a valley), also a quick side trip on the metro (clean, fast, reliable) to the Hanging Bridge (Puente Colgante, in Getxo), a working UNESCO World Heritage Monument), and if you continue on that same metro line (we have only 3) you would reach beautiful and unspoilt Plentzia, by the sea. You´ll most likely visit the old town and the Ribera market, but do not miss the "other side of the river", Bilbao La Vieja (Bilbao the old), a former mining area and now a lively "soho like" area.

The Fine Arts Museum is the only one in the world that covers from Romanesque to modern times in the same museum at the same time, well worth the visit. Exhibitions are ordered from A-Z, but each letter is a different topic, so you will find all kind of art belonging to different times in the same room.

Pretty much the same pintxos atmosphere and food you can enjoy in San Sebastian.

Posted by
11266 posts

In addition the Fine Arts Museum, I loved the Museum of Artistic Reproductions. If you like sculpture, this is a must. I second the recommendation of the Puente Colgante connecting Getxo and Portugalete, particularly if you have any interest in engineering. And Bilbao's Old Town is definitely larger and more interesting than the more touted one in San Sebastian.

Here's my trip report from a few years ago, which may give you more ideas; just skip the parts (like hotels) that aren't relevant for you. As you will see, I didn't have a great time in the Basque country, but Bilbao was an exception, and I also enjoyed my time in Vitoria. And, I predicted that I would have enjoyed Rick's tour of the area better than I did seeing it on my own. And, my trip got better as it went along. All this is to say, don't be discouraged by the first part of the report, which is negative; it gets better.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/basque-country-trip-report-bayonne-san-sebastian-vitoria-gasteiz-and-bilbao-may-2017

Posted by
222 posts

Harold:
What a GREAT review of your trip! Very detailed. You document the good and the bad and I like that you include your feelings, impressions and opinions of the places you visited. We have a similar writing style. I appreciated your review of Bilbao and it brought up a good point. What day was I going to be in Bilbao? The RS tour ends on 10/1, a Saturday. If I extended it one day to a Sunday, I'm guessing sites may be closed, so that would be a minus for extending my Bilbao stay.
I'm now thinking that when the RS tour ends, we should fly on to Barcelona and spend the time there. I've been to Barcelona before, so I know I can fill the time with sites I didn't get to visit last time. Thank you again for such a detailed report from 2017.

Posted by
11266 posts

Derek,

I'm glad my report was of help.

At least when I was there, it was Monday that was the problem day in Bilbao and Vitoria, not Sunday. My last day was a Sunday, and that was the day I went to the Museum of Fine Arts. I don't remember anything being closed except stores (even the big department store, El Corte Ingles, is closed in Bilbao on Sundays, as are smaller stores). The fish, meat and produce vendors in the main Bilbao market are closed on Sunday, but the pintxo places are open for both lunch and dinner.

You may be remembering my mention that the botanic gardens in Bayonne are closed on Sundays, but that won't apply to you. So, if you do find things you want to do in Bilbao and the region, just check the current Sunday hours; with Covid, I expect that all kinds of places will have different hours from my 2017 visit.

Posted by
159 posts

Sundays are very lively in Bilbao. Stores and banks are closed, but all the rest of places are open. It´s a fantastic day to enjoy the great atmosphere of the "aperitivo" or "vermouth" (not yours, ours is much softer, no gin on it), that means families meeting around 1pm for some wine and pintxos before lunch time (yes, pintxos are never a meal for us). On Sundays it´s rare to have lunch before 3pm, it´s the day to meet people and to stay on the streets. As previous poster has said, Monday is the day when many bars and restaurants close, not Sunday.

Posted by
159 posts

I´ve just read your report on your Basque trip, Harold, one of the best I´ve ever read in my all these years posting in travel pages.

Sorry you had problems with pintxos, and that you ended in the "touristy" part of the market, where locals hardly ever go. Pintxos are part of our culture, but never as a meal. They are a way of having something to eat while drinking, standing and not seating. We love to do "bar-hopping", spending probably a maximum of 10 to 15min per bar, and then moving on to the next. And we like to have, maybe, a pintxo at each. But only one. And then we go home for lunch or dinner, it´s always a pre-meal thing. Hard to explain to visitors when they see the counters full of pintxos and they are hungry!! Also, pintxos tend to be different in each bar, as most places have their distinctive creations to attract customers.

Just for info, in the Basque Country places shut down on Sundays to protect small businesses from the big names. Family run shops cannot open every day of the week, while the big ones can contract anybody any time. There are 6 days to shop out of 7, fair enough.

Again, thanks. By the way, I live just a 15´ walk from the Puente Colgante (which is located in Getxo and Portugalete, not in Bilbao, and easiy accessible on the metro).

Posted by
3981 posts

@ mike. I'm glad you commented on Harold's report. It is, indeed, helpful! Hopefully, I will be visiting the area in a few months.

Posted by
1621 posts

Great thread and a great trip report (thank you Harold)! We were just confirmed on this tour for 2022 so we really appreciate the information!