Photo by Vinoth Chandar.

When we dream about our vacations, most of us visualize ourselves basking in endless days of sunshine as we go about the activities we’ve planned: taking long, leisurely strolls in a new city; spending carefree days lounging on the beach; and enjoying relaxing cups of coffee at sidewalk cafes. So, it’s only natural to feel resentful and a little depressed when you check the weather forecast and see that rain is predicted for large chunks of your holiday. Great.

However, I don’t think bad weather needs to ruin your vacation. Yes, rain can derail the best-laid travel plans, but it also forces you to step out of the tourist mindset and find other things to do – things which might give you a greater insight into the local way of life. Also, despite the idealized notion of frolicking in the sun that I described above, I think the reality is that a lot of us tend to over-schedule our vacations (we don’t want to miss seeing anything important, after all), so rain can actually be a good way of forcing us to stop bolting from one sight to the next and just relax.

With that in mind, how can you while away the hours when the weather refuses to cooperate? Here are 17 ideas for how to spend a rainy day:

1. Do something where you were going to get wet anyway. So you’d been planning to go to the beach? Go anyway – as long as the water is a manageable temperature, swimming in the rain is actually a really fun experience.

2. Hop on a bus tour. You know those double-decker buses that often do the rounds in major cities so tourists can sightsee in comfort? Even if you’re not the kind of person that would normally jump on tour like this, when it’s raining, a bus tour can be a good way to take in the city without getting drenched.

3. See a movie. These days, many foreign cinemas will show Hollywood blockbusters in the original format with local language subtitles and occasionally you can find local movies accompanied by English subtitles. Hotels and expat magazines or websites can usually point you in the direction of the best theaters for foreigners. While you’re at it, enjoy the local munchies of choice (it’s not always popcorn).

4. Go shopping. If browsing for tacky souvenirs or wandering giant, sterile malls doesn’t sound appealing, don’t worry because that’s not what I had in mind. Instead, try seeking out some of the artisanal shops selling local specialties (soaps, teas, cheese, art, comic books, kitsch toys, and so on). A lot of cities will also have markets that are semi or fully covered and are a feast for the eyes.

5. Go to the supermarket. I love visiting foreign supermarkets and seeing all the products that are different from what I’m used to or just downright weird. Some supermarkets hand out samples so you can try interesting things you maybe wouldn’t want to shell out for at a restaurant. You can also gather up a bunch of items for a picnic (there’s nothing wrong with an indoor picnic if the weather doesn’t clear up!) or a late night snack.

6. Visit a bookstore. I can easily spend hours just browsing bookstores and in this day and age of Amazon and online ordering, bookstores are becoming more of a rare treat. Not to mention that some bookstores are an attraction in themselves, like this one in Argentina.

7. Go to a museum or art gallery. You were probably going to see some of these anyway – try to check the weather in advance and plan to visit the museums on the dreary days.

8. Head underground. A surprising number of cities have underground attractions, such as catacombs, mazes, ruins from the historic city, or even modern underground cities (these are usually in cold places, for example, Montreal, Canada).

9. See a concert. You might just discover some fantastic local music.

10. Enjoy restaurants. You have to eat anyway, but when it’s raining, try to seek out restaurants where you can make an experience out of the meal (like this restaurant in China). It might be someplace with a fabulous view, a restaurant where you can interact with the chefs or watch the meal being made, or one that has a dance or musical performance to accompany your dinner.

11. Take a class. Cooking classes are a great way to learn how to recreate some of the amazing meals you’ve enjoyed on your vacation. Language classes can help you get around (and some places might offer free “trial” classes in case you don’t want to commit). If the town you’re visiting produces a specialty product, ask around and you might find an expert willing to show you how a traditional rug is woven, how to make jewelry, or to whip up cheese or anything else!

12. Find a behind the scenes tour. If you’re in a major city, see if there’s a TV studio where you can watch a show being filmed and/or take a tour of the backlot. If it’s a city that produces a lot of craft brew beers, hunt down a brewery tour. Even if there’s nothing specifically advertised – ask – you never know when someone will decide to accommodate your desires, especially in smaller towns that get few visitors.

13. Visit churches. In some countries like Italy, many of the best artworks are in active churches rather than hanging in museums. In other countries, you’ll get a fascinating insight into the local religion and culture.

14. Hang out with locals. Find out where the city’s residents like to congregate and head there. I’ve had lots of fun interactions with locals because I chose to frequent the pub where residents hang out rather than the one where the tourists go. Even if you only have a tenuous grasp of the local language, you’ll be surprised how friendly and accommodating people can be when they see you’re trying.

15. Use the opportunity to relax. Who says you have to pack every minute of your vacation with activities? As I mentioned earlier, the problem is that most of us do over-schedule our holidays and then come home exhausted. Take the bad weather as a chance to settle back with a good book or your journal, or hit up a cozy coffee shop and just be.

16. Go to a spa. A lot of countries have traditional cures and treatments that are not only soothing but also a lot cheaper than what you’ll find back home. In countries like Turkey, Korea, and China to name a few, visiting a hamam, spa or foot massage parlor is a local tradition. Try something new like a mud wrap, hot stone massage, foot spa, or even a flesh-eating fish spa. This spa in Iceland is geothermal so it’s nice and toasty even if the weather is awful.

17. Watch the rain. Find a great vantage point where you can sit back and just watch the rain thundering down. The stormier the weather, the more fun this is!

What do you think? Have you ever been on a holiday where it just poured the whole time? How do you make the most of bad weather during a vacation?

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