Bienvenidos to the enchanting city of San Sebastián, a vibrant and picturesque coastal gem nestled in the heart of the Basque Country. As you meander through its cobblestone streets, embraced by verdant hills and the shimmering Bay of Biscay, you’ll find yourself captivated by the city’s undeniable charm and passion for life.
- Pre-Book Activities and Tickets for Things to Do in San Sebastián
- Visit La Concha Beach (Playa de La Concha)
- Try Pintxos in San Sebastián
- Take the Funicular Up Monte Igueldo & Eat at Asador Alaia
- Stroll along the Paseo Nuevo
- Explore the Parte Vieja
- Attend a Film at the Tabakalera
- Savor a Meal at Mugaritz
- Visit the Aquarium
- Wander through the Miramar Palace Gardens
- Catch a Live Music Performance at Dabadaba
- Kayak or Paddleboard Along the Urumea River
- Discover the Treasures of the International Film Festiva
- Explore the City of San Sebastián
San Sebastián is, without a doubt, the culinary heart of the Basque Country, where the local love for gastronomy is evident in every pintxo bar and fine dining establishment. Prepare to embark on a culinary journey like no other, as the city’s innovative chefs harmoniously blend traditional Basque flavors with modern twists. Home to an impressive array of Michelin-starred restaurants, San Sebastián has secured its place as a gastronomic paradise for food enthusiasts from around the globe.
The city’s restaurant scene is a delightful mosaic of flavors and experiences, from bustling pintxo bars offering bite-sized masterpieces to exclusive fine dining establishments that will leave you in awe. As you explore the city, take the time to indulge in its culinary delights, sampling dishes like the iconic ‘gilda’ pintxo and the creamy, sumptuous Idiazábal cheese.
Beyond its culinary prowess, San Sebastián boasts a vibrant atmosphere filled with captivating activities that cater to a variety of interests. Wander along the picturesque promenade of La Concha beach, where the gentle lapping waves and golden sands beckon sun-seekers and water sports enthusiasts alike. For those in search of culture and history, marvel at the stunning architecture of the city’s Old Town or visit the San Telmo Museum to delve deeper into the region’s rich past.
San Sebastián is also a fantastic base from which to explore the wider Basque Country. Venture beyond the city limits and immerse yourself in the region’s natural beauty, from the lush, rolling hills of the Basque hinterland to the dramatic coastline dotted with charming fishing villages. Discover the unique Basque language, Euskara, and the region’s fascinating customs and traditions as you connect with its warm and hospitable people.
In San Sebastián, you’ll find a magical blend of culinary excellence, natural beauty, and rich cultural heritage. This alluring Spanish city has something for everyone, making it the perfect destination for your next unforgettable adventure. ¡Bienvenidos a San Sebastián!
Getting to San Sebastián
Drive to San Sebastián
Yes, you heard that correctly. The way you choose to arrive in San Sebastián could make all of the difference and greatly add to your experience visiting the city. Driving is the most ideal.
Given that San Sebastián lies within beautiful Basque Country, on the north coast of Spain along the Bay of Biscay, it’s an experience in and of itself to enjoy the views on your way to the city. You’ll have the opportunity to drive through beautiful countryside, small romantic towns, and ultimately along the northern coast prior to your arrival. It’s truly a soothing experience if you’re traveling in a rental car.
While on our most recent trip we did fly into Zaragoza and drive north, you can fly directly into San Sebastián Airport (IATA: EAS, ICAO: LESO).
How to Navigate San Sebastián
Driving to San Sebastián is a relatively painless experience, but how you go about it depends on your origination. During our most recent visit, our team chose to take a high-speed train from Sevilla to Zaragoza.
Zaragoza is a convenient location to pick up a rental car if you want to explore Basque Country. It’s approximately a 2-hour and 30-minute drive that will allow you to explore both the Basque countryside and ultimately Spain’s north coast. Take a look at some of the best rental car deals in Spain via Kayak.
An added bonus — it’s not too far from some of Spain’s more famed wine regions which are also worth a stop. The train station in Zaragoza is huge and accommodates Avis and EuroCar satellite offices. Pick up a rental car with a GPS and begin your trek north to San Sebastian!
Of course, if you’d rather fly into San Sebastián, you can fly directly into San Sebastián Airport from several of the major Spanish cities, including Madrid and Barcelona. You can check current flight prices here.
Once you’re in the city, and if it’s your first time visiting, we highly recommend hopping on a guided Electric Bike tour to really understand the city as a whole.
Best Things to Do in San Sebastián
Pre-Book Activities and Tickets for Things to Do in San Sebastián
Visit La Concha Beach (Playa de La Concha)
Quite possibly one of the best examples in the world of city and beach life integrated, La Concha Beach offers locals and tourists a picturesque setting to relax, swim, run, walk, or even fish. It’s a relatively large (over 1,500 meters) naturally shaped horse-shoe style beach with Isla Santa Clara perfectly placed in the middle.
The paved promenade that spans the majority of the beach itself is also dotted with small eateries, pintxos bars, and benches where travelers can rest, drink and or just enjoy the view.
Not only is this beach ranked as one of the best beaches to visit in ALL of Europe, but Isla Santa Clara also has its own little beach that people are allowed to swim out to.
Try Pintxos in San Sebastián
Pintxos (pronounced peen-chos), are a Basque style of tapa served throughout the region, but most notably within San Sebastián. The city is world-famous for the gastronomic experience offered to travelers. It’s the home of world-famous food festivals, and San Sebastián holds more Michelin Star restaurants per square meter than any other city in the world.
What’s wonderful about many pintxos bars in San Sebastián is the fact that many are almost free to eat at. As long as you enter a bar and order a drink or plate of food, any pintxos plates resting on top of the bar are up for grabs. Grab a few bites while you sip on fine Catalunyan wine.
RELATED: Learn About Wines and Wine Regions in Catalonia Spain
Of particular note are the seafood-based versions. These can be made up of shrimp, squid, cod, anchovies, or any number of other local varieties. The best part? Everything is super fresh! How pintxos are done up depends entirely on who the chef is. It’s also worth trying the local Jamon Serrano (Spanish cured ham, with which there are varying degrees of quality dependent on price) and la hoguera pintxos.
Not sure which pintxos bars, restaurants, and wine bars to visit? Definitely schedule a walking food tour with our friends over at Basque Guides. Our guide Iker took us to spots that the locals frequent, and honestly, it made our experience more special than we could have imagined. The tour is also customizable to your tastes. In case the Basque Guides tour is full for your travel dates, Eskerne with Discover San Sebastián also offers a fantastic evening pintxos tour that our readers frequently rave about. Devour San Sebastian also offers tours if any the above referenced tours happen to be sold out, and they are super fun and accommodating and willing to get you onboard if that’s the case.
Take the Funicular Up Monte Igueldo & Eat at Asador Alaia
While you could certainly make the relatively steep climb on foot, we highly recommend taking the funicular up to the top of Monte Igueldo to see the epic view of La Concha Bay, simply because it’s a unique experience.
For just a few euros, ride the funicular up to the top of the small mountain and witness one of the most iconic views in all of Europe. You literally have the city and waves beneath you, and there’s a relaxing, not very crowded promenade that circles around the top of Monte Igueldo.
Adding even more value to this experience is the Asador Alaia restaurant. Grab a glass of your favorite Spanish wine or beer, eat lunch or an early dinner and take in the brisk, Basque, salty air while you take in the views hundreds of feet above the city.
Stroll along the Paseo Nuevo
Embark on a leisurely walk along this picturesque promenade, where the crashing waves of the Bay of Biscay put on a mesmerizing show. As you meander around the base of Monte Urgull, breathe in the fresh sea air and marvel at the iconic Peine del Viento sculpture, a masterpiece by local artist Eduardo Chillida.
Explore the Parte Vieja
Delve into the heart of San Sebastián’s atmospheric Old Town, where narrow cobblestone streets and colorful buildings evoke a sense of history and charm. Be sure to visit the impressive Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus and the lively Plaza de la Constitución, a bustling square that once hosted bullfights.
Attend a Film at the Tabakalera
San Sebastián’s vibrant cultural scene comes to life at Tabakalera, a contemporary cultural center housed in a former tobacco factory. Catch an independent film screening, explore the thought-provoking exhibitions, or simply enjoy the buzz of creativity in this dynamic space.
Savor a Meal at Mugaritz
Treat yourself to an unforgettable culinary experience at Mugaritz, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by renowned Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz. Indulge in the chef’s innovative and imaginative creations that push the boundaries of traditional Basque cuisine.
Visit the Aquarium
Explore the fascinating underwater world at San Sebastián’s state-of-the-art Aquarium, where you’ll encounter a myriad of marine species, including sharks, tropical fish, and local inhabitants of the Cantabrian Sea.
Wander through the Miramar Palace Gardens
Stroll through the enchanting grounds of the Miramar Palace, a former royal residence with commanding views of La Concha Bay. As you meander through the lush gardens, admire the palace’s striking English-style architecture.
Catch a Live Music Performance at Dabadaba
Immerse yourself in the city’s thriving music scene with a visit to Dabadaba, a popular live music venue that showcases a diverse array of local and international acts. From indie rock to electronic beats, there’s always something to suit your musical taste.
Kayak or Paddleboard Along the Urumea River
For a unique perspective on San Sebastián, take to the waters of the Urumea River and navigate the city’s picturesque waterways by kayak or paddleboard. Discover hidden gems and soak up the city’s charm from a whole new vantage point.
Discover the Treasures of the International Film Festiva
Each September, San Sebastián plays host to one of the most prestigious film events in the world, the San Sebastián International Film Festival. Join film enthusiasts and industry professionals alike as you watch premieres, attend workshops, and celebrate the magic of cinema.
Explore the City of San Sebastián
San Sebastián offers more than just a great coastal view. In the downtown area, within what is dubbed “Parte Vieja” — essentially the city’s Old Town — you can walk the streets and indulge in a rich shopping experience. Browse everything from high-end retailers to old-fashioned, privately owned unique silver jewelry shops.
As you walk and shop, keep your eyes peeled for the hidden nautical accents dotted throughout the architecture of Parte Vieja. Just across the street, you’ll be able to find a wide variety of some of the finest pintxos bars in Basque Country has to offer. Be sure to sample some of the local wine, Txakoli!
Also, keep an eye out for some of the beautiful garden parks placed sporadically along the promenade of the urban center. Bring a book in your pack and just relax amongst the ocean breeze.
Once you’ve had your fill of shopping and food, wander on back towards the La Concha promenade and consider hiking Monte Urgull. Monte Urgell is almost directly across the bay from Monte Igueldo and offers a different perspective of both the city and La Concha Bay. There are several pathways that lead up the hill to the top, some of which are paved with easy to moderate inclines.
Walking to the top of Monte Urgell is a great way to get some fresh air following an urban walk through Parte Vieja. It’s clean and the natural aspects of the walk are soothing to the soul, as is the view at the top.
Essential Best Restaurants in San Sebastián
San Sebastián is a true gastronomic paradise, boasting an impressive number of Michelin-starred restaurants and culinary hotspots that are not to be missed. Here are several of the city’s most acclaimed establishments, each offering an unforgettable dining experience.
Alcalde J. Elosegi Hiribidea, 273, 20015 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
A three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Arzak is an institution in the world of haute cuisine. Helmed by the legendary father-daughter duo of Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, the restaurant is renowned for its innovative approach to Basque cuisine. Savor the exquisite tasting menu that masterfully blends tradition with avant-garde techniques, using the finest local ingredients to create an unforgettable symphony of flavors.
Padre Orkolaga Ibilbidea, 56, 20008 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Overlooking the Bay of Biscay from its stunning clifftop location, Akelarre is another three-Michelin-starred gem in San Sebastián. Chef Pedro Subijana’s culinary creations artfully merge traditional Basque flavors with modern twists, resulting in a gastronomic experience that is both visually stunning and sensorially delightful. The restaurant’s elegant design and panoramic views perfectly complement the extraordinary dishes that grace the table.
Mirador de Ulía
Ulia Pasealekua, 193, 20013 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Awarded one Michelin star, Mirador de Ulía is perched on the hillside overlooking San Sebastián, offering breathtaking views of the city and the coastline. Chef Rubén Trincado’s contemporary creations showcase the freshest seasonal ingredients, with an emphasis on seafood and local produce. The elegant tasting menu is a harmonious blend of classic Basque flavors and modern culinary techniques, accompanied by an extensive wine list.
31 de Agosto Kalea, 3, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
While not a Michelin-starred establishment, La Viña is an essential culinary stop for anyone visiting San Sebastián. This legendary pintxo bar in the heart of the Old Town is famous for its divine cheesecake, the Tarta de Queso. The creamy, slightly caramelized dessert has gained a cult following among locals and visitors alike. Pair your slice of heaven with a glass of local txakoli wine and soak up the lively atmosphere that fills the historic streets.
Where To Stay in San Sebastián
There are a range of beautiful hotels to stay at in San Sebastián. There have been a number of fantastic deals across the city of late, but our favorite hotel we keep coming back to is hands down the Hotel Maria Cristina, a Luxury Collection Hotel.
Hotel Maria Cristina
The Hotel Maria Cristina, a Luxury Collection Hotel, is an emblem of sophistication and elegance in the heart of San Sebastián. Built in 1912 and named after the Spanish queen regent, this iconic Belle Époque masterpiece has long been the preferred retreat for royalty, celebrities, and discerning travelers. Beautifully restored, the hotel boasts luxuriously appointed rooms and suites that seamlessly blend classic charm with modern amenities. Nestled along the banks of the Urumea River and just a short stroll from the city’s vibrant Old Town, La Concha Beach, and renowned culinary hotspots, the Hotel Maria Cristina offers the ultimate in comfort and style, making it the perfect base for your unforgettable San Sebastián experience.
Check Prices at Hotel Maria Cristina
Step into a world of timeless elegance and tranquility as you enter Villa Soro, a beautifully restored 19th-century villa located in a peaceful residential area. This boutique hotel blends classic charm with modern comforts, offering luxuriously appointed rooms, lush gardens, and personalized service that will make you feel right at home. Villa Soro is the perfect retreat for those seeking a serene and intimate escape, just a stone’s throw away from San Sebastián’s vibrant city center.
Lasala Plaza Hotel
Nestled in the heart of San Sebastián’s enchanting Old Town, the Lasala Plaza Hotel is a chic and contemporary haven that pays homage to the city’s maritime heritage. As you step inside, you’ll be captivated by the hotel’s sleek design, where nautical-inspired elements blend seamlessly with luxurious furnishings. The pièce de résistance is the hotel’s rooftop terrace, where you can unwind with a refreshing cocktail while marveling at the breathtaking panoramic views of La Concha Bay and the bustling port.
Check Prices at Lasala Plaza Hotel
Perched atop the dramatic cliffs of Monte Igueldo, Akelarre is a luxurious sanctuary that promises an unparalleled gastronomic experience. This exquisite Relais & Châteaux property is home to the famed Akelarre Restaurant, a three-Michelin-starred establishment helmed by Chef Pedro Subijana. Indulge your senses in one of the hotel’s 22 elegantly appointed rooms and suites, each boasting floor-to-ceiling windows that offer stunning vistas of the sparkling Bay of Biscay. With its exceptional culinary offerings, world-class spa, and breathtaking views, Akelarre is the epitome of indulgence and relaxation.
Frequently Asked Questions about Things to Do in San Sebastián
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