San Sebastian Travel Guide

San Sebastian –  the pearl of the North of Spain

San Sebastian Spain

 San Sebastian travel guide

San Sebastian is one of Spain’s most attractive, charming and popular cities, and this sophisticated coastal gem, situated in the north of Spain, certainly has a lot to offer its visitors.

Lying on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, surrounded by green hills and offering a lively beach front means San Sebastian is a city that boasts a range of natural beauty.

Gastronomy is high on the agenda in San Sebastian boasts the highest number of Michelin starred restaurants in one city as well as amazing tapas bars that will both entertain and quench your appetite for those tasty little food plates.

Fabulous charming architecture and many plazas and parks dotted throughout the city adds to its well-deserved label as the “pearl” of the North of Spain.

The city has long been a perfect romantic retreat for couples wishing to spend time alone in such a beautiful city. There are some memorable romantic hotels in San Sebastian,  try  a weekend break at the stunning  Hotel Marie Cristina,  or a romantic getaway at the beautiful Hotel Villa Soro.

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5 interesting facts about San Sebastian

»   San Sebastian was given to the King of Navarre in 1265 as part of a wedding dowry. This provided the kingdom with a perfect seaport to trade and export goods. The main products where whaling related items and cod caught by local fisherman.

»  San Sebastian  was almost totally destroyed in 1808 when  Napoleons troops laid siege to the city. Only one street survived, the 31st August Street as it is know today. When they rebuilt San Sebastian stone was used instead of timber as it was before.

»  The modern tourism love affair with San Sebastian  began in the early part of the 19th Century when it was frequently visited by Royalty escaping the heat of central Spain.  Neo classical constructions where erected throughout the city and the shipyards where moved away from the seafront are to make it more a place of leisure than commerce. This love affair continues today with visitors from all over the world regularly enjoying the unique atmosphere of San Sebastian.

» The gastronomy available in San Sebastian is unequalled and one of the best reasons to visit the city. Amazing  friendly tapas and pintxo bars are to be found everywhere as well as a choice of  Michelin starred restaurants

»  San Sebastian has a near perfect urban design and is often compared to being like Rio de Janeiro.



Exploring San Sebastian


La Concha and Ondaretta Beaches

Unsurprisingly, one of the city’s main attractions is its beach front, which offers sandy beaches and gentle turquoise waters ideal for either a lazy day of sunbathing or a fun-filled day of beach games, paddling or building sand castles.

La Concha – the city’s most popular beach – and Ondaretta lie in the crescent of San Sebastian, and both will satisfy any beach-goer’s desires.


Zurriola Beach

Zurriola is renowned for its popularity with young people looking for some sun, sea sand and waves, and this lively beach offers fabulous surfing opportunities, including courses and workshops for the yet-uninitiated.


The surrrounding mountains

The city is surrounded by accessible mountains, and a trip up either Monte Urgull to explore its ruins, or Monte Igueldo, perhaps to experience the amusement park sitting on its peak, will provide glorious views of San Sebastian.

While Monte Urgull is easily explored by foot, a recommended route to the top of Igueldo involves taking advantage of its funicular railway – an unforgettable experience in itself!


Beautiful Architecture

A lot of San Sebastian’s charm lies in the beautiful examples of architecture dotted around the city, and a leisurely visit to these monuments will allow you to truly experience the heart of San Sebastian.

Buen Pastor Cathedral is one of the city’s most popular attractions, and with one glimpse of the building, it’s easy to see why.

Heading into the Old Town you’ll find the Basilica of Santa Maria and the San Vicente Church, as well as the Plaza de la Constitucion, an old bullring converted into the perfect place to relax and absorb the city’s atmosphere.


5 more facts about San Sebastian


»  San Sebastian is only a few miles from the French border and its elegant neighbour’s influence is clear to see.

»  August Street was the only one to survive the battering the city took from Napoleon’s troops during 1808 and the city we know today was built up around it but using stone instead of wood.

»  San Sebastian is the holiday destination of choice for the elite of Spanish society and in the past was the favourite place for royalty to to holiday.

»  Pintxos are the Basque region’s own version of tapas so make sure you order some when you stop off for a drink in one of the thousands of bars in the area.

»  The original setting for San Sebastian’s bullfighting is now Constitution Square in the heart of the city. Have a look up and you will see the balconies of surrounding houses are numbered as they used to be rented out for the bullfights.


10 Top San Sebastian attractions


1. dFeria, March

dFeria is a popular San Sebastian festival of theatre and dance, held in order to present performing arts creations with particular attention given to Basque theatre groups. This festival, which runs for 5 days, brings the global theatre world down to Donostia with a festive ambience. dFeria is not to be missed by dance and theatre enthusiasts.


2. The San Sebastian Heineken Jazz Festival, July

The Heineken Jazz Festival is held every year, usually in the third week of July, a tradition that has been going on since 1966. The festival usually hosts a hundred concerts across 12 indoor and open air venues. The shows at Kursaal Auditorium and Zurriola Beach are particularly popular.


3. San Sebastian International Film Festival, September

The San Sebastian International Film Festival is an annual Donostia festival that is considered just as important as the Cannes festival. It is held in late September, showcases about 200-250 international films and awards the Golden Shell.


4. San Telmo Museo

The San Telmo Musuem is is the oldest in the Basque country. It was created in 1902 and is dedicated to the interpretation and showcase of Basque prehistoric to modern society. The museum is situated below Mount Urgull and houses over 26,000 art pieces across 11,000 square meters of display space.


5. Tabakalera

The Tabakalera museum houses avant-garde and contemporary displays across the media of sound, science, films and television, design, contemporary art, technical observatory, gastronomical showcases, etc. This is a must-visit for the enthusiasts of innovative art.


6. Arteko Gallery

Established in 1996, the Arteko Gallery aims to promote the contemporary artwork of young foreign and national artists, with spaces showcasing drawing, sculpture, photography, painting, artist books, and more. Artists that have exhibited here include Andres Nagel, Nori Ushijima, Dora Salazar, and others.


7. Victoria Eugenia Theatre

This iconic building first opened in 1912 as an important cultural stage in San Sebastian. Recently renovated, the Victoria Eugenia Theatre today is one of the most beautiful buildings in town and is a host to musicals, plays and other cultural events throughout the year.


8. The Kursaal

The Kursaal exhibition centre is an icon of San Sebastian with a large auditorium, chamber music hall and exhibition rooms. It hosts the Film Festival and other concerts ranging from classical to contemporary pop and rock. The unusual design of the building with its translucent crystal structure also makes it an admirable attraction in itself.


9. Basilica of Santa Maria

The Basilica of Santa Maria is emblematic of the city and is an important element of Donostia history. Its construction was completed in 1764, and today it is considered important by both atheists and believers.


10. Urgull Mount

Urgull Mount towers over the center of Donostia, offers magnificent views over the city and houses a public park with remnants of 18th century cannons and fortifications. It played an important role in the conflict between the French and the local population.


Eating out in San Sebastian

The plethora of food and drink options San Sebastian offers is one of the main reasons the city has achieved and maintained its popularity as a tourist destination.

The city offers fine dining experiences for the most sophisticated palates, and you would be seriously remiss not to visit one of San Sebastian’s pintxos restaurants and experience the city’s quirky spin on traditional Spanish tapas.

You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to bars if you head to San Sebastian’s Old Town. Day or night, this part of the city boasts a lively bar scene, yet retains the city’s air of elegance and sophistication. As an alternative, head to the Calle Reyes Catolicos area of the city for an evening of true style and class. See our San Sebastian restaurant guide for full details.



Eating out in San Sebastian


Restaurant Arzak

One of the finest restaurants in San Sebastian is undoubtedly  Restaurant Arzak and if your budget will allow then it is crucial to try at least once.  Chef Arzak and his daughter are masters at the best nueva cocina vasca.

Easily scoring 3 Michelin stars, Arzak can be quite exclusive though and you will need to make  a reservation. Clients can choose from a very large assembly of foods and tastes with traditional San Sebastian dishes as prepared by one of the best chefs in the area.

Location:  Av Alcalde Elósegui, 273, 20015 San Sebastián-Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain.   Wesbsite:


Restaurant La Cepa

La Cepa is a fine  local culinary institution  famous for serving up the finest Spanish cured  Jabugo, known for its unique taste and quality. Other typical dishes on offer include, octopus, meat balls, home made sausages.

They also offer a fine wine collection from  the best wineries in the Rioja and Ribera del Duero. They’ve been operating for more than 70 years and are highly recommended by the locals.

Location: 31 de Agosto Kalea, 7, 20003 San Sebastián-Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain.     Website:


Bar Goiz Argi

A small bar located at Calle de Fermin Calbeton 4, Goiz Argi also specializes in seafood, try the shrimp skewers or brocheta de gambas. They also offer octopus and what is known locally as breakfast wine!

It’s a fairly small bar though so get there early as it is starts to fill up quite early as it well favoured by the locals.

Location:  Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 4, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain . On Facebook


Txepetxa Tapas Bar

The first tapas bar on our list Txepetxa which is located in the old part of the city in  Calle Pescaderia num.5.  This is one of the most popular tapas bars in San Sebastian opened its doors in 1973 and has been on the receiving  end of many gastronomic awards over the years.

They serve some of the best home made pintxos prepared with love and dedication.  You can enjoy a large variety of local ingredients including crabs, octopus, anchovies , mussels and shrimp.  All of these are served with a flair that wets the appetite the minute you enter the bar whilst enjoying the artistic display of its famous patrons from the past.

Location: C/ Pescadería, 5, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain.  Website:



Travel Transport and getting around Sebastian

The two main airports for people flying into the region is Bilbao located at Loiu and the smaller San Sebastian/Donostia airport at Hondarribi/Fuenterrabía.  A one way bus ticket from Bilbao airport costs around €17 and a one from San Sebastian airport is around €1.75 per person.

San Sebastian runs a comprehensive internal bus service with modern buses running constantly between 7am and 11pm every day.  If You plan to stay for a few days in the city then it is best to buy a D-Bus travel card.

You would then be charged the following for each trip.

One-way ticket: 1.65€
Turista card:
3 days – 9€ for 6 trips
5 days – 16€ for 12 trips

Taxis are everywhere in the city, you can expect to pay around €8 for a 4 to 5km trip.


Great places to stay in San Sebastian

There is a large selection of hotels in San Sebastian to suit all budgets from super luxury to more modest accommodation.  Looking for a weekend getaway with your partner, try our selection of the top romantic hotels in San Sebastian.

Take a look at the amazing luxury hotel Mari Cristina.


Hotel Villa Soro 

Hotel Villa Soro Romantic Hotels San Sebastian

Hotel Villa Soro – San Sebastian

  The Hotel Villa Soro is one of the most popular romantic hotels San Sebastian. Being a historical heritage building set in peaceful gardens and surrounded by trees and natural beauty, Hotel Villa Soro provides a real sense of seclusion and escape.

The hotel’s exterior is stunning, and its interior boasts a historic charm with its hardwood floors, antiquated décor and oak wood panelled bar.

To make your stay in San Sebastian extra-special and even more romantic, take advantage of the Arzak, a Michelin-star restaurant just down the road from Villa Soro.

Despite boasting an air of tranquillity and separation, Villa Soro is still located in central San Sebastian, and the Old Town and beach areas are only a short walk away, making the hotel a great base for exploring the city.


Hotel Maria Cristina 

Hotel Maria Cristina for Romantic Hotels San Sebastian

Hotel Maria Cristina – San Sebastian

  The magnificence and grandeur of this luxurious hotel is nothing short of breath-taking. The Hotel Maria Cristina simply oozes class and elegance in every aspect; from its high ceilings and columns to its fancy brocades and sparkling chandeliers.

The hotel, overlooking the Cantabrian Sea and the River Urumea, offers great views, and an exceptionally comfortable stay in one of the hotel’s exquisite suites will ensure your break in San Sebastian is one of true luxury and romance.

Hotel Maria Cristina is situated in the heart of San Sebastian, on the doorstep of the Old Town and a short walk away from both popular La Concha and lively Zurriola beaches, making it ideal for couples looking to soak up the vibrant atmosphere of the city from a base that simply radiates opulence.



Hotel Mercure – Monte Igueldo 

Hotel Mercure Monte Igueldo

Hotel Mercure Monte Igueldo

 For a romantic break in San Sebastian, the pièce de résistance of elegant elegance and luxury when it comes to hotels is the Mercure Hotel, situated on Monte Igueldo.

From its location on at the top of Monte Igueldo, you will be treated to stunning, panoramic views of the city and the Bay of Biscay.

The Mecure’s unique location allows you to be close enough to the city for it to be easily accessible, but far enough away from the crowds and the hustle and bustle to enjoy your romantic getaway together.

For easy access straight to popular La Concha beach, there is a cable car situated next to the Mecure Hotel.  Part of the hotel’s attraction for guests is its sizeable outdoor poor, ideal for a day spent lazily soaking up the sun’s rays, or for a leisurely dip to cool off away from the crowds of the city’s beaches.