San Sebastian –  the pearl of the North of Spain




San Sebastian is located on the northern coastline of the Basque Country and is one of Spain's most attractive, charming and popular Atlantic resorts, the city is a sophisticated coastal gem with lots to offer it's visitors.

Lying on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, surrounded by green hills, a lively beach and a range of cultural and historic attractions. 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.

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.

We have compiled a comprehensive Spain travel resources page to help you plan and book a trip or holiday to San Sebastian including a money saving  hotel search comparison platform, travel insurance, flights, discount car hire, tours, excursions as well money saving travel and holiday deals.

La Concha Beach San Sebastian
La Concha Beach San Sebastian

 

5 Interesting facts about San Sebastian

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The gastronomy available in San Sebastian is unequaled and one of the best reasons to visit the city.
  5. San Sebastian has a near perfect urban design and is often compared to being like Rio de Janeiro.

 

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Exploring the city of San Sebastian

San Sebastian Street
San Sebastian Street

If you plan to visit San Sebastian then it will help to get acquainted with each of the main sub districts. Each area offers a unique charm and distinct personality offering visitors different views off this special Spanish destination.

The city centre of is situated in the middle of the Playa La Concha, the Old Quarter and the start of the Amara district.

We would highly recommend visiting the following places of interest in your holiday itinerary.

 

Staring from the north end of the City at the Alameda del Boulevard head south the Calle Legazpi to the Plaza de Guipuzcoa just of the Calle Camino, along the route you can observe fascinating architecture of city council building, with busts of famous people included.

Heading south again and enjoy the buzz of the city as you walk down to the Avenida de la Libertad, this is the financial district of the city where you will find most of the major Spanish banks along with the top brand named stores. Crossing over down the Bergara and Prim streets, this will then lead you to the Plaza Bilbao, home of some of the most striking buildings such as the Cathedral del Buen Pastor, the Mitxelena art centre and the home of the current post office ( Edifico de Correos ).

If you go east of the Plaza Bilbao you can also reach the Estacion del Norte ( the North Railway Station ) which was designed by a rather well known architect, Monsieur Eiffel, famous for another well known landmark in Paris.

Just off the Plaza Bilbao heading east I would recommend a visit to the Marie Cristina bridge ( Puente de Marie Cristina ). This unique ornate bridge was built at the turn of the 20th Century out of iron and concrete and has some very interesting features such as sculptured dragons, navel scenes and coats of arms.

The Romantic Area

This charming part of San Sebastian got its name for a good reason. The Romantic Area of the city is based around the Calle Reyes Catolicos which leads up to the Cathedral of the Buen Pastor in the southern area of the city centre.

Not only is it romantic with its fine Parisian style architecture and ornate street lamps it is where some of the finest food in the city is served. After fulfilling your gastronomic dreams a stroll around the area absorbing this distinctive atmosphere of the Zona Romantica is a must.

The Old Quarter

As the name suggests this is the old part of the city of San Sebastian, it stands sandwiched between the foot of Mount Urgull and the city centre and opens out to the sea on both sides from the Plaza de Salamanca to the old Harbour area. The area was completely rebuilt after a devastating fire therefore  only a very few building predate 1813.

Soak up the atmosphere whilst walking around the cobbled streets and narrow alleys discovering some of the best pintxo bars, restaurants and speciality shops that San Sebastian has to offer. To the north of the old quarter is Mount Urgull, a demanding climb to the top is well worth the effort as you will be treated to an exhilarating view over the city and the Castillo de la Mota ( The Mota Castle ).

On the west side of the mount is the Cementario de los Ingleses ( The English Cemetery ) the Museo Militar ( Military Museum the Aquarium which has a glass tunnel walkway where you enjoy a 360 degree view of the marine life, and the Navel Museum which is located slightly north of the Royal Nautical Club.

If you enjoy walking around local indoor food markets as we do then try a trip to the Mercado de la Bretxa situated just off the Avenida del Boulevard there you will find many colourful stalls full of all the fine produce the area has to offer.

Two of the cities oldest churches can be found in the old quarter, the Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro and the Convent of San Telmo which now acts as a Museum.

At the centre of the Parte Vieja is the beautiful Plaza de la Constitucion where the main cities festivities take place and is fondly known as ” La Consti ” by the locals. The plaza used to be the bull ring in the middle ages and is surrounded by buildings with large white painted balconies , which are numbered and where the spectators could easily view the fight.

Roaming around the Old Part you will undoubtedly soak up the charm whilst enjoying the unmistakable atmosphere of an area that is steeped in history and home of many festivities yet still manages to continue with its traditional local life.

Gros District

The Barrio Gros ( Gros District is located to the east of the city and the river Urumea, it provides a picturesque view of San Sebastian and has the lovely beach of La Zurriola, a large beach of fine golden sand.

The Gros district can be both laid back and tranquil and then again bustling with commerce, depending on the time of day and week you spend visiting the area. The Kursall convention hall is situated in this district and attracts swarms of conventioneers, it also houses exhibitions and cultural events.

There are also a good number of tapas bars and Restaurants to cater for the large numbers of tourists, locals and conventioneer along with a good selection of Hotels and Hostels. Eating out in the Gros District is as good a place as any in San Sebastian with some of the finest restaurants being located here along with a good selection of Tapa ( Pintxo ) bars where you can arguably find the best hot tapas in Donostia.

At the Western end of the beach and Gros District you will find the Puente de Zurriola ( The Zurriola bridge ) which is also known as the Kursaal bridge, it majestically straddles the River Urumea and was designed by Arana having some quite spectacular fixtures and lit up half a dozen light-house shaped towers.

The Isla Cristina

The little Santa Clara Island is situated just offshore in the beautiful bay of La Concha, and although it is quite small in dimensions, it does in fact have a clean sandy beach. It can be reached by boat, however the beach aea gets completely covered during the day due to the high tides , so best to make sure you know the tide times before planning your trip to the island.

 

Getting around San 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 way ticket 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.



Top San Sebastian attractions

 

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.

The San Sebastian Heineken Jazz Festival

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.

San Sebastian International Film Festival

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.

San Telmo Museum

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.

Tabakalera Museum

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.

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.

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.

Kursaal Exhibition Centre

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.

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.

Mount Urgull

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

Galician Goose Barnacles - Percebes
Galician Goose Barnacles - Percebes

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 leading gastronomic 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  top restaurants and experience the city’s quirky spin on traditional Spanish tapas.

San Sebastian is home to more Michelin starred restaurants in one city than anywhere else in Spain. Top chefs who have helped drive this gastronomic explosion includes Juan Mari Arzak, Ruben Trincado, Pedro Subijana, Martin Berasetgui and Pablo Airudo.

You are 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.

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:  https://www.arzak.info/

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:   http://www.barlacepa.com/es/index.php

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: http://www.bartxepetxa.com/

SAN SEBASTIÁN WEATHER

Recommended accommodation San Sebastian

Luxury High-End

For a luxury stay the Maria Cristina a Luxury Collection Hotel is a must place to stay. The hotel enjoys an ideal location in the cities centre  surrounded by local bars and restaurants. There are 136 luxury rooms at the Maria Cristina, each providing all the essentials to ensure a comfortable stay. Honeymoon suites are also available. Reviewer Rating: 9.2

Mid Range

The superb 4 star Hotel Villa Soro offers outstanding 4 star accommodation in a tranquil setting just a few minutes drive or a 20 minute walk to the city center. Villa Soro offers first class amenities such as a nearby golf course, limousine service, free bicycle rental  and a variety of breakfast options. The hotel is a short walk from one the cities top restaurants, Arzak. Reviewer Rating: 9.4

Budget Accommodation

The popular 1 star Pension Del Mar is located in the city centre within the Gros District. The guest house offers 6 modern and bright rooms, filled with a variety of amenities to ensure a comfortable stay.  It is situated n the heart of San Sebastian’s entertainment district with restaurants, cafés and nightlife on the doorstep. Reviewer Rating: 10.0