San Sebastian travel guide, Spain

18 San Sebastian attractions not to be missed

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San Sebastian is rightly considered the culinary capital of Basconia. If you are a foodie, then this city will be a real paradise for you. Did you know that the Spanish Basque Country has the largest concentration of restaurants that have been awarded Michelin stars? Eating here is probably one of the main things to do in San Sebastian.

But this city attracts not only with delicious food but also with a variety of attractions, the main place among which is the bay of La Concha, and the city itself is located in a very picturesque place among the mountains on the northern coast of Spain.

La Concha Quay

La Concha Quay

La Concha Quay.

If you want to get to know the city better and enjoy the views of the sea, the best place to do it is on the beautiful La Concha (Basque name: Kontxa Pasealekua). Immediately after arriving in town, be sure to walk this beautiful 2km stretch along the coastline, where you can see all the beauty of San Sebastian’s landscape.

It’s only a 20-minute walk. Don’t forget to stop by one of the beach bars or restaurants – here you can have a drink and relax on one of the benches and enjoy the sea views.

Address: La Concha, Spain.

Peine del Viento Sculpture

Peine del Viento Sculpture

Sculpture of Peine del Viento.| Photo: Joan / Flickr.

The name of this sculpture translates as “crest of the wind,” and it is located at the far end of Ondarreta Beach at the foot of Mount Igueldo. It is one of the most famous sculptures by local Basque artist Eduardo Chillida.

It was completed in 1976, and consists of three curved steel sculptures anchored in granite rocks washed by the sea.

Huge waves of the sea crash down on this sculpture, which are ripped back out as tall pillars through a system of holes in the ground. On stormy days this spectacle looks even more impressive. Peine del Viento gets its name from the special curved shape of the metal elements (peine) in which the wind (viento) plays.

Address: Peine Del Viento, Eduardo Chillida Pasealekua, San Sebastian, Spain.

Old Town

Old Town

Old Town .

The heart of San Sebastian is rightly considered its atmospheric Old Town (Parte Vieja). It’s a labyrinth of intricately paved streets lined with pintxos bars and restaurants. Be sure to explore the neighborhood’s pedestrian streets, boutiques, and historic buildings.

The Old City is where you get a real sense of this culturally rich, vibrant city. The old city was formed during the Middle Ages, but after a fire that devastated the city in 1813, most of it had to be reconstructed.

In the old town you can see buildings such as the Municipal Museum of San Telmo, the Gothic Church of St. Vincent and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro, which is made in Baroque style. Here is also the majestic Constitution Square with its ancient arcades and balconies.

To learn more about San Sebastian’s history, join a guided walking tour. There are also pintxos tours. At lunchtime and lunchtime, the Old Town has a completely different atmosphere, during which you can enjoy an endless variety of tantalizing pintxos.

Pinchos are the Basque country’s answer to Spanish tapas. Here you can taste such local specialties as deep-fried cod, marinated anchovies, croquettes, and, of course, tortilla de patatas (potato omelette).

Address: Old Town, San Sebastian, Spain.

San Sebastian City Hall

San Sebastian City Hall

San Sebastian City Hall.

Before it became San Sebastian City Hall (name in Basque: Donostiako Udala, in Spanish: Ayuntamiento de San Sebastián), this building was occupied by the Gran Casino, where parties were held for the European bourgeoisie and aristocracy. It was here that they spent their summers during the Belle Epoque.

The casino opened on July 1, 1887, and closed after the ban on gambling in 1924. If you look closely at the facade of the building, you can see bullet holes there. These marks are the result of the battle that took place here during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) between the Nationalists and the Republicans.

This building became the City Hall only in 1947, when the City Council, which previously occupied the building on Constitution Square, moved here. Today, the town hall overlooks the Alderdi-Eder Gardens. In these gardens you can relax and unwind after a strenuous stroll along the La Concha promenade.

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Address: San Sebastian City Hall, Ijentea Kalea, San Sebastian, Spain.

Constitution Square

Constitution Square

Plaza de la Constitución.

Constitution Square is the largest square in the city, which was once a bullring. The balconies that now face the square are still numbered from the days when they were used as places to watch the bullfight going on below.

This new neoclassical square is surrounded by arcades, bustling bars and restaurants, so it is the best place to taste the national Spanish dish, pinchos.

Address: Plaza de la Constitución, Constitución Plaza, San Sebastian, Spain.

Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro

Santa Maria del Coro Basilica

Santa Maria del Coro Basilica in San Sebastian, Spain.

What else is there to see in San Sebastian? Head to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro, as this place is one of the most visited attractions in the city. This majestic 18th-century church with a Baroque facade boasts a combination of Gothic, neoclassical and Churrigueresque elements. The portico of the church is in the Plateresque style. Step inside and you will see the neo-Gothic vault and altar.

Address: Basílica de Santa María del Coro, 31 de Agosto Kalea, San Sebastian, Spain.

La Concha Beach

La Concha Beach

La Concha Beach. | Photo: Joan / Flickr.

There are as many as three beaches in San Sebastian. La Concha Beach, or Shell Beach, is a beach that faces the aforementioned promenade of the same name. Here you can swim, sunbathe, or just stroll along the white sandy beach and admire the bay or the stone arches surrounding the beach.

Address: Playa de la Concha, Spain.

Funicular

Cable car view

View from the funicular.

This ancient funicular takes you up to 184 meters above sea level and lands on top of Mount Igueldo. From this spot you have a delightful panoramic view of the coast and the mountains of San Sebastian.

However, the beautiful view is not the only reason to come up here. You can also have a fun day at the Parque de Atracciones de Monte Igueldo. Especially children will be interested, who will appreciate the charming merry-go-rounds and the traditional wooden roller coaster.

Prices for entertainment here, by the way, are quite democratic. There is a restaurant with a balcony, where you can enjoy a meal and a beautiful view of the city.

If you are looking for something more refined, then you can go to the Mercure Monte Igueldo hotel. Here you can have a glass of wine on the outdoor terrace or dine in the elegant restaurant. You can also stay overnight here by booking a room at their hotel. Also, be sure to check out the 16th century El Torreon Tower, which offers a wonderful view of the lighthouse and the rolling hills of the Basque countryside.

The address is Funicular Monte Igueldo, Funicular Plaza, San Sebastian, Spain.

Royal Miramar Palace

Miramar Royal Palace

Royal Miramar Palace | Photo: wikimedia.

Historically, Spanish monks often visited San Sebastian during the summer. For many years, the Spanish royal family chose this city for their summer vacation.

Their summer home was the royal Miramar Palace, which was built for them on their behalf by the English architect Selden Wornum in 1889. The building is in the English Tudor style, adorned with an octagonal tower.

From here you have a beautiful view of the bay. Many Spanish queens chose this house as their favorite summer residence. The house itself is closed to tourists, but you can explore the well-maintained colorful gardens that surround the building. This is a great place to go for a picnic and enjoy nature.

Address: Miramar Palace, San Sebastian, Spain.

Paseo Nuevo Promenade

Paseo Nuevo Promenade

Paseo Nuevo Promenade | Photo: Joan / Flickr.

Paseo Nuevo (or New Promenade) is located at the foot of Mount Urgull, and is a scenic path that surrounds the mountain. It begins at the oceanarium and passes under the Castillo de la Mota, which was built in the 12th century.

The new promenade is famous for the huge sea waves that crash against the causeway, rising into the air to incredible heights. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the city and a must-see. The picturesque New Promenade leads back to the city center and ends at the mouth of the Urumea River at the Puente la Zurriola Bridge.

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Address: Paseo Nuevo balcón, Donostia, San Sebastián, Pasealeku Berria, San Sebastian, Spain.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.

The huge Catedral del Buen Pastor of San Sebastian (Cathedral of the Good Shepherd) is both a symbol of the city and its largest church, covering an area of over 1,915 square meters (2,290 square yards).

The main feature of this building is its impressive tower, 75 meters high, which is built from local sandstone taken from Mount Igueldo. This neo-Gothic cathedral is located in the New Town.

The building was designed by the Basque architect Manuel de Echave Echave. The project was created in 1880 and the construction itself was completed in 1897. The exterior is richly decorated with beautiful stained glass windows and an organ consisting of more than 10,000 pipes. The organ is considered one of the largest in Europe.

Address: Catedral del Buen Pastor, Urdaneta Kalea, San Sebastian, Spain.

San Telmo Historical Museum

San Telmo Museum

Historical Museum of San Telmo.

You can discover the cultural heritage of the Basque Country at the Historic Museum of San Telmo. It is the largest museum of Basque history, which allows you to trace its development from prehistoric times to the present day.

The museum occupies several buildings – the Dominican monastery from the 16th century and the Renaissance buildings. There are more than 26,000 historical specimens that shed light on this country’s past.

The entire collection is divided into four main zones: fine art, history, archaeology and ethnology. The fine art zone contains paintings, drawings and sculptures by famous artists such as El Greco, Rubens, Moran and Ribera.

There are also works of art by Basque artists such as Arteta, Echagüe, Salaberria, Ugarte and Zuloaga. The historical zone displays weapons from the 15th century to the present day, while the archaeological zone allows you to look at the collection of ceramics, coins and artifacts from the pre-Columbian era.

Address: San Telmo Museum, Plaza Zuloaga, San Sebastian, Spain.

Ondarreta Beach

Ondarreta Beach

Ondarreta Beach.

This is the second beach of San Sebastian, which is located west of the Royal Miramar Palace. Ondarreta Beach boasts a huge 100 meter wide shoreline that stretches for a kilometer up to Mount Igueldo.

In winter you can see bodyboarders and surfers here, and from June to August the beach is overflowing with classic changing booths, lounge chairs and sun umbrellas. There is a lovely garden with a sculpture of Queen Maria Cristina on the promenade.

Address: Playa de Ondarreta, Spain.

Santa Clara Island

View of Santa Clara Island

View of Santa Clara Island.

Santa Clara is a small 32-meter island, which is located near the coast of San Sebastian in the Gulf of La Concha. You can get to Isla de Santa Clara (Santa Clara Island) by ferry.

Here you can swim in the warm water, visit a cafe, a restaurant, or go on a picnic. If you look well, you can find natural pools in secluded corners of the island. Here you can also take a leisurely stroll to the enchanting lighthouse and enjoy the wonderful views. For 6.50 € you can take a boat trip around the bay and return to the island.

Address: Santa Clara, Spain.

Surriola Beach

Surriola Beach

Surriola Beach.

Surriola Beach attracts surfers from all over the world, and all because this place has just perfect waves. This is the third beach in San Sebastian, and it is the most popular among sports enthusiasts. Here you can play beach volleyball, soccer, and beach tennis, and there are also bodyboarding, surfing, and skateboarding competitions.

Address: Platja de Zurriola, Zurriola Ibilbidea, San Sebastian, Spain.

The Castle of Mota

View of the Castle of Mota

A view of the Mota Castle.

If you are interested in the military history of San Sebastian, then be sure to visit the Castillo de la Mota (Castle of Mota). This castle was built back in the 12th century and is located on the highest point of Mount Urgull.

The castle itself and its fortresses were built by King Sancho the Wise of Navarre, and it was this castle that defended the city from the 12th to the 19th century, when San Sebastian was still walled. The top of the castle is adorned by a 12-meter statue of a heart (Cristo de la Mota), which was completed in 1950 by Frederico Cullo.

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Today the castle is home to the Museum of History, which introduces tourists to the 800-year history of the city. The museum offers guided tours with audio-visual effects. The walk to the top of the mountain is also worthwhile.

You can start at Kaiko Pasealekua, where the boats are moored, or from the streets behind the Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro. On a hot day in Polboriña you can refresh yourself with a glass of beer or an ice cream (there is a small café next to the castle). There is an outdoor seating area with a great view of Santa Clara Island.

Address: Castillo de La Mota, San Jeronimo Kalea, San Sebastian, Spain.

Church of Sant Vincent

St. Vincent Church

The church of St. Vincent.

The church of Saint Vincent, built in Gothic style, is one of those “lucky” buildings that survived the fire of 1813. This makes it one of the oldest churches in the city. There used to be a late 7th century Romanesque church on the site of this building.

The church you see now was built in the first half of the 16th century, with Gothic style architecture. Before you go inside, notice the sculpture “La Piedad” by George Oteiz that adorns the front of the building.

The church of San Vicente has one of the best altars, which is in Romanesque style, and the decoration of the church itself was done by Ambrosio Bengoechea and Juan Iriarte. An interesting fact: all those baptized in this church are called “koxkeros”, in honor of the stones that protrude from the walls of the church (“koxka” from Basque means stone).

Address: Iglesia San Vicente, San Juan Kalea, San Sebastian, Spain.

Aquarium

Aquarium

Aquarium.

San Sebastian Aquarium is located in the Old City. It stretches along the harbor at the end of La Concha Bay. It is a very popular place among tourists, its 31 habitats are filled with a variety of fish species, from tropical species and sharks to representatives from the Atlantic and Cantabria.

There is also an oceanographic museum with models of ships, instruments of navigation and documents. The most interesting place in the museum is the oceanarium, which is a kind of underwater exhibition space.

Here you can walk through a transparent tunnel with a 360-degree view, which allows you to fully enjoy the beauty of fish, sharks and sea turtles living in the oceanarium.

San Sebastian: everything you need to know about Spain’s most beautiful city

San Sebastian sights

The city of San Sebastian in the Basque Country is considered by many to be the most beautiful city in Spain. It has a population of 183,000 people and is located 103 km from the capital of the Basque Country, Vitoria, 473 km from Madrid and only 18 km from the French border.

The Basque people call it Donostia or Donostia, and since 1980 it has been officially called Donostia-San Sebastian.

History of San Sebastian

The name of the city was given by the monastery of San Sebastian. The city was founded in 1180 by King Sancho the Wise of Navarre, although some historians place the date of its foundation as much as one and a half centuries ago. The city was a seaport of the Kingdom of Navarra, but after 1200 it came under the rule of the Crown of Castile, which gave an impetus to its rapid development. This prosperity made possible the city’s repeated rebirth: in the first two centuries of its existence, it burned to the ground six times. A fire in January 1489 turned the city into a pile of ashes, after which it began to be rebuilt in stone.

The reborn San Sebastian became a naval fortress and base of the Armada of Cantabria, which fought against French, Dutch and English squadrons until the 19th century. The city was repeatedly under siege by the enemy. Being constantly at war undermined its economy. In 1719, San Sebastian, with weakened fortifications, a small garrison and a shortage of arms and food was first captured by the French, who left it in 1721 after the conclusion of the Hague Treaty of Peace. Exactly 200 years ago, in 1808, it was recaptured by Napoleon’s army and liberated in 1813. During the fight for the city, only two churches and 35 houses survived the fire.

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San Sebastian toursSan Sebastian tours

Once again revived, the city in 1854 became the capital of the Basque province of Guipuzcoa. In 1863, after fierce disputes, it was decided to dismantle the fortress walls which restricted the growth and development of the city. After the death of King Alfonso XII, on the advice of doctors, his widow Queen Regent Maria Cristina chose San Sebastian as a place of her summer rest. The city began to change rapidly: it was during these years that the buildings that later became its trademark began to appear.

In 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War, San Sebastian became one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Spain: Russian ballet companies, French operetta singers, opera singers and artists of other genres perform in it, and the casino is visited by such characters as Leon Trotsky, Mata Hari, Count Romanones.

San Sebastian sights

San Sebastian, or simply Sanse, is also called a little or southern Paris because of the architectural style of the city borrowed from the French capital. One of San Sebastian’s finest buildings is the town hall, where the casino used to be, built in 1887.

Of particular note is the majestic Buen Pastor Cathedral, completed in 1897. The Urumea River, with its beautiful bridges, divides San Sebastian into two parts. The María Cristina and Curçaal bridges are particularly impressive.

San Sebastian sightsSan Sebastian sights

Miramar Palace, also known as the Royal Palace, was commissioned by the Spanish Royal House in 1893 and designed by the English architect Selden Warnum, to whom the building owes its purely English style. The palace offers amazing views of the Bay of Sinks. For many years it served the royal family as a summer residence, which increased the city’s appeal to tourists. The Spanish and European nobility spent their summers in San Sebastian. Today, the palace and its beautiful gardens are open to the public.

Every August from 1940 to 1975 the dictator Francisco Franco also lived in San Sebastian in Palacio Ayate and held meetings of the Council of Ministers there. The Ayaté Palace is located in the neighborhood of the same name, located on a small hill in the center of the city.

In 1909, at the same time began a three-year construction of the theater and the nearby luxury hotel “Maria Cristina”. The hotel was built by the French architect Charles Meves, author of several Ritz hotels in various European cities, including Madrid. It is at the Maria Cristina that the stars who arrive at the famous San Sebastian Film Festival stay.

Mount Igueldo and cable car in San Sebastian San Sebastian nature and mountains

On Mount Igueldo there is an amusement park built at the beginning of the twentieth century. There is a funicular from the square, which is called Funicular Square. From the mountain there are gorgeous views of the beaches of the city and the bay.

In the old part of town, at the end of the promenade, you can visit the aquarium with a transparent tunnel from where you can watch sharks and other sea creatures. The Museum of Oceanography, located in the harbor, introduces visitors to the maritime history of the city. The Museo de San Telmo features 11 frescoes by the Catalan artist José María Certa with episodes from the history of Guipuzcoa, painted in sepia and gold on a red background. Its main commercial and financial artery runs through the center of the city, Avenida Libertad. It is the longest street in the city and has a huge concentration of banks and boutiques.

How you can plan a trip to San Sebastian see in the tourist notes.

San Sebastian’s beaches

The sights of DonostiaWhat to see in San Sebastian

San Sebastian’s coastline is interrupted by mountains, forming seashell-shaped beaches, hence the name of one of them, La Concha Beach, which is opposite Miramar Palace. The beaches with the finest white sand are the pride of the city.

  • La Concha is the most famous beach in Spain, located within the city. Its length is 1,450 m, the average width is 40 m.
  • The beach of Ondarreta, 600 m long, lying between Miramar Palace and Mount Igueldo, is less “prestigious” than La Concha. At the end of this beach there is a composition of the famous sculptor and San Sebastian native Eduardo Chillida, “The crest of the wind”.
  • Surriola beach, 800 m long, is more open to the sea and is particularly popular with young people and surfers.
  • Another small beach is on the island of Santa Clara, which can be reached by shuttle boat or by swimming: it is located 500 m from Ondarreta.
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San Sebastian sights

San Sebastian International Film Festival

In September 1953 the San Sebastian International Film Festival was held for the first time at the initiative of a group of local businessmen. The festival had two goals: to extend the city’s summer season and to restore it to its former cultural life and glamour that had been lost as a result of the Civil War. The success of the festival was enormous, so the Franco regime took it under its tutelage. Over the years it gained weight and evolved into one of the best film festivals in the world. Until 1999 the stage of the festival was the Victoria Eugenia Theater, and since 1999 the screenings have been held in the modern congress hall Rafael Moneo, erected in front of Surriola Beach.

Cultural events

In addition to the International Film Festival, San Sebastian hosts other cultural events.

  • The annual Jazz Festival, born in 1965, is held in July and has become one of the major festivals in Europe.
  • Since 1939, every year for a month and a half classical music concerts are held in the city.
  • In 1990 the traditional Week of Horror and Fiction Films starts.
  • Since 2003 there has been a film festival that includes films related to human rights.
  • Other cultural events include a theater festival, an advertising festival, a surf film festival and an electronic music festival.
  • Several times a year San Sebastian hosts stages of various world and European sailing regattas.
  • On January 20, St. Sebastian’s Day the city hosts a children’s “tamborrada”: about 5,000 children from local schools march through the main streets of the city with drumbeat. At the same time, fifty adult bands with drums parade through San Sebastian throughout the 24 hours of the holiday.

Gastronomy

San Sebastian sightsThe gastronomy and cuisine of the Basque Country

San Sebastian is said to have the highest number of Michelin stars per square meter in the world. There are only two cities in the world with three three-star restaurants: San Sebastian and Paris. It is no coincidence that gastronomy is a local attraction.

In the old part of the city there are many bars and restaurants specializing in “pintxos” (pintxos), which are examples of gastronomic art in miniature. Hiking through these establishments is part of the local culture and a ritual for tourists.

San Sebastian Weather

The weather in the Basque Country is different from the rest of Spain. However, if you remember the weather in most cities in Russia, the locals are even luckier. The average temperature in summer is 20 – 25 degrees warm, in winter it is about +10, which makes the city and the region an ideal place for water sports.

San Sebastian, Basque CountrySan Sebastian, surfing on the Atlantic in Spain

If you are going to the north of Spain or the Basque Country, be sure to take a few days in San Sebastian – you won’t regret it. Contact the company phones, and we will help you organize interesting individual or group tours with the best guides in the country.

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Tags: basque country, port, san sebastian, castles, fortress, architecture, history, palace, Atlantic Ocean, north of spain

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