18 San Sebastian attractions not to be missed
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.
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
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 .
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.
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.
Address: San Sebastian City Hall, Ijentea Kalea, San Sebastian, Spain.
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 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 its 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. | 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.
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
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 | 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.
Address: Paseo Nuevo balcón, Donostia, San Sebastián, Pasealeku Berria, San Sebastian, Spain.
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, which covers 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
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.
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.
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 walk 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 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 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.
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 worthy of special attention.
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
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.
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.
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 travel guide: how to get there, what to see, hotels, shopping, climate and food
San Sebastian is a city in northern Spain and the capital of the province of Guipuzcoa, which belongs to the Basque Country. This city, also called Donostia, has a rare combination of qualities – fresh, bright, friendly, intelligent by day and lively in the evening. The main evening entertainment is not the discos, but the gourmet pintxos bars and restaurants.
The beaches here can compete in terms of landscaping with the best beaches in Europe, and some of them are a real paradise for surfers. San Sebastian hosts major international festivals of film, jazz (Jazzaldia), electronic music and many other interesting events.
You can see the city of San Sebastian in this video from above:
In San Sebastian you can see architectural masterpieces such as the Cathedral or the Victoria-Eugenia Theater. And just 35 km away, nature shows its masterpieces – in the Costa Basque Geopark, where it is hard to believe your eyes.
The Old Town (Parte Vieja) is on the left (west) bank of the river Urumea with excellent pintxos bars and inexpensive apartments (on the outskirts of Fermin Calbeton Kalea). Centro Romantico, south of the Old City, has lots of stores and beautiful late 19th-century architecture. On the right (east) bank of the river Urumea lies the district of Gros with its surfer beaches and relaxed atmosphere.
How to get to San Sebastian
Photo: Map of San Sebastian with points of interest
San Sebastian Airport is located on the border with France near the town of Ondarribia. From there you can get to San Sebastian by bus – travels about 1 hour, price from 2.5€.
Bilbao (about 100 km from San Sebastian) has an airport that receives international flights. From there you can get to San Sebastian by bus (PESA) – takes 1h. 15 minutes and costs from 17€.
When to go
San Sebastian’s northern location makes it a stark contrast to the southern cities of Spain. It is a humid and rainy place where the relatively “dry” months are July, August and September. The air temperature during this time reaches 23-26°C and the water near the shore can get as warm as 22-24°C. Summer and early fall are the best times to travel.
October is not yet cold and there are spectacular waves; November is extremely rainy. San Sebastian winters are mild, with a minimum temperature of 6-9°C (at night), but there are storms and lots of rain.
The name Donostia is none other than the Basque version of the name San Sebastian (“dono”-saint, “stia” is short for Sebastian).
Beginning as a simple fishing village, San Sebastian became one of the key ports of the Kingdom of Navarra, gaining self-government in 1174. The city thrived on fishing and whaling, as well as trade with Europe and then the New World.
By the 19th century, San Sebastian had become a place of refuge from the heat of the Spanish rulers. This led to the city being filled with elegant modernist structures typical of the era.
Neglected after World War II, San Sebastian is now in its heyday as a fashionable vacation spot and host of high-profile international festivals.
Photo: Cathedral del Buen Pastor
The late 19th century Catedral del Buen Pastor is an impressive neo-Gothic structure of sandstone quarried from Mount Igueldo. Of particular note is the 9,536 pipe organ, which at the time of its construction (1954) was the largest in Spain. The bell tower of the Cathedral is 75 meters high. From here we will head north to the Plaza Guipuzcoa.
The Palacio de la Diputacion is located to the west of the Guipuzcoa Plaza in a pleasant park area. Five busts of eminent personalities can be seen on the façade of the luxurious late 19th century structure, and the coat of arms of Guipuzcoa can be seen on the attic.
San Sebastian City Hall sits directly in front of La Concha Bay and next to Alderdi Eder Park. The ornate palace, which originally served as a casino, has been the city hall since 1947.
Photo: San Sebastian City Hall
The Teatro Victoria-Eugenia can be reached by walking from City Hall along Boulevard Zumardia, where the Tourist Office is located. The majestic eclectic building of the early 20th century on the banks of the river Urumea is inspired by the Paris Opera.
Exactly diagonally to the northwest is the ceremonial Constitution Square. It is the main place for popular festivities and the starting point for excursions. The square is densely surrounded by buildings and the adjacent streets can be accessed through arches.
The 18th-century Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro is a magnificent Baroque church decorated with a sculpture of the martyr Saint Sebastian, a clock and a shield of the city. The eight-sided columns inside the basilica are up to 15 m high. From its doorway you can see the doors of the Cathedral on the other side of the city, as the buildings are exactly opposite and there are no obstacles.
The 16th-century Iglesia de San Vicente is the oldest late-Basque Gothic church in Donostia. The austere appearance of the church can be explained by the fact that in those days temples could combine religious and defensive functions. The church has a magnificent original altar from 1586.
Photo: Church of San Vincente
From Plaza de Zuloaga you can climb Mount Urgul, but before you do, you should visit the San Telmo Museum on its slopes.
At the top of Mount Urgull, in addition to stunning views, tourists will find the ruins of La Mota fortress from the 12th century. There is a museum “Looking at San Sebastian” in the castle. There is also a beautiful statue of the “Sacred Heart of Christ”.
Photo: Mount Urgul
The Aquarium Donostia is a great opportunity to see great sharks, bizarre jellyfish, stingrays and other water inhabitants. For greater effect there is a breathtaking tunnel with a three-dimensional view and also thematic sections. Also of interest is the oceanographic museum.
Miramar Palace (Palacio de Miramar) of the late 19th century – a gem of refined English style almost on the beach of La Concha, which served as a summer royal residence.
Photo: Miramar Palace
Mount Igueldo is a real entertainment complex, which can be accessed by taking the old cable car from 1912 (runs 4 times an hour). The mountain is equipped with an amusement park with a “roller coaster,” which offers magnificent panoramas. Tourists can enjoy equally splendid views at the observation sites of the park.
The Tabakalera Museum of Contemporary Art is on the east side of the river Urumea. The museum owes its name to its location in a former tobacco factory. On an area of 1.3 hectares there is a huge exhibition of contemporary artists, a cinema, a library, a cafe, a hotel and much more.
Cristina Enea Park is an ancient park on an elevated site, where you can spend a wonderful time among exotic trees. Note the palace of the Duke of Mandas, who founded the park in the 18th century.
Photo: Duke of Mandas Palace
Church of San Ignacio de Loyola (Iglesia de San Ignacio de Loyola) is a 19th century church in the Old Town dedicated to St. Ignatius de Loyola, a native of Guipuzcoa. Here the best organ music in the city is played.
The Palacio de Congresos y Auditorio Kursaal is the finest example of the modern architecture of Rafael Moneo. Every year the palace hosts several hundred events and over half a million people. Opened in 1999, it has boosted the influx of tourists and has become, contrary to the opinion of the citizens, the jewel of San Sebastian’s cultural scene. From the left bank, the Palace can be accessed via the original Curzaal Bridge.
St. Clara Island is a piece of land 700 meters from Ondaretta Beach, resembling a turtle floating in the sea. You can get there by boat, which in the summer season (June-September) depart from the fishing port.
San Sebastian beaches
Photo: City beach of La Concha in San Sebastian
San Sebastian’s wide beaches are close to ideal – golden sand, excellent infrastructure, and breathtaking panoramas. Only storms, to which the ocean is exposed, can disrupt this idyll.
- Ondaretta is a beach at Mount Igueldo, considered one of the best in Europe. Coarse golden sand, fiesta atmosphere and calm waters;
- La Concha – a magnificent city beach at 1,350 meters. Excellent infrastructure, protected from the waves. Equipped with a beautiful promenade;
- Zurriola or Gros is a windy beach in the east of the city, where it is dangerous to swim. It is a place of surfers and cultural events.
Sightseeing in the vicinity
Photo: Loyola Sanctuary
In the town of Hernani, 11 km from San Sebastian, is an interesting open-air museum of sculpture Eduardo Chilida (Musseo Chilida-Leku) . Visitors can see 40 large abstract sculptures in granite and iron, walking among the beeches, oaks and magnolias. And an old 16th-century farmhouse displays a smaller sculptor’s work.
The Sanctuary of Loyola (Santuario De Loyola) is one of the most revered Basque shrines near the town of Azpetia, about 45 km from San Sebastian. The place is a bit gloomy, but very popular among pilgrims. In the Sanctuary you can visit the house where Ignacio Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, was born in 1490.
Costa Basque Geopark is located between the towns of Zumaia and Mutriku, only 30 km from San Sebastian. Here there are spectacular rock layers – fleches. To see its beauty you need to go by car with stops at Acantilado Flysch, Mirador Flysch, Mirador Virgen de Itziar (observation points of the park).
Photo: Ondarribia – medieval town
Ondarribia or Fuentarribia is a medieval town 22 km from San Sebastian, separated from France only by the estuary. Well-preserved fortress wall, mansions of rich Basque people, charming old town, Gothic church of Santa Maria de La Asunción.
If you want, you could also visit the pleasant town of Onyati.
Tips from tourist reviews
Stop by the city’s tourist bureau and buy a “San Sebastian” card (valid for 5 days), which allows cheaper or even free visits to the main attractions. It also gives you free rides, discounts, and a free tour of the city (Boulevard Zumardia, 6).
To buy a guidebook, visit the Elkar store on Fermin Calbeton Street. For car rentals, look for similar outlets right at the airport.
In the Old Town and Centro Romantico you will find many boutiques and brand-name stores. The best place to buy Spanish food is in the San Martin shopping complex. The Akuna matata store sells everything from magnets (€3) to scarves for the local soccer team (€9.50) and is the best place to buy great souvenirs at a fraction of the prices of other stores.
Things to do in San Sebastian
10 things to do in San Sebastian:
- Visit the gorgeous Cathedral of the Good Shepherd;
- Taste all the variations of pinchos with the local chacoli wine;
- Ride the cable car up Mount Igueldo;
- Come “face-to-face” with a shark at the Aquarium;
- Hire a boat and go to St. Clara Island;
- Ponder how the mysterious fleeces were formed in the Costa Basque Geopark;
- To appreciate the power of the ocean wave at Gros Beach;
- Enjoy jazz at the July Jazz Festival;
- Store for souvenirs at Akuna Matata in one fell swoop;
- Take home local cheeses, wine, olive oil, and jamón.
What and Where to Eat
Photo: Tapas – Pinchos
Basconia, of which San Sebastian is a part, offers gourmets its own version of tapas – pintxos. Here it is not just a snack, but a real art. We advise you to go beyond the pintxos in the shop window and try everything: crabmeat, shrimp, peppers, mushrooms, pâté, and other delicacies. It’s all washed down with the local sparkling wine, chacoli (Txakoli).
In addition to pintxos bars, San Sebastian has many fish restaurants, as well as establishments with traditional Basque food. And the selection of budget establishments is quite decent.
Gastropub Casa Valles is next to the Cathedral. This is a great place to eat tapas, tortillas, octopus, jamon and refresh yourself with a glass of beer. There are set menus from 13€.
The pintxos bar Nagusia on Nagusia Street resembles a pintxos museum – there are all sorts of variations (from 2,9 €). This is the best place to get acquainted with pintxos, especially if you are not far from the tourist office.
Restaurant La Mejilonera on Puerto Street surprises visitors with endless imagination on clams and sauces (prices from 3€). It’s always crowded and hard to get comfortable, but the clams and calamari will make you happy.
La Cuchara de San Telmo is a bar-restaurant near the San Telmo museum with creative Basque cuisine. The meat, calamari, clams, fish are delicious and it’s always crowded. We recommend the veal cheeks in red wine.
La Zurri Jatetxea restaurant in the Old Town is simple and quality Basque food, good portions and nice prices. You can get a “lunch” for only 11-12 €, including a drink. Very popular with local workers (a good sign).
Restaurant Arzak (3 Michelin stars) is a place for connoisseurs of haute cuisine. Chef Juan Marie Arzak always surprises with new flavors and bold design. The establishment is located on the outskirts (Avenida Alcalde Jose Elosegui, 273).
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