The serene brutality of the ocean and the breath of wet briny air takes me back to the week-long vacation we had in San Sebastian / Donostia, Basque Country which is well known for its world-renowned Michelin star restaurants and its impressive touristic attractions. There is just so much to see and do in the Basque Country and we bet one can never get bored of it. During our stay there, we loved every bit of our time exploring their unique culture and palatable cuisine. San Sebastian is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in Spain and it is a must visit for a magical spectacle. In this post we share the Top Things to do in San Sebastian and useful travel tips to plan your trip to San Sebastian.
Best and Top Things to Do in San Sebastian
La Concha Beach
This is the number 1 place to be in while in San Sebastian. This beach is perfect for a stroll along the promenade with stunning views of the surf and beach. La Concha is one of 3 beaches that San Sebastian possesses. It is clean and easily accessible. The other two beaches worth visiting areThe Ondarreta beach (La Playa de Ondarreta) and The Zurriola beach (La Playa de la Zurriola). If you are into water sports particularly Surfing then La Zurriola is your beach to go to. The waves there are perfect for all types of surfing and in general the beach is more active than La Concha.
Peine del Viento (Wind Comb)
On the farthest tip of Ondaretta beach, you will come across three steel sculptures weighing ten tons each which make for some interesting and good photos if you are a passionate photographer. If you have very little time in Donostia and you ask us for a few recommendations, then for sure this place tops the list. It’s a great spot to enjoy and interact mindfully with nature. The place is stunningly beautiful and you are bound to notice the serenity of the surroundings.
If you want to treat yourself to some of the best views of San Sebastian and get yourself a picture of the most iconic panoramic views of the city, then Mount Igueldo is the place to be. What we enjoyed more than the view from the mountain atop is the ride on the 1912 funicular railway which happens to be the oldest funicular railway in the Basque Country. The journey on the cog railway with wooden carriages was a scenic one. There is also a cute amusement park (Parque de Atracciones Monte Igueldo) with some fun rides making it a fantastic option for kids.
Overlooking the La Concha Bay and Santa Clara Island, lies the stunning Miramar Palace which was built for and was once owned by the Spanish Royal family. Isabella II used it as a summer home in the 19th century. The lush green gardens right outside the palace is clean and very well maintained and a perfect place for an evening stroll. When we visited, we were lucky enough to spot some beautiful spring trees in full bloom.
A fairly steep hike with plenty of stairs but we highly recommend you do this hike that will leave you with superb views of the whole city and the mesmerizing coastline. There are totally four different routes you could take to ascend and once you make your way up, you will come across an incredible statue of Jesus Christ that quite resembles the Christ the Redeemer monument in Rio de Janeiro. There is also a small history museum but it is open only Wednesday to Sunday but unfortunately the information is all in Spanish only. However we made a quick visit to the museum and then sat down there under the statue savoring the views.
Parte Vieja (Old Town)
The Old Town is the heart of Donostia. Even though Parte Vieja is very touristy with its saturated dose of Pintxo bars and restaurants, it is still one of our favourite places to hang out because of the mouth-watering and delicious food! There are so many options available and one must seriously exercise some food control or exercise harder (we prefer the second option) while visiting the old town. If you are looking for the route to take for the Pintxos crawl, then do check out my blog post to know Where to find the best Pintxos in San Sebastian
Santa Maria del Coro Church otherwise known as the Basilica of Santa Maria
This church is a gem snuggled up in the Parte Vieja (Old Town). This is one of the few churches where you have to pay a donation to enter. A fee of €3 to enter the church and to visit the museum inside, you need to shell out an additional €2. This Roman Catholic Church is done up in the Baroque style and looks very grand and rich.
Maria Cristina Bridge
The classic bridge built over the Urumea River that screams history and architecture. This is an excellent photo point both during day and night. We made several trips across the bridge during our time there and we always paused to snap a picture.
A nice distinct piece of architecture that sits right in the centre of the city. The reason I say distinct is because it looks ultra-modern when compared to the buildings that encircle it. This popular building designed by Rafael Moneo is dedicated to arts and events that take place in the city. Make a trip here during the night to see it lit.
El Buen Pastor Cathedral famously recognised as the San Sebastian Cathedral
This beautiful church built-in the Neo-Gothic style is located just a kilometer away from Santa Maria Del Coro. This beautiful Cathedral is free and open to the public as long as mass is not taking place. It is said that the church organ is supposedly one of the largest in Europe. This church is located quite close to the shopping quarter of Donostia.
Seated at the centre of the Old city is this popular square dates back to the 1700’s, which was once upon a time a bull fighting arena. The square looks pleasing and you will notice that each balcony has a different number on them denoting the seat where people would sit and watch the bull fight. This place is bombarded with tourists who come to spend time relaxing over a drink in one of the many outdoor cafes and restaurants. We do not recommend you eat or drink from here as the prices are quite steep when compared to the rest of the city.
Iglesia de San Vicente
This stunning Gothic styled church is supposedly San Sebastian’s oldest church and is nestled in the middle of the old town. It is free to enter and is a must visit to see the ornate altar and the lovely stained glass work. We personally felt this church was grander than the San Sebastian Cathedral. We were quite lucky to participate in the Palm Sunday service here.
City Hall (Ayuntamiento)
The San Sebastian City Hall is one of the area’s main landmarks and is situated close to La Concha Bay.
Zurriola Bridge (Puente de la Zurriola)
A concrete-based bridge, close to the city centre. One of the main highlights of this stylish landmark are the lamps, with line on either side of the bridge. Its look superb especially at night time.
Island of Santa Clara
If you’re looking for an easy island getaway, then checkout Island of Santa Clara. During summer from June 1 to September 30, usually there are ferry services from the San Sebastian harbour to the island every 30 minutes. You can purchase the ferry tickets at the harbour itself and they are inexpensive. The island is beautiful and has cafes, restaurants, picnic areas, and a post office. The small beach at the island is safe for swimming and is sometimes referred to San Sebastian’s fourth beach. We wanted to visit this island but we couldn’t as we were there during spring time.
More things to See and Do in San Sebastian
Free Walking Tour in San Sebastian
Since we are into walking tours, we decided to check out theFree Walking Tour in San Sebastian organised by Go Local San Sebastian . Their tours are designed to cover the main monuments in Old Town & San Sebastian city centre. During their tour they would touch upon the history and culture of the Basque Country too. The tours alternate between Spanish and English and hence it is very important to check the schedule in advance and make reservations online. We both were very excited and looking forward to this walking tour but unfortunately it did not happen. The agency insists on a MINIMUM attendance of 4 people in order to run the tour. Since only 3 people showed up the tour had to be cancelled. If you are interested in a Paid Walking Tour then do check out San Sebastian Walking Tours . They offer a City Sightseeing tour and a Tapas food tour. However do keep in mind that these paid walking tours are ridiculously overpriced.
Visit a Cider House
So this is a very touristy thing to do in the Basque Country. You pay a fixed price, usually around €30-40 and then enjoy some cloudy cider with some strangers. The Cider houses have a very social atmosphere and is great if you like to connect with other travellers and also learn a bit more about cider production. The cider season in Basque country is typically from January to late April.
Easy Day Trips from San Sebastian
Walking from San Sebastián to Pasajes de San Juan
If you have ever dreamt of doing the popular Camino de Santiago, then this is your chance where you can do a small bit of it. Walking from San Sebastián to Pasajes de San Juan is something we truly enjoyed during our trip. The hike was loaded with impressive trails along the coast. During our hike, we stopped a couple of times to enjoy the views and to click some snaps. We recommend you do this hike only if you possess a certain degree of fitness as it can be quite taxing for a novice hiker. Bring lots of water and snacks as you will not find any cafes/ restaurants during your hike. The hike would take you less than three hours to do.
is a very picturesque fishing village with fewer tourists and more peaceful and pleasant surroundings. There are a few restaurants where you can enjoy a delicious sea food platter.
Day trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao and Game of Thrones Dragonstone shooting location Gaztelugatxe.
If you have the time, then we highly suggest you do a day trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao. Check out our detailed blog post on Our Trip to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe .
What’s the Best Way to Get from Barcelona to San Sebastian?
For those of you wondering on how to travel from Barcelona to San Sebastian, you have several options listed below and we do not recommend any particular mode of transport as we believe it really depends on what type of travel you prefer and how much time you have in hand to commute.
Barcelona to San Sebastian by Bus
We booked our tickets from Monbus. We highly recommend this website as if we found the ticket prices to be reasonable and good. The bus took off from Barcelona Sants Station and dropped us off at Donostia Station 5½ hours to reach. They have day and night buses and we decided to choose the latter as we preferred not to waste the day traveling in the bus. The prices are very reasonable and on Monbus website you would often see tickets at discount prices. We had a twenty minutes halt at Zaragoza for snacks and refreshments.
Barcelona to San Sebastian by Car
Definitely a good option if you have a car or can rent one for the trip. We usually hire our cars from Europcar or Avis . To get to San Sebastian from Barcelona, the routes are AP-7, AP-2, AP-68 and AP-15. These roads take you first through the city of Lleida, Zaragoza, Pamplona, and finally to San Sebastián. The total distance to drive is approximately 550 Kilometres and takes 5½ hours to reach. Make sure to keep your credit card/ coins handy to pay at the toll booths.
Barcelona to San Sebastian overnight train
You also have the option to travel from Barcelona to San Sebastian by Train and the average prices for the Renfe Trains Cost from Barcelona to San Sebastian when you book in advance is approximately €45- 50. The trains take close to reach the destination. If you are planning to travel during the weekend, then please keep in mind that there are 3 trains on Saturdays, but only a single service on Sundays which leaves at 7:30 a.m. So plan your trip accordingly keeping these details in mind.
Barcelona to San Sebastian by Flight
This is undoubtedly the quickest option if you have very little time and want to reach Donostia as soon as possible. Vueling offers flight services every single day with a pretty decent frequency too. Another carrier worth checking out is Iberia Airlines.
Where to stay in San Sebastian?
If you are looking for accommodation in San Sebastian, then we highly recommend Pension Aia .The owner was very friendly and gave us a lot of useful tips to get around the city. Also the hotel was very conveniently located right in the city center. You can find more details Here
Things to know before visiting Basque Country
- Their rain has a name! Yes you read that right. In the Basque region, it is very common to have light but incessant rain and these showers are called Sirimiri. It shows up when you least expect it and can go on for hours together. So be prepared and bring along a big strong umbrella or a raincoat. The reason i insist on a strong umbrella is because the winds are so strong that our tiny fragile umbrella couldn’t handle it and we were forced to buy a new umbrella from one of the souvenir shops.
- No matter how good your Spanish is, it will barely be of any help as the language of communication here is Basque. But no worries. Most people speak good English and we do not foresee any problems you could possibly have.
- If you are wondering what souvenirs to buy from the Basque Country or what San Sebastian is famous for then we suggest Txakoli and Cider as they make good souvenirs. Most Basques use an Escaniador to aerate the wine and increase the amount of bubbles in the glass. You can purchase an escanciador in local souvenir shops for around EUR 3. Txapela is the Basque beret and can be found in almost all local stores and boutiques. Idiazabal cheese is a good option if you like cheese.
What to pack specially for San Sebastián?
- A good and comfortable pair of sandals or walking shoes
- An umbrella or rain coat
In addition to this, I also recommend you check out my post on Best Apps for Travel
How many days do we recommend in San Sebastian?
We spent almost 7 days in Basque but if you have limited time in hand then we suggest you stay for at least 3 days in San Sebastian. Bilbao can easily be done as a day trip and it is not necessary that you stay there.
We hope you enjoyed this post on best things to see and do in San Sebastian. Let us know if you have visited San Sebastian before and if yes what you like the most about it.