San Sebastian is a city in the Basque Country (País Vasco), located on the norther coast of Spain . The city is de facto one of the three “capitals” of this autonomous Spanish region along with Vitoria and Bilbao. It is known for it’s breathtaking natural vistas, it’s mountains and it’s world famous beaches! It’s also known as the best city for quality (and expensive) food in Spain. The number of pinxto bars and Michellin-star restaurants will seduce you immediately… so if you are on a diet, make sure to come here for your cheat days. So if your thinking about heading north and visiting San Sebastian, check out our list of top to dos!
Pinxtos are fine in San Sebastian
If you come from the “cold” and “organised” cultures such as Britain, Sweden, the USA, Japan, Austria, etc. you will have a hard time understanding the great chaos of a local pinxto bar. People going towards the bar, taking whatever they please, leaving the restaurant without paying to eat and drink out while standing outside, throwing rubbish on the ground to demonstrate happiness with the food all go hand in hand with the local pinxto traditions. It might seem overwhelming but it really is rather straightforward.
The local pinxto bars are about trust. You take whatever you wish (or order straight from the bartender to get it fresh) and then go ahead and eat your food outside as the bars tend to be small and packed so it’s just more convenient. Once you feel like going, you return to the bar and pay. And the mess? Believe it or not, but throwing a napkin or something else on the ground is a sign of courtesy – it means to say that you enjoyed the food.
Playa de la Concha
Whether for a morning run, fun and relax during the day, or a romantic walk in the evening, Playa de la Concha is the ideal retreat. It’s the most iconic urban beach in Spain with its 1350 meters in length, surrounded by majestic green mountains and elegant cafes and bars. It would be no exaggeration to say that it has a royal vibe as the royal family has their summer residence in the city so it must be representative. They have often been eager to invite their royal friends and show off San Sebastian.
Isla de Santa Clara
Talking about the Playa de la Concha, it is impossible to not notice the famous Isla de Santa Clara. It’s the tiny little island in the middle of the waters, and is quite possibly one of the most easily recognisable features of San Sebastian. If you’ve even spent one minute researching the city online, there’s no doubt you’ve seen the island photographed a hundred times over! It’s easily reachable by a boat or a kayak or if you are up to a challenge, you can swim over for the best views of the beach.
Monte Urgull provides the most beautiful bird view of San Sebastian. During the whole walk, you are beautifully protected from the heat of the sun by a park that leads you to find exciting little historical reminders along the way. After some fifteen to twenty minutes walking, you will reach the building that dominates the whole tower – a military fortress from the 12th century.
San Sebastian is in the North of Spain which tends to be somewhat colder. Yet the weather has an advantage for one particular sport – surfing. As a beginner, you better keep safe and sound in the lower waters but as an experienced surfer, get out there and have fun! The best time to visit San Sebastian for surfing is spring or autumn despite the risky weather. During the summer, the beach is too crowded. If you are there for surfing, you want to go to the Zurriola beach. Unlike Playa de la Concha, it is more exposed to the wind and thus it is a real heaven for enthusiasts. What is more, it is full of surfing schools and surf renting places to get you started!
Wander through the Old Town
San Sebastian’s old town is perfect for the long evening strolls with occasional stops for drinks. It is elegant and charming. It is a place full of excitement, interesting statues, and even more interesting people that will surely get you into the holiday mood. Make sure to visit the Main Square (typical Spanish Plaza Mayor), which reminds a small hidden square. The main attraction is surely the long pedestrian street along which everything interesting takes place. Magic, dance, passion… If you are ready to move further and adore the architecture, make it towards the modern area of the Old Town and visit the luxurious hotel of Maria Christine. Appreciate the grandness of surrounding buildings at the sun-set 🙂
Walking further away from the old town, you are sure to come across the San Sebastian’s Cathedral. It was built in the 19th century historicism Neo-Gothic style to fit the whole surrounding area. Maria Christina is an essential figure for this building as well as she layed the foundation stone when it was being constructed in 1888. When you visit, you should especially notice the detailed organ and impressive crypt.
Being the third biggest city in the Basque Country, San Sebastian has numerous museum with the best one being the Aquarium. You can explore different species of fish living under the water surface. It’s a great place where you can get to know our planet and develop a deeper relationship with it. Visiting the Aquarium is definitely worth it. The regular entrance is 12 euros and for students it’s only 8 euros!
Learn Spanish… ehhh, Basque
Yes, Spanish is an important language but it is not the only language used in Spain. You don’t have to become an expert in the Basque language but few words here and there will surely help you understand the diversity of Spain much better. What is more, it is a good conversation starter when talking to locals, who often have a bunch of fascinating stories in their sleeve to share with you 🙂
Escape to Hondarribia
So this is my personal secret (shh… don’t tell anyone). If you have enough time, you can take a bus x from x to escape the mainstream of San Sebastian. This small fisherman’s village dominated by a small castle will steal your heart away. Not even mentioning the outstanding food served with the view of the sea (or ocean?) and airplanes taking off and landing.
Sounds unreal? Spend the day with us exploring this amazing city every semester on our yummy Pais Vasco trip! We’re travelling every weekend to amazing new locations so make sure you keep up with our travel calendar!