San Sebastian is an incredibly fun city on the coast of northern Spain. What are the best things to do in San Sebastian? Find out now!
About San Sebastian
San Sebastian is a city in the Basque Country region in northern Spain. The Basque name of San Sebastian is Donostia. You will definitely come across this name in many places. The town is located on a bay and it is an upscale resort town.
San Sebastian has a beautiful old town center and lovely sandy beaches. In addition, it is located in a green and hilly landscape full of hiking trails. Visiting San Sebastian Spain is highly recommended if you are looking for a good combination of beach, city, and nature.
The best things to do in San Sebastian
What to do in San Sebastian Spain? Here are the best things to do and the most beautiful sights in San Sebastian.
Playa de la Concha
San Sebastian has several beautiful sandy beaches. On the east side of town, you will find the Playa de Zurriola and in the large bay near the city center, you have Playa de Ondarreta and Playa de la Concha.
Playa de la Concha is the most famous beach of the three. In fact, this is the largest beach and it is the closest to the old town. Behind the beach is a wide promenade where you can take lovely strolls.
Although it can get pretty crowded in the summer, the beach is big enough for everyone. There is always a spot available. A perfect place to cool off with a dip in the sea.
Isla de Santa Clara
From Playa de la Concha you have an incredibly beautiful view of the bay and the special island in the middle: Isla de Santa Clara. You can visit this island by boat (from June 1 to September 30), by kayak, or you can swim to the island. The island is only 400 meters off the coast.
On the island, you can hike to the 1864 lighthouse. There is also a restaurant with a terrace. From here you have a great view of San Sebastian.
Miramar Palace is one of the most interesting landmarks in San Sebastian. Queen Isabella II chose San Sebastian as her summer residence and her daughter-in-law Queen Maria Christina had this palace built.
The large complex with beautifully landscaped gardens is now owned by the municipality and is occasionally open to the public.
Funicular de Igueldo
On the west side of the city is Monte Igueldo, a 205-meter-high mountain. You can climb up the mountain yourself, but it’s even more fun to take the Funicular de Igueldo, a cable car.
On the mountain, you have several nice viewpoints and in addition, there is also a small amusement park.
Do you feel like taking a break? Then Parque Alderdi-Eder might be a good place. This is a city park on the boulevard behind (or in front of) City Hall. It is full of flowers, trees, and benches. In addition, there is a large historic carousel.
On the south side of the park is Plaza Cervantes, here is a beautiful statue of Don Quixote.
Catedral del Buen Pastor de San Sebastián
The largest church in San Sebastian is the Catedral del Buen Pastor (Cathedral of the Good Shepherd). It was built at the end of the nineteenth century and has a neo-Gothic style.
The building is beautiful to see and well worth a visit. The large stained glass windows are a very impressive sight, and the cathedral has one of the largest organs in Europe.
Another beautiful city park in San Sebastian is Gipuzkoa Plaza. Although it is not that big, the dense vegetation makes it feel like a calming oasis. It has a small pond with swans and a historic clock.
Tip! On the south side of the park is the coffee shop Panchito, where you can get incredibly good coffee and tea. Get a cup of coffee to go and take it to the park.
Discover San Sebastian with a guide
Want to learn more about the city’s history and visit as many San Sebastian attractions as possible in a short time? Then there are several options for going on a guided tour.
- Bike tour of the highlights: In 2.5 hours you will discover the most beautiful places in San Sebastian on an e-bike accompanied by an English-speaking guide.
- 2-hour guided walking tour: Feel like walking? This walking tour is a perfect way to discover the city. The tour includes drinks and pintxo.
- Exploration game: Rather explore the city in your own time? With this special app, you have a game and a guided tour in one.
Get lost in Old Town
The Old Town (also known as Parte Vieja) is the place to discover the real old San Sebastian. Narrow, pedestrian streets full of boutique stores, restaurants, and cafes that are all fun to explore. In addition, you will find about two churches and some nice hidden squares. A wonderful place to wander around.
What to do in San Sebastian? You eat. A lot. San Sebastian is one of the most important culinary cities in Spain and there are even several restaurants with Michelin stars. In addition, San Sebastian is the main city for eating pinchos (pintxos in Basque) in Spain.
Pinchos are small snacks, usually a piece of bread with a piece of fish or meat. Some pinchos are true works of art. They usually cost between €2 and €3 each and you can get them in any bar. It is the most fun to order pinchos and a glass of wine in a bar and then eat them outside (standing) at the table.
Done? Go to the next bar! One of the nicest places I’ve eaten pinchos myself is Bartolo House, an 1896 restaurant.
Tip: Discover the hidden gems during this fun pintxos and wine evening tour.
Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Coro
As you read earlier, two churches can be found in the old town: Iglesia de San Vicente and Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Coro. The latter in particular is a delight to the eye.
Indeed, the basilica has a particularly impressive facade with a richly decorated entrance gate. The church was built in the twelfth century and has several architectural styles. You can visit the church for €3 (price July 2022) and there are several exhibitions on display.
Fun for kids: Aquarium
Are you visiting San Sebastian with kids? It is incredibly fun to visit the aquarium with kids. In the aquarium, there is a museum section where you can learn more about the history of the local fishing industry, including whaling, and there is a skeleton of a huge whale.
And of course, there is an awful lot of fish to look at, there’s even a big glass hallway that you can walk through with fish swimming around you. There are also a few sharks in here and they’re quite big!
Musée San Telmo
At the foot of Monte Urgull, you will find one of the most important museums in San Sebastian: Musée San Telmo. In this museum you will learn all about the ancient and contemporary Basque culture, in fact, it is a must-visit during a vacation in the Basque Country.
The museum is located in an old monastery from the sixteenth century (of which you can still see much) and there’s also a section in a modern building from 2011. Very interesting to see!
The mountain on the east side of San Sebastian is Monte Urgull and it is 123 meters high. It is one of the nicest places to walk in San Sebastian, once you walk up through one of the walking paths you don’t even notice that you’re in a big city. In fact, it is full of bushes and trees; it looks like you are walking in a dark forest.
There are several attractions at Monte Urgull, the most notable being the castle (Castillo de la Mota) and the 12-meter-high statue of Christ.
Cementerio de los Ingleses
The Cementerio de los Ingleses (Ingelesen Hilerria) is one of the most special places on Monte Urgell that you really need to visit. This is a cemetery and monument commemorating the British officers who died defending San Sebastian in 1836-1837.
The monument has been there since 1924, for almost 100 years. The headstones and monument are partially overgrown with moss and shrubs, giving it a very mysterious effect. In addition, there is a viewpoint on the other side, where you can see the sea.
Museum Chillida Leku is not officially in San Sebastian, but just outside it. This is a museum in memory of the Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida. In the museum, you can see the somewhat smaller and more fragile sculptures of this artist.
Outside is a large thirteen-acre garden where as many as 40 sculptures are on display, including the 9-foot-tall Buscando la luz.
Day trips from San Sebastian
San Sebastian is also a very good base to discover other beautiful places in the Spanish Basque Country. How about for example:
Bilbao is about an hour and fifteen-minute drive from San Sebastian and is the capital of the Basque Country. The city is an incredibly cool combination of old and new. On the one hand, there is the old town full of narrow streets, historic churches, and steep staircases; on the other, there is the super-modern Guggenheim Museum full of interesting works of art. A place you should definitely visit!
Tip: You can also visit Bilbao on a tour led by an expert guide. The tour includes transportation to and from San Sebastian and a visit to the Guggenheim Museum.
Hondarribia is a town on the east side of San Sebastian, against the French border. It has ancient city walls (you enter the city center through a gate) and incredibly beautiful narrow streets and cozy squares. Very photogenic!
It is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. Is it too warm to walk around? Then there are also several beautiful sandy beaches to be found in the Hondarribia area.
Tip! Want to learn more about Hondarribia and also discover other spots along the Basque coast? Then book the Hondarribia, San Pedro and San Juan Tour guided tour.
Zarautz is a seaside resort west of San Sebastian and the place to be for surfers. So you see a lot of people in wetsuits with surfboards walking around. And yes, you can rent these in many places as well.
Zarautz has a nice sandy beach and a broad promenade full of cafes. You can also take beautiful walks in the area around Zarautz to various viewpoints. So it’s a fun place to be both active and lazy!
Tip: You can also visit Zarautz with a special Txakoli wine tour from San Sebastian.
Where to stay in San Sebastian
As you can see, you can easily entertain yourself for several days during a San Sebastian city break. It is therefore highly recommended to stay in the city for a few days. These are some great accommodations to stay in:
- Pensión Peñaflorida – Nicely decorated guest house near the old town.
- Villa Eugenia Boutique Hotel – Unique 3* hotel slightly outside the center. Beautiful villa with nicely decorated rooms, a parking garage, and a garden with a swimming pool. 10-minute walk to the beach and a 20-minute walk to the old town.
- Zenit Convento San Martin – 4* hotel in a former convent near La Concha. Booking a room including breakfast is highly recommended since it’s very tasty.
For an overview of even more accommodations and availability, visit Booking.com.
San Sebastian camping
Do you prefer camping? That’s a great idea! Unfortunately, there’s no campground in San Sebastian, but there are some campgrounds in the area that are not too far from the city. These are a few options:
- Camping Igara de San Sebastián – In the hills about 6 kilometers from San Sebastian. The campsite has a swimming pool.
- Camping Orio/Orio Kanpina – Great family campground near the village of Orio, and it’s just a three-minute walk from the beach. From the campground, you can drive to San Sebastian in about 20 minutes. In addition, Orio also has a good train connection with San Sebastian.
Check EuroCampings.eu for more campgrounds in Spain.
Best time to visit San Sebastian
What is the best travel time to visit San Sebastian? June through September are the best months to visit San Sebastian.
San Sebastian is located in northern Spain, where there can still be quite a bit of rain. It is very green there for a reason! The most rain falls from October through May, although heavy showers occur regularly in the summer as well. Maximum temperatures in summer average around 25 degrees, although sometimes can climb up to over 30 degrees celsius.
How to get to San Sebastian
How do you travel to San Sebastian? You can travel to San Sebastian by plane or by train.
Travel to San Sebastian by train
Did you know that northern Spain is very accessible by train? San Sebastian has several train stations. There’s Donostia-San Sebastián station on the east side of the river. This is the larger train station with connections with high-speed trains to other large cities in Spain. There’s also the Amara-Donostia on the west side of the river, which is home to the local Euskotren. This is the best station to travel to if you arrive in Hendaye in the south of France.
Euskotren is really cheap. For Euskotren, you can buy a ticket from the vending machines at the station and then choose one for Donostia, as they mainly use the Basque name here. For all other (non-Euskotren tickets), make sure to check Rail Europe to find the best deals. If it’s too hard to find something, you can also check Omio, which covers trains and buses.
Travel to San Sebastian by plane
There is a San Sebastian Airport, however, this is located in Hondarribia and is only used for domestic flights (it has connections to Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville among others). However, the nearby city of Bilbao has an international airport. Check out WayAway or Skyscanner for all options, schedules, and prices.
From Bilbao, you can take the Euskotren to San Sebastian. This one does stop very often on the way and therefore takes a very long time. The quickest way to get from Bilbao to San Sebastian is by bus. Check out Busbud for times, and prices and to book bus tickets in Spain.
Travel to (and around) San Sebastian by car
The last option to travel to San Sebastian is by car, with which you can of course easily discover more beautiful places in the fine Basque Country. Check Rental Cars and Discover Cars to find good deals on car rental.
You have to pay for parking in most places in San Sebastian, but it’s not too expensive and there are also plenty of spots. If you only want to visit the center, it is convenient to use one of the parking garages. Parking Boulevard Telpark and Parking La Concha Telpark by Empark are good places to park.
More tips for San Sebastian and northern Spain?
These were all my San Sebastian tips! Would you like to visit San Sebastian and more beautiful places in Spain? Then there are some fine travel guides you need to check out:
In addition, you can also find more tips for a Spain vacation on this website. For example, also read these articles:
- Hiking the Camino del Norte | The Ultimate Guide – The famous Camino goes straight through San Sebastian.
- 18 beautiful places to visit in Basque Country Spain
- 18 Best things to do in Pamplona Spain
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