This guide to exploring San Sebastian is part of our travel resource series of articles. Discover amazing locations and get the details on the best things to do, without all the fluff. We’ll tell you how to get a memorable experience, and how to do it without spending a lot of money!
The Best Things to Do in San Sebastian Spain
1. Drive To San Sebastian
Yes, you heard that correctly. The way you choose to arrive in San Sebastian could make all of the difference and greatly add to your experience of visiting the city! Given that San Sebastian lies within beautiful Basque Country, on the North Coast of Spain along the Bay of Biscay, we feel it’s an experience in and of itself to get to enjoy the views on your way to the city. You’ll have the opportunity to drive through the beautiful countryside, through small romantic, picturesque Spanish towns, and ultimately along the Northern Coast prior to your arrival. It’s truly a soothing experience if you’re traveling with a rental car.
How to do it: Driving to San Sebastian is a relatively painless experience, but how you go about it depends on your origination. On my most recent visit to San Sebastian, I chose to take a high-speed train from Sevilla to Zaragoza. Zaragoza is a convenient location to pick up a rental car if you want to explore Basque country. It’s approximately a 2 hour and 30 minute drive and will allow you to explore both the Basque countryside and ultimately Spain’s North Coast. An added bonus — it’s not too far from some of Spain’s more famed wine regions which are also worth a stop. The train station in Zaragoza is huge, and accommodates Avis and EuroCar satellite offices. Pick up a rental car with a GPS and begin your trek North to San Sebastian!
Of course, if you’d rather fly into San Sebastian, you can fly directly into San Sebastián Airport from several of the major Spanish cities, including Madrid and Barcelona.
2. Visit La Concha Beach (Playa de La Concha)
Quite possibly one of the best examples in the world of city and beach life integrated, La Concha Beach offers locals and tourists a picturesque setting to relax, swim, run, walk or even fish. It’s a relatively large (over 1,500 meters), naturally shaped horse-shoe style beach with Isla Santa Clara perfectly placed in the middle.
The paved promenade that spans the majority of the beach itself is also dotted with small eateries, bars and benches where tourists can rest, drink and or just enjoy the view.
Not only is this beach ranked as one of the best beaches to visit in ALL of Europe, Isla Santa Clara has its own little beach that people are allowed to swim out to.
3. Try Pintxos in San Sebastian
Pintxos (pronounced peen-chos), are a Basque style of tapa served throughout the region, but most notably within San Sebastian. San Sebastian is world famous for the gastronomic experience offered to tourists. It’s the home of world-famous food festivals, and as a city, San Sebastian holds more Michelin Stars per square metre than any other city in the world.
What’s wonderful about many Pintxos bars in San Sebastian is the fact that many are almost free to eat at. As long as you enter a bar and order a drink or plate of food, any Pintxos plates resting on top of the bar are up for grabs. Grab a few bites while you sip on a fine Catalunyan wine!
Of particular note are the seafood based Pintos. They could be made up of shrimp, squid, cod, anchovies or any number of other local varieties. The best part? Everything is super fresh! How Pinxtos are done up depends entirely on the chefs involved. Also worth trying is jamon serrano (Spanish cured ham, varying degrees of quality dependent on price) and la hoguera Pintxos.
While you could certainly make the relatively steep uphill climb on foot, we highly recommend taking the Funicular up to the top of Monte Igueldo to see the epic view of La Concha Bay, simply because it’s a unique experience.
For just a few euros, ride the Funicular up to the top of the small mountain and witness one of the most iconic views in all of Europe. You literally have the city and waves beneath you, and there’s a relaxing, not very crowded promenade that circles around the top of Monte Igueldo.
Adding even more value to this experience is the Asador Alaia restaraunt. Grab a glass of your favorite Spanish wine or beer, eat lunch or an early dinner and take in the brisk, Basque, salty air hundreds of feet above San Sebastian.
5. Explore the City of San Sebastian
San Sebastian offers more than just a great coastal view. In downtown San Sebastian, within what is dubbed “Parte Vieja” — essentially the city’s Old Town — you can walk the streets and indulge in a rich shopping experience. Browse everything from high end retailers to old-fashioned, privately owned unique silver jewelry shops. As you walk and shop, keep your eyes peeled to the hidden nautical accents dotted throughout the architecture of Parte Vieja. Just across the street, you’ll be able to find a wide variety of some of the finest Pintxos bars in Basque country. Be sure to sample some of the local wine!
Also keep an eye out for some of the beautiful garden parks placed sporadically along the promenade of the urban center. Bring a book in your pack and just relax amongst the ocean breezes.
Once you’ve had your fill of shopping and food, wander on back towards the La Concha promenade and consider hiking Monte Urgull. Monte Urgell is almost directly across the bay from Monte Igueldo and offers a different perspective of both the city and La Concha Bay. There are several pathways that lead up the hill to the top, some of which are paved with easy to moderate inclines.
Walking to the top of Monte Urgell is a great way to get some fresh air following an urban walk through Parte Vieja. It’s clean and the natural aspects of the walk are soothing to the soul, as is the view at the top.