10 Things to do in San Sebastian, Spain in 1 day
Talking about San Sebastian can make us start thinking about the sea, the good gastronomy, the tranquillity of the beach or international events. And the reality is that San Sebastian, or Donostia in Basque, has been a tourist destination coveted for the upper classes for more than a century and that is noticed in its architecture and its way of life. There are many things to do in San Sebastian and any list could easily start with its most famous beach: La Concha. La Concha is one of the most recognized not only of the city but in all of Spain. Its long boardwalk has made celebrities and ordinary people walk along it every time they visit San Sebastian. The walk along La Concha’s boardwalk is, without a doubt, a must during a getaway or weekend in San Sebastian. Have you every heard of Txacoli wine? Txacoli is a white wine produced mainly in Getaria, at 20 minutes drive from San Sebastian. You will be abñle to enjoy this white wine while you hop from bar to bar in the old quarter of San Sebastian.
Views of San Sebastián © Wine Tourism Spain
The history of San Sebastian includes battles, fires, and fun because its history also tells of tourism and good times. It was to San Sebastian that the queen decided to escape to during the hot summers in the center of the peninsula. And we know that when a king or queen does something…the people soon follow. That is how San Sebastian began accommodating aristocrats coming from many different areas. Thalassotherapy was fashionable in Europe and Spain and became another reason to visit San Sebastian.
Once you arrive in San Sebastian, you have to ask yourself a few questions. What to visit in San Sebastian? Where to eat? What not to miss in San Sebastian? Here, we try to answer these questions for you with a recommended itinerary throughout the city and the best places to visit, places to eat, and which monuments to visit to obtain the overall essence of the city during a few days or a weekend. Are you ready? Let’s go!!
You can check out these great tours from San Sebastian
Where is San Sebastian and how to get there?
San Sebastian is located in northern Spain in the autonomous community of País Vasco or Basque Country. It is a coastal city and lies just 20 kilometers from Spain´s border with France. It lies on the Bay of Biscay which opens to the Atlantic Ocean.
San Sebastian does have an airport, although interestingly, it´s airport is not located in San Sebastian itself. It is located in the nearby municipality of Hondarribia. The San Sebastian Airport has connections from Madrid and Barcelona.
If San Sebastian is your first destination in Spain, it may be more convenient to fly to Bilbao or Biarritz in France. These cities have more connections with cities outside of Spain. If you are not renting a car, there is bus transportation that connects these three airports to the center of San Sebastian.
If time is not an issue, San Sebastian can also be reached by train and bus. The train or bus journey from Madrid takes about 5.5 hours. If you rent a car, the drive from Barcelona to San Sebastian takes about 6 hours and from Madrid, it takes less than 4.5 hours.
What is the time in San Sebastian?
San Sebastian is on Central European Standard Time, the same as Madrid and the rest of Spain (except for the Canary Islands).
How is the weather in San Sebastian?
San Sebastian, like other cities in northern Spain, is known for rain. That´s not to say that you can’t absolutely have a beautiful sunny day in San Sebastian, much more likely in the summer months. The best time of year to visit San Sebastian to enjoy pleasant weather and its beaches is from late June to mid-September.
Brief history of San Sebastian
Let’s start with a bit of history. The city of San Sebastian begins to appear in written documents around the 11th century when there was a monastery in the area that depended on the Monasterio de Leyre in Navarra built by the Navarran King Sancho El Mayor. Later it became a fishing village and in 1180 was instated as a city by Sancho Mayor. San Sebastian became a recognized seaport in the 13th century and was used for sending cargo to the rest of Europe as well as the Americas. Due to its unique geographical location, the city was also highly sought after as a military and naval stronghold. San Sebastian suffered through many wars and sieges from the 15th to the 18th centuries and in 1813 was occupied by Napoleonic troops.
San Sebastian began its tourism in the 19th century when Queen Isabella II chose the city as a holiday resort making it fashionable for other aristocrats looking for a place to escape the hot summers.
Things to see in San Sebastian
Mercado de la Bretxa
This market dating back to 1870 is one of the oldest markets of the city. A new building called “La Pescadería” was built towards the end of the 19th century. Both buildings combine the traditional market on the ground floor (the old market) with a shopping center on the top floor. It is worth visiting the traditional market which sells top quality products. Local cheeses, sausages, and meats are just some products a visitor can easily purchase to take home.
Plaza de la Constitución
Without a doubt, the most important square of San Sebastian is the Plaza de la Constitución. It is a closed square with just two entrances and the façades of the plaza are all painted the same in yellow and white. An interesting fact that one may not notice are the numbers that are painted on the top of each façade. Many may think that they are the numbers of each house or perhaps of hotel rooms but neither is the case. Years ago, the actual Plaza de la Constitución was used as a bullring and the numbers found on the façade corresponded to the number of each balcony that was rented to watch the bullfight. Today, the Plaza is where most of the city´s important festivities take place, such as the “tamborrada” or feast of Santo Tomás.
Plaza de la Constitución © Wine Tourism Spain
San Telmo Museum
Located in the plaza, this museum is in a former Benedictine convent from the 16th century to honor San Telmo, the patron saint of sailors. After the Confiscation of Mendizábal, the building became military barracks until the town hall of San Sebastián purchased it in 1932 to expand the municipal museum.
Currently, the museum educates visitors about the history of the Basque culture, its traditions, and its economic history from the Basque whalers to the rise of the Michelin star restaurants in the city. A highly recommended museum to better understand Basque culture and history.
Basilica of Santa María del Coro
This basilica is one of the oldest churches in the city of San Sebastián specifically of the 18th century. It is of Baroque style, although, you can find some older elements of Gothic style and more modern, neoclassical. Behind it is Mount Urgull.
La Concha beach
Considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe (in fact, it was named the most beautiful urban beach in Europe), it is the most beautiful beach in the world for the people of San Sebastian. La Concha is the axis of San Sebastian. Every visitor, traveler, and resident walk it each day or very frequently to travel from one side of the city to the other. The connection between both parts of the city makes La Concha heavily frequented by pedestrians, cyclists, and cars moving from one side to the other.
Playa de la Concha © Wine Tourism Spain
Casa Consistorial (Town Hall)
Built at the end of the 19th century, this eclectic-style building was inaugurated in 1887 as the headquarters of the San Sebastian Casino. Due to the increase in the number of visitors, the casinos became a method to attract visitors and increase revenue in the city. In the 1940s it passed into the hands of the city council which still has its headquarters there today.
Casa Consistorial © Wine Tourism Spain
One of the most representative buildings of Belle Epoque architecture that stands out in San Sebastian. This seafront hotel is one of the most exclusive and luxurious of the city.
Bar hopping to enjoy pintxos in San Sebastian. Our selection of bars
Experiencing the pintxos culture of San Sebastian is a traditional way of getting to know the city and its fantastic gastronomy. Note that for locals in the basque country pintxos are the same thing as tapas in the rest of Spain. Pintxos are typically enjoyed standing up near the bar area and places do get quite crowded. Here we recommend a few pintxos bars to get a truly authentic experience:
Local gastronomy © Wine Tourism Spain
Very typical bar that serves mussels (as its name entails) in different forms, patatas bravas, and squid. Low prices and a good place to start a pintxos route through the center.
The pintxos at the bar are very good, but the ones that are prepared fresh are even better. We recommend the cod confit, croquettes or the beef cheek.
A Fuego Negro
Located on Calle 31 de Agosto, this is more avant-garde than traditional. It attracts visitors that want to experience the pintxo in an alternative way. We recommend their black rabas, gilda and makobe with chips.
Its specialty pintxo is the tortilla, although it is not always available. We recommend going at 13:00 or 20:00 before lunch or dinner to have the opportunity to try it.
La Cuchara de San Telmo
Elaborate pintxos of great quality. All are phenomenal but the grilled foie pintxo stands out.
Located in one of the corners of Plaza de la Constitución, this place stands out for its mushrooms with a touch of spice and its peppers stuffed with cod or meat.
Its specialty is mushrooms, so if you are a fan, this is your place.
The ideal place to end your pintxos route as the specialty here is its cheesecake. Many come for coffee and dessert but you will also find delicious pintxos.
Best bars to enjoy wine tasting in San Sebastian
Of course, at any pintxos bar you will find a great selection of wines to pair with your pintxos. For a more selective wine experience, we recommend the following wine bars and shops:
A favorite wine bar amongst San Sebastian locals, Vinoteca Syrah has an extensive wine list and offers a pintxos menu that adjusts with the seasonal products.
With over 700 wines from all over the world, this wine bar has quickly become a destination for wine lovers that are visiting San Sebastian. A great place to try something you´re not used to and they have good food as well. Also a wine shop, so you can purchase a bottle to take home with you.
Excellent place for classic pintxos with an exquisite wine menu. This family-run bar with more than 25 years of history, has become a focal point of the city´s food scene.
This vinoteca (ardoteka in Basque) takes you all across Spain´s wine regions and beyond. If you are a wine lover, you cannot miss this incredible wine shop.
Txacoli wine © Wine Tourism Spain
Michelin starred restaurants in San Sebastian
Located next to the Basilica of Santa Maria and the La Concha beach, this restaurant offers two fantastic tasting menus of 9 and 14 plates. Chef Dani Lopez received his first Michelin star with Kokotxa in 2007 and has been able to maintain this fantastic culinary proposal ever since.
Mirador de Ulía
Mirador de Ulía has one Michelin star and is located on one of the city´s mountains. Rubén Trincado captivates his customers with innovative cuisine with a nod to its Basque roots. A nice atmosphere, especially on the terrace during the summer.
With three Michelin stars, Arzak has become a culinary temple managed by Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena. The perfect balance of tradition and sophistication, Arzak is a must if your wallet allows for it.
Another three stars in San Sebastian, Akelarre is located just 10 minutes from the center and overlooks the Bay of Biscay in the five-star Hotel Akelarre. Views here are amazing! Customers have three tasting menus to choose from and none will disappoint.
Other restaurants like Alameda (In Hondarribia, near the San Sebastian airport) and Mugarritz (in Errenteria) are located very close to San Sebastian and are also great options to enjoy creative menus.
Cafes in San Sebastian
For most of us travelers, our day of sightseeing and exploring a new city cannot start until we´ve had a cup of coffee. San Sebastian has plenty of cafes and charming spots to get your caffeine fix and start your morning off just right. Here are just a few recommendations:
Old Town Coffee
A local favorite of San Sebastian, Old Town Coffee has some of the best coffee in the city. It is usually quite crowded but offers a friendly ambiance with the owners themselves often mingling with their customers. Located in Mercado San Martin, they also offer delicious organic baked goods with vegan and gluten-free options as well.
Sakona Coffee Roasters
This fantastic coffee shop was launched by five-time barista champion, Javier Garcia. Located in the Gros neighborhood, it is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a cup of probably the freshest coffee you will find in San Sebastian.
With a beautiful outdoor terrace, this place is ideal for those that prefer to enjoy their coffee outdoors. It is also a vegetarian restaurant. Enjoy the fresh air and some of the best coffee in San Sebastian at this unique and off the beaten path spot.
Morning or afternoon, Koh Tao is a great spot for some specialty coffee. The atmosphere is friendly and cozy, great for people watching and just hanging out. Their homemade food and cocktails are also fantastic.
Vegetarian and vegan dining in San Sebastian
While meat and seafood may be staples in San Sebastian´s local gastronomy, it is not impossible to find vegetarian options for dining out. You just need to know where to look and we´re here to offer a few suggestions.
Landare in San Sebastian is a must for vegans. They offer a menu del dia, a fixed price three-course meal, which changes daily. It is 100% vegan and a nice balance of local and international cuisine.
Mapa Verde is a vegetarian café where you sit and enjoy views of the beach. Located in front of Zurriola beach, they have everything from pintxos to buddha bowls.
This taberna is a bit off the tourist path and offers a great menu del dia. Km.0 is a great option if you are looking for a sit-down meal or some vegetarian pintxos.
Best views to enjoy in San Sebastian
San Sebastian is a beautiful city for taking a stroll and taking in the best views of the city. Here are some of our favorites:
Mount Igeldo is one of the icons of San Sebastian. You cannot leave the city without having climbed this mount and having had the opportunity to see one of the most beautiful views of San Sebastian. In the 16th century, there was an old tower that functioned as a lighthouse to avoid accidents at the entrance of the bay. The tower that you see today is two centuries newer. Today, the perception of this mount is of chalets and palaces with incredible views. In the early years of the 20th century, there was a casino that had the best views.
Today, the mount is a consequence of an idea had by the owners of the farmhouses surrounding the mount. They decided to buy the whole mount to create an entertainment space on top of it. They started with a casino and later built a small amusement park on top of Donostia. One year after the casino was built, the funicular was inaugurated. It is one of the jewels of Igeldo and departs every 15 minutes each way from Ondarreta beach. At the end of the 1920s after the Ibero-American Exhibition of Seville, attractions were bought and moved piece by piece from Seville to San Sebastian to be incorporated into the new amusement park on Mount Igeldo. The attraction that stands out the most is the rollercoaster which you can ride with views of the Cantabrian Sea at your feet.
Playa de la Concha
The jewel of San Sebastian is the Playa de la Concha, one of the most beautiful urban beaches in the world. Mentioned earlier in this post, links both sides of the city with a really nice boardwalk. No doubt you will be taking at least a few strolls on this boardwalk during your stay in San Sebastian. We recommend doing the whole walk as the views change as you move from one part to another.
“The Comb of the Wind”
If you reach the end of the boardwalk past Ondarreta Beach and the tennis club, you will reach one of the most fascinating sculptures of Chillida, “El Peine del Viento” or “The Comb of the Wind” in English. A fantastic spot to admire the sea and be hypnotized by the crashing waves.
Peine del Viento Sculptures © Wine Tourism Spain
Castle of Santa Cruz de la Mota
On the opposite side of the Playa de la Concha lies Mount Urgull, and on top of it, the Castle of Santa Cruz de la Mota. This 12th-century fortress offers a splendid panorama of the city down below.
If you want any further information on San Sebastián you can read more here: