Things to do in San Sebastián
San Sebastián in northern Spain is mostly famous for its food (more about that in this blog post) but has a lot more to offer and is a nice destination for a weekend getaway. Here are my tips on what to do in the city, and conveniently enough it’s the itinerary (almost) for the first two days I spent there. On the map below I have marked the places with blue numbers for day 1, red for day 2 and grey for the extras.
Monte Urgull (1) is the mountain at one of the ends of La Concha beach. The old town of San Sebastián was built by the foot of the mountain using it as protection from the ocean. The ocean can get pretty rough in this part of Spain and the mountain is still acting as a barricade for the city.
This is one of the best places in town to get a nice view over the city. You can reach the top by several paths that all lead there. I took the one that starts just next to the San Telmo Museum and I thought it was very good. Quite early you get a view over the beach Zurriola and Gros.
After a short walk that is steep uphill you are suddenly just above the roof tops with a fine view over the old town.
On top you have a fantastic view over the beautiful beach, the surrounding mountains and the rest of the city. Up here there’s a fort with a church and a museum about the history of San Sebastián.
If you go inside the museum you will get to the very top of the mountain, just by the foot of the Jesus statue. And from there you will see it all! The view from here is just amazing.
When you’re done at the top I recommend walking down to Batería de Santiago, it’s a kind of terrace with another great view. Here’s a small café where you can buy drinks and just look at the beautiful surroundings. I really liked this place a lot, and I think it was my favorite angle of the city.
There are many different paths on the mountain, just walk around and go wherever you feel like. I headed down the mountain by the harbour and walked around it for a bit. Here you will see the whole bay and will on a stormy day see the power of the ocean with all the waves rolling in.
Walk along the beach
After seeing the beach from above I think it’s perfect to head down to it. Pass through the small picturesque harbour (2) and have some lunch. After this you’re ready to take a stroll along the bay.
La Concha beach (3) is very beautiful and well maintained. Many people hang out on the beach sun bathing and relaxing. The whole promenade along the beach is very nice to walk and you have a nice view over the bay wherever you go.
After walking along the beach for a while you reach the…
The Miramar palace (4) was built in 1893 by Queen María Cristina. María Cristina married the King of Spain Alfonso the 12th in 1879 and had three children with him. When the king died in 1885 she became the regent until Alfonso 13th became of legal age. During her time as regent she built the Miramar palace in San Sebastián to use as a summer residence. Before the royal family had spent their summers at other palaces, but doctors advised the family to cooler climate.
The Queen spent her remaining 40 summers here and became a “Honorary Mayoress” of the city. She had a loveable nature and was very much liked by the inhabitants. She became a very good ambassador for the city and even learned some of the Basque language.
The Miramar estate was very big in its golden days with about 70 000 m2 for gardens and parks. The Queen had a landscaper design it in English-style. Nowadays the estate is much smaller, but still has a part of the beautiful garden. In front of the palace there’s a big grass lawn where you can sit and have a picnic and watch the nice view over the bay.
After visiting Miramar palace you can continue along the coast to the next mountain, Monte Igueldo (5). The beach in this part of town is called Playa de Ondarreta. The beach isn’t that long so it’s not that long before you reach the funicular that will take you up the mountain.
After almost no effort you get a very nice view over the bay. As I reached the top the clouds had really made an entrance and covered the whole sky. But the view was great anyway.
On top of the mountain there’s an old amusement park. It looks quite run down, and apparently there are different opinions from the inhabitants whether to keep it or not… Some people were there when I was here, but it looked like a ghost city in some parts. The restaurant on top was packed though. If you want to get up even higher you can visit the tower. There is an entrance fee for a few euros and in the stairs there’s a photography exhibition with photos from the old days.
And on top you get a liiittle better view over the whole bay…
When you feel like you’re done soaking up the view, take the funicular down again and continue to the end of the beach. Here you’ll find the art constellation Peine Del Viento (6).
Peine Del Viento
The art installation is made out of three big steel sculptures positioned where the sea meets land. When the sea is rough it splashes over the sculptures and make whistling noises. There are some holes in the ground too where the water comes out like water jets.
Pintxo bars in old town
After all of this walking and new impressions you can either walk your way back (if you’re like me are staying in the old town) or take the bus. After some time relaxing in your room it’s time to hit the old town (7) with all the pintxo bars.
The best way to start your day is of course to have a good breakfast. There aren’t that many places for breakfast in old town so I recommend walking to Centro where you’ll find Bideluze. This breakfast place is just next to a small beautiful and green park called Plaza Gipuzkoa (1). Another alternative is the popular Sakona Coffee Roasters in the neighbourhood Gros.
After a steady breakfast you are ready for another day of walking and exploring. Take a morning walk to Gros, the trendy neighbourhood in the city. Here you have another beautiful beach called Zurriola (2). Except for sunbathers, this is where you find the surfers. Maybe you feel like taking a surf lesson yourself? There are many places that offers surf lessons. San Sebastián is actually a pretty big surfing destination.
Puente Maria Cristina
Walk along the river and cross any of the bridges to Centro. The most popular bridge is Puente Maria Cristina (3). If you get to San Sebastián with the bus from the airport you will get off at the bus station just next to it. The bridge is from 1905 and is quite beautiful.
Centro and shopping
After crossing the river from Gros you will reach Centro. This is where you find the shopping street with popular shops like Zara and Stradivarius. Here are also some food markets to check out.
There are some old houses in this area as well, like the Good Shepherd of San Sebastián Cathedral (4).
Take a food tour
If there’s one thing you need to do in San Sebastián it is taking a food tour. The town is famous for all the pintxo bars and Michelin restaurants and there are several different tours to choose from. I booked an excellent tour through Airbnb which started with some history of the city and then continued with food tasting. The guide took me to five different bars where he chose a pintxo and the best drink to have with it. It was very good! The tour I took started in the afternoon, but there are tours both in the morning and in the evening. So choose a tour that fits your schedule the best.
Watch the sunset
After another good day in San Sebastián it’s nice to head to the beach and watch the sunset. Many people gather down by Mirador del Náutico (5) to see the sun set on the horizon.
It’s always nice to watch the sky as the sun sets, it looks different everytime.
And the view is very good from everywhere along La Concha…
If you have more time on your hand
Down by the harbour lies the aquarium (1) which is popular for many tourists. After my food tour it was raining and I wanted to do something inside, therefore I went here to check it out.
The first part is a museum where they tell the story about the fishing history of the area. After a while you get to the area with all the aquariums. They have a bigger tank with small sharks and other tanks with smaller fish. I wasn’t that impressed by the fish, but I think it’s a good place to take your kids to learn about sea animals.
Visit the spa La Perla
On La Concha beach lies the spa La Perla (2). I’m a little bummed I didn’t take time to visit it, it’s supposed to be really nice with many different pools with sea water and rituals. Enjoying a nice warm bath with the view over the sea must be really nice on a cloudy day.
The Victoria Eugenia Theatre
Interested in culture and theater? The Victoria Eugenia Theatre (3) can be visited just to see the beautiful interior or you can buy tickets for a show. Likewise the building itself is nice just to look at from outside too.