San Sebastián or Donostia as Basques call it, a charming city located in the Basque Country region is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Spain. And there are more than one reasons why – its unforgettably beautiful beaches La Concha, Zurriola, Ondarreta and the small island beach of Santa Clara, alluring architecture, taste buds spoiling tapas (or pintxos as they call them in Basque country), relaxing restaurants in old city and the list goes on.
Even though the city is quite small and cozy, events such as the San Sebastián International Film Festival, attended by many celebrities, have given it an international recognition. San Sebastián, along with Wrocław, Poland, was chosen as the European Capital of Culture in 2016.
If you are thinking of visiting this beautiful city and get to know more about Basque culture you should check out these top 5 things to do in San Sebastian.
Have a Beach Day in La Concha / Surf in Zurriola
Without a doubt one of the most enjoyable experiences of San Sebastián is soaking up the sun at La Concha beach which belong to one of the most famous urban beaches in Europe. Its name means shell, which is the shape of the beach.
It has fine, white sand that is perfectly soft and comfortable to lay on – ideal for a lazy nap in the sun. With its bright blue water, white sand, beautiful buildings and green trees behind the beach it is definitely one of the most delightful beaches you could ever imagine. La Concha is 1,5 km long and just a few minutes away from the old town.
However due to its good location, breathtaking scenery, warm water in the summer, soft, rolling waves and plenty of places to eat nearby it gets really busy in July and August. My advice is to choose other activities or be an early bird and arrive at the beach early in the morning. Or go surfing instead to the surfing paradise of San Sebastián – La Zurriola beach.
La Zurriola is full of young people practising surfing and other sport activities. Even several major surf competitions are organised here throughout the year. La Zurriola is also one the most popular locations of concerts during the The San Sebastian Jazz Festival (official name: Heineken Jazzaldia), held every year during the third week of July.
Rent a Bicycle and Ride Along the City
San Sebastián is a place of dreams for urban cycling. There are several places to rent bikes for an hour, half day, day or multi-day use and bicycle lanes are all around the downtown so you can have a slow, relaxing ride along the city enjoying the remarkable architecture and street views.
With more than 30 km of cycle lanes and so many cycling adherents San Sebastián is considered to be one of the most eco-friendly cities in Europe. Exploring the city, fresh air and healthy activities all in the same time is undoubtedly the best, easiest and most healthy way to get to know San Sebastián.
Watch the Sunrise at Monte Igueldo
Going up Monte Igueldo is a must do! As cliché as it is taking a picture of La Concha beach from up there – it is still definitely worth seeing that stunning view. But if you want to be unique and add some adventure to it, I recommend to go there early in the morning to see the sunrise. Not everybody is determined enough to wake up so early and that is why there are just a few pictures online of the famous view in sunrise.
To me going up Monte Igueldo to watch the sunrise was definitely one of the top things to do in San Sebastian.
The sun comes up between the mountains behind the beach – that makes the sunrise from this spot unbelievably beautiful! A fair reward for the early birds. You can go up by car, bike or do some hiking. There is also a funicular but it is not open early enough to see the sunrise, so you can use it at other times of the day. When the funicular is opened the ones looking for some childhood memories – you can also try some good old attractions of the old-fashioned amusement park which is opened since 1912.
Taste Pintxos at Old Town Restaurants
Undoubtedly one of the highlights of Basque country is food and particularly pintxos – one or two-bites sized appetizers which show the huge variety of tastes and creativity that belongs to the cuisine of Basque country region.
The best approach is to roam around the small streets of old town (Parte Vieja) admiring the architecture and from time to time drop into a small bar or restaurant and have one or two pintxos with a “chato” (a small glass of wine) at each bar. That way you will not only manage to do 2 in 1 – taste the incredibly delicious food of Basque country and explore the old town of San Sebastián, but also rest your taste buds and prepare for the next enjoyment of unique bouquet of flavours provided by each pintxo – a taste beyond your imagination!
The variety of restaurants and bars is wide, so everyone can find the best match. Some of the most famous and highly recommended ones are La Viña, Bar Zeruko, Goiz Argi, Txepetxa, Borda Berri, Gandarias, Gambara, La Cuchara de San Telmo and A Fuego Negro.
Go to the Aquarium on a Rainy Day
What to do in San Sebastián if it happens to be a windy, rainy day (actually not so uncommon occasion)? A visit of the Aquarium de San Sebastián is the best choice. It offers not only a great selection of fish and other sea creatures but has an educational exhibits of the history of San Sebastián port and some models of ships and maps of the area. One of the highlights is the underwater tunnel where you can see beautiful fishes swimming around you.
The aquarium is quite small and it can bee explored within an hour but it is still a great educational and historical experience. One of the the best activities for family especially on a rainy day.
Have you visited San Sebastián? I would really like to hear your story – use the comment section to share your insights on the best things to do in San Sebastian.