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Best Things To Do in San Sebastian
San Sebastian primarily caters to travelers who opt outside. La Concha Beach is the picture-perfect spot for sun-seekers to enjoy while Zurriola Beach serves as the home base for the city's surfing community. Monte Urgull's and Monte Igueldo's placements (on either side of La Concha Bay) afford vantage points so breathtaking they will easily be etched into travelers' minds long after they've left San Sebastian. Come nightfall, do as the locals do and go pintxo barhopping in Parte Vieja, San Sebastian's city center. And if you've got kids in tow, the San Sebastian Aquarium is a favorite among families.
Updated July 29, 2020
- #1View all PhotosfreeParte Vieja#1 in San SebastianEntertainment and Nightlife, Free, Cafes, Neighborhood/Area, Shopping, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and Nightlife, Free, Cafes, Neighborhood/Area, Shopping, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Parte Vieja, also known as the Old Town, is the heart of San Sebastian. Despite its name, it's actually not the oldest part of the city (that honor belongs to Antiguo), but it is the most lively. Parte Vieja's pedestrian-friendly streets are flanked by centuries-old buildings that house a plethora of restaurants, shops and bars. It's considered the best nightlife spot in San Sebastian, as well as the best place to grab pintxos (the local term for light bites, similar to tapas). These two tend to coincide among locals, who begin their nights out pintxos barhopping.
If you're not a night owl, you can still find things to do in Parte Vieja. Pintxos are served all day and there are a few architectural gems that warrant further exploration. The San Vicente church, located next to the San Telmo Museoa, is the oldest in the city, dating back to the 16th century. Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, found at the base of Monte Urgull along the bustling Calle Mayor, is also located in this neighborhood. Meanwhile, Plaza de la Constitución is an excellent place to rest your feet and watch the world go by. Keep in mind, though, that the plaza's restaurants may be pricier than other parts of the city due to their central location.
- #2View all Photos#2 in San SebastianCafes, Tours, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDCafes, Tours, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
A good chunk of San Sebastian's international foodie fame is credited to its pintxo, so you'll want to put aside some time to explore the city's pintxos bars either on your own or with an organized group. Pintxos (pronounced "peen-chos") are essentially the Basque version of tapas, with a few key differences. Traditional pintxos consist of slices of baguette bread topped with any kind of food, held in place with a toothpick. Another difference lies in presentation. While most other places in Spain serve patrons a plate of tapas with the order of a drink, pintxos are laid out in bulk on the bar, allowing diners to pick what they want.
Pintxos in San Sebastian have significantly evolved over time and bars don't always adhere to the traditional bread or skewer base when serving them. Zeruko chooses to put the contents of its txitxarro dish (chopped fish, sheep's milk cheese and mint) on top of a strawberry wafer. Another popular spot, La Cuchara de San Telmo, also forgoes tradition by not having its pintxos lined out on the bar. Here you can order bits of suckling Segovian pig or veal cheek (a traveler favorite). If you're more interested in sticking to the classics, head to Ganbara, which features gilda, txistorra (cured Basque sausage piled on bread) and savory spider crab tartlets (a San Sebastian specialty).
- #3View all PhotosfreeLa Concha Beach#3 in San SebastianBeaches, Free, Swimming/PoolsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Free, Swimming/PoolsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
You wouldn't be able to miss this attraction even if you tried. La Concha Beach (named after its seashell shape) is located a stone's throw away from Parte Vieja. Situated southwest of Parte Vieja, the beach stretches about a mile wide and offers spectacular views of Monte Urgull, Monte Igueldo and Santa Clara Island, as well as the beautiful architecture that borders La Concha Promenade. This promenade, famous for its decorative, white wrought iron barrier, is a gateway to other points of interest in the city, including Parte Vieja and Miramar Palace, as well as a few beachside parks.
Travelers and experts agree that La Concha Beach is incredible and shouldn't be missed. Even if you're visiting during the cooler months, a stroll along the picture-perfect shoreline is a must. Visitors also appreciated how well-maintained the beach was: Travelers say the sands were clean and the water crystal clear. And considering the beach experiences fewer waves than the nearby Zurriola Beach, the setting makes La Concha a great option for families. Keep in mind, though, that during the warmer months, the shoreline becomes quite crowded, so make sure to get there early if you want to claim a stretch of sand.
- #4View all Photos#4 in San SebastianAmusement Parks, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDAmusement Parks, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Located on the western end of La Concha Bay, Monte Igueldo is a hit with travelers for its arresting vistas and attractions at the summit (just a few reasons why visitors preferred Monte Igueldo to Monte Urgull). At the top, you can get an eyeful of La Concha Bay, Monte Urgull (situated directly across from Monte Igueldo) as well as panoramic views of the Bay of Biscay. An amusement park also sits at its peak, offering everything from a sky-high rollercoaster to fun houses to go-carts.
Travelers say the views from Monte Igueldo are unmatched and so breathtaking that you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not visiting while in San Sebastian. To get to the top of Monte Igueldo, take the funicular located at the base of the hill, which can be found a couple blocks from Ondarreta Beach. Round-trip funicular tickets cost 3.15 euros (around $3.50) for adults and 2.35 (about $2.50) for children. Hours vary by season, but the funicular is generally open every day from 10 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m. and departs every 15 minutes. Hours of operation at the amusement park vary greatly depending on the season and if there's a public holiday. Consult the Basque Country tourism board's website for the amusement park's hours of operation. There is no admission fee for the amusement park, but rather a charge for each individual ride.
- #5View all PhotosfreeMonte Urgull#5 in San SebastianMuseums, Natural Wonders, Free, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, Recreation, Churches/Religious SitesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Natural Wonders, Free, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, Recreation, Churches/Religious SitesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Monte Urgull is one of two peaks that bookend La Concha (the other is Monte Igueldo). The lush hill makes for a great hike, with incredible views awaiting visitors at the top. Along with the panoramic vistas at the summiy, hikers will find Castillo de la Motad, which dates back to the 12th century and once served as a fortress to protect the city from invasion.
It's also home to the nearly 40-foot Cristo de la Mota, or Sacred Heart, statue (visible from the bottom of the hill). Relics, including canons, are strewn throughout, but if you're interested in learning more about Monte Urgull's long, storied role in defending San Sebastian, stop by the Casa de la Historia museum, also located at the top.
- #6View all PhotosfreeZurriola Beach#6 in San SebastianBeaches, Free, Swimming/PoolsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Free, Swimming/PoolsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Located on the other side of Monte Urgull, Zurriola Beach (or Playa Zurriola) differs from La Concha in that it's an action-packed surfing spot. In fact, the waves are so impressive (swells can reach a foot-and-a-half on a regular day), numerous local and international surfing competitions are held here. The best time for surfing in San Sebastian is during fall and winter. That's because waves are the biggest this time of year, reaching 5 to 6 feet in height. Even if you're not a surfer, you can still enjoy Zurriola Beach. The beach features plenty of space to stretch your legs and is completely safe for swimming.
Travelers who came to relax on Zurriola's sands or ride its waves reported a good time. Surfers compliment the conditions and recommend renting a board at one of the many nearby surf shops. Just remember: because so many flock here to surf, it's best to arrive early in the day to avoid crowded waters (though, reviewers say there are far fewer beachgoers here than La Concha). Some swimmers did complain that because there are so many surfers, the area of the beach dedicated to swimming can feel small compared to La Concha.
- #7View all Photos#7 in San SebastianZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If you've got kids in tow, then a visit to the San Sebastian Aquarium should be at the top of your list. That's because the aquarium, appropriately located right above the ocean's waters, features about 31 different exhibits broken up by region housing more than 200 species. Expect to find aquarium regulars, such as turtles, sharks, sea stars and stingrays, as well as plenty of fish big, small and colorful. There's also a giant skeleton of a North Atlantic right whale that acts as the center piece within the aquarium, as well as a 360-degree underwater tunnel that goes right through one of the aquarium's tanks.
Travelers young and old enjoyed their time at the San Sebastian Aquarium. Kids liked getting up an up-close view at the sea life, especially in the underwater tunnel. Meanwhile, grown-ups appreciated that the aquarium also houses exhibits chronicling the city's maritime history. Some adults felt this enriched their experience, as it helped give a greater context to the story of the animals that call the aquarium home.