A few years ago, we discovered San Sebastian with another couple. Of course, we knew that you can enjoy beautiful food in Spain, but San Sebastian is the absolute top destination for the real foodie. They serve the best food here.
I was brainstorming with a friend about a girls-only weekend a while ago, as we both had a busy time behind us and we wanted to celebrate being friends for 15 years (any excuse really!). One of the options was San Sebastian, and as we both love tasty food, the decision was easy.
About my friend: We met 15 years ago when we both adopted a son from the same orphanage. This created a bond, and she became godmother to our second son. Last year (or rather, over the last 10 years) she wrote a book about the whole adoption-adventure. Interested? Order the book here . Easy to read and I have a small role in it too (unfortunately only avaiblable in Dutch)..
Back to San Sebastian.
San Sebastian in short
San Sebastian is situated on the Atlantic Coast in the Spanish Basque Country. Like the Catalan people (in the area around Barcelona), the Basque people are also very proud of their culture. The fight for independence has raged from the 1st century BC, but eventually an agreement was made with the Spanish government. Basque Country is part of Spain, but they have received a number of extra “rights”. They get to spend part of the collected taxes for instance. This makes education and healthcare nearly free. The streets are super clean and everything is maintained to a high standard. It makes this a perfect area for traveling.
They speak two languages in Basque Country: Spanish and Basque. Basque does not resemble Spanish, nor any other language.
The city is surrounded by forested mountains and has a long, rich history. About 200 years ago, the city was nearly completely destroyed, so all buildings are a maximum of 200 years old.
San Sebastian flourished during the Belle Époque. The Spanish royal family used to come here on holidays. During the summer they escaped the heat and enjoyed the cooler climate of San Sebastian. Jet setters still enjoy the city. An annual film festival has been organised in the city since 1953.
San Sebastian geographically
San Sebastian is divided into three parts. In the west lies Ondarreta. The Old Town is in the middle. It is a large pedestrian area with small alleys, shops and lots of small eateries. In the east lies Gros, the real up-and-coming part of the city currently.
Beste things to do in San Sebastian
San Sebastian has 3 beaches.
- The most famous and largest is Concha in the centre of the city. Most tourists put down their towel here. You enjoy beautiful sunsets over here.
- If you prefer to hang out with the locals, choose Ondarreta beach in the eponymous part of the city. This is my personal favourite as there is a cosy beach bar here.
- Sports fanatics should go to Zurriola beach in Gros. It is a man-made beach, and tonnes of sand are added to it annually. The sea is rough and makes for great surfing. Do you enjoy walking on the beach naked? You can do so here.
Intense storms can hit the city in the autumn, making it too dangerous to surf on the sea. Some days the wind is so strong that you can surf the river Urumea into the city
Visit Mount Ulia
This 243m high mountain lies to the east of Gros. You have a great view of Zurriola beach and Gros. A whale watching post was established here in 1530. Unfortunately, these giants no longer pass by here.
Visit Mount Urgull
This hill lies in the middle of the town, just behind the Old Town. It has been of strategic importance since the Middle Ages as it was used to guard and defend the town. The Castillo de la Mota is proof of this. There is also a gigantic (12 m high) statue of Christ on top of the hill. It was made by Frederico Coulaut in 1950.
Visit Mount Igueldo
You can reach this most westerly peak of San Sebastian with a funicular railway. This train picks you up from Funicular Plaza and brings you to the old-fashioned fairground at the top. The train leaves every five minutes and costs 2 to 3 euro.
The top also has a lighthouse from which you have a breath-taking view of the bay.
Santa Klara is a tiny island off the beach of Ondarreta. You can reach it by ferry (direct or via the tourist route that brings you around all the beaches), per canoe, or swimming. There are a few days in September that the water is so low that you can reach it on foot. It has one small bar and a tiny beach. Perfect to escape the hustle and bustle for a while.
We did a super fun cycle tour with San Sebastian Urban Adventures. The tour leads you past all the highglights of the different areas. Perfect thing to do on the first day so you get a good overview of the city. More about this in another blogpost.
Visit the Old Town
The Old Town consists of small alleys with lots of eateries and cute shops. There are a few beautiful historic buildings like the old churches Iglesia de San Vicente and Santa Maria del Coro. No cars are allowed on the streets, so it is the perfect place for an evening stroll. If you want to go out for a nice meal, this is the place to go.
Spain is known for its tapas, but the Basque have their own variety: pintxos. These pintxos are actually mini-meals, usually served on a piece of baguette. Our favourite was Bodega Donastiarra De Brocheta de pulpo y langostinos (skewered squid and prawns ) comes highly recommended. I will share all my restaurant tips in another post.
Here's another guide about the best pintxos in San Sebastian.
Guggenheim in Bilbao
If you have time, you have to visit Bilbao. The city lies 1h15 (by bus) from San Sebastian. And as the airport is here, it would be an idea to plan your visit on your arrival or departure day. Bilbao is a welcoming city, with the Guggenheim as its highlight, if only for the outside. Bilbao was originally an ordinary, poor city, but it made a real name for itself after the Guggenheim moved in. There are always different exhibitions on, check their website before you leave.
Here's a great road trip from Bilbao to San Sebastian.
And if you have even more time, you should visit the cities of Saint-Jean-de-Luz (for the most fabulous dishes of fruits de mer) and Biarritz. A bit more inland lies the beautiful Pamplona. The region has a lot to offer, and I will certainly be back.
Later on I will tell you more about the luxury places to stay in San Sebastian.
Have you been to San Sebastian yet? What's your favourite pintxosbar?
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