How to Spend 7 Days in San Sebastián
When you visit the beautiful Basque coast during the height of summer, it’s easy to kick off your heels and bury yourself in the beach for a week. But that would be a mistake. Pull yourself away from San Sebastián’s crystal clear waters and explore the city around you. There’s actually loads of things to see and do!
After settling into your accommodation, maybe getting some food or sleeping off that jet lag, the first thing I would recommend doing is to see the city. And there’s no better view than that from Monte Igueldo. Taking the funicular railway up the steep hill for only €3.15 return is like taking a trip into history. The funicular train has been going for just over 100 years and the fun fair on top for about 90 years. Ignoring the Coca-Cola-laden advertising and old-school theme rides, on a clear day the ocean stretches into the sky and the city into the hills on the horizon. It’s the best place to start your stay in San Sebastián.
For late afternoons and evenings, spending some time getting to know the streets of the Parte Vieja (old town) is a good idea. You’ll often find yourself in this area. It’s the oldest part of the city and both locals and tourists tend to come together to eat, drink and do some people-watching. You never know what might come wandering through these narrow streets.
If you did not already realise, San Sebastián is flanked by two large hills which face the Bay of Biscay. Yesterday, we visited Igueldo, today you should take a wander up Urgüll (the one with Jesus on top), which was a strategic military standpoint from the 12th century until 1924. This hillside is strewn with intersecting pathways, taking you to the foundations of the stronghold’s old barracks and castle. Don’t miss the war memorial dedicated to the British soldiers who died fighting for the Basque against French occupation. It lays derelict, overgrown and dismantled as a form of protest against the British soldiers who raped, drunk and burned their way through the city they were meant to “protect” in 1813. Because of this, no building in San Sebastián pre-dates 1813.
San Telmo museum is FREE on Wednesdays and holds a big collection on contemporary Basque art and culture. Built around a grandiose 16th Century convent, the museum is a testament to both historical preservation and modern design. It chronicles how the city evolved from the Franco years till today.
After all this walking, you probably need a place to put your feet up. Koh Tao is one of my favourite coffee spots in the whole of San Sebastián. Maybe because it’s one of the only places you can order a drink, sit back into a comfy chair and upload a picture on Instagram using their WIFI. Ha! For a list of other coffee locales to escape to, take a look at my post on The Best Trendy Cafes in San Sebastián.
I have always enjoyed waltzing down to Calle Puerta for my morning coffee and churros (deep-fried, long batter doughnuts). This street leads on from the harbour and (hence the name, door/port street) is full of places ready and open for the morning. Santa Lucia Chocolatería is a great cafeteria-style churrería which also serves up fried breakfasts and smoothies. It’s traditional to dip your sugar-coated churros into a cup of chocolate caliente (“hot chocolate”, but not the drinking kind). There’s nothing like a sugar boost to set you up for the rest of the day!
San Sebastián has three beaches, but La Concha is the longest and most central. You did bring a towel, right? San Sebastián was voted into the Top 25 Beaches in the world by Tripadvisor and in the Top 20 in Europe according to Rough Guides. With clean and clear waters, low salt and smooth waves you could easily stay here till the evening. If you still wanted to get aquatic without needing a bathing suit then check out the marine life in the beachfront Aquarium.
Calle 31 de Agosto is a favourite for low-light wandering. Whether your vice is souvenir shopping or picture taking, there are some great shops down this street and all my favourite pintxo bars are located within a 5min walk from each other. Check out Atari, La Cuchara de San Telmo and A Fuego Negro or cool vibes, music and some of the best bites in the old town.
Thursdays are one of the busiest days in San Sebastián – but before I explain why, let’s head on over to Gros, the more residential area across the river. Welcome to surfer’s paradise. San Sebastián’s Zurriola beach does not accommodate waders or leisure swimmers as it is constantly populated by kayaks and surfers. During the winter months, waves get as high as 9ft but during the summertime they average 4ft-6ft. This is a great time of year for beginners and there are loads of surf schools to help you out. For €85, Pukas Surf School gives you 1hr of tuition a day for 5 days and includes all surf equipment. All you have to do is bring your swimwear!
As we close in on the evening you’ll notice the streets start to come alive. This is because it’s Pintxo-Pote! Throughout the Basque region, on a Thursday, many pintxo bars will provide the public with a drink and a bite to eat for only €2. This occurs during the hours of 7pm – 11pm (or until the food runs out). As with all things, the quality of the pintxos vary from establishment to establishment, but the main idea of this night is to move from one bar to the next, essentially, it’s a massive pintxo crawl. Thankfully, I’ve already created a route of the best places to eat during Pintxo-Pote. You can take a look at the full blog post here: The Best Pintxo-Pote Route in San Sebastian.
Friday & Saturday
I’ve lumped Friday and Saturday into the same category because all these activities are interchangeable between the two. Many locals like to shop, whether it’s buying new clothes or food for the week. For those that have come to the Basque region for the food then there are some must-eat restaurants awaiting you. Many visitors are happy to splurge out for the Michellin-starred restaurants around the city. Some of the top picks are Arzak, Mugaritz and Martín Berasategui. These gourmet restaurants take food to another level, from unusual ingredient combinations to courses served on plasma screens, Basque cuisine is in its own league here. Some of the best restaurants involve driving out as they’re in the hills, so check the locations first. Also expect to pay at least €190 per head.
Free live music can be few and far between in San Sebastián during the low season, but there’s a great place in Gros which attracts a youthful and trendy crowd – Dabadaba. During the day, it’s a cool and quiet space to munch on a house-made sandwich and play some foosball in the centre of the room. I advise checking their website to see if Friday or Saturday night’s music will be free entry. Another late night alternative is Altxerri Jazz Club or if you want somewhere to hang out and drink cheap wine till 3am then Be Bop Bar is always open. If you’re lucky, there might be a live performance or two.
There’s no better way to end the week than with how you began! I highly reccomend doing the small hike from San Sebastián to Pasaia, the next town to the East. This route provides another amazing view of the city and as you continue along, the cliffs, woodland and ocean will give another taste of the natural beauty of the Basque coast. You can sometimes find locals jogging this route, which I find insane as it takes a couple hours to simply walk it! Take a snack or mini packed lunch to keep your energy up and you’ll arrive in Pasaia in no time. Don’t worry, at the end of the route you can catch the bus all the way back to San Sebastián. Read more details about the route on my post here: Take This Coastal Hike from San Sebastian to Pasaia.
I hope you have a fantastic week in San Sebastián – the prettiest, tastiest and most traditional city in the Basque region! Getting out of town is very easy too and there’s even more to explore along to Bilbao and across into France. I hope you enjoyed the post. Good night from Donostia!