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16 Best Things to Do in San Sebastian, Spain

16 Best Things to Do in San Sebastian, Spain

When planning your trip to northeastern Spain, you’ll want to discover all of the best things to do in San Sebastian, Spain.

In San Sebastian, rising bluffs and golden sands create a memorable picture frame. They act as delightful boundaries and present experiences that put you in touch with the utter beauty of Basque Country. But what lies within the frame, the picture itself, is much more grand.

Like any work of art, the more you study it, the more unique wrinkles and discoveries you uncover. Enjoying the best things to do in San Sebastian is like that, albeit within a compact space.

Split by ancient walls, the city’s old and new sections create a brilliant blend of past and present. Historic architecture, cultural landmarks, and the aromas of traditional cuisine add layer after layer to San Sebastian. It’s a culinary destination above all else, so foodies will want to prepare for an epic vacation.

If you are visiting this region of Spain in March or April, it’s getting warmer, but just know that it will be quite rainy. Check out full guide for what to pack for Spain to make sure you have all of the essentials.

How to Get to San Sebastian

San Sebastian lies along Spain’s northern coast and is 13 miles (21km) from the French border. Although, it’s fairly simple to get to San Sebastian, even the local airport lies in a separate municipality.

San Sebastian Airport is around 20 minutes from town and has regional connections to Madrid and Barcelona Airport.

However, if you’re flying here from an international destination, then we recommend flying to either Biarritz or Bilbao Airport which both have more diverse options. The cities are 45 and 70 minutes away, respectively.

If you prefer to take the slow and scenic route, Spanish trains and buses depart regularly for San Sebastian from Madrid. This journey takes roughly 5.5 hours.

person standing in the middle of the frame along a boardwalk with a white gate in front of them and the ocean behind that with islands in the distance.

The promenade in San Sebastian is a beautiful place to stroll any time of day.

Where to Stay in San Sebastian

There are so many great places to stay in San Sebastian. While the town is known as a hub for luxury, it’s not difficult to find affordable pensiones and hostels.

Budget

Uma Suites Ondarreta is well located in the old town only a few blocks away from La Concha and close to tons of great restaurants and pintxos bars in San Sebastian. Rooms are clean and simple and the price is unbeatable at €50 per night. Book a stay at Uma Suites Ondarreta here.

Enjoy Comfort is a little pension hotel located just three blocks from the beach. Locally owned, this little guest house has a few rooms with a shared bathroom and free coffee and tea facilities. It’s cleaner and more comfortable than a hostel and a good option for couples who want more privacy than a hostel.

Rooms start at €78 per night. Book a stay at Enjoy Comfort here.

Mid-Range

Looking out over La Concha, guests will enjoy fabulous views from Hotel Niza that extend far beyond the price tag. The interior is infused with bright decor and the terrace allows you to enjoy the beautiful Bay of Biscay.

The hotel restaurant is inspired by the best of Biarritz and your excellent location means your steps from the water and minutes from the Old Town. Rooms start at €120. Book a stay at Hotel Niza here.

You can save money without losing on location with a stay at Hotel Parma. On the edge of the Old Town, this hotel looks over La Zurriola Bay, steps away from the town’s best surf. The family-run hotel comes with comfortable and bright rooms with a daily buffet breakfast. 

Rooms start at €125 per night. Book a stay at Hotel Parma here.

Luxury

Near the celebrated Calle 31 de Agosto lies the beloved Hotel Maria Cristina. The architectural masterpiece, set along the Urumea River, is the height of luxury.

Draped in Belle époque elegance, your upscale room comes with great views, marble bathrooms, and rain showers. Downstairs lies a fine dining restaurant, and guests will be a brief stroll away from the heart of the Old Town.

Rooms start at €325 per night. Book a stay at Hotel Maria Cristina here.

15 Things to Do in San Sebastian

These are 15 of the best things to do in San Sebastian. Whether it’s your first time to this stunning beach town in Spain or you’re back for another summer in the Spanish sun, this list should help give you some fun new ideas. 

narrow pedestrian street with beautiful old Spanish buildings on either side and blue skies above.

San Sebastian’s Old Town is a beautiful place to explore and one of the best things to do in San Sebastian.

1. Wander the Old Town

Wondering what to do in San Sebastian? Exploring the city’s Old Town is a great way to get acquainted with this beloved Spanish beach town. Known as Parte Vieja, the historic core lies between the Alameda del Boulevard and the heights of Monte Urgull.

San Sebastian provides visitors with a relaxed pace of life.

However, the history, eye-catching architecture, and the movements of locals provide this part of town with a pulsating atmosphere.

At its heart lies the Plaza de la Constitución. This sprawling public square brings locals and visitors together as one. The former bullfighting space is surrounded by lovely wrought-ironed balconies.

Wander without agenda down the many old, cobbled streets to find traditional Basque tapas and pintxos eateries. Plus, the historic Gothic church, Iglesia de San Vicente, is the oldest in the city.

2. Experience Mercado de la Bretxa

The history of San Sebastian will draw you in as much as the beauty found at along the coast. At Mercado de la Bretxa, you can wander back to 1870, when San Sebastian’s most prominent market began.

Mercado de la Bretx is a fixture of the Old Town. Not only does the facade of the market delight the eyes, but it’s also the perfect introduction to the city’s fabulous Basque cuisine. The cornerstone of this culinary delight is the quality of its fresh produce.

Come and explore the range of complex cheeses, fruits, and meats to create your own charcuterie picnic to enjoy at the beac. All the while, you can soak in the vibrant atmosphere of the traditional stalls. 

santa clara island is a speck of rugged rock in the middle of the bay of biscay with tons of trees around it and San Sebastian close by, it is one of the best things to do in San Sebastian.

Santa Clara Island is well worth seeing up close.

3. See Santa Clara Island Up Close

Inevitably, you’ll find yourself soaking in the Spanish sun at La Concha Beach. From here, you’ll have a stunning view of Santa Clara Island. The vista will only tempt you to see it up close.

The island is surrounded by rugged rocks like. Santa Clara, in all its quaint beauty, is a welcome departure from the happening waterfront. Exploring it is one of the top San Sebastian activities.

You can paddle out to the island on kayak, but many prefer the helping hand of Motoros de la Isla and their boats. Once here, you can explore the natural swimming pools at high tide.

If the tide is out, a remote beach is exposed with memorable views. Afterward, check out the historic 1864 lighthouse before settling in for drinks and snacks at the resident beach bar.

4. Explore Montes Urgull & Igueldo

The town is surrounded by two beautiful bluffs, Monte Urgull and Monte Igueldo.

To start, we suggest heading up Monte Urgull. First, head to San Sebastian’s aquarium to connect with the Paseo Nuevo. Here, you’ll rise above Parte Vieja and wander around the tip of the hill that’s crowned by the alluring 12th-century Castillo de la Mota fortress.

Later, refuel with some tapas and take your weary legs to the other side of the bay. Here, you can ride the funicular to the top of Monte Igueldo, 600 feet (182m) above the sea.

On arrival, a mix of San Sebastian, the Basque countryside, and the arch of La Concha Beach provide a feast for the eyes. Oh, and there’s an amusement park here too!

cathedral at the end of a street with cars on one side and buildings on both sides of the street and trees arching over the top of the road with red leaves. The cathedral is one of the best things to do in San Sebastian for its spir.

Explore all of the different churches and cathedrals in San Sebastian.

5. Admire Buen Pastor Cathedral

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, AKA Buen Pastor Cathedral, was completed in 1888. It lies in the newer part of town and is the biggest and most striking religious complex in San Sebastian.

Built from sandstone sourced from the subterranean wares of Monte Igueldo, the Neo-Gothic cathedral is highlighted by its 250ft central tower. The facade is simple yet breathtaking. The collection of spires, the colors of the sandstone, and the surrounding greenery fit together like puzzle pieces.

Yet, it’s what lies within that will leave the greatest impression. The enormous interior, spread across 20,600 square feet (1,913 sq meters), requires more than just a moment to take in.

Stained-glass windows line the walls, creating a kaleidoscopic effect. Lying at the end of the ethereal cathedral is the cathedral’s organ.

6. Take a Food Tour

Lying on the coastal edge of the rolling Basque countryside, San Sebastian is a foodie haven. It’s a place where you can eat as you stroll, popping in and out of local establishments to refuel on famous pintxos.

You’ll quickly start to get the hang of it. But to truly become an expert in Basque cuisine, one requires a local tour guide. Across your five stops, each paired with fantastic local wines, you’ll get to know the traditional flavors, each with its own story to tell.

On this food tour, you’ll also dive into San Sebastian’s Old Town to discover its impressive past that has evolved into a pintxos mecca. Your friendly, expert guide will help peel back the layers behind both the past and the evolution of the local cuisine. Book a food tour here.

small plate with pintxos from San Sebastian on top including a slice of tuna with chilies and onion pinned on top with a toothpick and trays of the same dish behind it on the bar.

Pintxos are a must-try when you are in San Sebastian.

7. Sunbathe on La Concha Beach

La Concha Beach is the white sand welcome mat set between San Sebastian and the spectacular waters of La Concha Beach. It’s this very bay, this soft sand and these gentle waves that have made this town so famous around Europe.

Its alluring Belle époque aura, thanks to the backdrop of classic buildings, is a pleasant reminder of Queen Maria Cristina. The queen’s pronouncement of La Concha being a Royal Beach made the city one of the most popular places for royals and dignitaries from around Europe to visit.

Today, all you have to do is lay down the beach towel and revel in the mix of golden sands and cobalt blue seas. For more action, kayak along the shores or wander the gorgeous Paseo de la Concha.

8. Try the Best Pintxos (Calle 31 de Agosto)

After your food tour, you’ll know a thing or two about pintxos. But when the cravings for these mouthwatering creations arise, where should you go? The answer is, Calle 31 de Agosto.

This convivial street is lined with pintxos bars serving up this traditional treat in all the right ways. Spread along the historic street, with architectural highlights of its own (hello, Basilica de Santa María del Coro), you’ll be faced with seemingly endless choices.

If you’re unfamiliar with pintxos, they are the Basque equivalent of tapas. Most often they are served on a slice of crusty bread and can range from fried seafood to sliced meat and cheese. They are usually pre-prepared and ready at the bars to have with a drink as a light snack. 

The best way to handle the smorgasbord of options is to enjoy just one at each establishment. Not only does this keep the appetite alive, but doing so allows you to experience a brilliant mix of atmospheres, not to mention the vibe of one of the city’s best thoroughfares. No wonder it’s one of the top attractions in San Sebastian.

la concha beach in san sebastian with the boardwalk on the left side and the beach on the right with dark rain clouds clouds in the sky.

San Sebastian is moody during the spring and early summer, making it great hiking weather, but not ideal beach weather.

9. Sightsee from The Water

So, you’ve seen the water from the land, but how about the land from the water? San Sebastian’s resident Bahia de la Concha is a small bay packed with highlights and you can see them all from the water.

Meeting at Donostiako Port, this catamaran experience takes you out into the bay for memorable panoramic views. As you glide across the turquoise waters, you’ll cruise by major highlights. These include the beautiful Oteiza sculpture and the impressive Paseo Nuevo sea wall as you make your way into the bay.

Soon, you’ll pass Peine del Viento sculpture and, once again, see Santa Clara Island. All while the mountains of Urgull and Igueldo stand like trustworthy companions. It all reaches its pinnacle when the Miramar Palace comes into view alongside the Pico del Loro. Book that boat tour here.

10. Experience San Sebastian Architecture

If you can’t get enough of San Sebastian’s captivating architecture and plethora of landmarks, then we have just the solution. Alongside a born-and-raised San Sebastian guide, you can take in all the must-see attractions.

This small-group tour begins on Boulevard Street along the 19th-century city walls that split the Old and New towns. It’s an appropriate spot to start ticking off the architectural highlights along the serpentine inner-city streets.

As you go, you’ll have the chance to see not only the iconic sights, but also the beloved local gems like the Hotel de Londres, Maria Cristina, and the Victoria Eugenia Auditorium. Like any good San Sebastian walking tour, it ends with a round of pintxos at a traditional bar. Book that architecture tour here.

packed beach with tons of people on it and hotels in the background.

San Sebastian is packed with tourists in August thanks to the good weather and European summer holidays.

11. Take a Basque Cooking Class

In San Sebastian you don’t eat while you visit, you visit while you eat. However, it’s one thing to experience the culinary brilliance of this port town. It’s a whole other thing to leave with some helpful tricks to recreate the tapas and pintxos in your own kitchen.

To aid in this, take part in a hands-on cooking class that unveils the secrets of Basque cuisine. The class is held within a real, family-run restaurant. This allows you to enjoy a class not just with a professional chef but in a unique environment too.

Across two and a half hours, you’ll learn how to create four iconic dishes, all before enjoying the fruits of your labor and trying your own creations. Book the Basque cooking class here.

12. Taste the Best of La Rioja Wineries

Arguably Spain’s most famous wine region, La Rioja, lies just two hours south of San Sebastian. The scenic drive takes you away from the coast, through Pamplona, and into the magical countryside.

The best way to visit the region as a day trip is to take a wine tour from San Sebastian. On arrival, you’ll have your choice of celebrated wineries spread among the beauty of northern Spain. The region is spread into eastern and western zones with different climates, leading to a welcome diversity of vinos.

Although the drive to the region and the flexibility of having a rental car is helpful. You can really indulge and leave the driving to your guide with this experience. You’ll also be able to go behind the scenes, discover local wine-making practices, and explore the medieval village of Laguardia. Book the wine tour here.

bay with an island in the middle and a u-shaped beach with a city behind it and lush green trees surrounding it.

San Sebastian is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in Spain along the coast.

13. Visit Gaztelugatxe and Guggenheim

Game of Thrones may have come and gone, and some fanfare was lost among that odd 8th season. However, the film sites still make for great side trips with the history and visual accuracy creating a portal to the world of GOT.

Ninety minutes from San Sebastian lies the 10th-century fort of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, or, as you may know it, Dragonstone. The impressive fort makes the 241-step climb more than worth it, with its historic charm and spectacular views.

With a chance to rest your feet, take a brief trip into the city of Bilbao. Here, you’ll find the iconic Guggenheim Museum. The unforgettable architecture makes way for fascinating exhibits showcasing contemporary art.

Book a tour that visits both as a day trip here.

14. Ride the Waves at Zurriola Beach

On the other side of Monte Urgull lies another sandy cove to enjoy during your time in San Sebastian. Where La Concha is all about relaxation, Zurriola Beach is all about action.

Depending on the time of year, the swells at Zurriola Beach can soar to heights of over six feet (1.8 meters). During the spring and summer, you’ll find beginner-friendly swells allow for the perfect sunset surf.

If you didn’t come to San Sebastian with your shortboard, you’ll find several rental shops in town and along the beachfront. Some will even offer lessons for newbies or those looking to take the next step. When it’s time to chill, Zurriola Beach has ample sand to laze about.

sculpture on top of a rock made out of metal and the rocks are surrounded my mist that makes it look mystical.

There are so many sculptures around the coastline that you can only see if you get out on a boat to explore.

15. Enjoy a Day Trip to Biarritz

Forty-five minutes northeast of San Sebastian is the beach town of Biarritz. Overflowing with elegance, the beloved resort town shares the same royal beginnings as San Sebastian. Ever since Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, arrived in the 1800s, Biarritz has grown in popularity.

It makes for an easy day trip from your hotel and provides a lovely change of scenery further along the Bay of Biscay. As you admire the rolling waves of the, you’ll notice the dramatic coastline that lies in stark contrast to the town’s prestigious architecture. The difference makes Biarritz very easy on the eyes.

Like San Sebastian, you can visit great restaurants along the promenades, while even better surfing waits for those who want to chase the perfect break. Book a day tour to Biarritz here.

16. Listen to Music at Jazzaldia

Every summer, jazz lovers descend upon San Sebastian for a week of wonderful music.

The San Sebastian International Jazz Festival, known as Jazzaldia, happens each year in July. In 2024, it will take place from 23-28 July. It is the oldest jazz festival in Spain and has had acts like Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Simple Minds, and Patti Smith to name a few.

You can listen to the music for free if you get to the beach early enough to get a spot on the sand. You can also get tickets to some of the larger shows which give you access to be close to the stage.

You can learn more about the acts that are playing this year as well as get access to tickets on the Jazzaldia website.