My name is Amber from the Instagram account @48hoursineurope. Welcome to my travel guide on the best things to do in San Sebastian.
I grew up in Australia which is a place I adore and call home. However, I have always felt isolated from the rest of the world due to the time difference and distance. Even New Zealand is almost four hours away by plane! Australia’s location makes it expensive and time consuming to travel.
So almost six years ago, I took the plunge and moved to London in the UK. I work full time but try to travel as much as possible in my spare time. My goal is to visit all of Europe’s countries – and then after that who knows. Right now I have visited 41 European countries with around 11-12 to go.
There doesn’t seem to be an absolute number of countries that are considered to be European. For example, some lists count Georgia while others don’t. Nevertheless, I am well on my way to achieving that goal.
I love to travel because I love learning about new cultures, meeting new people and trying different food. As I have a journalistic and content background, I started a blog and Instagram to document my travels.
One amazing destination that I ticked off my bucket list recently was San Sebastian in Basque Country. Let me tell you all about my experiences in the culinary capital of Spain – including the best things to see and do.
What Inspired me to Visit San Sebastian
San Sebastian was on my bucket list for a long time before visiting. Many of my friends and family had been there and absolutely loved it. Considering it’s quite small and a tad off the tourist path, it always felt like every Australian I knew had been there and I was the only one left that hadn’t.
Sometimes I wonder if there are places in Europe where one Australian visits and when they go home they tell all of their friends and family and then all of a sudden it spreads like wildfire across the country. Next minute, every Aussie under the sun heads over to Europe and travels there.
If that theory is correct (and how could it not be?!) – that’s what happened with San Sebastian. And no wonder – it’s a marvellous place. I shouldn’t have waited so long to visit. My boyfriend and I went for five days. I think it was the perfect amount of time for first-timers who want to see the city.
It’s not big and there isn’t a heap to do – apart from eat, drink and go to the beach. But if you love eating and drinking, you’ll want to assign a few days to do just that. The food is awesome. You need to give yourself time to eat your way through the immense amount of bars and restaurants.
Favourite Place in San Sebastian: Monte Urgull
My favourite place in San Sebastian was Monte Urgull. I really loved the views of the city up on top of the hill. You get a pretty good panoramic view of the entire city from up there. I also took some fantastic photos watching the sunset at Zurriola Beach. These are two of the best spots in the city.
5 Best Things To Do in San Sebastian
1. Eat your way Spontaneously through the City
The ultimate experience and thing to do in San Sebastian is to eat – that is honestly the main reason I went and why anybody should go! You should spend a few nights hoping from bar to bar, trying the best dish at each bar.
2. Go on a Delicious Food Tour of San Sebastian
My friends who had been to San Sebastian before me recommended that I go on a food tour. Initially I balked a bit when they told me the price. But it ended up being worth it. Plus the food and drinks are included in the price.
It taught me a lot about how to immerse myself in the food culture of San Sebastian. If you go on a food tour early on your visit, you’ll feel much more equipped to get stuck in and experience the food culture like a local.
3. Visit the Beautiful Plaza de la Constitucion
Plaza de la Constitucion is a colourful square in the heart of the old town that was once used for bullfighting. You can see the remnants of its past everywhere – up to the seat numbers on the surrounding balconies where patrons used to sit to watch a fight. It’s a really unique and fascinating spot.
4. Take the Funicular to the Top of Mount Igueldo
Take the vintage funicular up to the top of Mount Igueldo with sweeping views of the city and La Concha Beach below. This historic funicular has over 100 years of history transporting people to the top of Mount Igueldo. Jump inside and enjoy a wooden carriage ride to the top of the mountain.
5. Walk to the Top of Monte Urgull for Stunning Views
Walk up to the top of Monte Urgull for great views of both La Concha and Zurriola beaches. This hill was used in the 12th century as a military fortress when its walls were being attacked in times of war. The walk up is scenic and you’ll be greeted with plenty of beautiful viewpoints to look out from.
People, Culture & Food of San Sebastian
Before I visited, I thought of San Sebastian as being Spanish. And of course, it is. But you don’t have to be in San Sebastian or chat to a local for long before you realise being Basque is a strong part of the city and culture.
So I learnt a lot about the Basque culture when I was there from chatting to locals and the importance of food in San Sebastian’s culture. This city has the best food scene of any place I’ve ever been to. It has more Michelin star restaurants per capita than nearly anywhere else in the world.
But the best thing about San Sebastian is that you don’t need to go to a fancy Michelin star restaurant to eat well. The city is famous for its pintxos (pronounced pin-chos) which are small snacks similar to tapas that are generally enjoyed with drinks before dinner in northern Spain.
Pintxos are synonymous with San Sebastian and Basque Country. In fact, ‘pintxo’ is a Basque word that literally means ‘spike’. It makes sense as pintxos are nearly always served on a skewer. We spent every day and evening going from bar to bar and sampling a few pintxos. It was heaven.
Where to Stay in San Sebastian
We stayed in a beautiful little Airbnb in the neighborhood of Gros. It had stunning views of Zurriola which is the city’s surf beach. Gros was a little cheaper than staying right in the middle of town and yet it was only a 10 minute walk from the old town and main restaurants.
Plus we got to watch the best sunsets each day sitting on the beach, watching locals surf with a glass of local wine or a beer from a little hipster beer shop across the road from Zurriola Beach called Kanabikana. I liked the vibe and mixing with the locals – so if I went back I’d stay in Gros again.
Because San Sebastian is a small and popular holiday spot we found accommodation to be more expensive than we expected. So my main recommendation is to book in advance and stay in Gros where you’ll save a little, even though you’re only a few minutes walk to the action.
Favourite Memory from my Trip to San Sebastian
Eating cheesecake with sherry over it at La Vina was 100% the best experience I had in San Sebastian. It doesn’t get better than that. As an absolute cheesecake lover, I’ve eaten lots of it across the world including at famous places (think New York and Germany) but this wins hands down.
What you Need to Know Before you Go
The closest airport to San Sebastian is in Bilbao. I would suggest flying from there. I’m not usually a bus person but if you don’t want to hire a car – and you don’t need one in San Sebastian – then the bus is the best route.
It takes just over an hour by bus and you can just turn up and buy tickets on the day. Remember to leave some time in your trip to visit the famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. It’s an absolutely wonderful place to see.
Thanks for reading my travel guide on the best things to do in San Sebastian. If you have any questions or would like more info feel free to get in touch with me on Instagram. Enjoy your visit to San Sebastian!