San Sebastián is the Basque country’s culinary capital. If you’re a foodie, then this is your paradise. Did you know, Spain’s Basque Country boasts the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world? Having a meal here is just one of many top things to do in San Sebastián.
San Sebastián’s appeal stretches beyond its plates of pintxos. Overlooking the crescent-shaped Bay of Concha, San Sebastián is located on Spain’s northern coastline set amongst scenic mountains making it an impossibly charming city. After spending 5 days exploring, relaxing, and eating my way through San Sebastián I’ve come up with the ultimate list of the best things to do in the San Sebastián.
San Sebastián & Donostia – The City with Two Names
San Sebastián actually has two names – San Sebastián is its Spanish name and Donostia is its name in the local Basque language called Euskara. While they look completely different, that both mean “Saint Sebastián”. In the Basque language, dona/done/doni means “saint” and is derived from Latin word domine. The second part, -stia contains a shortened form of the saint’s name.
Map of Things to do in San Sebastián, Spain
Want to know where you’ll be going? Take a look at the detailed map below.
Tip: For a larger view of the map, click on the icon in the top right corner.
Click on this interactive map and see where this itinerary will take you. I’ve created this map using Google Maps which you can save and use as you visit San Sebastián.
The coloured pins represent different pockets of the town to explore each day. Click on any pin for more information.
Things to do – Yellow pins
Where to eat – Pink pins
Where to stay – Green pins
Here are the Best things to do in San Sebastián
1. Stroll along the seaside at La Concha Promenade
One of the best ways to orientate yourself with the city and enjoy its seaside views is by wandering along the lovely La Concha Promenade (Basque: Kontxa Pasealekua). Take a gentle stroll along this beautiful 2 km stretch of coastline when you arrive to slowly introduce yourself to the wonderful landscape. Walking its full length will only take you 20 minutes but it worth popping into one of the beachside bars or restaurants for a drink and relax on one of the benches and watch the world go by.
Address – Kontxa Pasealekua, 20007 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Admission – Free
Opening hours – 24 hours. Sunrise and Sunset are especially magic.
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of La Concha Promenade
2. See the Peine del Viento sculptures
Located at the foot of Monte Igueldo at the end of Ondarreta beach is the Peine del Viento (Comb of the Wind), one of the most famous sculptures by local Basque artist Eduardo Chillida.
Completed in 1976, the sculptural group is made up of three curved steel sculptures that are welded into huge granite rocks located in direct contact with the sea. Strong winds and huge sea waves crash upon this area with great intensity and through a system of holes in the ground waves explode into the air in high columns. This place is even more spectacular on stormy days or when there is a heavy swell.
Peine del Viento gets its name from the combination of the shape of a twisted comb (peine) seen in the sculptures, along with the characteristic wind (viento) in the area.
Address – Eduardo Chillida Pasealekua, s/n, 20008 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Admission – Free
Opening hours – 24 hours
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of Peine del Viento
3. Explore the Old Town (Parte Vieja)
The heart of San Sebastián is the atmospheric Parte Vieja (Old Town), a maze of quaint cobblestone streets oozing with excellent pintxo bars and restaurants. Stroll around these pedestrianised streets and wander in and out of its many boutiques and beautiful historic buildings. Exploring the Parte Vieja is one of the best things to do in San Sebastián to get a real feel for this culturally rich and lively city.
San Sebastián’s Old Town dates back to medieval times but much of it was rebuilt after a fire devastated the city in 1813. Highlights include the Municipal Museum San Telmo, the Gothic church of St. Vincente, the Baroque basilica of Santa María del Coro, and the stunning Plaza de la Constitución with its arcades and balconies. To learn more about San Sebastián’s history, join a guided walking tour of the Parte Vieja or a pintxos tour.
The Parte Vieja takes on a whole new atmosphere as patrons spill out onto the streets around lunch and dinner times to enjoy an endless variety of tantalizing pintxos. Pintxos is the Basque Country’s answer to the Spanish tapas. Local specialities include deep-fried cod, marinated anchovies, handmade croquettes, and of course tortilla de patatas (potato omelette). Tips on where to eat in San Sebastián coming up shortly!
Address – Start at Calle Mayor and walk to the end to see Basílica de Santa María del Coro before taking any side street.
Admission – Free
Opening hours – Times vary per establishment, with most places closed on Mondays and during siesta hours (14:00 until 17:00 for shops and 14:00 until about 20:00 or 21:00 for bars and restaurants).
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of San Sebastián’s Parte Vieja
4. See the bullet holes in San Sebastián’s City Hall
Before it was San Sebastián’s City Hall (Basque: Donostiako Udala, Spanish: Ayuntamiento de San Sebastián), this building was home to the city’s Gran Casino which hosted parties for Europe’s bourgeoisie and aristocracy when they spent their summers in San Sebastián during the Belle Époque. The casino opened on 1st July 1887 and closed in 1924 after gambling was prohibited.
If you looking closely you can still see bullet holes on the facade of the building as a result of the fighting that took place here during the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) between the nationalists and republicans.
It wasn’t until 1947 that the City Council moved its headquarters here from the Plaza de la Constitución. Today, San Sebastián’s City Hall faces the quiet Alderdi Eder gardens, an essential stopping point for those looking to relax after wandering along the promenade.
Address – Ijentea Kalea, 1, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Admission – Free
Opening hours – Monday – Friday 09:00 – 14:00
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of San Sebastián’s City Hall
5. Wander the arcades of Plaza de la Constitución
Plaza de la Constitución is the largest square in San Sebastián and was once a bullring. In fact, the balconies overlooking the square still maintain their numbering which were once used as seating boxes for the bullfighting celebrations held in the square below.
This new-Neoclassical square is lined with arcades buzzing with crowded bars and restaurants making it one of the best places to sample pintxos.
Address – Plaza Constitución, 12, 20003 San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa, Spain
Admission – Free
Opening hours – Bars and restaurants have varying opening times between 10:00 – 03:00.
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of Plaza de la Constitución
6. Visit the stunning Basílica de Santa María del Coro
Basílica de Santa María del Coro (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus) is one of the most-visited attractions in San Sebastián. This stunning 18th-century church with a Baroque facade features a blend of Gothic, Churrigueresque, and Neo-classical elements and its portico is of Plateresque style. Head inside to see the neo-Gothic vaulting and an altarpiece dedicated to Our Lady of the Choir, patron saint of San Sebastián.
Address – 31 de Agosto Kalea, 46, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Admission – Free
Opening hours – Monday to Sunday from 10:15 to 13:15 and from 14:45 to 19:45.
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of Basílica de Santa María del Coro
7. Relax on Playa de la Concha
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to beaches because San Sebastián has three! Playa de la Concha, or Shell Beach, is the beach which is overlooked by the promenade mentioned in no. 1 on this list of top things to do in San Sebastián. Go swimming, sunbathe, or take a stroll along this perfect white sandy beach backended by stone arches. Queen Regent Maria Cristina even went as far as to declare San Sebastián to be the summer capital of Europe.
8. Take the Funicular up to Monte Igueldo for Exceptional Panoramic Views
Float 184 meters above sea level on an antique funicular railway and alight at the top of Monte Igueldo. From here you’ll get the best panoramic view over San Sebastián’s coastlines and mountains. However, the view is just one reason why you should make the trip up this steep mountain.
Those with a family in tow can have a fun day out at the Parque de Atracciones de Monte Igueldo amusement park located here which features charming carousels and a traditional wooden roller coaster.
You’ll be happy to know that all rides are reasonably priced so you won’t break the bank. There are food stands and a restaurant with a balcony where you can enjoy your meal with a view.
If you’re looking for something more sophisticated, head to Hotel Mercure Monte Igueldo, for a drink on their outdoor terrace or dine in their elegant restaurant. Extend your stay and book a room in their hotel.
Not to be missed is the 16th-century El Torreón tower which you can climb for views of the lighthouse and the rolling hills of the Basque countryside to the west.
Unless you have a car and prefer to drive, the best way to reach the top is by taking the funicular.
The funicular is located at Funikular Plaza, 4, 20008 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain at the far end of Playa de Ondarreta near the Royal Tennis Club.
There are two ways you can arrive to Monte Igueldo
- By Funicular: Adults 3,75 € / Children 2,50 €
- By Car/foot 2,30 € per person
Attraction prices range between 1 € – 2,50 €
- Funicular 10:00-21:00 (every 15 minutes)
- Attractions 11:00-14:00 / 15:30-20:00 – Closed Monday-Friday
- Enclosure/lookout – 10:00-21:00
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of Monte Igueldo
Official website – Plan your visit with the official Monte Igueldo website
9. Have a picnic at Miramar Royal Palace (Palacio de Miramar)
Historically, San Sebastián was where the Spanish monarchy spent their summer. For years, the Spanish Royal Family chose San Sebastián as their go-to holiday destination thanks to its beaches and climate. Palacio de Miramar was their summer holiday home which they commissioned English architect Selden Wornum in 1889 to build. This palace is built in an English Tudor-style with an octagonal tower and offers exquisite views over the bay. Many Spanish Queens have chosen this house as their preferred summer residence.
The house itself isn’t open to the public but you can visit its beautifully manicured and colourful gardens. This is an idyllic spot to come and sit and marvel at the beautiful views over a picnic lunch.
Address – 48 Paseo Miraconcha, 20007 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Admission – Free
Opening hours – 07:00 – 21:00
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of Miramar Royal Palace
10. See the huge crashing waves at Paseo Nuevo
At the foot of Monte Urgull is the San Sebastián Paseo Nuevo (or New Promenade), a scenic path which encircles the mountain. The path begins at the aquarium and passes below the Castillo de la Mota, a 12th-century fortress. The New Promenade is well-known for the huge sea waves which crash up against the seawall, bursting up into the air at incredible heights. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the city to explore and shouldn’t be missed. The scenic New Promenade continues back towards the city centre and ends at the mouth to the Urumea River and Puente la Zurriola bridge.
11. Step inside Catedral del Buen Pastor, San Sebastián’s largest church
The superb Catedral del Buen Pastor de San Sebastián (Good Shepherd of San Sebastián) is both an icon of the city and its largest church covering 1,915 square meters (2,290 square yards). Built out of locally sourced sandstone from Monte Igueldo, its key feature is its impressive 75-meter-high tower.
Located in the New Town, this Neo-Gothic cathedral was designed by Basque architect Manuel de Echave in 1880 and was completed in 1897. Inside is richly decorated with stained-glass windows and an organ consisting of more than 10,000 whistles, making it one of the biggest in Europe.
Address – Urdaneta Kalea, 12, 20006 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Admission – Free
Opening hours – 08:00 to 12:30 and 17:00 to 20:00
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of Catedral del Buen Pastor
12. Visit the Museo de San Telmo History Museum
Learn about the cultural heritage of the Basque country at Museo de San Telmo, the biggest museum for Basque history from prehistoric times to the present day. The museum building is equally impressive occupying both a 16th-century Dominican convent and Renaissance-era buildings.
Over 26,000 historic artefacts are on display here providing an interesting insight into the country’s past. The collection is divided into four key areas including fine arts, history, archaeology, and ethnology. In the fine arts area are paintings, drawings, and sculptures by El Greco, Rubens, Morán, and Ribera alongside Basque artists such as Arteta, Echagüe, Salaberría, Ugarte, and Zuloaga.
The history exhibit showcases weapons from the 15th century to the present day and the archaeology exhibit includes a collection of ceramics, coins, and pre-Columbian artefacts.
Address – Plaza Zuloaga, 1, 20003 San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa, Spain
Admission – Adult 6,00 € / Students and over 65 years 3,00 €, free admission on Tuesdays
Opening hours – From Tuesday to Sunday: 10:00 – 20:00
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of Museum de San Telmo
Official website – Plan your visit with the official Museo de San Telmo website
13. Surf, swim or stroll along Playa de Ondarreta
The second of San Sebastián’s beaches and located to the west of Miramar Royal Palace is Playa de Ondarreta. Playa de Ondarreta has a huge 100-meter-wide shoreline extending for a kilometre up towards Monte Igueldo.
During the winter, you’ll find bodyboarders and surfers here and from June to August the beach fills up with classic striped beach cabanas, lounge chairs, and sun parasols. On its promenade is a lovely garden with a sculpture of Queen María Cristina.
Address – Ondarreta Pasealekua, 20008 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Admission – Free
Opening hours – 24hrs
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of Playa de Ondarreta
14. Catch a ferry to Santa Clara Island (Isla de Santa Clara)
For an idyllic bathing experience, catch the ferry across to Isla de Santa Clara (Santa Clara Island), a tiny 32-meter-wide island floating just off the coast of San Sebastián in Concha Bay.
Considered a Historical National Interest Site, this island offers a peaceful bathing experience paired with a café, restaurant, and picnic areas. Go in search of its natural swimming pools located in hidden nooks around the island before taking a leisurely and scenic stroll up to its charming lighthouse for excellent views.
Scenic boat rides around the bay with underwater viewing plus a trip to the island are available for 6,50 €.
Address – 82C2+J9 Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain
Admission – 4,00 € return
Opening hours – During summertime from June 1 to September 30, a ferry runs from the San Sebastián harbour to the island every 30 minutes from 10:00 to 20:00.
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of Isla de Santa Clara
Official website – Plan your trip using the official Motoras de la Isla website.
15. Eat the World’s Best Cheesecake at La Viña
This might be a tall order but the homemade baked cheesecake at La Vina certainly serves up the best cheesecake I’ve ever eaten and deserves a special mention on this list of best things to do in San Sebastián.
People from all over flock to La Viña bar and restaurant who critics claim make the “World’s Best Cheesecake”. La Viña bakes upwards of 100 cheesecakes a day so it’s fair to say they’ve definitely mastered the art of this mouthwatering crustless cheesecake (gazta tarta).
The caramelised cheesecake is a cross between a dense New York-style cheesecake and Spanish flan and for just 5,00 € each serving comes with two slices, which you won’t want to share. At least, I didn’t!
Address – 31 de Agosto Kalea, 3, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Price – 5,00 € for two slices
Opening hours – Tuesday to Sunday 11:00 – 16:00 and 19:30 – 23:30
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of La Viña
16. Go surfing at Playa de la Zurriola
Keen surfers from around the world come to Playa de la Zurriola for its excellent waves. This is the third beach in San Sebastián and the most popular amongst choice sports enthusiasts. You’ll see everything from beach volleyball, football, and beach tennis played here plus the beach host competitions in bodyboarding, surfing, and skateboarding.
Address – Zurriola Ibilbidea, s/n, 20002 Donostia-San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa, Spain
Admission – Free
Opening hours – 24hrs
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of Playa de la Zurriola
17. Visit the 12th-century Castillo de la Mota
For a taste of San Sebastián’s military history, head to Castillo de la Mota (Mota Castle), a 12th-century castle located at the highest point of Monte Urgull. The castle and its fortresses were built by King Sancho the Wise of Navarre which defended the city between the 12th and 19th centuries when San Sebastián was a walled town.
Adorning the top the castle is a 12-meter high sacred heart statue (Cristo de la Mota) watching over the city by Frederico Coullaut who completed it in 1950.
Today, the castle is home to the Casa de la Historia (History House Museum) which documents the city’s 800-year history. Explore the museum with a tour guided by audio-visuals, models, objects and scenographies.
The walk to the top is lovely and for the most part, is shaded. The path up can be reached from Kaiko Pasealekua where the boats are or from the streets behind Basílica de Santa María del Coro. On a hot day, I recommend cooling off with a beer or ice-cream at Polboriña, a small cafe located near the castle with outdoor seating and gorgeous views of Santa Clara island.
Address – 82G6+2C Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain
Admission – Free
- Every day from 11:00 to 20:00 (July 1 – August 31)
- Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:30 (September 1 – June 30 )
18. Visit Iglesia de San Vicente, San Sebastián’s oldest church
Built in the Gothic style, Iglesia de San Vicente (Church of San Vicente) was one of the lucky few buildings to survive the fire of 1813 when Napoleon’s troops set the city alight, which makes this the oldest church in the city. The church is also built on the site of a Romanesque style church built at the end of the 7th century.
The church you see today was built during the first half of the 16th century under the Gothic style. Before entering the church, notice the sculpture of “La Piedad”, by the artist Jorge Oteiza on the church’s facade. Church of San Vicente is home to one of the best Romanesque altarpieces and highlights of the church, made by Ambrosio de Bengoechea in collaboration with Juanes de Iriarte.
A fun little fact I learned is that those who are christened in here are called “koxkeros”, after the stones protruding from the church (koxka in Basque).
Address – San Juan Kalea, 15, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Admission – Free
Reviews – Read Tripadvisor reviews of Saint Vincent Church
19. Spoil your taste buds with a Pintxos and Ice-cream
It’s almost impossible to choose a bad place to dine at since everything is delicious. The hallmark of Donostian cuisine is pintxos and they’re super easy to find. Almost every bar in the centre serves them and locals will spend a whole evening or afternoon pintxos hopping from bar to bar.
A local tradition is to sample a local ice-cream so don’t be shy, try one, two or three San Sebastián’s ice creams in any of its ice-cream shops which boast a wide range of flavours.
Not sure where to start? For recommendations on where to eat in San Sebastián, see the section below!
Where to eat in San Sebastián
Let your taste buds take you on a tour of San Sebastián with these tasty restaurant recommendations. A quick word of warning. If you’re vegan or vegetarian (like me), finding pintxos that meet your dietary requirements will be very difficult. The closest you’ll get is a tortilla de patatas, but you can’t just have this for every meal. My advice is to stick to dining in a restaurant where you’ll have more options. I also found this vegetarian pintxos tour which I’m annoyed I didn’t see earlier.
Here are all the places me and my friends ate at and recommend.
My favourite breakfast of the trip was at Old Town Coffee. This cute cafe is run by two Brazilian friends who serve excellent coffee and organic baked goods and a full menu. Not to be missed is their utterly amazing cinnamon roll. Breakfast includes international dishes like bagels, avocado and eggs, and granola pots. Arrive early, this place gets particularly busy around breakfast time.
Address: Reyes Catolicos Kalea, 6, 20006 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Opening times: Tuesday-Saturday 09:00 – 18:00 / Sunday 09:00 – 13:00
Set in a beautiful bar, Cara Vergara offers an impressive selection of pintxos including lots of seafood options and a varied selection of croquettes. For approximately 10 euros you can have your choice of pintxos and a glass of house wine. Very limited vegetarian options.
Address: Calle Mayor, 21, 20003 San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa, Spain
Opening times: Everyday 11:00 to 24:00
La Cuchara de San Telmo is well-known for preparing some of the best dishes in Basque cuisine. I must admit that nothing on the menu appealed to me as a vegetarian (I ate at a nearby restaurant afterwards) but nonetheless, my friends absolutely loved it.
Unlike most pintxo bars in San Sebastián, everything at La Cuchara de San Telmo is made to order based on what’s in season. For this reason, I recommend arriving early, no later than 20:00 otherwise you risk waiting in the long queue and once you get your food, you’ll have to eat it standing up outside. There is very little space inside and tables outside fill up quickly.
Everything here is good, or so my meat-eating girlfriends tell me. Some vegetarian options are available but to be honest, I’ve never liked French Onion soup 😛
- Tuesday – Friday 19:30–00:00
- Saturday – Sunday 12:00 – 15:30 and 19:30 – 23:30.
- Monday closed
I had one of my better vegetarian meals here. I had probably the best patatas bravas of the trip here and a large garden salad. It might look small from the outside but there is additional seating available downstairs. The service was excellent too.
Address: San Jeronimo Kalea, 20, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Opening times: Monday – Tuesday 11:00 – 16:00 / Wednesday – Sunday 11:30 – 00:00
Oh my, the ice-cream here is delicious. It’s so good I went back twice! Shaped like a popsicle, once you choose from a range of alcoholic, fruity, or creamy ice-creams you can dip it in chocolate and add toppings or enjoy as is. I say go all out! You only live once.
Address: Narrika Kalea, 10, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Opening times: Everyday 11:00 – 01:00
Getting Around San Sebastian
San Sebastián is a very walkable city so it’s unlikely you’ll need to use public transportation to get around the city centre.
DBus is San Sebastián public bus network. Fares cost €1.70 (€2.10 at night) and can be bought on board from the drive. Buses run from 07.30 to 22.30 after which a limited night bus service continues until about 04:00. One of the most useful routes is bus 16, which connects the city centre with Monte Igueldo.
Taxis are available 24hrs a day with official rates in place which operate with a taxi meter. unlike in other cities, taxis in San Sebastián do not normally stop when hailed down in the street. The best idea is to head for a taxi rank or phone Taxidonosti +34 943 46 46 46 or Vallina Teletaxi +34 943 40 40 40.
How to Get to San Sebastián from Bilbao city
How to Get to San Sebastián from Bilbao Airport
Since San Sebastián doesn’t have an airport, you will probably fly into Bilbao, some 98 kilometres away. The best and cheapest way to get to Donostia-San Sebastián from Bilbao Airport (Loiu) is by bus. There is a direct bus service which departs from the airport and will take you to the city centre in just 75 minutes. The bus stop is located outside the airport to your right, and the name of the bus company is PESA.
Departures: There is one departure per hour from 07:45 to 23:45. The bus making the route San Sebastián-Bilbao airport departs on the hour from 05:00 to 21:00.
Price: Single tickets cost 17,10 euros.
Check times and book your ticket here
Accommodation: Where to stay in San Sebastián
I travelled with four girlfriends on this trip so we rented an Airbnb which worked out to be not only convenient but all cost-effective. The apartment was clean and newly renovated featuring three large bedrooms, one ensuite and one other bathroom, a flat-screen TV, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a small balcony overlooking the street. Its proximity to the Old Town and beach made it the perfect choice for us. Check the latest prices and availability here
If you’re travelling alone or as a couple, there are plenty of other Airbnb options all over the city at very affordable prices. Airbnb has numerous convenient options to choose from. If it’s your first time get US$35 (£25) off your first stay, when you sign up using my referral link.
Tours and Day trips from San Sebastián
Got more time? Consider going on a day trip or join one of these tours.
- French Basque Countryside Tour
- Biarritz and French Basque coast tour
- San Sebastian Lunch Time Pintxo Tour with Wine
- San Sebastián Electric Bike Tour
- Basque Pintxos and traditional dishes cooking class
- La Rioja Wine Full Day Experience Tour
- Basque Cider Tour
- Hondarribia and Pasaia (San Pedro & San Juan) Tour
Planning a trip? Don’t risk it. I never travel without getting travel insurance. I used World Nomads for my trip to Spain.
Visiting Spain? Check out my other Spain travel guides
- 19 Absolute Best Things to Do in Bilbao, Spain
- 13 Free things to do in Barcelona, Spain
- 23 Beautiful Must-See Places in Madrid, Spain
- 19 Reasons You’ll Want to Visit Costa Brava in Spain Right Now
- Costa Brava – Get my Ultimate 5-Day Costa Brava Itinerary
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Over to you!
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