San Sebastián (Basque: Donostia; officially: Donostia-San Sebastián) is in the Basque Country in Spain.
San Sebastian boasts one of the best in-city beaches in Europe. It is quite unusual feeling that you can sunbathe and swim right next to major historical buildings and churches. Surfers are in abundance here.
The city is quite small and cozy, featuring many fish restaurants, several beaches, tons of pintxos bars and a choice of designer clothes shops.
Orientation: The city is divided into Old Town (Parte Vieja), Gros and Centro.
Trains arrive from many parts of Spain, Portugal and France, including overnight services from Paris and Lisbon. Take care when booking from France as there is also a town named Saint Sébastien in France. There are two train stations in San Sebastian: the RENFE station for national trains (at the east end of Puente de Maria Cristina), and the Euskotren station for the local network (Plaza Easo).
San Sebastian is well served by airports:
Bus to the airport: i2 (€2) departs from Plaza Gipuzkoa nearly once a hour and rides exactly 30min, making maximum 4 stops (typically less).
Cafes in the departures area are limited to a single cafe on the ground floor, plus posh restaurant on the 2nd floor.
Shopping in departures area is limited to a single souvenir small shop; no duty free shops available.
Electronic check-in is available only for Iberia and Spanair. It doesn't work for Iberia e-tickets printed from an e-mail, however.
Wifi network is not available.
Biarritz (in France), 50km away with bus and train connections to San Sebastian . Take a French SNCF train to Hendaye, change to the nearby Euskotren station (located just outside the SNCF station) and take a Euskotren to San Sebastian. Each train ride is between 30-40 minutes, with the total train trip cost less than €10. A coach service also exists between Biarritz airport and the Hendaye train station, via Saint-Jean-De-Luz (change buses there). The coach ride is less than one hour and costs about €4.
Bilbao , 100km away with good bus connections, about one an hour during the day. The trip takes about 70min, and costs around €15. The bus company is called PESA. Tickets for the journey from Bilbao to San Sebastian can be purchased on board the bus, however for the trip from San Sebastian to Bilbao, tickets must be purchased from the PESA office around the corner from the bus station.
Vitoria-Gasteiz , 114km from San Sebastian with good bus connections. A bus from the airport will take you to the central bus station, from where you can take a bus (companies Pesa or La Burundesa ) to San Sebastian for around €7.50.
The Basque Country is generally easier to get around by bus than by train. Buses arrive and depart at the San Sebastian bus station, at Plaza de Pio XII in Amara Nuevo. A number of bus companies operate services to San Sebastian, including:
Buses are the only way to get to some areas of the Basque region, and often run more often (and cheaper!) than trains. Vitoria-Gasteiz, capital of the Basque Country, is a 2-hour ride away. Bilbao, the travel hub and biggest city in the region (1-hour ride), and Pamplona (1-hour ride) are other popular destinations, but longer-range buses do overnights to Madrid, Milan and even Barcelona.
In the downtown, parking is costly (roughly €20/day); most parking spots are underground, and finding a way to get there can be nerve-wracking. Left turns are more rare than rights (and are unpredictable). Having a driving map is essential.
There are some free parking lots in the west of the city: on the tourist maps by SanSebastianTurismo available in some guesthouses, the area is marked with a blue dotted line "Controlled parking zone".
You can see San Sebastián on foot and by taxi.
Bicycle lanes are all around the downtown, and in the summer bicycles can be hired (at certain times they are free) from strategically placed locations around the city.
D-Bus offers a number of options to use its bus services in the city. Single journeys to any destination on its network cost a flat rate of €1.30. However, for residents staying for longer periods, they may wish to buy the 'Kutxa chip' card available from Kutxa Bank's main office at C/ Garibay 15, close to the Parte Vieja, for €5.50. After the initial purchase, the card can be topped up on ATM's all over the city and instead of paying the flat rate of €1.30, holders merely swipe their card and pay €0.73 for each journey.
From top of Mount Igueldo at the West end of La Concha bay, enjoy great view of the town
Visit the Miramar palace and its park over El pico del Loro; enjoy sitting on a lawn there
Beach - there are two main beaches, one on either side of the river.
La Concha, on the west side is the larger, is protected from the sea and has an island and boats in the bay. Ondarreta is in the same bay as La Concha, but split by El pico del Loro (a rocky outcropping). La Concha and Ondarreta has umbrellas, tents and lounge chairs for €15 per day; free WC, showers and changing rooms. A team of fully-equipped life-guards are there during the daytime.
La Zurriola to the east of the old town and river is a surf beach, clearly better if you want waves or beach sports.
Surfing - surfboards and bodyboards can be rented on Zurriola beach. You'll probably want to spring for a wetsuit as well. The surf shop also offers surf lessons (around €65 per person for five one-hour lessons in a small group) .
For a short easy hike visit the statue of Christ on top of the mountain between the beaches. It takes around an hour to walk up at a leisurely pace. There's a bar on the way up if you need to stop for refreshments or admire the view. To reach the bar: find a library; from there find directions upstairs to a Castle; follow the stairs along green hedge. The park officially closes at 9pm in summer (in reality, gates close bit later), and the bar closes before sunset in summer time--and definitely before park is closed.
For a longer hike head up the hill from Zurriola and follow the red & white markings to San Pedro, around 2.5 hours, from which you can take a local bus back (for approx €1.50).
Tennis and squash: There is a single tennis court (roofed), and two open-air squash courts--both between the El pico del Loro beach and bottom of Mount Igeldo.
Tourist Land Train - a tourist land train leaves from the Calle Zubieta in front of La Concha Beach.
Aquarium - by the Paseo de Kaiko, at the far right of La Concha Beach.
Kayak - kayaks can be hired on Ondaretta beach, for about €7 per hour.
Water skiing in the La Concha bay
Amusement Park - an aging amusement park with quaint rides can be found at the top of Mount Igeldo, at the West end of La Concha bay. A funicular (cable-car) will take you up and down the mountain (approx €1.40 each way; operates 10am-9pm). If you use your own transport to get up (including walking) you'll have to pay a €1.70 per person toll at the top. As well as the rides, the top of the mountain provides a great view of the town.
The Basque cuisine is famous within Spain and many believe it is the Basque Country where you can find the best food. Much of this fame comes from San Sebastian and its bars and restaurants. Although tapas were invented in Andalucia they became perfected in San Sebastian and a walk through the old town before lunch time with its many bars shows why. Each bar is bursting with tapas and they look very delicate. Tapas are generally enjoyed together with a glass of wine or a small beer, and the Spanish tradition suggests to have one tapa and a wine in one bar and move on to the next bar. Tapas can be used as a good substitute for a meal - you pay for each one you eat (about €2-4 each) so you can have as many as you want. If you want 'real' food then that is where San Sebastian can be very very good. You can find several different cuisines such Chinese, German, Galician, Italian and of course the obvious Basque cuisine. In and around the harbour you can have the freshest seafood and if you don’t enjoy the simple harbour taverns go and enjoy San Sebastian restaurants with Michelin stars if you have some money to spare.
Healthy breakfast (even omelet) is hard to find in cafes: typically sandwiches or breakfast variety of pintxos are offered.
Garagar, Boulevard 22, Quite touristy place. Terrace has a surcharge, indoor is stifling and too dark for a breakfast.
Regatta, open from 7:30AM, kitchen closes at 11:30PM, 20 Hondarribia Kalea, Not evident from outside, this lounge-style cafe is popular place for breakfast among locals. Selection of potato-based pies, croissants with variety of meats. Good selection of infusion teas which are hard to find elsewhere in the city.
Cafes and bakeries along the waterfront.
Txuleta Plaza de la Trinidad, Parte Vieja - Excellent, reasonably priced renditions of Basque specialties Txangurro, Chipirones en su tinta, y sopa de pescado.
Avenida XXI Avda de la Libertad - excellent three course set lunches for €12, including wine (€12.75 on Saturday).
Juanito Kojua Calle Puerto, Old Town
La Rampa , 943 42 16 52, Muelle 26-27 bajo, Fish restaurant with Basque flavour. Perfectly-trained waiters with excellent English. Grilled **rape** is particularly good. Try cider, take a specialty cider pouring cork with you.
Urola Calle Fermin Calbeton, Old Town
La Zurri, 943 29-3886, Gros, Calle de Zabaleta 10, Simple Basque dishes which are cooked delicately. Popular with locals. For lunch, arrive before 3PM to catch full range of options. Flan is rare case when it has taste in every layer.
Freiduria, 943 32 66 63, San Francisco, 56, Best paella in town for around 12€. Jug of sangria €7. No menus but really friendly staff..
Urepel Restaurant, Paseo Salamanca 3, 943 424040. Closed on Sunday and Tuesday
Martin Berasategui, Calle Loidi 4, Lasarte-Oria (Guipúzcoa), 943 36 64 71. A 3 Michelin star restaurant close to San Sebastian with other outlets at Kursaal and in Bilbao at the Guggenheim. Price: €140 for the degustation menu (about 12 courses) plus wine and service.
Arzak Restaurant, Avda. Alcalde Jose Elosegui,73, 943 278 465 / 943 285 593, (fax: 943 272 753, email: firstname.lastname@example.org), Open From January to June: Closed Sunday evening, Monday and Tuesday. From July to December: Closed Sunday evening and Monday. Vacations: June 15 to July 2 and November 2 to November 26. Three Michelin stars restaurant. Avg. Price: €80-100 plus drinks and VAT. All credit cards accepted. About €150 per head by the time you've added the wine etc., but well worth it!
The way to eat pintxos, (tapas in the Basque Country whether speaking Spanish or Basque) in San Sebastian is quite different from other cities in Spain. There are two kinds of tapas: cold and hot ones.
Cold ones are displayed on the bar. Just ask the barman for your drink and pick the pintxos yourself. If you need a plate, just ask. Hot ones must be ordered from the barman and they take a short time to be cooked. There is always a hot tapas menu hanging from the wall.
When you are done eating your tapas and have finished your drink you ask the barman for the bill, and you have to tell him what you have eaten. It is very important to be honest, as it is a long tradition. Locals will be upset if they find people eating and not paying. Normally you don't eat many pintxos at one bar but move from bar to bar, drinking a beer (caña) or wine and eating one or two tapas. Then you move to another bar. Traditionally residents would have one or two pintxos in the early evening to stave off any hunger before a later sit-down meal, rather than making a meal out of a large number of pintxos.
Most pintxo bars are to be found in the old town, particularly on the streets running parallel to Boulevard. Generally a pintxo will cost €2-3. At some bars the pintxos are all priced the same, at others the price depends on the pintxo.
Pintxos (tapas) bars are thick in the Parte Vieja (Old Town), but there are masses of other places nearby in the Gros and Centro areas. Most bars charge by the toothpick or plate from €1-5.
The Jamon Iberico (usually seen hanging from the ceiling in whole leg portions) is ubiquitous, and equally good virtually everywhere.
Bernardo Etxea is clean and pleasant, with excellently prepared pintxos. Calle Puerto, Parte Vieja
Tamboril in the corner of the main square in the Old Town
Goiz Argi Fermín Calbetón, Parte Vieja. Pintxos bar with the delicious brocheta de gambas (fried prawns with a special vinaigrette), bola de carne (meat ball with red pepper) and a lot of cold pintxos with anchovies, mushrooms, cod, salmon, etc. Any of wine by glasses is good.
Ganbara Parte Vieja
Casa Gandarias Parte Vieja. Try Solo Mio with a glass of Belondrade Y Lurton white wine.
Casa Vergara, 943 43-10-73, Parte Vieja, Mayor 15, Pintxos bar, quite spacious. Not overcrowded in the evenings during the weekdays.
Martinez Parte Vieja
La Cepa Parte Vieja
Hidalgo 56 Gros
Casa Senra Gros
Bar Alex Centro
Bar Alustiza Centro
Bar Zazpi Centro
Some slightly pricier pintxo bars that don't have pre-cooked pintxos and only cook them on order (correspondingly, their pintxo are of higher quality) are:
La Cuchara de San Telmo (The Spoon) , +34 943 435 446, +34 943 435 446, Plaza Valle Lersundi, C/31 de Agosto 28, Off Calle 31 de Agosto, not easy to find, Don't judge their food by their interior. Jamon Iberico is cited as particularly good.
Coffee is espresso, not brewed, even in the on-the-beach cafes.
A purely Guipuzcoan experience, sidrerias dot the countryside and offer all you can drink sidra (a mildly alcoholic apple flavored cider) shooting straight from the barrel. Sidrerias usually offer a traditional set menu of cod omelette, cod with vegetables, steak, and then cheese. A couple of traditional sidrerias that are open all year (you'll need to get a car, bus or taxi from town) are:
Camping Igueldo open all year Paseo Padre Orkolaga 69. Igeldo (San Sebastián), Phone: 943-280490 Fax: 943-280411. You must book at peak times. Very international with its own bar, shop and a couple of restaurants nearby, and a bus directly to the beach and centre.
Hotel Anoeta, 60 Anoeta Avenue (Amara), Phone: 943-451499 Fax: 943-452036. €80-100.
Hotel Avenida, 55 Road to Igeldo (Igeldo), Phone: 943-212022, Fax: 943-212887. Prices from €78-125.
Pension Goiko open all year Calle Puerto 6, 2 (San Sebastián), Phone: 943-431114 Fax: 943-431114. A great Pension / Hostel in the center of San Sebastian. Close to the beaches and all the bars and restaurants. Great for couples or groups of friends €30-55.
Pension Edorta , 943 423-773, 943 423-773, C/Puerto 13, 1st and 2nd floors, find a separate doorbell; go up to the 1st floor, Rooms are all in the same design, but vary in size (#5 Donostia is much smaller than #4 Kursaal or #1). Some rooms have no view (eg. #5). Shared bathroom, unoccupied most of the time even in high season. No breakfasts; no shared guestroom to spend time with fellow travelers. Helpful staff. The whole pension is less than 10 rooms.
Hotel Europa, 55 San Martín st.(Centre). €100-160. Phone: 943-470880 Fax: 943-471730
Hospedaje Irune San Jerónimo 17-1º Derecha (Old town) ,Phone: 943425743-626625110. Rooms with en-suite bathroom €25-47 depending on season. Clean and friendly.
Hotel Niza, 943-426663, 56 Zubieta st.
Pension La Perla, 943-428123, Calle Loiola 10-1, Clean and friendly. Her sister runs the nearby Urkia. Rooms with en-suite bathroom.
Pension Urkia, 943-424436, Calle Urbieta 12-3, Clean and friendly. Her sister runs the nearby La Perla. Rooms with en-suite bathroom
Hotel Mercure Monte Igueldo Pº del Faro 134(Igeldo), tel: 943-210211 Fax: 943-215028, (****) Prices range from 96-130 Euros. The Hotel sits on top of Mountain Igeldo and has scenic view over San Sebastian and the best beach in San Sebastian "La Concha" Phone:
Hotel Maria Cristina, a Luxury Collection Hotel. A luxury belle epoque hotel, it is the choice of many actors during the world-famous cinema festival. This is a remarkably unclean hotel considering its 5 star rating.
San Sebastian is known as a stylish city and an image-conscious one, so it is stuffed with high-end shops. Peruse La Parte Vieja (the old part of town) for cool boutiques filled with quirky designer gear. There are fantastic shoe stores--I remember one in particular whose rainbow of amazing women's shoes in the window changed daily--and sources for that inimitable bold Spanish fashion.
Designer clothes for men are much more difficult to find than for women.
Most shops are freestanding, but there is an enclosed shopping mall that has the cineplex (as well as the city's lone McDonald's).
Some of the designer shops worthful visiting are:
Dam, +34 943 424 567, Narrika 23 / Iñigo 4
Hakei , (943)432-056, (943)432-056, Garibai 8, Try for gorgeous, one-of-a-kind women's shoes and accessories (bags and jewelry). Its tiny shop, and its displays are stunning, with walls lined in delicate shoes and silk scarves arranged by color.
Nice-day, Nice-things , 943 425 403, C/ Fuenterrabia, 14
Trip Donosti, 943 429443, 31 August, 33
WiFi zones can be seen in a cafe on the Ondarreta beach; in many bars in the Old City. It's unclear whether they are paid or free of charge.
Bilbao - home of the famous Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art and other architectural masterpieces
Hondarribia - beautiful fishing town and a place for more pintxos
Vitoria-Gasteiz - capital of the Basque country
Zarauz - summer getaway, the longest beach in Guipuzcoa, and a magnet for surfers
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