Things to do in San Sebastián, Spain: 2-day itinerary
Crystal clear waters and golden beaches draw visitors to San Sebastián, also known as Donostia.
Framed by lush hills, this coastal Basque city was once a summer getaway for Spanish royalty.
its natural landscape, San Sebastián is a world-renowned culinary
hot spot where pintxo bars and Michelin-star restaurants stand side by
side. Booking ahead is essential if you want to grab a table at one of
these high-end eateries. The city also offers plenty of cultural events
and picturesque promenades lined with Belle Époque buildings.
two-day itinerary will show you the best things to do in San Sebastián.
It includes the top attractions, as well as recommendations of where to
eat and where to stay, so you don’t miss a thing.
Sandwiched between the marina and the Urumea River, the old town is the
best place to begin your tour of San Sebastián. Also known as Parte
Vieja, it’s where you’ll find most of the city's iconic attractions,
including the San Telmo Museum, the Iglesia de San Vicente and the
Basílica de Santa María del Coro. Amid the historic buildings are also
several pintxo bars and small boutique shops worth visiting.
Our first stop in the old town is the Iglesia de San Vicente, one of the
oldest churches in San Sebastián. The building dates back to the 12th
century, but it was rebuilt later on assuming its current Gothic look in
the 16th century. It has a rectangular shape with striking bell towers
that can be seen from afar. Inside, visitors can marvel at the vaulted
ceilings, the stained-glass windows and the stunning golden altarpiece
designed by sculptor Ambrosio de Bengoechea.
A few steps from the church is the Mercado de la Bretxa. Established in
1870, this century-old market houses a variety of food stalls, including
butchers and fishmongers. Local chefs come here to purchase fresh
ingredients, so you might spot one here stocking up for their
Michelin-star restaurant. Still, anyone is welcome to visit the market
and sample the food. Some treats worth trying include the jamón and the
Idiazabal, a delicious sheep cheese. Besides the food section, the
market has another floor lined with retail shops, added more recently.
Even if you’re not attending a show, it’s worth passing through the
Victoria Eugenia Theatre. Established in 1912 and refurbished later on,
this local theatre still attracts visitors with its Belle Époque façade.
A stone staircase leads the way to the main hall, where you’ll find a
stunning frescoed ceiling. The theatre hosts several events throughout
the year including the San Sebastián film festival and the Musical
Fortnight, one of the longest standing classical music festivals in
Spain. Make sure to check the agenda before you go.
If you didn’t grab a snack at the Mercado de la Bretxa, here’s
another food stop. These two streets, Calle Fermin Calbeton and Calle
Mayor make up the heart of San Sebastián’s culinary scene. There are a
variety of bars here offering pintxos (Basque-style tapas) and pouring
Plaza de la Constitución is among the most imposing squares in the
Basque Country. Established in 1813, it was initially used as a
bullring, with the balconies serving as seats for spectators. Look up
and you’ll still see the numbers used for renting the space. These days,
the square is a charming meeting spot full of lively bars and shops.
Dominating it is the old city hall, which now houses a public library.
The bulls are long gone, but there are still many events that take place
here including the Santo Tomás Fair. Sit down for a glass of wine
before continuing the walk to the basilica.
The Basílica de Santa María del Coro is perhaps the most impressive
building in San Sebastián. It combines a mix of styles including Gothic,
Neo-classical and Plateresque. Completed in 1774, the church features
an elaborate façade with a sculpture of Saint Sebastian. Inside, there’s
an altarpiece built in honour of Our Lady of the Choir, the city’s
patron saint. Visit on the 14th of August, and you might catch the
annual concert by the Orfeón Donostiarra choir.
Sitting just below the Urgull Mountain, the Museo de San Telmo is
the oldest museum in the Basque country, open since 1902. Here visitors
can learn more about the region’s history, with exhibits stretching from
prehistory to the modern days. These are held between a restored
16th-century convent and a recent modern wing. The collection includes
anything from historical artefacts to contemporary art pieces. Temporary
exhibitions also take place throughout the year. Most labels are in
Spanish or Basque, but there are free audio guides with other languages
From the museum, it’s a 20-minute walk up to Monte Urgull. Above it,
you’ll find the Castillo de la Mota, with its low stone walls and a
striking Christ statue sculpted by Federico Coullaut. Established in the
12th century, today it houses the Casa de la Historia, a small museum
focusing on the history of San Sebastián and its cultural events.
Objects on display include military uniforms, photographs, and
small-scale city models. There’s another path to the castle from the
aquarium, but whichever way you take, you’ll be rewarded with
breathtaking views of the city. If you want to enjoy this scenery a bit
longer, grab a drink at the Urgulleko Polboriña bar.
After exploring the mountains, head back down to the city centre. Take a
walk towards the Alderdi Eder Gardens, stopping to admire the
Ayuntamiento, aka the city hall. The building was completed in 1887 and
remains one of San Sebastián’s architectural jewels. For a while, it was
home to a casino, where local artists and politicians mingled during
the Belle Époque. Later it was a battle scene when nationalists and
republicans clashed during the Civil War. If you look closely, you can
still see bullet holes in the façade. It was only in 1947 that it became
the city hall’s headquarters where it remains. If you follow the
promenade from here, you’ll eventually end up at the beach.
Take a little detour and head to the Puente de Maria Cristina.
Several bridges cross the Urumea river, but this one stands out with its
Belle Époque design. Erected in 1904, it features two golden statues on
each end standing on a white pedestal. Architect Julio Martínez-Zapata
and engineer José Eugenio Ribera were behind this project completed in
only nine months. The bridge links the city centre with the San
Sebastián railway station and the bus terminal.
Close to the bridge in the new town is the city’s cathedral, the
Catedral del Buen Pastor. Established in 1897, it combines slate and
stone quarried from the nearby Monte Igueldo. Architect Manuel Echave
designed the church in a Neo-Gothic style inspired by French churches
and medieval German. Its 75-metre bell tower has become an iconic
sight in San Sebastián, seen from every angle. The cathedral is also
home to one of the biggest organs in Europe with over 10,000 whistles.
Other elements worth admiring include the gargoyles, the stained glass
windows and the “The Cross of Peace” sculpture on the façade. Adjoining
the cathedral is the Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea, a cultural centre that
hosts art exhibits and other events throughout the year.
Before the day comes to an end, take a stroll down to Playa de la Concha
to enjoy the sunset. Considered one of the best beaches in Spain, it’s
the ideal spot to relax after touring the city. Spanish royalty used to
escape to San Sebastián and Queen Regent Maria Cristina even declared
the city the summer capital of Europe. Behind the beach is a lovely
promenade that leads all the way to the Pico del Loro headland.
San Sebastián is packed with Michelin-star restaurants,
so why not end the day with a meal in one of these fine dining spots.
The closest ones to the centre are Kokotxa and Amelia, but there are many
more further out. There are places with one, two and even at the
high-end with three Michelin stars.
Whichever one you choose,
make sure to book as far ahead as you can. Here is the full list of
Michelin-star restaurants in San Sebastián.
Take it easy on your second day in San Sebastián by exploring some
of the city’s natural wonders. First stop is the Parque de Cristina
Enea, also known as Kristinaenea. The Duke of Mandas designed this
riverside park for his wife Cristina, hence the name. Since then it’s
become the perfect spot to escape the city bustle. Stretching for 95,000
square meters it’s home to ducks and peacocks and scenic pathways
facing the Urumea river. The lush trails include anything from fig trees
to red sequoias and ginkgo trees. In the middle of the park stands the
Fundación Cristina Enea Fundazioa with its striking red façade.
From the park, head north and you’ll soon end up at Playa de la Zurriola
or “Zurri” as locals call it. This 800-metre beach is famous for its
surf scene, attracting surfers from all over the globe. If you fancy
trying it yourself, you can join one of the daily surf classes run by
Pukas Surf Eskola. There are also other sports areas for volleyball and
football. On the eastern edge of the beach is the Muro de Sagües, one of
the best spots to watch the sunset in San Sebastián.
Continue your walk along the waterfront, towards the Paseo de la
Concha. This charming promenade begins at Avenida de la Libertad and
goes all the way to the tunnel of El Antiguo. Enjoy a relaxing stroll
here or rent a bike and follow the lane whilst watching the view of the
bay and the Santa Clara Island in the distance. You can also take the
opportunity to visit the La Perla thermal springs located on the beach.
Palacio Miramar is a stunning 19th-century palace with a
privileged location above the beaches of San Sebastián. When the royal
family was in town, this was their summer getaway spot. It has the style
of an English cottage with striking red brick walls and terracotta
ceilings surrounded by a grassy field. The palace is closed to the
public, but it’s still worth admiring it from the outside. Visitors are
also welcome to stroll through the gardens and enjoy the sea views.
Playa de Ondarreta is another beach worth visiting in San Sebastián.
It’s located right below the Miramar Palace and just in front of Santa
Clara Island. The royal family used to swim here and even today it
remains a favourite spot among wealthy residents and visitors.
Picturesque blue-and-white umbrellas line the beach, but you can also
bring your own. Wherever you stand, you can enjoy the views of the Monte
Igueldo sheltering the beach.
Close to the Ondarreta beach, you’ll find the Peine del Viento.
Translated as the Comb of the Wind, this giant sculptural work was
installed in 1977 and has since become a symbol of the city. The project
was a collaboration between the architect Luis Peña Ganchegui and the
renowned Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida. If the sea is rough, you’ll
hear some impressive sounds as the waves crash into the anchor-like iron
pipes attached to the rocks.
The last stop of the day is the Monte Igueldo. Standing more than 100
metres high, the best way to reach this mountain is by hopping on the
funicular. The bright red car has been whisking visitors up the hill
since 1912. Once on top, visitors can enjoy the views over the city’s
coastline. For even better views, you can climb the El Torréon tower for
a small fee. Kids will also love the Parque de Atracciones, a small
theme park with a variety of attractions like bumper cars and carousels.
Santa Clara Island:
If you’re visiting San Sebastián in the summer, it’s worth taking a
ferry down to the Santa Clara island, located just a few miles from the
Playa de la Concha. Between May and August, there are trips to Santa
Clara every half-hour departing from the city’s fishing port. You can
also choose the glass-bottom boats, which run every hour. Bring a snack
and enjoy the views from the island’s lighthouse. There’s also a small
beach that forms during low tide.
Monte Ulia: Rising on the
east of San Sebastián is the Monte Ulia, at 243 metres high. You can
hike here from Calle San Francisco, near Playa de la Zurriola, which
takes about one hour. If you’re up for it, continue all the way to the
village of Pasaia.
Parque de Aiete: Stretching over 70,000
square metres, the Aiete Park features many attractions, including a
Bonsai pavilion, a bar, a restaurant and a children’s playground. In the
middle of the park stands the Palacio de Aiete, a former Royal palace
built in 1878. Many Spanish queens have set foot here, as well as
English queens like Queen Elizabeth. Later on it served as a summer
residence for General Francisco Franco. Today the palace functions as a
cultural centre that is open to all.
Zarautz: If the beaches of San Sebastián aren’t enough for you,
head down to the coastal town of Zarautz. Here you’ll find a 2.5km
golden beach and plenty of surf schools. Visitors can also explore the
town’s medieval streets and visit historic monuments like the Parroquia
De Santa María La Real. On the outskirts of Zarautz are several wineries
where you can sample Txakoli, a white wine that is typical of this
Hondarribia: Less than half an hour away from San
Sebastián and facing the French estuary is the picturesque village of
Hondarribia. Beyond the beach, it’s the town’s fishermen houses that
attract visitors with their colourful balconies and window shutters.
Other highlights include the Plaza de Gipuzkoa and the Gothic Iglesia de
Santa María de la Asunción. You can drive here or catch the E21 bus run
Getaria: Getaria is a small fishing village
located 30km west from San Sebastián. It has a small harbour and a
sheltered beach ideal for families. In the summer locals set up grills
outside with their fresh catch. Getaria is also the birthplace of Juan
Sebastián Elcano, a Spanish sailor that travelled with Magellan on his
world sailing trip.
Bilbao: If you have a bit more time, you
can take a day trip to Bilbao, which is about an hour away by train.
This Basque city is renowned for its iconic architecture. Beyond the
Guggenheim, you should stop by the train station to admire its Art
Nouveau façade or watch a play in the city’s Neo-baroque theatre.
Biarritz (France): Head east from San Sebastián and you’ll soon hit the
French border. Only 40 minutes away from the Spanish city, Biarritz
offers a different atmosphere. This was where Napoléon III and his wife
used to spend their summers back in the 19th century. The elegant
mansions around the town still recall these past glamour days. Since
then Biarritz has become a popular surfing destination, with several
schools offering classes for beginners. You can drive to Biarritz from
San Sebastián or get the local bus.
There are many things to do with kids in
San Sebastián. You can spend the day relaxing by the beach or enjoy one
of the many water activities available like surfing, kayaking and
paddling. If visiting in the summer, why not hop on the boat to Isla de
All-year-round, the city’s waterfront promenade
provides the perfect opportunity for a family stroll or a bike ride. San
Sebastián is also home to a series of kid-friendly museums like the
Eureka Science Museum or the Albaola Sea Factory. The city’s parks are
ideal for a sightseeing break and most of them have playgrounds.
course, you should embrace San Sebastián’s culinary traits too. Take
the whole family for some pintxos or try delicious local pastries at
Pastelería Oiartzun. Above the city’s mountains, you’ll find many other
attractions like the Castillo de la Mota, the theme park at Monte
Igueldo (plus the fun funicular ride) and the aquarium at Monte Ulia.
Further out is Ekogunea, where kids can learn more about ecological
When it comes to the North of Spain, there’s no better place to eat than
San Sebastián. This city has the most Michelin-star restaurants than
any other Spanish city. Alongside these high-end eateries, you’ll also
find humble pintxo bars, where you can sample a variety of pintxos
With a privileged location by the sea, fresh fish
and seafood are often featured on the menu with dishes like oysters and
grilled turbot. To pair with the meal you can try the txakoli, a
sparkling white wine typical of this region. Most pintxo bars can be
found within the old town, around Calle 31 de Agosto. Don’t stay just in
one place, instead order one or two tapas and move on to the next bar
to sample different creations. Below are some of the best restaurants in
Michelin-star restaurants: If you fancy
trying a Michelin-star restaurant, San Sebastián has quite a wide
choice, ranging from one to three stars. Kokotxa and Amelia are the
closest to the city, but there are many others worth trying like Arzak
and Elkano. Here is the full list of Michelin-star restaurants in San
Sebastián. Make sure to book ahead to guarantee a table!
Rekondo: At the foot of Monte Igueldo, you’ll find Rekondo a fine dining
restaurant dedicated to Haute Basque cuisine. Chef Iñaki Arrieta is
behind the innovative menu that combines a mix of meat and seafood
dishes. In the summer, you can enjoy the sea views from the terrace.
Astelena: Established in 1997, Astelena sits right across the Zurriola
beach. Vegetables take centre stage in this cosy Basque restaurant. The
owners use local ingredients like peppers and artichokes and transform
them into delicious veggie-friendly meals. You can order à la carte or
sample the chef’s tasting menu.
Atari Gastroleku: This is
one of the best pintxo bars in San Sebastián. Tucked away in the old
town, Atari is the ideal spot for your last pintxo round. Try the
artisan foie on raisin toast or sample one of the many dessert pintxos.
For drinks, order the gin and tonic.
Sukalde Kultura: Sukalde
is located a few steps from the Ondarreta beach, in the Antiguo
neighbourhood. This rustic restaurant offers pintxos as well as a fixed
menu that changes with the seasons. Everything is homemade and uses
La Viña: In the heart of the old town, La
Viña is famous for its pastel de queso, a creamy baked cheesecake that
draws locals and visitors alike. This traditional sweet is prepared
every day according to a local recipe and it’s perfect for dessert or a
midday snack. One slice is big enough for two. They also serve a few
fishy pintxos and other snacks.
Mercado de la Bretxa: Open
in 1870, the market is a great place to sample food in San Sebastián.
Here you’ll find a variety of stalls, including butchers and
fishmongers. Make sure to try the jamón and the Idiazabal, a delicious
Hotel Maria Cristina (5 stars): Dating back to 1912, this
luxury hotel stands out with its Belle Époque style. Many stars have
stayed here through the years including Elizabeth Taylor and Julia
Roberts, both guests at the city’s annual film festival. The hotel has a
privileged location, only a few steps from the old town and the La
Concha beach. Most rooms at Maria Cristina offer views of the sea and
the river. Facilities include a high-end Asian restaurant, a culinary
school and a gym. Guests can also enjoy a stroll through the vast hotel
Hotel Lasala Plaza (4 stars): Housed in a
20th-century building,this four-star hotel was completely renovated, but
still preserves its original Art Deco façade. Inside, you’ll find contemporary
rooms dotted with velvet armchairs and designer lighting. The rooftop
pool is the hotel’s highlight offering incredible views over the city’s
Villa Soro (4 stars): This charming country-style
villa sits on the outskirts of San Sebastián, close to the Zurriola
beach. It features a dining room, a gym and a lush garden. Guests can
rent bikes for free to explore the surrounding area.
la Galeria (2 stars): If you’re travelling on a budget, the Hotel La
Galeria is a great alternative. It’s only a few minutes from the
Ondarreta Beach and the funicular of Mount Igueldo. Each room has a
theme inspired by different artists like Picasso or Miró, with paintings
hanging over the bed. Upgraded rooms also offer sea views.
If you want to catch the warm weather, the best time to visit San
Sebastián is from May to July. This is a great season to visit the beach
and enjoy some of the city’s outdoor activities. For a quiet
atmosphere, you might consider coming in the spring or fall. The
temperatures are a bit cooler then, but you’ll get fewer crowds. Most of
the city’s festivals take place between August and September, so you
could schedule your trip around these events too.
Semana Grande: Semana Grande is one of the biggest events in San
Sebastián. Every year around August 15, the city comes alive with street
parties that last for a whole week. The event is a celebration of the
Basque culture and heritage. It all starts with the firing of the canon
in the Alderdi Eder park and continues with concerts, athletic
competitions and fireworks. Kids will love the giants’ parade and pirate
Euskal Jaiak: At the start of September, the city
hosts the Euskal Jaiak. Translated as “Basque Festivities”, this is
another chance to party in San Sebastián and celebrate the Basque
identity. Compared to Semana Santa, this event takes on a more
traditional route, with locals dressing up in authentic clothing,
singing and dancing. The festival lasts for a week and includes several
events like the regatta in La Concha Bay and the Cider Day, where you
can sample over 50 cider brands.
San Sebastián International Film Festival: Also in September is
the San Sebastián International Film Festival, hosted since 1953. Every
year local and international stars visit this Basque city to watch film
premieres from emerging and established directors. Former guests of the
festival include Pedro Almodóvar and Francis Ford Coppola.