San Sebastian, or Donostia in Basque, has been the name on everyone’s lips for awhile now, and it’s easy to see why: fabulous food, beautiful scenery, and the intriguing Basque culture are just some of the highlights of this little gem! Nestled between the mountains and the sea, San Sebastian has more bars per square metre than anywhere else, and an impressive history as a royal holiday town. But the compact size of the town means you can cover a lot in just 48 hours, though you might have to sacrifice a bit of sleep to fit in all the eating!
Whether you want to sunbake or surf, San Sebastian has got you covered. La Concha is a great city beach close to the old town, good for swimming and paddle boarding. You can even swim out to the tiny Isla Santa Clara, smack bang in the middle of the bay. There is a tiny beach, walking paths to the lighthouse, picnic tables and a terrace. Across town at Zurriola beach is where the surf action is happening. On your way there look for the beautiful Maria Christina Hotel, which has played host to the likes of Mata Hari.
Two hills crown either end of La Concha beach. On top of Mt Urguell you’ll find a big statue of Christ, some old castle walls, and fabulous views. The shady walk down the backside through an old English Graveyard is lovely. On the other end lies Mt Igueldo, accessible by funicular and with a slightly tacky theme park at the top.
Old & New
The sandstone coloured old town is crammed in at the foot of Mt Urguell, and you could easily spend days trying every pintxos bar here. Constitution Square, a former bullring, is the heart of the old town, while Calle 31 Augusto remembers the terrible fire that burned down the entire town in the 19th century. At the opposite end of La Concha beach, the upscale suburb of Antigua is the heart of the new town dining precinct, and definitely worth a peek on your second evening. It’s a bit quieter and less touristy than the bars and restaurants of the Old Town, but the quality is impeccable.
You’d be forgiven for eschewing every single other recommendation for San Sebastian and spending two days just eating. No judgement here. With more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than anywhere on Earth (#fact), San Seb really brings it, food wise. If you’re out to splash some cash, look for some goose neck barnacles, pricey because of how dangerous and difficult they are to collect.
Otherwise the pintxos scene can be a great place to gastronomically explore. Though not intended to take the place of dinner, with so much to try it’s easy to fill up on them. Try hot pintxos like carillera (beef cheek in red wine, well known at Cuchara de San Telmo) or brocheta de gambas a la plancha, a fried prawn on a piece of bread, delicious at Goiz Argi, and washed down with some txakoli. For something more substantial try the risotto at Borda Berri, or maybe their pig’s ear.
For a modern twist, hit up Bar Zeruko , where you can smoke your own fish and chase it with a parsley shot, all without breaking the bank. The bad boys at A Fuego Negro have a squid doughnut just waiting for you, and Bar Ganbara have been doing great food for 30 years, inventing possibly the first pintxo: anchovy, olive and pepper, named ‘Gilda’ supposedly after Rita Hayworth, because she is spicy!
Those with a sweet tooth should give a Pastel Vasco (or Basque tart) a go, and the Basque cheesecake at La Vina should not be missed! In the new town, Drinka is a great place to have a beer, vermut or cider from Asturias, while across the road at Trikuharri the eggs with foie gras are a hit. Try Bar Lobo for some reliable patatas bravas.
Take a Walk
If you have time after ALL that eating, get off the beach and venture out to Miramar Park, where you’ll find the best view of the city, and the palace where Maria Christina – the original royal holidaymaker – summered. Alternatively, San Sebastian is also a great place to hike a section of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail. For 7km towards Pasaia you can walk and enjoy magnificent coastal views, before enjoying some local food and taking the bus back.