Sunny days spent on sandy beaches and evenings strolling through the quaint Old Town are among the joys of visiting San Sebastian. Picturesquely situated on the crescent-shaped bay of Concha, this elegant town is one of Spain’s trendiest seaside resorts. The extensive coastline stretches for several kilometers along an undulating shoreline, positioned by the Urgull and Igeldo hills. San Sebastian delights visitors with its scenic beauty and savory food, and surprises with its vibrant atmosphere and cultural attractions. Visit the Royal Palace and its beautiful gardens, stroll along the terraced seafront promenade that overlooks the city’s inspiring architecture,pintxos , the Basque version of tapas. These tempting small bites include specialties such as spiced olives, grilled shrimp, mussels with parsley sauce, marinated sardines, and salted cable omelet.
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1 The Seaside Elegance and the beautiful beach of La Concha
The perfect white sand beach of the Bahía de la Concha (Bay of Concha) is the most iconic sight in San Sebastian. With a wide coastline and mesmerizing turquoise waves, this vast beach stretches for more than a kilometer. Known as La Perla , the beach overlooks San Sebastian’s cityscape and has an elegant ambiance. A protected location in the bay ensures calm, gentle waters that are safe for swimming. The Perla del Océano swimming area can be found on the site of the former royal bathing pavilion.
In addition to sunbathing and swimming, tourists will also enjoy walking through La Concha. A beautiful promenade with elegant railing and street lamps, the Paseo de la Concha encircles the bay along the beach. Within walking distance of Concha Bay is the tree-lined Alameda del Boulevard , a hub of San Sebastián life with many shops, restaurants and cafes. From here, tourists can explore San Sebastian’s charming old town.
2 Playa de Ondarreta
Ondarreta beach is a lively beach that swells with holidaymakers during the summer. On the Bahía de la Concha , the boundaries of Playa de Ondarreta Monte Igueldo and the grounds of the Palacio de Miramar. This fine sandy beach is a great place for sunbathing, walking and playing beach volleyball, or taking a stroll along the promenade. The 100 meter wide coastline stretches for a kilometer and offers an impressive total area with plenty of space for sunbathing. During the most popular months of June, July and August, the coast is lined with classic striped beach huts, sun loungers and parasols. In winter, when the waves are up, the beach attracts many bodyboarders and surfers.
Address: Paseo de Miraconcha 48
3 San Telmo Museum
The Museo de San Telmo is an exceptional museum dedicated to the cultural heritage of the Basque Country. The museum houses Renaissance-era buildings from a 16th-century monastery in the Old Town. Providing visitors with an overview of Basque culture, the diverse collection is presented in different departments such as fine arts, history, archeology and ethnology. The art collection displays a wide variety of paintings, drawings, engravings and sculptures. Highlights include paintings by El Greco, Alonso Cano, Rubens, Depièce, Morán, Ribera and Coello. The Basque artists represented are Ugarte, Zubiaurre, Echagüe, Salaberría, Arteta and Zuloaga. The archeology department displays an extensive collection of coins, ceramics and pre-Columbian artifacts, while the history department presents a unique exhibition on the history of weapons from the 15th century to the present day. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, with free admission on Tuesdays.
Address: 1 Plaza Zuloaga, San Sebastián
Official site: https://www.santelmomuseoa.com/index.php?lang=en
4 Old Town
San Sebastian’s historic Old Town lies north of Alameda del Boulevard and extends to Monte Urgull with the arcaded Plaza de la Constitución at its center. On this square, which once hosted bullfights, there are many beautiful buildings with balconies. Note the neoclassical architecture of the municipal library. Near the Plaza de la Constitución is the Pescaderia (Fish Market) and the 16th century Iglesia de San Vicente . This Gothic church is the oldest church in San Sebastián and has a richly carved church retablo dating from 1584.
A favorite pastime in the old town is strolling the quaint cobbled streets in search of traditional Basque tapas. This atmospheric neighborhood is filled with authentic pintxo restaurants and is most lively at night when tourists and locals flock to the area. Pintxos are delicious small bites rather than a full meal, but served in abundance with plenty of variety. Taste these tempting gourmet delicacies, from fried cod and marinated anchovies to crispy handmade croquettes. The experience is a Basque culinary adventure.
5 Miramar Royal Palace
This Tudor-style English palace was designed in 1888 by architect Selden Wornum from England, but was completed by Benito Olasagasti. Surrounded by beautiful grounds overlooking the sea, the palace was built as a holiday home for the Spanish royal family. Several Spanish Queens favored this location for their summer holidays. The building is distinguished by its octagonal tower and half-timbered details. Note the coat of arms of the Habsburg dynasty on the facade. The relatively simple but elegant house has two floors for the private residence and a third floor used by the servants. Beautifully landscaped gardens with stunning ocean views lead down to a boulevard along the Bahía de la Concha.
Address: Paseo de Miraconcha 48
6 Scenic view and amusement park on Monte Igueldo
For stunning views of the San Sebastian landscape, head to Monte Igueldo. This steep mountain is just past the Playa de Ondarreta at the far end of the beach near the Royal Tennis Club. Tourists can take a cable car ride to the top. The hilltop is 184 meters above the sea and offers sensational panoramas. A favorite tourist attraction is the Parque de Atracciones de Monte Igueldo theme park. Families with children will enjoy the charming carousels and rollercoasters. Another highlight is the observatorywith a watchtower. Climb the tower for sweeping views of the city, Concha Bay and the rolling hills of the Basque countryside. At the Hotel Mercure Monte Igueldo, a stylish restaurant with a terrace is ideal for enjoying the beautiful scenery.
7 Santa Clara Island
Santa Clara Island
Travelers can enjoy a wonderful vacation on the island in the city of San Sebastian. Declared a Historic National Interest Site , the Isla de Santa Clara is a small 30-meter-wide island just off the coast, combining the tranquility of nature and the amenities of civilization. The island has cafes, restaurants, picnic areas and a post office. During the summer from June 1 to September 30, a ferry runs every 30 minutes from the port of San Sebastian to the island. The island’s small beach is supervised by a lifeguard and is ideal for swimming. Hidden corners along the coast of the island offer natural pools. Tourists can also take a nice walk to the lighthouse and enjoy the breathtaking view along the way.
8 Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro
This beautiful 18th century baroque church stands at the foot of Monte Urgull in the heart of the Old Town . One of the most visited tourist sites in San Sebastian, the Basilica of Santa María del Coro was built on the site of an ancient Roman temple. The church has a beautiful facade of Churrigueresco with a statue of Saint Sebastian in a niche and two towers. Step inside to admire the interior, built on a rectangular plan with a semi-circular apse. The sanctuary has impressive pillars and a neo-Gothic vault. Guided tours of the basilica are available.
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Address: Calle 31 de Agosto 46
9 International Jazz Festival in July
For tourists visiting San Sebastian at the end of July, the International Jazz Festival is a must-see cultural event. Concerts are performed at the Kursaal Center along with seven other venues in the city. This top-notch festival is dedicated to high-quality jazz and blues music, showcasing a wide variety of musical styles and genres. The festival takes place over six days with more than 60 performances. Concerts in the Kursaal Center and Trinidad Square require tickets, while the concerts in the other venues such as Zurriola Beach and the terraces in the Kursaal Center are free.
10 Monte Urgull and Monte Ulía: historical sites and nature walks
Starting at the aquarium, the Paseo Nuevo encircles all of Monte Urgull, which is crowned by the Castillo de la Mota , a formidable 12th-century fortress and statue representing the Sacred Heart. Paseo Nuevo ‘s scenic boardwalk offers sensational views of the rocky shoreline stretching down to the Urumea River. Beyond the river Puente Zurriola (bridge), a seaside promenade runs east towards Monte Ulía. Beyond Zurriola Beach, the vast Parque de Ulía is a beautiful natural space ideal for walking and picnicking.
11 Zurriola Beach: strand van Surfers
This famous surfers beach is located in a commercial district of San Sebastian with many sports shops, large department stores and art galleries. The Playa de la Zurriola attracts surfers from all over the world for its challenging waves and surfing competitions. This beach is also a favorite destination for sports enthusiasts, who come here to play beach volleyball, football and beach tennis.
12 Aquarium-Sea Palace
The San Sebastian aquarium is well located near the harbor at the end of the Bahía de la Concha. A popular tourist attraction, it is filled with colorful species from tropical fish to sharks. The aquarium also features an Oceanographic Museum with exhibits featuring ship models, navigational instruments, and documents. A highlight of the museum is the Oceanarium, an underwater exhibition space. A walkway leads through a clear tunnel with 360-degree views of the aquarium’s swimming fish, sharks and sea turtles.
Address: Plaza Carlos Blasco de Imaz, San Sebastián
13 Parque de Aiete: Public park and venue for cultural events
The 19th century Aiete Palace of the Dukes of Bailen was built on a Camino de Santiago site where medieval pilgrims stopped on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The aristocratic palace once played host to illustrious visitors, including Queen Victoria of England. Today, the palace grounds are used as a public park and venue for cultural events. Designed by French landscape architect Pierre Ducasse, this beautifully maintained park features a tranquil pond, caves and rushing waterfalls. Hundreds of different trees and plants flourish in an idyllic scene of untouched nature. The park is a lovely place for tourists to explore on a sunny day, especially in spring and summer when the colorful flowers are in bloom.
For those seeking a different nature retreat paired with gourmet food, continue to Akelarre Restaurant at 63 Paseo Padre Orcolaga (a short drive from Aiete Park). This highly regarded gourmet restaurant boasts three Michelin stars and stunning sea views from the dining room. A special menú degustación (tasting menu) allows guests to taste many different dishes with specialties from the Basque cuisine. Gourmands will be interested to know that San Sebastian also has two other three-star Michelin restaurants, although the other two are on the outskirts of the city: Martin Barastegui Restaurant and Arzak Restaurant .
14 Cathedral of the Good Shepherd
The largest church in San Sebastian, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is in the New Town beyond busy Calle de San Martín . This neo-Gothic cathedral was designed by Basque architect Manuel de Echave in 1880 and completed in 1897. With its 75-meter tower, this inspiring building is an important landmark in the city. The cathedral was built of sandstone from Monte Igueldo. The immense structure covers an amazing area of 1915 square meters. Visitors are impressed by the spaciousness of the interior, which has a symmetrical Latin cross shape with three naves and a transept. The lavishly decorated sanctuary has stained glass windows by Juan Bautista Lázaro and the main altar displays statues of Nuestra Señora del Carmen(Maagd Maria), Sint-Antonio, Sint-Theresia in Sacred Heart (Heilig Hart).
Address: Plaza del Buen Pastor
Where to Stay in San Sebastian for Sightseeing
Most of the top attractions in San Sebastian are in the old town and on the crescent of beaches that curl around the bay. Lively Gros is just across the river, within walking distance of the old town and close to a less-protected beach, popular with surfers. Calle 31 de Agosto, in the center of the old town, is dotted with places covering a staggering array of pintxos that San Sebastian is famous for. Here are some highly-rated hotels in San Sebastian:
- Luxury Hotels : Along the river in the old town and just around the corner from Calle 31 de Agosto, Hotel Maria Cristina is a grand hotel with impeccable service and an excellent restaurant. Hotel Villa Soro is a 15-minute walk from the old town and 10 minutes from the galleries and shops in Gros. It is located in a distinguished old house with free parking and bicycles. Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra is a large hotel in Belle Epoch, with balconies overlooking the beach, just a few minutes from the old town.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The old-fashioned Hotel Niza is located right on the boulevard next to the old town and has a balcony with a sea view. The NH Collection San Sebastian Aranzazu is located on the hill just above Ondarreta Beach near Miramar Palace. It has chic, modern rooms and good bus links to the old town. A 15-minute walk from the Old Town and the beach, Hotel Astoria 7 offers movie-themed rooms on a street lined with shops and restaurants.
- Budget Hotels: Hotel Record is located across the river, about a 15-minute walk from the old town. Free parking is available on site. Hotel Zaragoza Plaza is a few steps from the beach and within walking distance of attractions, shops and the train station. Parma Hotel is a family-run hotel located on the edge of the old town, opposite Zurriola Beach. It offers sea views.
Day trips from San Sebastian
An easy 23km drive from San Sebastian, Hondarribia is a charming little fishing village and seaside holiday resort. The city was entered by the 15th century Puerta de Santa María . Wandering through the picturesque narrow streets of the old town leads to the discovery of many historical sites, including houses with coats of arms on the facade. An important sight is the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción . In this Gothic church, the marriage of Louis XIV of France and the Infanta María Teresa of Spain was sanctified.
For those who want to live like a king for a night, stay in the 10th to 12th century Palacio del Rey Carlos V , which has been converted into a luxurious Parador de Hondarribia hotel. For more beautiful coastal views, head to the Plaza de Armas which overlooks the mouth of the river and the lighthouse on Cabo Higuer to the north. Hondarribia is also known for its gastronomy and has two Michelin star restaurants, the Restaurante Alameda and the Maison Eguiazabal .
Carretera del Jaizkibel
This beautiful scenic route starts 25 kilometers outside San Sebastian and less than three kilometers from Hondarribia. The road travels over the barren sandstone ridge of Jaizkibel to an elevation of 584 meters where the pilgrimage church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe stands. The Hotel Provincial de Jaizkibel offers quiet, comfortable rooms and impressive views of the countryside.
Getaria is about twenty-one kilometers from San Sebastian and is a worthwhile excursion. You will enjoy a nice car ride along the way. Starting at Zarautz (22 kilometers from San Sebastian), the beautiful road of the Cornisa Cantábrica (Corniche Cantabria) stretches along the rocky coastline. The fishing port of Getaria is located on a picturesque promontory with its harbor sheltered by the fortified island of San Antonio. The city’s harbor sits below the 13th-century Gothic Church of San Salvador , and the harbor’s waterfront is lined with enticing seafood restaurants.
Monastery of San Ignacio de Loyola
Monastery of San Ignacio de Loyola
Nestled in the Urola Valley about 40 kilometers from San Sebastian, the Monastery of San Ignacio de Loyola now houses a Jesuit college. The monastery was built between 1689 and 1888 based on the design of Carlo Fontana, a student of Bernini. The beautiful baroque church near the monastery has an impressive 65 meter high dome by Joaquín de Churriguera and is considered one of the most beautiful in Spain. The opulent sanctuary amazes visitors with its overwhelming spaciousness and decorative marble inlays. A masterpiece of Baroque art, the main altar displays a statue of Saint Ignatius.