San Sebastián is a picturesque, beach town located on the Bay of Biscay in Spain’s mountainous Basque Country. This vibrant little city is known for its beautiful beaches, great restaurants, and its old town (Parte Vieja), home to cobblestone streets lined with upscale shops and vibrant pintxo (tapas) bars that offer local wines and a delicious regional pintxos. I spent two days and nights in San Sebastián and fell in love with the laid back beach vibe, the beautiful scenery and the friendly people! Here’s a quick guide to San Sebastián to help you make the most of your stay here.
GETTING TO SAN SEBASTIAN
You can fly directly into San Sebastián or you can fly into the nearby town of Bilbao. Flights were much cheaper from London to Bilbao, so my husband and I flew into Bilbao and then rented a car and drove to San Sebastián. We reserved a rental car online from Budget Rental Car, which is located at the airport making it quick and easy to walk to the rental office, grab your car and get on your way. The drive is very easy, has pretty scenery and only takes about an hour. It was my first time driving in Europe and I managed not to kill us so that means anyone can do it!
WHEN TO VISIT SAN SEBASTIAN
If you’re after warm weather the ideal time to visit San Sebastián is from May to July. These months offer the best temperatures but this is also peak tourist season so be prepared to pay top dollar for hotels and flights in spring and summer. I visited San Sebastián in the fall, during low season, and I loved it. It was still warm, (one of the days it was 70 degrees!), it was quiet, and we got a great price on our hotel room. But no matter what time you choose to visit this charming, little town I am sure you will fall in love with it like I did.
WHERE TO STAY IN SAN SEBASTIAN
There are a lot of nice hotel options in San Sebastián but we chose Hotel Maria Christina. This Luxury Collection Hotel is decorated in old world English elegance and is set in the perfect location right across from the beach, and walking distance to all the best tapas bars in old town. During low season you can snag a room last-minute for around $300 USD/night. If you are visiting San Sebastián in the spring or summer prices will be much higher and you’ll need to book well in advance.
WHAT TO DO IN SAN SEBASTIAN
PINTXO BAR CRAWL
San Sebastián is famous for having a hip old town with an array of Spanish pintxo bars. A “pintxo” is the Basque country’s take on tapas – a small, savory snack, that is typically eaten in bars. So be ready for some tasty vino and yummy bites! Our hotel gave us a few pintxo bar suggestions so we headed out on foot visiting; Gandarias, Atari Gastroteka, and Sirimiri.
All three of these were fun and lively, offering great food and good wine. In order to get freshly made, better tasting pintxos locals suggest ordering from the menu instead of picking something that is sitting out on the counter. You’ll order one or two tapas and a glass of wine, enjoy, and then it’s time to move on to the next bar! Everything is walking distance in San Sebastián which makes it easy to get around and see the city on foot, so be sure to pack comfortable walking shoes!
One of the main reasons to visit San Sebastián is that it is a beautiful coastal town with so much to do and see outside! Zurriola Beach, (five-minute walk from Hotel Maria Christina), is home to a great surf break attracting surfers from all over the world. During the summer months there are daily surf classes, volleyball and beach tennis here.
There is a skate park across from the beach, which is a great place to take kids. And if you’re looking for an awesome view of the city and ocean walk up Monte Ulia, which is a national park in the heart of the city! There is also an aquarium, and a large bike path that runs along the water where you can walk, ride bikes or jog. The beaches in San Sebastián are sandy and beautiful – perfect for sun bathing, or playing with your kids at the water’s edge.
DINNING IN SAN SEBASTIAN
If you’re looking for a fun, authentic atmosphere, with great seafood have lunch on the patio at La Rampa. La Rampa is located in the harbor but there is unfortunately no ocean view. However, the delicious, fresh seafood more than makes up for the lack of views. The muscles and lobster were amazing, and tasted even better being washed down with a €12 euro bottle of rosé. Even during low season this place was packed so be sure to call in advance to reverse a table.
San Sebastián is known for excellent restaurants so you will want to splurge on at least one nice meal while you are here. We had dinner at Restaurante Akelare which has three Michelin stars and stunning views of the Bay of Biscay. Unfortunately by the time we arrived the sun had set so if you are visiting during winter I suggest opting for lunch here instead so that you can enjoy the view. During the summer months book an early dinner so you can watch the sun set over the ocean. I have to admit for all the hype I thought the food was overrated, although I did love my desert which was called “broken yogurt” and was unique, creative and delicious.
I hope this quick guide to San Sebastián has encouraged you to visit this charming beach town on your next trip to Spain. Be sure to pack your walking shoes and your camera, and be ready to drink some delicious Spanish vino and eat a lot of yummy pintxos!
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