20 Things To Do in San Sebastian

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San Sebastian is one of the most beautiful seaside destinations in Spain. Comb the jewel of Spain’s Basque country for hidden alleyways, cute bars, movie stars, jazz musicians and haute-couture fashion designers. There are plenty of things to do in San Sebastian and it’s a city to tick of your list when exploring the landmarks of Spain

The coastline of Northern Spain is as lovely as the coastline of Southern Spain, which can be explored while on an Andalucia road trip. 

San Sebastian

20 Things To Do In San Sebastian

1- Admire The View From Mount Igueldo

things to do in San Sebastian
One of the top things to do in San Sebastian is to admire the view from Mount Igueldo.

Catch the funicular cable car at Ondarreta beach to the top of Mount Igueldo, where you will find sweeping harbour views of this Riviera town and the Bay of Biscay.

Only 20 kilometres from the French border, San Sebastian has been a popular holiday spot for European nobles since the 19th century.

One of the fun things to do in San Sebastian for kids is to visit the Mount Igueldo amusement park with its roller coaster, water rides and bumper cars.

There is also a hotel and café where you can sip on a café solo and soak in the view in that relaxed Spanish fashion.

Funikular Monte Igueldo is at Funikular Plaza, 4, 20008 Donostia, Gipuzkoa.

2- Basque on La Concha Beach

La Concha beach
Another cool thing to do in San Sebastian is to hang out on Playa de La Concha Beach.

San Sebastian’s main beach, Playa de La Concha, curves gently along a sheltered waterfront.

Have lunch at one of the many waterfront restaurants along Paseo de la Concha where you’ll enjoy gorgeous ocean views and delicious four-course meals that, surprisingly, won’t break the bank.

La Perla restaurant (Paseo de la Concha, San Sebastian, tel: 943 46 24 84) has both indoor and outdoor dining where the average price for a four-course meal is around €20.

After lunch, enjoy the walk along the beachfront where rows of sun-kissed bodies lap up the last rays of summer.

3- Take a walk to Alderdi Eder Gardens

carousel in san sebastian
The French carousel is a charming attraction in San Sebastian.

Watch the kids riding on the French-style carousel at the Alderdi Eder gardens, which is situated in a quaint setting in front of the historic City Hall building.

At the end of the bay is the picturesque Monte Urgull area with its myriad of colourful boats.

Another San Sebastian attraction is the Naval Museum and Aquarium.

Past the Aquarium, there is an ocean-front cliff walk with stunning rugged views.

4- Go Surfing At La Zurriola

things to do san sebastian
If you’re a surfer, one of the things to do in San Sebastian is to go surfing.

Set next to the gleaming space-aged glass structure of the Kursaal Conference Centre and Auditorium, La Zurriola is a convenient surf beach right in the heart of San Sebastian.

If you travel along the coastline, you’ll find that this region has some of the world’s best places in Spain for surf beaches.

Zarautz is the area’s longest surf beach while Mundaka holds international surfing competitions that attract surfers from the far corners of the world.

5- Explore San Sebastian’s Old Town

things to do in san sebastian
Exploring the old town is one of the things to do in San Sebastian not to miss.

Besides the beaches, the top attraction in San Sebastian is its Old Town. 

During medieval times San Sebastian was a walled city limited to the old town – which is now known as Parte Vieja – with Plaza de la Constitucion as its historical heart.

Wandering around Parte Vieja is a great way to soak up the local atmosphere, eat in pintxos bars, shop for souvenirs and visit museums.

San Sebastian’s Old Quarter is at the foot of Mount Urgull by the harbour.

Its narrow cobblestone streets are a warren of tapas bars, restaurants, shops and galleries.

It’s also home to two churches: the Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro and the Convent of San Telmo.

Erected over the top of Roman ruins, Santa Maria Basilica is one of the best places to go in Spain for Baroque architecture.

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6- Visit Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro

The 18th-century Basilica of Santa María del Coro was constructed on top of an old temple.

It’s the city’s oldest church was completed in 1774 and is a beautiful building designed in Gothic Baroque style with Neo-classical elements.

The Basilica is a Roman Catholic cathedral in the centre of the Old Town.

Your eye will be drawn to the Luis Boccia painting on the altar, featuring the patron saint of San Sebastian, Virgen del Coro.

Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro is at 31 de Agosto Kalea, 46, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa.

7- Discover San Telmo Museum

The San Telmo Museum is a contemporary refurbishment of the museum in a 16th-century Dominican convent.

The stunning building in Donostia-San Sebastián is a fusion of contemporary and historic architecture and a place to explore Basque culture.

It’s also an art and history museum, focusing on European history.

The museum is a unique rendering of Gipuzkoa architecture and is a fusion of Gothic and Renaissance styles.

Visitors will find both permanent and temporary exhibitions interesting.

San Telmo Museum is at Plaza Zuloaga, 1, 20003 Donostia-San Sebastian, Gipuzkoa.

8- Explore Plaza de la Consitucion

San Sebastián’s largest square, Plaza de la Constitución, was formerly a bull fighting ring.

Look up and you’ll see that the balconies around the square are numbered as they were once where the city’s elite went to watch bullfights.

The beautiful Neoclassical square is packed with arcades that house cool bars and restaurants, making it a popular place to sample pintxos.

9- Eat and Drink In A Pintxos Bar

san sebastian old town
Eating and drinking in a pintxos bar is a pleasurable activity in San Sebastian, both night and day.

You could spend hours wandering around the narrow cobblestone alleys into the many restaurants, pintxos bars and shops.

Most bars in San Sebastian will have plates of pintxo, the local version of tapas, laid out on the counter.

Order a small glass of wine (the local wine is called txakoli) or beer and help yourself to the food.

When you’re ready to move on to the next bar, just let the bartender know what you ate. Payment works on an honesty system.

The people of San Sebastian are a social lot and you’ll find the pintxo bars in the old town thriving with activity.

10- Admire Sculptures At Chillida Leku

chillida leku
Another of the fantastic things to see near San Sebastian is Chillida Leku.

The Basque region’s most successful international sculptor, Eduardo Chillida, set up an outdoor museum to display his contemporary iron and granite sculptures.

The artworks at Chillida Leku are displayed among the greenery, harmonising iron and earth, stone and forest.

Set among lush green fields, oak and birch trees, is a restored 16th-century farmhouse with a collection of smaller works, sketches and early sculptures.

This San Sebastian-born sculptor displays works in over 20 museums around the world from Houston to Berlin.

His pieces are often placed in a natural setting such as the seafront in San Sebastian and in the mountains in Japan.

Chillida Leku is at Jauregi Bailara, 66, 20120 Hernani, Gipuzkoa.

11- Scour The Streets For Movie Stars 

seaside walkway in San Sebastian
Checking the streets for someone famous is a fun thing to do in San Sebastian.

Hollywood comes to San Sebastian each September in the form of the San Sebastian Film Festival.

Theatres overflow with film buffs, cameras flash and fans jostle for autographs as San Sebastian turns on the glamour.

Made famous by Gregory Peck and officially known as Donostia San Sebastian Nazioarteko Zinemaldia Festival Internacional De Cine, San Sebastian features a diet of top Spanish-language films as well as an obscure roster of hard-to-categorise international films.

The last festival attracted the attendance of some big names like Anthony Hopkins, Kevin Costner, William Dafoe and Anjelica Houston.

San Sebastian Film Festival is in September each year and if you can’t wait to visit, check out one of these Spanish shows on Netflix where many places around Spain are featured.

12- Attend the San Sebastian Jazz Festival

The city bops each July when one of Europe’s oldest Jazz Festival’s attracts a global list of jazz musicians like Roberta Flack, Keith Jarrett and Van Morrison.

There are open-air concerts everywhere; Plaza de la Trinidad is usually jam-packed with jazz fans and cool sounds float through the Old Quarter.

At the end of each day, artists and jazz lovers rub shoulders at the pintxo bars till the wee hours of the morning.

The San Sebastian International Jazz Festival is in July.

13- Climb La Rhune Mountain

As San Sebastian is surrounded by nature reserves and is only two hours’ drive from the Pyrenees, hiking and paragliding are popular activities.

At 905 metres high, the La Rhune Mountain – which lies half in France and half in Spain – has spectacular views.

You can join a guided hiking tour or catch the six-kilometre per hour train ride (Le Petit Train de la Rhune) to the top. The train takes 30 minutes and the hike three hours.

14- Admire Peine del Viento 

At the base of Monte Igueldo at one end of Ondarreta beach, the Peine del Viento are some of the most famous sculptures in Spain. 

Peine del Viento means Comb of the Wind and these creations are the pride of the city by famous Basque artist Eduardo Chillida.

Completed in 1976, the three curvy steel sculptures are creatively welded into enormous granite rocks.

The sculptures are at the mercy of the elements, as strong winds blow a galeforce upon them and enormous waves crash into them with so much force that the waves shoot up into the air through holes in the ground. 

One of the best times to experience this melding of art and nature is when the currents are strong. 

Peine del Viento is at Eduardo Chillida Pasealekua, s/n, 20008 Donostia, Gipuzkoa.

15- Live Like Queen Maria Cristina

women lying in the beach in San Sebastian
Relaxing on the beach in San Sebastian is one way to live like a queen.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Queen Maria Cristina from Austria installed her summer court at the Miramar Palace causing a flood of casinos, hotels and theatres which transformed San Sebastian into a getaway for the nobles.

This period was known as San Sebastian’s La Belle Epoch when French architecture became prominent in the town.

There are French-style palaces that have been converted into apartment buildings and over 100 different types of street lamps, many of which are reminiscent of Paris.

There’s even a bridge designed along the lines of Paris’ Pont Alexander II, of course, it’s called the Maria Cristina Bridge.

The most luxurious hotel in town, the Hotel Maria Cristina, is located in a historical building with elaborate chandeliers and plush antique furniture. Of course, over the years, the hotel has had an impressive list of celebrity guests from Mata Hari to John Malkovich.

Surrounded by promenades and gardens, many of the rooms offer views of the ocean.

Unless you’re a Hollywood star or famous director, forget about booking in during the International Film Festival, you’d be hard-pressed to get a room.

Hotel Maria Cristina is at República Argentina Kalea, 4, 20004 Donostia, Gipuzkoa.

16- Take A Day Trip To Getaria

Take a day trip to the tiny fishing village of Getaria the hometown of, Spain’s most famous haute-courtier fashion designer, Cristobal Balenciaga.

The Balenciaga Foundation has a collection of 800 of his creations and is building a brand new contemporary facility to honour Getaria’s favourite son.

Balenciaga established his fashion house in 1915 in San Sebastian, Madrid and Barcelona.

In 1936 he moved to Paris and rocketed to fame with equally famous disciples such as Ungaro and Oscar de la Renta hanging on to his coattails.

17- Enjoy The Gardens of Miramar Royal Palace

As a royal city, the Spanish monarchy flocked to San Sebastian in summer for its great weather and fabulous beaches.

English architect Selden Wornum designed Palacio de Miramar, the summer holiday home of the royal family.

The Tudor-style palace was built in 1889 and has an octagonal tower offering wonderful bay views.

Although the building is closed to the public, the beautiful garden is a lovely spot to explore.

18- Visit Catedral del Buen Pastor

Cathedral del Buen Pastor de San Sebastián, or the Good Shepherd of San Sebastián, has a 75m feature tower and is the city’s largest church.

The cathedral was constructed from Monte Igueldo sandstone and is a neo-Gothic building of the 19th century.

The interior is grandly decked out and has one of the largest organs in Europe, featuring over 10,000 whistles and stunning stained-glass windows.

Cathedral del Buen Pastor is at Urdaneta Kalea, 12, 20006 Donostia, Gipuzkoa.

19- Ride The Ferry To Santa Clara Island

Santa Clara Island is a small island off the San Sebastian Coast.

The 32m island in Concha Bay is a historic site and a tranquil getaway for swimming and picnics.

There’s a cafe and restaurant on the island and plenty of natural rock pools.

A walk to the lighthouse reveals stunning views, and boat rides around the bay are also popular.

20- Explore Castillo de la Mota

The 12th century Castillo de la Mota (Mota Castle) sits on top of Monte Urgull.

King Sancho from Navarre built the fortress and castle to defend the city from the 12th to the 19th century.

The 12m Cristo de la Mota statue has looked down over the city since 1950.

You can visit Casa de la Historia (History House Museum) and learn about 800 years of history within the castle through audio-visuals guides.

Castillo de la Mota is at Subida al Castillo, San Jeronimo Kalea, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa.

Places to go in Spain San Sebastian

Places to go in Spain San Sebastian

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Christina Pfeiffer Travel Writer
Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.