Basque Country is a northern region of Spain that is home to an autonomous community. It upholds strong cultural traditions, divine cuisine, and a very distinct language. San Sebastian Spain, also known as Donostia, is the culinary capital of this spectacular region with the highest concentration of Michelin star restaurants in the world. But it’s not all food!
You will also find some beautiful beaches, magnificent sculptures, a diverse old town and a number of stunning historic buildings. If you’re a foodie and a keen backpacker, San Sebastian is quite possibly your heaven on earth. Here are the top 10 things to see and do in San Sebastian, Spain.
Explore Old Town San Sebastian Spain
When first arriving in any major city, one of the best ways to get a taste of the culture is to visit the old town. San Sebastian (Donostia) is no different offering a maze of cobbled streets to explore and lined with various cafes, pintxo restaurants and bars, cafes and independent craft shops. In the heart of San Sebastian, you will find Parte Vieja (Old Town). Its bustling atmosphere is the perfect place to start your San Sebastian experience.
Additionally, the streets here date back to medieval times and a lot of the area was rebuilt after a fire devasted the old town in 1813. There are a number of historic buildings located here including the Gothicesque church of St Vincente, Municipal Museum of San Telmo (number 4) and the Plaza de la Constitucion (number 7).
The best time to visit Parte Vieja is lunchtime. This is when people flood out into the cafes and restaurants for a spot of lunch in the warm Spanish sun.
La Concha Promenade
San Sebastian has a beautiful coastline overlooking the Bay of Biscay with its pristine blue waters. To get a taste of San Sebastian (Donostia) life head down the promenade to take in the sights, sounds and smells along the way. You can also complete the 2km walk down the promenade. Here, you will find street vendors selling ice creams and coffees to enjoy the view with. There is a great choice of bars and restaurants to stop at serving a selection of local food, beers, and wine.
However, the most notable restaurant being La Madame located just a few steps away from La Concha Beach. It includes fantastic views over the Sebastian beach and some of the finest food on offer in the city including gourmet burgers, shrimp and scallops fresh from the water and the famous Spanish Iberian pork.
San Sebastian Spain (Donostia) City Hall
Once the Grand Casino of San Sebastian (Donostia), the city hall building is a magnificent feat of architecture constructed in 1887. Back in the day, this building would have been used exclusively for some of the most prestigious parties in the city hosting some of the most important and famous people in the area.
However, the casino was eventually shut when gambling was made illegal in 1924. If you look closely, you can still see bullet holes in the walls of the city hall from the Spanish Civil War. Today, this building is home to the City Council headquarters and is surrounded by the luscious Alderdi Eder gardens. These gardens are open to visitors during the day and they can find relaxation here.
Museo de San Telmo
This is the largest museum in the Basque Country and home to the biggest collection of Basque history artifacts (35,000) divided into several categories: Ethnography, Fine Arts, Photography, Archaeology, and History. The original building for the museum consists of a Dominican convent that dates back to the 16th century.
Also, the architecture of the building is a mix of Gothic, Renaissance and contemporary giving it a unique look. Current exhibitions include Sandro Miller, a tribute to his excellent photographic eye. This is the best place to visit for those wanting to learn more about Basque history.
You will find the museum at the foot of the Urgull Mountain. It is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 am to 8 pm and closed on Mondays. Entry costs €6 ($6.64) per person.
Peine del Viento Sculptures
Backpackers that head to Ondarreta, Sebastian beach, at the foot of Monte Igueldo, will discover some of the most unique and interesting sculptures in the Basque Country. Created by famous Basque artist, Eduardo Chillida, these sculptures are a stunning sight to behold.
Created in 1976, the Peine del Viento sculptures are made up of three curved steel prongs that have been welded into the solid rock. Also, this place is best visited on a windy day when waves can be seen crashing intensely against the sculptures, soaring into the sky. Peine del Viento is certainly a unique experience.
Once you are finished taking in the Peine del Viento sculptures above, you can explore the area of Monte Igueldo. The top of the mountain gives backpackers fantastic panoramic views over the San Sebastian (Donostia) coastline and bay. To reach the top you can take the old funicular train from the bottom of the mountain for an affordable fee. The train was built in 1912 and is still the best way to get to the top.
At the top of the mountain, you will also discover a small amusement park. Here, backpackers can pay individually for each ride. Also, don’t miss the white El Torreón tower that dominates the mountain top. It dates back to the 16th century and backpackers can walk to the top of the tower for amazing views over San Sebastian.
Plaza de la Constitucion
This large square in San Sebastian was once used for a bullring. However, it’s now the home of the city’s famous arcades exhibiting some of the best shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars that San Sebastian has to offer. Wandering the arcades of Plaza de la Constitucion is also a fantastic way to spend your day. Here, you can soak in the vibrant ambiance of the area.
However, this place really comes to life at night. Locals and tourists gather to enjoy drinks together under the heat of a Spanish evening. Expect to see lots of people enjoying Pintxos, small snacks famous in Spain and much like tapas.
Also, if you look closely at the top of the balconies you will see numbers that relate to the booth numbers used bu spectators of the bullfights that once took place in this historic square.
Enjoy Pintxos In San Sebastian Spain
Spain is world-renowned for in Pintxos; various foods served in small portions usually shared amongst a number of people. They are cheap and incredibly tasty including Spanish Iberian hams, bread, meats, olives, and seafood. The top restaurant to explore this Spanish way of dining is Borda Berri; a barbecue restaurant that is both rustic and charming.
The chefs here are famous within the city for their Basque-style dishes. This includes baked spider crabs and chorizo sausage cooked in local cider. Also, a unique side to this restaurant is that the menu constantly changes throughout the week. This depends on what is in season and can be seen chalked onto the board outside the restaurant.
Additionally, Borda Berri is a great introduction to Pintxos but there are plenty of other restaurants in the city that serve equally divine pintxos.
Playa del Concha
A must-visit for any backpackers is heading to the local Sebastian beach, Playa del Concha. It’s a fantastic break away from the hustle and bustle of the city center. It also gives a chance to soak up some Spanish rays. In fact, San Sebastian is home to three beaches that you can explore. However, Play del Concha is the best for sand, clear waters and good vibes.
During the warm months of the year, you can expect to find locals and tourists enjoying the beach sunbathing, having picnics, and taking a swim. Keen surfers can head to the nearby Zurriola beach where locals take to the waves in a tranquil and beautiful setting.
Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro
In English, this building is known as the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus. The architecture is absolutely stunning and the reason why this is one of the most visited attractions in the whole of San Sebastian.
The Baroque facade dates back to the 18th century and features a metamorphosis of Gothic, Churrigueresque and Neo-classical design; This then makes for a unique building. Head inside and the jaw-dropping intricate detail continues with a magnificent altarpiece dedicated to Our Lady of the Choir, patron saint of San Sebastian.