There’s so much to plan when you only have two days in San Sebastian. The cobblestone streets and quaint neighborhoods have a quirky charm and the beaches are simply amazing. It comes as no surprise that Spanish royalty and aristocrats summered in San Sebastián during its heyday, leaving their legacy behind in the ornate Belle Èpoque architecture found across town.
How to get there
There are several ways you can get to San Sebastian. The area has several airports including the San Sebastian Airport (EAS), the Bilbao Airport (BIO), and Biarritz Airport (BIQ). All of these provide a shuttle service to the city. You can also purchase a taxi, but it will be more expensive than hopping on the shuttle, which is cheap and efficient.
You can also take a shuttle service from some of Spain’s bigger cities, such as Madrid. Most likely, you will board these at the airport. Trains are also an option, and the Spanish train systems have been recently improved.
When to go
San Sebastian is nice almost all year round, but the best time to head there is usually right before it gets too hot in the summer. April through June is amazing, though beach lovers might enjoy the hotter weather from July to September.
How to get around
The city has a fairly comprehensive bus system. Tourists should consider purchasing the “TouristCard,” which offers you unlimited rides over a period of a few days. It also allows you discount access to several museums, restaurants, and bars.
Where to stay
The trick of finding the best places to stay in San Sebastian is measuring price and proximity to the beach. Be prepared to pay a little more for nicer views and a short walk. If you are willing to go a little farther inland, then you can find some cheaper accommodations–it’s up to you and how much you want that perfect Instagram shot!
Aldapeta Galtzada, 58
+34 747 85 73 11
Stunning ocean views? Check. Reasonable prices? Check. This clean hotel offers a great option for budget travelers looking to save while also getting a chance to enjoy San Sebastian for what it’s known for–the fabulous ocean.
Mandasko Dukearen Pasealekua, 52
+34 943 93 00 28
Want a four-star hotel for a reasonable price? The Hotel One Shot Tabakalera House is a renovated building from the city’s heyday. Between the gorgeous rooms and easy access to the beach, this spot gives you a chance to truly relax and enjoy your time in San Sebastian.
Antonio Maria Labaien Kalea, 1
+34 943 32 53 25
Located a little away from the waterfront (about a 17-minute walk) this hotel combines great service and a restaurant conveniently located on the bottom floor. The interior is lovely, and you can’t get a nicer hotel for a cheaper price.
San Sebastian itinerary
Day 1-Paseo de la Concha, Playa de Ondarreta, and food
To avoid the last minute rush of the high season, book a hotel before you arrive. After completing check-in, take a walk along el Paseo de la Concha, the main promenade running beside the beach lined with a white wrought-iron balustrade. Go a bit west to find this area bustling with tourists, performers, and the occasional sand artist. This walk eventually becomes the more peaceful Playa de Ondarreta. If you are fond of breathtaking vistas, don’t miss the Monte Urgull where the watchful statue of Christ towers over Parte Vieja (Old Town). Don’t forget to take a photo while walking along the Plaza Zuloaga or up to the Iglesia de Santa Maria.
When you are done snapping photos of the gorgeous views, head back into the old part of town where most of the city’s pintxo bars are concentrated. Pintxos are bite-sized single servings (like the cousin of the tapa), often enjoyed with glasses of txakoli–which is a slightly effervescent Basque white wine. If wine isn’t your drink, try sidre (tart Basque cider) while hanging out at the bar and making some new friends. Most pintxos bars are open all day and some feature a sit-down restaurant in the back as well so you can eat, drink, and celebrate your trip to San Sebastian.
If you are a history buff and foodie combined, you’ll want to check out Bar La Cepa, one of the historic restaurants in town that opened its doors in 1948. Enjoy a bocadillo de jamòn, razor-thin sliced Ibérico ham and melted Manchego on crusty bread, and finish up with dessert of an ultra-creamy Basque cheesecake at La Vińa.
If you want to relax, go down to the beach and drop in at La Perla, one of the most famous spas in town. It specializes in thalassotherapy–hydrotherapy using salt water, waterbeds, sea vapor baths, dry saunas, and cold seawater showers.
Day 2-La Brexta, Hotel Cristina, food and drink
Even if you don’t actually buy anything, La Bretxa, a market located underneath a shopping center in the old town, is worth checking out in the early morning hours. It features numerous shops selling txistorra (fresh Basque chorizo), mounds of shiny anchovies and cod, and cases of cheeses like idiázabel and P’tit Basque. The cappuccino or “kaputxino” should be sampled, along with pan con tomato (toast with tomato)–a perfect breakfast. For a sumptuous lunch, book a table at La Madame, a restaurant housed in an old brothel with options ranging from churros with dipping chocolate to Eggs Benedict.
After lunch, visit the Hotel Maria Cristina, the crown jewel of San Sebastian’s Belle Èpoque period. It opened in the year 1912, and you’ll find sparkling chandeliers, impressive 19th-century paintings, marble sculptures, and sweeping columns.
If you want to learn how to make some of the delicious dishes of the area for yourself, check out Mimo, the city’s premier culinary school. Hands-on classes are offered in its brand-new building. Learn the basics of preserving and making paella to the more complex pintxo master class. Attached to the hotel lobby is the gourmet shop, which carries cookbooks, locally made aprons, high-end olive oils, and everything else you require to create the fabulous experience in your own kitchen.
A pub crawl is a must before you leave, and with more than 200 pintxos bars throughout the city, you have a lot of drinking to do. To make the challenge of seeing the best easier, you can sign up for one of Mimo’s small-group pintxo tours. Even if you attempt it on your own, you will most likely come across the traditional Bernardo Etxea, which specializes in local seafood like txangurro (spider crab). Make sure to stop by Restaurante Gandarias, known for its buttery jamón Iberico and perfectly grilled squid drizzled with squid ink.
There are modern pintxo bars available as well, such as La Cuchara de San Telmo, where you can gorge on delicacies like braised veal cheeks over chickpea pureé submerged in parsley oil. Another well-known spot is Bar Zeruko, where pintxos go gastro-molecular with creations like lobster with foie gras, dried strawberry, and rose smoke. End the night with some lively music at Fuego Negro or Atari Gastroteka. They serve remarkably inventive, modern pintxos till about 11 pm, which then you can get some of the best cocktails in the city.
If you are in the mood to head out and see what nightlife San Sebastian has to offer, you won’t be disappointed. Even after the first round of bars starts closing after 3 am, clubs like Le Bukowski, Friends Disco and Be Bop keep the party going until the morning.
Do you have any favorite spots in San Sebastian that travelers must visit?
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