San Sebástian, an autonomous Basque community, also known as Donostia in Euskara is a gem located on the coast of the Bay of Biscay . Right across the border from Southwestern France, Spanish Basque Country is a culinary capital that boasts more Michellin stars per capita than any place else. Apart from it’s gastronomic delights, the city draws attention for it’s stunning coastline, surf, film and jazz festivals, sidrerias, txacoli vineyards, and picturesque villages farther afield.
Let’s get going and check out these sights, tastes, and beauties of the city. Put on your walking shoes because we’re covering a lot of ground with 10 activities you won’t want to miss.
/1/ Urumea River Walk
Beginning with a leisurely stroll along the Urumea River is a great place to start. On this trip the river walk was pretty much our starting point as we arrived via the RENFE train and crossed the Puente de Maria Cristina across the street. Heading towards the Parte Vieja, walking away from the river mouth that leads into the Bay of Biscay (beaches), we headed towards the hotel. Along the walk you will see a shady tree lined promenade, small parks, grand apartments, some shops, and hotels. This stretch was absolutely made for strolling.
Astoria 7 Hotel
Calle de La Sagrada Familia 1/ 20010 San Sebástian
In this cinema themed hotel, the modern rooms are clean and comfortable where each room is dedicated to a movie star. The hotel lobby has a stylish room filled with a DVD library, cinema books, magazines, and a guest computer. It’s a convenient 15 minute walk to Parte Vieja and the beach at Gros . The Amara train station is also a few minutes’ walk.
As an added bonus, Don Serape (pictured below), a gourmet market across the street from the hotel has all the necessities and delicious snacks, not to mention a tempting assortment of fruits and vegetables on display.
/2/ La Contxa and Zurriola Beaches
Toward the sea, to the left of the Urumea River is a sandy beach called La Contxa for its shell shape. This beach is a popular spot with locals out for a swim where you will also see happy pups frolicking on the sand. There is also a tiled pedestrian walk that stretches a couple of miles to the other side of town, Antiguo. I highly recommend following the path and checking out this charming, older part of town.
Zurriola Beach (not pictured):
*On the opposite side of the Urumea River, to the right, is the famous Zurriola surfing beach (Gros side). You will almost always see at least one or more die hard surfer out, even on a cold and windy day.
/3/ Parte Vieja
Also known as the Old Town, this is my favorite part of town where the streets are narrow, the iron work on balconies is plentiful, and the pintxo bars are lively. This is definitely an area made for walking and convenient bar hopping for pintxos.
/4/ Pintxos in Parte Vieja
Muster up some self control and only order 2-3 tapas from each bar so you can try a few different places in an evening. You’ll see, they are all very different and each one has its specialty. This is a town that takes their pintxos seriously as there are competitions amongst the bars for who has a winning tapa. Truth be told, we never had a bad bite, ever. This is just a tiny glimpse (dedicated pintxo post coming soon). Hold onto your stomachs, here we go!
Calle de Fermín Calbetón, 22/Parte Vieja/
This shiny new place was not here the last time we visited this town. As we passed by various bars on a mission to find a lunch, this bright and airy spot caught my eye with its sparkle and insane spread of endless pintxos. Hands down, the tastiest was the sliver of baguette smothered in a bed of carmelized onions topped with bonito and grilled pepper.
Fermín Calbetón, 12 /Parte Vieja/
Pretty much a classic in town, we revisited again on this trip because I needed to try their signature tapa, a revamped version of what I had a few years ago, the tomato stuffed with bonito. We also had the risotto which was a solid dish, but the tomato was the clear winner here. It’s worth visiting, but be forewarned, this place gets packed.
A few blocks from the hustle and bustle of the main nucleus of Parte Vieja on a quiet street is Bar Alex. It has a slight Greek theme and we went for dessert. The red fruits and lemon parfait was a refreshing departure from the richness of the evening’s bar hopping glutton bowl.
/5/ La Bretxa
Alameda del Boulevard, 3/Parte Vieja/
Head straight to the basement where you will find an array of purveyors of high quality foods such as: fresh seafood, vegetables, spices, cheese, meats and deli products. This is a great place to stock up on Basque food products to take home as mementos of one of the best food cities ever.
/6/ Funicular at Monte Igueldo
Paseo del Faro
Located uphill at the end of Ondarreta Beach, is the entrance to the funicular, a definite must go/see/do. Take the funicular to the summit of the mountain and you will be treated to sweeping views of the city and a spectacular of La Contxa beach and beyond. Interestingly, there is a hotel and theme park dating back to 1912 at the top complete with rides, a boat trip around the park, and most importantly, the House of Horror. Who can resist?
/7/ Antiguo Neighborhood
Put on your walking shoes and begin at the tiled pedestrian promenadein La Contxa and take the path along the water, under the bridge, arriving at Ondarreta Beach area in Antiguo. Explore the calmer streets, stop for a coffee and biscuit and relax in the small park across the walkway.
Matia 5- Callejon Iztingorra/El Antiguo
After all the walking, you’ve likely worked up an appetite. Head to Txubillo, a Japanese-Basque inspired pintxos bar. Run by a husband and wife team, they serve up a fusion menu that is deliciously satisfying. The cold noodles with tomato were my favorite, but the seasonal asparagus tempura was also worth a try.
For an adventure go to the Euskotren station and grab a ticket to Getaria. Located west of San Sebástian, Getaria is a coastal fishing village with rolling hills and txakoli vineyards. As if this was not enough, this picturesque town is also home to the Balenciaga Museum.
If you’re feeling especially adventurous or confident in your driving skills, rent a car for a hair-raising driving experience in the city. Once on the freeway, head to the quaint village of Berástegui. It’s a beautiful drive where you will be amazed at the rolling green hills, grazing sheep, sprinkling of farms, and total complete greenery. I was reminded that those hills don’t get green all by themselves, so more than likely it will be raining along the drive. No matter, it’s well worth a trip out of the city. Besides, there’s a gratifying meal awaiting you in town.
There is not a lot to see in terms of sights here, but it’s beauty and charm offer a glimpse at life outside the city. The town is small and if you blink, you’ll miss it. So, make sure to drive slowly after exiting the freeway. Do not leave town before stopping for lunch at Arregi, a Michelin Bib Gourmand serving traditional Basque Cuisine. Make sure to order the menu of the day, typically a 3-4 course menu. You won’t be disappointed. I had the most delicious roast chicken and potatoes here the first time, and this last time the stewed chicken was fantastic as well. The soup choices, served in a large terrine are not to be missed. It is a solid value for a high quality meal in a casually elegant but rustic setting.