Brace yourself for San Sebastian, the one place on earth that offers you literally everything your heart desires, all year round, non-stop and round-the-clock!
The wide variety of what this place can offer includes beautiful scenery, sun-kissed beaches, enthusiastic and lively people, a diversity of entertainments, rich cultural activities, internationally renowned cuisine, major music and film festivals, heart-stopping ski races, interesting folklore, outstanding customs and traditions.
Adventurer-filled mountains with skiing in the Pyrenees just two hours away. Countless other well-prepared and most-awaited festivities like the “Semana Grande,” Carnival, the “Caldereros” or Tinkers’ Festival, San Sebastian Day. And so on the list is absolutely endless!
San Sebastian (Donostia in the Basque language) in the Basque country of Northern Spain is the true treasure of Basque resorts, setting itself apart from the mainstream beach resorts. A summer capital of Spain, it is here where the Belle Epoque ( beautiful era ) lives on.
Ideally situated on an excellent spot on the Bay of Biscay , it’s surrounded by verdant mountains. From June to September, the population swells as droves of Spanish bureaucrats head to this elegant resort to escape the heat. It is a bustling city with a population of 185,000 inhabitants, some 16,500 of whom are university students, being the cultural capital of the Basque country as well. San Sebastian is an ideal first-stop for trips to some of the Basque country’s most captivating towns.
With its blend of cosmopolitan style and old-world ambience, San Sebastian is the perfect summer getaway. The smell, taste, sight, sound and feel of rural life is still fresh in San Sebastián, where one can experience the perfect relaxation that is craved for, especially by those used to a hectic lifestyle. The area attracts tourists with its three lovely beaches: the laid-back Ondaretta , the casual and friendly Playa de Gros, and the popular Playa de la Concha .
San Sebastian history
San Sebastian –the place that is considered as one of the perfect summer getaway of Spain has a rich history amidst its attractive sights and friendly people.
It was King Sancho el Mayor of Navarra who founded the city of San Sebastian around 1180. It had a unique geographical location, serving as a port, and hence it also made it an ideal military stronghold. For fortification the mountain known as Mount Urgull was converted into a castle with artillery as a defense outpost for the region. This holds true to the fact why the region has engaged into numerous wars and sieges during the 15th and 16th centuries.
1721 was the year when San Sebastian had a battle between the English and French. The region fell under foreign hands for three years. In 1808 Napoleon’s troops again occupied the walled city, which was reduced to ashes after an intense battle with Anglo-Portuguese troops.
The survivors, equipped with will power, set out to rebuild the city. When Queen Isabel II first visited the city in 1845, it somehow brought up the fame of the place and the city began to grow ever since. With proper facilities like street lighting, telephones, water and other infrastructural innovations, the city expanded and attracted visitors from all over the world.
In 1863, San Sebastian was named capital of the Gipuzkoa province. The role of the city changed, the walls were demolished, the focus was more on commerce, the city became a popular tourist destination and spa resort, the economy boomed and San Sebastian became one of the most cosmopolitan city in Europe.
This town has a wealth of traditions to boast of, especially in the celebration of festivals which happen all year round, almost without a break. The following are some of their most popular celebrated occasions that are anticipated by everybody, both locals and tourists:
20th – San Sebastian Day .
The patron saints day with parades. Two cross-country races
Tinkers Parade , a prelude to the carnival
Nursemaid’s and Shepherd’s Day Carnival
, a spectacular celebration popular since 1978
Domingo de Piñata
Horse racing season begins
Second fortnight is the book fair
Music festival and festival of Andalucian folklore
Dia de las Casas Regionales
– Displays the different regions of Spain
23rd-24th San Juan night
– With bonfires to mark the start of summer
Festival of Jazz
Semana Grande – Day of the Virgin
International fireworks competition
Fiesta del 31 de Agosto – Marking the fire of 1813
Rural sports and folklore fair
International Film festival
Fantasy and Horror Film Festival
21st – Feria de Santo Tomás – Arts and crafts market
31st – San Silvestre footrace
Places of Interest
Irun is a border line town and like most frontier towns, Irun’s chief concern is increasing revenue especially from passing travelers. A main factor in Irun s favor is the ease with which one can come and go. There are trains to Hendaia (Hendaye) in France and to San Sebastian throughout the day, as well as regular long-distance and international connections.
Zarautz was developed as a trendy overspill of San Sebastian . The old village is now steeped with rows of hotels and posh cafés, amid the busy road and the tourist-filled beaches. The town is also popular among surf enthusiasts, and every September, it is haven to an influx of surfing devotees. Its annual surfing championship is now officially part of the world circuit.
Situated between the sea and the mountains, Zarautz and its surrounding area is also an ideal spot for trekking enthusiasts. Other sports such as golf are also popular here. Added attractions are the small coastal villages ( Getaria, Zumaia, Orio ) that encircle the area. Zarautz is also famous for ” txakoli “, a white wine which makes a perfect accompaniment to the superb Basque cuisine.
Playa de la Concha is San Sebastián’s most popular beach and the largest for summertime swimming and sunbathing. Playa de la Concha looks out onto a sparkling bay and is surrounded by a lush, rolling countryside. As evening strikes, the beach is bejeweled with white lights, including along the path that lines the beach and the statue of Jesus that stands high above the city, overlooking everything. Reflecting off the water, the beach has an enchanting mood at night.
During the day, water sports, including canoeing, kayaking, and sail boating, are the popular activity. La Concha also has a lovely promenade where you can take relaxing strolls after a hearty meal.
Ondarreta means “little beach” in Euskera , the language of Pais Vasco (Basque country). Connected to the larger, more popular Playa de la Concha , this is a great place to observe the sailboats. You can also stroll along the walkway and relax in the small park area overlooking the beach. You can also enjoy traditional fare like olives and calamari at the Ondarreta rooftop café.
To complement the beaches, San Sebastian s charming old quarter is bursting with cafés, bars, clubs, and restaurants where you can try their tasty tapas. Other attractions include the Baroque Church of Santa Maria , the Gothic Church of San Vicente , and the Museo de San Telemo, a former 16 th century convent. For spectacular views of the bay and town, climb atop Mount Urgull and Mount Igueldo. At the base of Mount Igeldo is a beach where visitors can take a ride to the peak to witness the breathtaking view, or go for a spin at the neighboring family fun fair.
Miramar Palace, also known as the Royal Country House of Miramar , is another attraction in San Sebastián. It is located above the “Pico del Loro “, marking the strategic junction of La Concha Beach and Ondarreta Beach , and also the dividing point in the long promenade between two city districts: “ El Antiguo ” and “ Miraconcha “. The Palace marks the city’s historical origin, because it is based on the plan of the old church of San Sebastián, the original urban center of the town. The magnificent palace complex, with its park, gardens, several buildings and outbuildings, is a quintessential summer place.
At present, the heart of the city is Constitution Square . One of the first things you’ll notice upon visiting is the numbers on the balconies that date back to the Middle Ages when the Square was used for bullfighting. These numbered rooms were rented by spectators to get a bird’s eye view of the action.
Attractions & Landmarks
Iglesia Parroquial San Salvador
A 15th century structure which played a significant role in the place’s history. It was in this church, on 6th July 1397, that the “Brotherhood of the General Councils” pact was signed between thirty of the province’s villages. This pact signing opened the political birth of the territory.
General Arnao, 21,Getaria, 20808,
Mercados de La Brecha y Pescadería
This is an ancient complex consisting of two buildings namely “La Brecha” and “La Pescaderia.” The first building sold farm products while the second sold fish. At present it is now considered a shopping center.
Alameda del Boulevard, 3
Muralla del Puerto
This is the remnant of the wall which once surrounded the city as a defense structure.
Paseo del Muelle, s/n
Palacio de Miramar
It was formerly known as Royal Miramar Country House which was built by Queen Maria Cristina. The palace is surrounded by large gardens which offer views of the bay.
Paseo de Miraconcha, 48
Parque de Atracciones del Monte Igeldo
The Monte Igeldo Amusement Park opened in 1913 and since then it became a spectacular landmark of the area.
Monte Igeldo, s/n
Pasaia is made up of three districts namely San Juan, San Pedro and San Antxo. Each has played important historical significance in the area.
Pasajes de San Juan, de San Pedro y Antxo,
Perla y la Caseta de Baños (La)
Built on the walls of La Concha Beach, both buildings were supposedly for recreational purposes. Today one has become a thermal bath and the other was made the headquarters of the Club Deportivo.
Paseo de la Concha, s/n
Puente de la Zurriola
This is a historical bridge built in the early 1920’s by engineer Eugenio Ribera.
Avenida de la Zurriola
This is one of the important factors of the commercial and economical advancement of the city. Today, this is also used for different leisure sports like vessels and restaurants.
Paseo del Muelle
Santa María del Junkal
An enormous church built in 1508 which belongs to one of the attractions of the city.
De las Escuelas, 7, Irún, 20304
A theater house owned by the local authority which shows varied plays for tourists and locals alike.
Mayor, 1 bis
The museums are listed in categories for your own vested interest on what museum to visit
Paseo Nuevo, s/n,
Centro Cultural Koldo Mitxelena
Reina Regente, 3,
Museo Diocesano de San Sebastián
Sagrada Familia, 11,
Paseo del Muelle, 24,
Camino de Kristobaldegi, 14,
Reina Regente, 3,
Plaza de Sarriegi, 5,
Mariposas del Mundo
Larretxipi, 5 bajo, Irún,
Museo de la Confitería
Museo de Medio Ambiente
Barrio Loyola, 1,
Museo Vasco del Ferrocarril
Julián Elorza, 8,
Sala Garibai. Kutxa
Food and Drink
Originally founded in the 12th century, this glamorous city of Spain is a place where people live life to the fullest. Being the culinary capital of Spain, the people really appreciate and identify with their food . In fact, the city has more bars and restaurants per head of population than anywhere else on the planet!
A short stroll at the Farmers’ Markets is the heart of San Sebastian cuisine – fresh local produce. One of the basic ingredients of Basque cooking is fresh seafood, with delectable dishes like Mediterranean bream chargrilled over hot coals.
The Spanish believe eating is an activity to be shared and relished, a way of bringing people together. Hence, the Donostiarras (citizens of San Sebastián ) indulge in up to six meals a day. The first meal of the day is a light breakfast, and the second meal is served at around ten or eleven. This meal is generally more substantial than the first, comprising of food like prosciutto rolls, and eaten standing up at tapas bars. Lunch is served around mid afternoon.
You might ask how the locals find time to work with all the time spent eating? Workers generally begin work at about nine in the morning, break for lunch and siesta between one and three in the afternoon, before heading back to work again until early evening at seven.
The city of San Sebastian really comes alive at dusk, with the local custom called Poteo . Guess what the tradition involves? Yet more food , of course! Friends meet up after work and go bar hopping to eat, drink and be merry. Drinkers usually call it quits sometime between nine and midnight, when it’s time for the last meal of the day. This meal is usually a more substantial one. A popular restaurant is the Aldamondo Restaurant , serving dishes like sirloin steak and red peppers. Anyone who has visited San Sebastian will no doubt say that the city is really is a food lover’s paradise.