San Sebastian, with its stunning beaches, vibrant culture, and exquisite cuisine, is the ideal destination for a long weekend break. Whether you’re a foodie, art enthusiast, or nature lover, this Basque gem in Europe has something for everyone. In this three-day itinerary, I’ll guide you through the must-visit places and things to do to make the most of your San Sebastian adventure.
San Sebastian Culture
San Sebastián, also known as Donostia in the Basque language, is a city located in the Basque Country of Spain, and it has a rich culture and history that spans centuries.
San Sebastián is part of the Basque Country, and the Basque culture is a significant influence in the city. This culture is known for its unique language (Euskara), traditional dance (such as the “jota” and “aurresku”), and distinctive music (like Basque folk and trikitixa, a type of accordion music).
The city is home to many Michelin-starred restaurants and pintxos bars, making it a food lover’s paradise. Basque cuisine is celebrated for its use of fresh, local ingredients and its focus on seafood, pintxos (small snacks), and cider.
San Sebastián also hosts various festivals throughout the year. The most famous is the San Sebastián International Film Festival, one of the most important film festivals in the world. The city also celebrates Semana Grande, a week-long festival featuring music, dance, and fireworks.
San Sebastián’s rich history and unique blend of Basque and Spanish influences make it a captivating city to explore, with a strong emphasis on culture, gastronomy, and natural beauty.
All about Pintxos
Pintxos, sometimes spelled as “pinchos,” are a type of traditional Spanish snack or appetiser that originated in the Basque Country, which is located in the northern part of Spain. The word “pintxo” comes from the Spanish verb “pinchar,” which means to pierce or skewer, and these snacks are often served on small sticks or toothpicks, which is why they’re named pintxos.
Pintxos are similar to tapas but typically involve more elaborate and artistic presentations. They can be served cold or hot and can range from simple combinations of ingredients to more complex and creatively prepared small dishes. Some common ingredients used in pintxos include olives, cheese, seafood, cured meats, vegetables, and bread. Pintxos bars can be found throughout Spain, but they are particularly popular in the Basque Country, where they have become an integral part of the local food culture.
When you go to a bar in San Sebastian, you can often find a counter filled with a variety of pintxos. Customers select the ones they want, and the bartender will usually keep track of the number of pintxos consumed to calculate the bill. Pintxos are often enjoyed with a glass of wine, beer, or other beverages, making for a delightful and social culinary experience.
Top tip: Book a pintxos tasting tour to learn more about this wonderful foodie culture
Things to do in San Sebastian
Day One: Exploring the Heart of the City
Check-in at Arbaso Hotel
Upon arriving in San Sebastian, start your journey by checking in at the charming Arbaso Hotel. This boutique hotel offers a cozy and comfortable base for your stay, ensuring you’re well-rested for the exciting days ahead. Arbaso means “ancestor” in Basque language and encompasses the purpose of the hotel: an authentic experience based on the Basque culture in the very heart of San Sebastian.
For more places to stay in San Sebastian, check out the interactive map below! I’d recommend staying somewhere near the old town for ease of access to lots of the things mentioned on this itinerary.
Explore the Old Town (Parte Vieja)
San Sebastián’s Old Town, known as the “Parte Vieja” in Spanish and the “Alde Zaharra” in Basque, is a charming and historic district that offers a captivating journey back in time. Nestled between the picturesque La Concha Bay and the Urgull Mountain, this atmospheric neighbourhood boasts narrow, winding streets, centuries-old architecture, and a vibrant blend of Basque and Spanish traditions. The heart of San Sebastián’s culinary scene can be found here, with numerous pintxos bars and traditional eateries serving mouthwatering local delicacies. The Old Town is also home to iconic landmarks like the San Telmo Museum, which provides insights into the region’s history and culture. Visitors can explore the lively squares, historic churches, and boutique shops that make Old Town San Sebastián a delightful place to immerse oneself in the city’s rich heritage and vibrant street life.
We decided to take a walking tour of the Old Town to really get to grips with its wonderful history and the gorgeous architecture that lines the streets. Something I’d really recommend to get a better idea of the culture and support local businesses!
Day Two: A Blend of Nature, Art, and Gastronomy
Explore the Aquarium
Begin your second day with a visit to the San Sebastian Aquarium, home to a fascinating array of marine life. You’ll be captivated by the underwater world and the incredible biodiversity of the Bay of Biscay.
The San Sebastián Aquarium, also known as the “Aquarium Donostia,” is a captivating attraction that beckons visitors to explore the marine wonders of the Bay of Biscay. Located on the city’s picturesque waterfront, this modern facility houses a diverse array of marine life, making it a fascinating destination for both nature enthusiasts and families. Inside, you’ll find a variety of marine habitats, including tanks filled with colorful fish, sharks, and mesmerising jellyfish. One of its most iconic features is a giant oceanarium, where visitors can walk through an acrylic tunnel to observe sharks and rays gliding above. The San Sebastián Aquarium also plays a crucial role in marine conservation and education, offering informative exhibits and interactive displays that help raise awareness about the importance of preserving our oceans. It’s a perfect spot to not only enjoy the marine world but also appreciate the beauty of San Sebastián’s coastline.
Motako Gaztelua for a Great Viewpoint
Climb up to Motako Gaztelua, situated just behind the aquarium on Monte Urgull, to enjoy panoramic views of the city and the surrounding coastline.
“Motako Gaztelua,” often referred to simply as “Motako Castle,” is a historical site located in the Basque Country, near the town of Mutriku on the northern coast of Spain. This coastal fortress dates back to the 13th century and is perched on a rugged promontory, providing stunning views of the Cantabrian Sea. The castle, built for defensive purposes, was an important structure during the medieval period, strategically guarding the coastline and trade routes. Today, Motako Castle stands as a picturesque and well-preserved example of medieval architecture, featuring thick stone walls, watchtowers, and a rich history that reflects the region’s maritime heritage. It’s a popular attraction for history enthusiasts and those seeking to immerse themselves in the rugged beauty of the Basque coastline while exploring the remnants of a bygone era.
While you’re there, you absolutely have to stop by the famous “Pirate Bar” (otherwise known as Urgulleko Polboriña) for a traditional red wine and coke alongside lovely panoramic views of the city, trust me it’s great.
Art and Serenity at Chillida-Leku
Chillida-Leku is an open-air sculpture park and museum located in the Basque Country of Spain. It is dedicated to the works of the renowned Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida. The museum is set on 11 hectares of lush parkland, featuring rolling hills, forests, and meadows that provide a beautiful natural backdrop for Chillida’s impressive sculptures. Eduardo Chillida’s works, often characterised by their abstract and monumental nature, are displayed throughout the park, allowing visitors to interact with and appreciate his sculptures in a harmonious outdoor setting.
To arrive from Donostia/San Sebastian, take bus BU05 which runs every half hour. The stop called ‘Chillida Leku’ is directly outside the museum.
Good to knowthe museum is open everyday from 10 am to 6pm (except Tuesday and Wednesday)
14 € adults
7 € people younger than 18 years
Evening Pintxos Tour
Exploring the world of pintxos through a tasting tour is a must do in San Sebastian!
Pintxos, the small, artfully crafted snacks that adorn the counters of bars and eateries in the Basque Country, are a gastronomic treasure and absolute foodie paradise. What makes this experience truly special is the communal aspect – locals and tourists alike gather at the bar, savouring pintxos while sharing stories and laughter.
Here’s a few great options of pintxos tours for you to try:
Guided Food Tour with Pintxo Tasting & Wines: Discover the flavours of San Sebastian on a foodie walking tour and try five pintxos paired with regional wines. Navigate the scenic Old Town and learn the history behind each turn from your guide. (£77 per person, 2-3 hour duration)
The Ultimate Pintxos and Wine Tour: Visit the best pintxos and wine bars in San Sebastian on an exclusive evening tour. Discover some of the best local, family-run eateries and hidden gems – the best way to taste San Sebastian! (£110 per person, 3 hour duration)
Pintxo Tour with San Sebastian born & raised: Go for pintxos like a local with a local and discover what it means for our culture and identity. (£60 per person, 2 hour duration)
Day Three: Wine, Amusement, and Sunbathing
Funicular Ride, Monte Igueldo & at Parque de Atracciones
Hop on the funicular to Monte Igueldo for a spectacular view of San Sebastian from above. As the charming, vintage funicular slowly ascends the steep slopes of Monte Igueldo, you’re treated to breathtaking vistas of San Sebastián’s coastline, with the shimmering waters of La Concha Bay stretching out below.
The park at the summit, Parque de Atracciones, is a delightful step back in time with classic rides, carnival games, and an old-world charm that appeals to visitors of all ages. Dating back to 1912, the park has a range of rides that cost a couple of euros each.
Good to knowthe funicular typically runs every 15 minutes and costs around €4.5 return
Isla de Santa Clara
Isla de Santa Clara, or Santa Clara Island, is a picturesque islet located in the heart of La Concha Bay, just off the coast of San Sebastián. This small island, known for its natural beauty and pristine beaches, is a popular destination for visitors seeking a serene escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. Accessible by boat, Isla de Santa Clara offers a tranquil and unspoiled environment, making it a perfect spot for swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking. The island is also home to a bar-restaurant, allowing visitors to try the local cuisine while enjoying the stunning views of the surrounding bay.
Vineyard Tour and Tasting
Visiting vineyards in San Sebastián and its surrounding regions is a delightful and enriching experience for wine enthusiasts and those eager to explore the Basque Country’s winemaking traditions. The picturesque landscape of rolling hills, adorned with neatly cultivated vineyards, creates a scenic backdrop for your wine adventures. Basque wines, known as “Txakoli” or “Chacolí,” are celebrated for their crispness and unique character, typically white wines made from indigenous grape varieties. When touring these vineyards, you have the opportunity to witness the winemaking process firsthand, from grape harvest to fermentation, and even sample the finished products. The wineries are often family-run and steeped in tradition, allowing for intimate and informative tastings.
I’d recommend visiting Hiruzta Bodega for a tasting!
San Sebastian offers an unforgettable blend of natural beauty, cultural richness, and culinary delights. This three-day itinerary ensures you experience the best of this Basque gem, leaving you with cherished memories of your ultimate long weekend escape. Make the most of your visit to this captivating city, and enjoy every moment of your San Sebastian adventure.