Visit San Sebastian, Spain; a travel guide to the lovely coastal resort of San Sebastian

Photo of San Sebastian (Navarra, La Rioja, Basque Country region)

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Visit San Sebastian

San Sebastian or Donostia as it is called in Basque is in the Guipuscoa province in the Navarra and La Rioja region of Spain.

It is probably Spain's most fabulous beach resort and one of our favourites. Good beaches, great shopping , lovely town, San Sebastian Film Festival, San Sebastian Jazz festival, and good food all add up to make this a great destination for a summer holiday or an out of season short break.

Visit Donostia-San Sebastian

San Sebastian is set in the bay of La Concha. The lovely circular bay even has the small island of Santa Clara to add interest to the view. A hill with a tower at each end of the bay and rolling hills behind all make San Sebastian an idyllic setting. The beach of La Concha was one of the top twelve 'Treasures of Spain' in a national TV and radio competition in 2007. It was one of only two natural treasures to make it into the top twelve.

San Sebastian is made up of various neighbourhoods and the main ones for the visitor are the Centre and Romantic area including La Concha beach; the Old Town and Mount Igueldo and Mount Urgull, and Igeldo. On the other side of the river Gros and Egia are both seeing something of a renewal and are increasingly popular.

Old town of San Sebastian

The old town, or historic quarter, lies just behind Mount Urgull on the eastern side of the La Concha Bay. It was largely built after 1813 when a fire destroyed many older buildings but it has been well restored. The old town is full of attractive narrow streets packed with bars selling drinks and pintxos which are tapas-like snacks that are often served on a slice of bread. These streets are packed on an evening as everyone heads here to eat.

The colourful streets are interspesed with grand buildings such as the eighteenth century church of Santa Maria with with its Baroque facade,, and a sixteenth century gothic church, the San Vincent. The Plaza de la Constitucion is the attractive main square in the old town and is surrounded by arcaded buildings with a golden yellow paint outlining all the windows.

A convent houses a very good museum, the Museo de San Telmo.

On the eastern edge of the old town you can look out onto the Playa Zurriola, a famous surfing beach, and the Gros quarter of San Sebastian. This area has become very trendy in recent years and tends to attract the surfers and younger visitors to San Sebastian.

On the western edge of the old town is the beautiful small port of San Sebastian. A very charming and colourful spot. Visit our guide to the old town of San Sebastian.

At the heart of San Sebastian is the Romantic Quarter. Here you have the iconic La Concha beach to the west and the quarter is packed with beautiful Belle Epoque buildings. The La Concha beach is of course at the heart of San Sebastian and it is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Europe. A  two km walk will take you the length of La Concha and on to the Ondarreta seperated by just a short tunnel and then to Mount Igeldo.

Romantic Quarter of San Sebastian

Between the old town and the Romantic Quarter is the Boulevard area. The Boulevard is a pedestrian area with trees and flowers and the stunning City Hall which was built in 1887 and once housed the casino.

The streets are arranged in a grid like pattern and the buildings are splendid. Close to the river on the eastern side of the quarter are the iconic Hotel Maria Cristina and the Victoria Eugenia Theatre. The Maria Cristina hotel has welcomed many famous guests including Bruce Springsteen, Brad Pitt and Elizabeth Taylor.

The river runs through San Sebastian and seperates the Romantic and Central districts from the districts of Gros and Egia. Various bridges cross the river with the Maria Cristina bridge being a tourist site in itself to admire its attractive architecture.

Behind the Romantic Quarter the Central district is home to the neo-gothic Buen Pastor cathedral. This area is where the main shops are and contains a number of pleasant, pedestrianised streets and like the Romantic Quarter is full of beautiful Belle Epoque buildings. Many of the buildings have the beautiful enclosed balconies common to the Basque area and lots have interesting towers or other intersting architectural details. Visit our guide to the Romantic and Cenre Districts.

Cathedral of San Sebastian

The hills at each end of the bay can be climbed to reach the great views of the bay. Monte Urgull to the east is a 20 minute walk to reach the summit with its statue of Christ, the Sagrado Corazon, and the Mota castle. At the bottom of the hill there is an Aquarium. The views are even better at the top of Monte Igeldo, on the western side of the bay, which can be reached by a funicular. As well as the views there is a vintage amusement park which will be a hit with families with young children. Visit our guide to Mount Urgull and Mount Igeldo.

On the beach below Monte Igeldo are a number of large and dramatic sculptures known as the Peine del Viento, or wind comb, and were created by Eduardo Chillida, a local sculptor.

Behind the Ondarreta beach which is next to Monte Igeldo there are a number of magnificent villas from the 20th century known as the Ondarreta Villas. They are a quirky mix of styles and these streets are worth a wander. To the east is the magnificent Miramar Palace which was built for Queen Maria Cristina as her summer residence. Whilst the palace is private the gardens are open to the public.

San Sebastian hosts a number of festivals throughout the year. There is the San Sebastian Film Festival which takes place in late September and its Jazz Festival in July. In August there is a festival of Basque culture. San Sebastian was the European City of Culture in 2016.

Being in the north you can escape the often too scorching heat of Southern Spain in July and August.

Places to visit nearby

Hondarribia has a stunning old town and a lovely parador and is well worth a visit. Pamplona of bull-running fame is also nearby.

See also:

Photos of San Sebastian

Click any picture to start the gallery

  • beautiful-buildings
  • belle-epoque
  • cathedral
  • colourful-houses
  • gipuzkoa-park
  • harbour
  • kiosk
  • la-concha-harbour
  • la-concha-igeldo
  • la-concha
  • old-town
  • post-office

Map of San Sebastian and places to visit

San Sebastian places to visit