We first thought about San Sebastian travel options after watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain years ago. At the time, we knew nothing about the city or its cuisine. But, now that we live in Spain it has become one of our favorite destinations in Spain. This is why we wanted to create a comprehensive San Sebastian travel guide.
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How To Visit San Sebastian Spain
In this San Sebastian travel blog, we share our top travel tips on what and how to eat well in San Sebastian, one of the best food cities in Spain. We also provide practical San Sebastian tips including the best places to stay in San Sebastian, how to get to San Sebastian, and some recommended San Sebastian day trips.
Where Is San Sebastian Spain
When we first learned about how great the food is in San Sebastian, the first question we had was where is San Sebastian located in Spain anyhow? It’s just not a corner of Spain that many travelers were clued into until relatively recently.
Arguably one of the best food destinations in the world, San Sebastian is in Spain’s Basque Country. The Basque Country is an Autonomous Community within Spain. They speak Spanish there as well as Basque (Euskara). Signs and menus are often in both languages. You often see references to Donostia too, which is the Basque word for San Sebastian.
Located on the Bay of Biscay to the north, the city is a mere 12 miles (20km) from the French border. San Sebastian’s beach, the “Playa de la Concha” with its horseshoe shape, dominates the city and is considered to be one of Europe’s best beaches. Divided in two by the Urumea River, San Sebastian is a pedestrian-friendly city with miles of foot and cycling paths around the city. Most of the San Sebastian tourist attractions sit along the river, or along the beach.
Best Time To Visit San Sebastian Spain
Thanks to its location on the Bay of Biscay, San Sebastian experiences mild weather compared with other Spanish cities making it a year-round destination. Summer months are warm and comfortable, and not as hot as their southern counterparts. San Sebastian winters are cool but not cold with temperatures generally staying above freezing. Rain is more prevalent in San Sebastian due to its coastal location. There are similarities in the climate between San Sebastian and its northern neighbors in the British Isles.
Like other European destinations, the high season of July and August can be a lot more expensive, particularly for hotels. The shoulder seasons are more reasonable. During the winter months, accommodations become almost dirt cheap. Traveling to San Sebastian between January and April leaves open the possibility of a cider house visit, as discussed below).
The city hosts various events and festivals throughout the year, including a Tango Festival in May, horse races in June, a sailing regatta and International Jazz Festival in July, and a San Sebastian Gastronomika Congress in October.
Things To Do In San Sebastian Spain – Top San Sebastian Attractions
Wondering what to see in San Sebastian that doesn’t involve food? While eating local pintxos and drinking cider might be the main reason to visit San Sebastian, the city offers travelers both natural and man-made attractions to explore. La Catedral del Buen Pastor (Church of the Good Shepherd Cathedral) is a neo-Gothic cathedral inaugurated in 1897. It’s San Sebastian’s most important religious building. The spire stands 246 feet (75m) tall and dominates the San Sebastian skyline.
Overlooking San Sebastian and providing breathtaking views of both the city and the Bay of Biscay is Monte Urgull. About 400 feet (120m) at its peak, hiking up Monte Urgull is the perfect activity to burn off the day’s culinary activities. Also check out Ayuntamiento de San Sebastián (City Hall), which was constructed in 1882 and stands near the famous “Playa de la Concha.” Once the site of a famous standoff during the Spanish Civil War, travelers can still see bullet holes from this troubling period.
San Sebastian Day Trips
The perfect San Sebastian weekend can be spent doing nothing more than hopping around pintxos bars and deciding which is your favorite bite. But, if you have a bit more time here are a few recommended day trips from San Sebastian.
Visit The Cider Houses
Although it is possible to drink cider at most San Sebastian bars and restaurants, there is a Basque ritual that occurs each winter. If visiting San Sebastian between January and April, it is worth it to visit Astigarraga, only a few miles away from San Sebastian. You can take the city bus in about thirty minutes and arrive in this small cider-focused town.
Book a lunch or dinner at one of the many cider houses, which includes a set menu and all-you-can-drink cider. Astigarraga is definitely a food and drink destination. We recommend Sidreria Zapiain. Reservations are required.
Day Trip From San Sebastian to Bilbao
Bilbao is another city in the Basque Country and is the tenth largest city in Spain. It makes a perfect day trip, particularly for art and museum lovers. The city is host to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, one of the most famous museums in the world, in part due to the architecture of the building itself.
Or, check out the Museum of Fine Arts Bilbao or the Bilbao Cathedral. Wander around Bilbao Old Town, or Casco Viejo for a little lunch and Rioja wine before returning to San Sebastian. You can take a train or a bus from San Sebastian to Bilbao in a little over an hour.
Meeting The Legend Chef Juan Mari Arzak Of Arzak Restaurant San Sebastian
Michelin Star Restaurant Hopping
Although there is no Michelin Guide to San Sebastian, the Michelin Guide for Spain is bursting with options for fine dining. Although there are a few options within the city, many of the region’s top restaurants are in the surrounding areas.
Our top recommendation is Arzak, a 3 Michelin Star Restaurant just up the road from the center of San Sebastian. Other restaurants that require a day trip away from the city include Martin Berasategui and Mugaritz. Reservations are always required and must be made well in advance.
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FAQs – How To Visit San Sebastian Spain
Without a doubt, food. San Sebastian is one of the best food cities in Spain and in the World. Basque cuisine ranks amongst the best and is why many people flock to San Sebastian.
San Sebastian is located in northern Spain along the Bay of Biscay. It’s approximately 5 hours drive from both Madrid and Barcelona. It can be reached by train which takes over 3 hours.
No. The nearest commercial airport is one hour away in Bilbao. The airport has flights around Spain and Europe. There are no flights from the United States.