Chill on La Concha seashore, pig out on Michelin-starred pintxos and revel in the local fiestas like La Tamborrada. Sam Howe provides us his professional take on what to do in San Sebastian during a lengthy weekend break…
San Sebastian, or Donostia because it’s recognized to locals, was a favorite of the Spanish royal family and it’s straightforward to see why. The country’s elite would flock to the town, attracted to its beautiful coastline, cooler local weather and all the delights associated with Basque culture. It only takes a jiffy strolling by means of the town to realise what this special city is all about: elegant structure, mild strolls on the seashore, coffee and pastries in the plaza, chatting in Euskara with pals in a pintxo bar, and packing as a lot flavour as humanly potential into a single chew.
San Sebastian is a type of ‘I can imagine myself living here’ cities. It simply has something for everyone. Whether you’re a meals fanatic, wannabe surf dude, language enthusiast, nature stomper, bar-hopping night time owl, wine connoisseur, or culture vulture, the town is filled with opportunity. With a packed occasions calendar and easily too much to fit into one weekend, I can virtually guarantee that you simply’ll be again for a second visit.
Best of the Crushed Monitor
San Sebastian’s attraction is essentially thanks to its beautiful coastline. It’s blessed with three of one of the best in-city seashores in Spain: La Concha, Ondarreta and Zurriola.
Nuzzled between two hills and encircling Santa Klara Island, La Concha and Ondarreta are very picturesque. Photographers, put together your lenses for golden hour. Couples, put together for romantic strolls, because the curved coast appears beautiful in the twilight hours. La Concha is the busiest seashore due to its proximity with the town centre. Ondarreta often provides a extra spacious setting when the tide is low. Zurriola is usually the place all the cool youngsters hang around. Remodelled in 1994, right in entrance of hipster district Gros, that is the place you’ll discover surfers (paddle boarders if the waves are having a day-off), in addition to students and backpackers.
The mysterious Santa Klara island…
The aforementioned hills offer you a beautiful view of the coastline. You possibly can see all three beaches from Monte Urgull which is a brief hike (about an hour at a leisurely tempo) from the Previous City. There’s a 12th Century fort and a Rio de Janeiro-style Christ statue on the prime. A beer pit-stop can also be obtainable in the type of a quirky little bar hidden about half method up.
To the east lies Monte Igeldo which hosts a fort tower, lodge, restaurant and one of the extra oddly positioned fun festivals you’re probably to discover. Walking up is a little extra time-consuming so taking the ‘funicular railway’ is really helpful. Even when dodgems and merry-go-rounds aren’t your thing, the views alone make it value a visit.
Santa Klara Island has an aura about it (apparently they used it as a quarantine zone in the 16th Century for victims of the plague). There isn’t a big quantity to do there (a bar, some look-out spots and a small seashore at low-tide) however it’s a enjoyable challenge for anyone who fancies swimming or kayaking throughout the brief stretch of water. Tour boats additionally function from the primary port every 30 minutes.
San Telmo: an archive of Basque culture
Wanting at the coastline you’ll be able to simply overlook that you simply’re in Spain. The rolling green hills can be equally at residence in somewhere like Wales or Ireland. For proof, get off the crushed monitor by spending a day climbing from Deba to Zumaya (a brief practice journey from Amara Donostia station), from Lezo to Pasai Donibane, Zarauz to Guetaria (wine region), or to the gorgeous pueblo of Pasajes.
That’s not to say that natural beauty is the one attraction on supply. Its mixture of neo-classical, neo-gothic and trendy architecture, alongside its large, open areas, give San Sebastian each an air of magnificence and class, as well as a reminder of its gritty, turbulent history. A free walking tour with Go Native will cover the key factors of curiosity which embrace: Plaza de la Constitución (a former bullring and heart of the previous town); San Telmo (a trendy museum devoted to Basque culture and history); San Vicente church; and 31 de Agosto road (steeped in historical past as one of the few streets the British determined not to burn down on the 31st August 1813).
The award for most hipster district in San Sebastian goes to Gros. Cafes reminiscent of Belgrado and Loaf provide vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free delights and are nice places to unwind. Every Thursday, the streets of the browsing district are full of individuals collaborating in what’s generally known as pintxo-pote (which loosely translates as ‘a bit of food and drink’). You possibly can learn more in the ‘Fork Out’ part, but San Francisco road is a great spot to begin your pintxo bar-crawl. Honourable point out also goes to Egia. The district, filled with road art and late night time stay music, has a tangible counter-culture vibe.
Chilling out at the hip Convent Garden
Cerebral hipsters will recognize the Zentroa district. Grab a guide from one among several wonderful multi-lingual guide outlets earlier than heading over to the Plaza del Buen Pastor. Right here you possibly can read, sip coffee and nibble pastries with the locals, all in the shadow of the beautiful Buen Pastor neo-gothic cathedral.
Buildings transformed from boring things to cool things are additionally on development right here. Convent Garden (as the identify suggests) is a former convent which now operates as a hostel with a restaurant, basement often used for reside music, and a rooftop bar. Tabakalera is a former tobacco manufacturing unit which is now used as a world centre for modern tradition. Its audio-visual exhibitions are continually evolving and are properly value a go to.
Experience & Occasions
Get your diary on the prepared as a result of San Sebastian has a packed occasions calendar.
Probably the most vital fiesta is La Tamborrada (the drum) which takes place on the 20th of January. At midnight more than 15,000 individuals collect in Konstituzio Plaza to begin a 24 hour medley of dancing, singing, partying and, you guessed it, drumming. It’s a tradition that has defiance in addition to celebration at its core. San Sebastian has a long history of army battle and while the town was occupied by Napoleonic troops, locals have been pressured to put up with French soldiers marching around the city, banging their drums on a day by day basis. Basque ladies supposedly grew uninterested in the charade and determined to mock the French by drumming their barrels in response. This advanced into an act of defiance as well as an essential declaration of donostian id. The pageant has been stored alive by culinary golf equipment (hence the individuals parading around in chef outfits with big spoons) who use the day as an excuse to showcase their signature dish or “pintxo estrella”.
Jazzing it up in the town
Different occasions which have helped put San Sebastian on the map embrace:
- San Sebastian Jazz Pageant (third week of July) – It’s one of the oldest jazz festivals in Europe and holds over 100 live shows throughout 17 levels. Many are free of cost and some, such because the Green Heineken stage, happen in front of a beautiful open-air backdrop.
- La Semana Grande (the week of August 15th) – one week summer time pageant of fireworks competitions, stay music and traditional sport.
- Regatas de Traineras (first two Sundays of September) – a conventional boat race in which up to 24 crafts compete.
- San Sebastian International Movie Pageant (mid-September) – a prestigious occasion in which the long-lasting Kursaal Palace hosts a number of screenings.
San Sebastian is a desirable place to reside and attracts wealthy cliental. Usually speaking this implies it’s not a low cost metropolis to visit. There are nevertheless a wide selection of inns obtainable so it is value purchasing round. Accommodation costs will as all the time differ significantly depending on time of yr, however in case you ebook early then some finances lodge rooms can be found for £60-£70 per night time.
The town has an lively presence on AirBnB which may supply some cheaper options in some nice places, but a central location throughout high season can easily set you back £50-60 per night time. There are a number of backpacker hostels, comparable to Koisi, A Room in the Metropolis, Koba, Downtown River, Usturre and San Fermin, the place shared dorms can be found for round £20-£30 per night time.
San Sebastian takes its food and drinks very significantly. The town boasts a cumulative 17 Michelin stars, which means its Michelin star per sq. meter price is among the greatest in the world. The culinary scene is aggressive, proud and, nicely, simply delicious, making it an undisputed gastronomical hotspot.
The town is legendary for pintxos. Like tapas, pintxos are served in small parts and are for sharing and socialising. Historically every particular person pintxo is served atop a piece of bread skewered by a cocktail stick (or a ‘pintxo’ in Basque) and takes no more than two bites to finish. There are a big number of pintxos to attempt to cooks are always pushing the artistic boundaries, but be sure to attempt La Gilda. For many it’s the unique pintxo, consisting of anchovy, pickled pepper and inexperienced olives.
Decide up some pintxos!
The trick is to work out which of them are authentic and which have been designed to accommodate the tastes of tourists. One of the simplest ways to do this is by asking on the bar (Que me recomiendas? turns into a very useful phrase!). The bars in Parte Vieja (Previous City) are very picturesque, particularly down Portu Kalea road, but usually talking anticipate to pay vacationer prices. An exception is La Mejillonera which, while not maybe as aesthetically pleasing, is a bustling bar full of locals attracted to the good value and wonderful seafood pintxos. One of the best tactic is to wander the previous city, get lost, and see what yow will discover – especially should you occur to be out on a Thursday night time.
On Thursdays a variety of bars participate in what’s generally known as pintxo-pote. After individuals started to keep at residence following the 2008 economic disaster, pintxo-pote was designed to re-stimulate the nightlife. Think of it as a city-wide joyful hour. Prices differ by district however most bars supply a pintxo and drink (often beer or wine) for simply two euros. Plan your ‘pintxo crawl’ now with this 2018 record of collaborating institutions. You can even take a look at the awesome documentary in the ‘Watch This’ section to study more.
Gros and the Previous City are often the busiest hotspots for bar hoppers. Gros caters extra for college kids and backpackers so head there in case you’re saving the pennies. Hop throughout the river from Gros and also you’ll find a bar referred to as Altxerri Bar & Jazz. While drinks could be on the costlier aspect, entrance is free and the eclectic range of stay jazz, blues and bossa nova on supply more than make up for it.
Stay music at Altxerri Bar
As is typical in Spain, individuals don’t move to the golf equipment till properly after midnight. You’ll discover a lot of individuals migrate to La Concha seashore because the wee hours strategy. Gu and Bataplan both maintain their dance floors open late and supply nice views of the bay.
Reside music can also be in abundance in the district of Egia. Even should you don’t perceive a word of Spanish, La Farandula Microteatro is value testing. It has three intimate efficiency areas with every present lasting 15 minutes. You possibly can then mingle with the performers in the bar afterwards. Additionally common are Café-theatre El Anden, Le Bukowski, Dabadaba, Gazteszena and Cactus. In contrast to different districts, Egia’s pintxo-pote runs on a Friday night time.
When you’re coming from abroad, the most cost effective means is to fly to neighbouring Bilbao. You’ll be able to then get a coach switch instantly from the airport to San Sebastian. The coach firm’s identify is PESA and you should purchase one-way tickets on the day for €17.10. It’s an hourly service (examine the occasions as they don’t run by means of the night time) and the journey takes round 75 minutes. Bilbao can also be properly related to Europe by sea so should you’re reserving properly in advance it’s value checking the ferry costs (especially in case you’re wanting to convey a automotive over).
In case you’re travelling from elsewhere in Spain, San Sebastian and Bilbao are each properly related by practice though the fares can get pricy. For finances travellers, attempt the raise sharing app ‘Bla Bla Car’. It’s used and trusted extensively in Spain by younger and previous and in case you’re fortunate you possibly can cover a lot of distance on very little.
There was heated dialogue around the constructing of metro stations in the town (look out for the banners of protest hanging from the balconies). Some really feel it’s a mandatory step as the town continues to grow. Some really feel it’s a completely unnecessary waste of assets. In fact, the town is already a simple and nice metropolis to navigate. The extensive cycle lanes make it some of the bike-friendly cities I’ve visited and you may comfortably walk between adjacent districts in around 15-20 minutes.
The official San Sebastian tourism website is among the greatest I’ve seen in Spain. It’s consumer friendly and accommodates tons of up to date info on occasions and proposals. Whilst tweets are primarily in Spanish, their Twitter account (@SSTurismo) repeatedly posts about upcoming events. The identical might be stated of the Lonely Planet guide which also helps you to finances your journey.
The Basque Historical past of the World by Mark Kurlansky is a nice introduction into Basque tradition. It covers the idiosyncrasies of the language, their mastery of the ocean (including its infamous whaling business), sport, and the lengthy and still emotionally raw struggles for independence.
When you’re feeling notably literary, French writer Victor Hugo, writer of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, was a famous tourist to the world and described his travels in the guide The Alps and Pyrenees. You may as well go to the house in the quaint city of Pasaia the place he lodged.
For fiction, probably the most well-known Basque writer is Bernardo Atxaga who was born in a small village just outdoors of San Sebastian. His work Obabakoak is a collection of 27 interlinked tales which he makes use of to paint a image of rural Basque life. When you’re a fan of psychological thrillers then All That Followed by Gabriel Urza could be a higher choice.
‘Munchies’, a YouTube channel produced by Vice, have made a 5 half collection referred to as ‘Munchies Guide to the Basque Country’. In Episode 5 the presenter goes on a pintxos crawl round San Sebastian with Michelin star chefs.
Julio Medem’s The Basque Ball is a controversial movie which reflects on the exercise of ETA, a group who have been related to a collection of bombings in their avocation for Basque independence. You possibly can watch it on Vimeo here. Mendem additionally directed a movie referred to as Vacas, a cross-generation family drama which explores historic battle in the area.
Soundtrack to the City
La Oreja de Van Gogh – La Playa
La Oreja de Van Gogh – El Primer Dia del Resto de Mi Vida
DeVotchKa – The Man from San Sebastian
Duncan Dhu – En Algun Lugar
Alex Ubaga – Entre tu boca y la mía
Skalariak – Skalari Rude Klub
Oskorri – Ikusi Mendizaleak
During the last couple of years we’ve turn out to be fairly conversant in North Spain… so take a look at our protection of its 4 provinces: The Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. Sensational beaches, energetic cities, world-beating delicacies: there’s a lot to discover!
If you need to cowl all 4 on one journey then take a look at our information to the Northern Route of El Camino de Santiago. You don’t have to stroll it like the pilgrims, but for those who’re in search of enlightenment it is perhaps a good place to start…