Things to do in San Sebastian (Donostia)
Ready to discover the best things to do in San Sebastian? Let’s begin!
1. Eat pintxos in San Sebastian
Going to San Sebastian (Donostia) and not eating pintxos is a sin. I mean it! If you visit the city, it is essential that you stop by some of the best bars and eat pintxos, which are traditional appetizers in San Sebastian.
Some of the most famous places to eat pinxtos in San Sebastian are: La Cuchara de San Telmo, Zabaleta (Spanish omelette), Bar Sport, Borda Berri (risotto), La Viña (cheesecake), Atari, Goiz Argi (skewered prawns), Txepetxa, Dakara Bi, Txuleta, Gandarias… There are many places to choose from!
2. Santa Maria del Coro Basilica, must-see place in San Sebastian
When you walk along Calle Mayor, in the Old Town of San Sebastian, you will see the Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro in the background, located next to Mount Urgull. It was built in the mid-18th century and is in Baroque style, although it also has Gothic, neoclassical and Churrigueresque elements.
The building was built on top of an old Romanesque-style church. Thus, the Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro is considered the oldest temple in the city. Its beautiful portico draws special attention.
3. Go up to Mount Urgull
San Sebastian has three mountains in the region: Mount Igueldo, Mount Urgull and Mount Ulia. Mount Urgull is located just behind the Old Town. I recommend visiting the mountains and exploring the different places of interest nearby. From the port, you can take the Kaiko Pasealekua, which then leads to the Paseo Nuevo, the one that surrounds Mount Urgull.
The walk is very beautiful and pleasant. The walk takes you along the sea where you can make stops to see the waves break against the wall. Don’t miss the Construccion Vacía de Jorge Oteiza, a sculpture that draws a lot of attention.
Once you walk along Paseo Nuevo, I recommend going up to Mount Urgull through the entrance located next to San Telmo Museum. One of the first stops will be the Baluarte del Mirador (viewpoint) where you can enjoy beautiful views of the Gros neighborhood and Zurriola Beach. This is the main access gate to Mount Urgull’s military compound and the most important defense point.
Continue walking to the English Cemetery. This cemetery houses the remains of the victims of the first Carlist War. The British Auxiliary Legion killed in the vicinity of Donostia in the first Carlist War are buried here.
The next stop will be Mota Castle, the main tourist attraction on Mount Urgull. Its origins date back to the 12th century when the King of Navarre built a castle in the shape of a square tower. The Statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, built in 1950, can be found at the top.
Napoleon’s Battery is located at the bas of the castle. It was built by the French during the imperial occupation (1808-1813). It is the most recent battery of Mount Urgull. To finish your view of the mountain, I recommend going to the Polboriña bar and heading to the terrace, located at the top of the mountain where you can see a beautiful sunset. It is open from 11:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sometimes there is live music.
4. Visit Saint Telmo‘s Museum, things to do in San Sebastian
If you like museums, I recommend visiting San Telmo Museum. It is located in an old Dominican convent from the mid-16th century located in the Old Town, next to Mount Urgull. It was inaugurated in 1902 which makes it the oldest museum in the Basque Country. The main theme in San Telmo’s Museum exhibition is Basque society and its historical and cultural past. It has different areas: ethnography, fine arts, history, archeology and photography.
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. It is open on monday holidays and long weekends. It closes on January 1st and 20th and December 25th. General admission costs €6. If you have a student card, are over 65 years old or have a large family, admission costs €3. If you are under 25 years old, it is free. On Tuesdays admission is free for everyone.
5. Take a free walking tour of San Sebastian, one of the best things to do in San Sebastian
A very good way to get to know this beautiful city is by going on a free tour of San Sebastian. The free tours consist of guided group visits where you can pay a small donation. There are two shifts available: 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. It lasts 2 hours and a half and it’s in English.
The tour begins in Plaza Cervantes and continues through various places of interest in the city center of San Sebastian and the Old Town, such as Plaza Gipuzkoa, Alameda del Boulevard, Constitution Square, the church of San Vicente or the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Choir
You can book a free walking tour of San Sebastian using this link.
6. Church of San Vicente
One of the best places to visit in San Sebastian is the Church of San Vicente, located in the Old Town. This late Gothic church with a rectangular floor was built in 1507 and is considered to be the oldest monument in Donostia. It was designed by Miguel de Santa Celay and Juan de Urrutia. The main altarpiece of San Vicente and the altarpiece of Las Animas can be highlighted.
7. Constitution Square
Visiting Constitution Square is one of the best things to do in San Sebastian. Apart from standing out for its incredible beauty, it is also the venue for many of the celebrations that take place in San Sebastian. Something that draws special attention are the numbers located on each of the windows. Each number corresponds to the bullring that was in this place. You can find numerous terraces where you can sit down and have a drink.
8. Gipuzkoa Square
Another square that you cannot miss in Donostia is Gipuzkoa Square, the first public park in the city. It is a green space located in the heart of San Sebastian, just opposite the Gipuzkoa Provincial Council. It was designed by the French gardener Pierre Ducasse.
This square stands out because of the large number of flowers, plants and trees. It also has a pond with swans and ducks, a clock made with flowers, a meteorological temple, a marble time table and the monument to the San Sebastian musician José María Usandizaga.
9. Good Shepherd of San Sebastian Cathedral
Good Shepherd of San Sebastian Cathedral, in neo-Gothic style, is located in the center of San Sebastián. Inaugurated in 1897, it is the largest religious building in the city. It was designed by Gipuzkoan architect Manuel Echave. Its tower reaches 75 meters in height and can be seen from anywhere in San Sebastian.
Fun fact, you should know that it is exactly one kilometer from Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro and there aren’t any buildings in between. In the Center do not forget to walk along Urbieta Street, Hondarribia Street and Getaria Street.
10. Visit Concha Beach, one of the best things to do in San Sebastian
Concha Beach is one of the landmarks in the city and a must-see in San Sebastian. If the weather is favorable during your visit, do not forget to sit and and enjoy a good swim. It is considered one of the best urban beaches in the world!
If not, I recommend taking a pleasant walk from the port to Pico del Loro. La Perla is located near beach, a wellness center that has a spa, gym and restaurant.
11. City Hall of Donostia
The City Hall of Donostia is a must-see place during your visit. It was built in 1887 and housed a casino at one point. In 1924, gambling was banned and the casino closed. A few years later it was occupied by the Tourism Board. Finally, in 1945 the City Council settled in the building. The city hall was located in Constitution Square before 1945.
Alderdi Eder Park is located in front of the City Hall. It is made up of charming gardens where you can walk and relax. The sculpture of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the merry-go-round and the sculpture called “Group of Lions” stand out. Alameda del Boulevard, which connects the Old Town with the new area of the city, is also located near the city hall.
12. Zurriola Beach
This Beach is located in Gros, the most modern neighborhood in San Sebastian. It is the most popular beach among surf lovers. Therefore, if you want to catch some waves or book surf lessons, I highly recommend visiting this beach. It is also a very good beach for swimming and sunbathing. You can walk to the statue of the Dove of Peace, on the eastern end of the beach. From here, you can see the surfers up close and enjoy a beautiful sunset.
13. Cross Mount Ulia until you get to Pasajes
If you are going to spend at least two days in the city, something different to do in San Sebastián is to walk to Pasajes through Mount Ulía. As I told you at the beginning of the post, San Sebastián has three mountains: Monte Igueldo, Monte Urgull and Monte Ulía.
Pasajes is located in the easternmost part of the city, next to the Gros neighbourhood. You can go up and stay in the vicinity of the city to simply appreciate the scenery or take a route on foot to Pasajes. I opted for the second option.
The mountain has several trails, some inland and others closer to the coast. To start the hike, you just have to go to the Larramedi service station and go to the back, where you will see the beginning of a path. The drive to Pasajes is around 2 hours, depending on which way you go and if you make any stops. Once you get to Pasajes, I recommend taking the boat from San Pedro to San Juan and have a drink there. I went back from Pasajes to San Sebastián by bus.
14. Miramar Palace
Visiting Miramar Palace is one of the best things to do in San Sebastian. It is located between Concha Beach and Ondarreta Beach. The Royal Family arrived in San Sebastian for the first time in August 1887, leaving aside the Bourbon tradition of spending the summer in La Granja or Aranjuez. Seems like María Cristina enjoyed her stay in the city very much, since in 1893 she decided to buy the land of El Antiguo to build her country house in Miramar, where she spent the summer for 40 years.
After the queen passed away, the property passed to Alfonso XIII. During the Second Republic it was expropriated. Later, it was returned to the Bourbons. In 1972 the City Council bought the palace and gardens. Today you can visit the garden area, which is worth your while as they are very beautiful and have great views.
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15. Viewpoint atMount Igueldo, one of the best places to visit in San Sebastian
You will find one of the most popular landscapes in San Sebastián from the viewpoint in Mount Igueldo. You can go walk up (it takes about half an hour) or, if you prefer comfort, by funicular. The journey costs €3.75 round trip. I went up and down by funicular but it is advisable to walk down, as the views are very beautiful. If you opt to walk down, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the Lighthouse of Monte Igueldo. Next to the viewpoint, you will find an old amusement park, a cafeteria, a tower, a hotel and several food stalls.
16. Peine del Viento
Once you visit Mount Igueldo, I recommend walking along the promenade that goes to the end of Ondarreta Beach until you reach Peine del Viento, one of the most emblematic and well-known sculptures by Eduardo Chillida, a sculptor from San Sebastian. This place has a special vibe, perfect for sitting down for a few minutes to contemplate the sea.
17. Visit Kursaal Center
Palacio de Congresos y Auditorio Kursaal is located in the neighborhood of Gros, right next to Zurriola Beach. The building is built on 2 huge cristal cubes, one being bigger than the other. It has a large auditorium, expo rooms, a larger camera room and several multi-use rooms. The palace hosts many events, The International Film of San Sebastian Festival being the most famous one.
18. Visit Santa Clara Island
Santa Clara Island is located in Concha Bay. It is possible to get on a boat in the port of San Sebastian and visit this small island. If the tide is low, it has a small beach where you can bathe. In addition, it has a beach bar, a lighthouse and several picnic areas. You can book your boat tour to Santa Clara Island in advance here. The round trip costs €7. You can choose the departure time and then you can return whenever you want.
19. Yacht tour, one of the best things to do in San Sebastian
If you want to spend more time sailing, a very good idea is taking a boat cruise and exploring more of the Donostia coast. If this plan sounds good to you, take a look at this yacht tour of San Sebastian. It is a 2-hour journey along the coast that goes along Paseo Nuevo, Zurriola Beach and Mount Ulía until reaching Pasajes, where a brief stop is made to take a bath and have a drink. On the way back, you pass through the Bay of La Concha and the Island of Santa Clara.
20. Spend a day at Ondarreta Beach, one of the things to do in San Sebastian
If you’re visiting San Sebastian looking for a beautiful beach, you should definitely visit Ondarreta Beach. It is located on the western edge of the city. It is 600 meters long and is a great option if you want to do water sports. On the beach itself you can find a bar where you can buy drinks and something to snack on. Behind the beach there is a park that houses a statue of Queen Maria Cristina.
If you want to know more about all these incredible places in San Sebastian, you can also read this travel guide by Barcelo Experiences.
21. Day trip from San Sebastian
If you are going to spend several days in San Sebastian, going on a day trip somewhere in the surrounding area is a great idea. My recommendations are Biarritz, Hondarribia or the Flysch of Zumaia. Biarritz is a coastal town in the south of France with a surfing atmosphere and corners full of charm. Also, it has many cool places to eat.
Another great option is visiting Hondarribia, considered one of the most beautiful towns in Spain. It is a small town full of color and charm. When you visit, do not miss Calle Mayor, Plaza de Armas and Plaza de Gipuzkoa. It is located 32 minutes by car from Donostia. If you prefer, you can book this organized tour of Hondarribia. They also take you to San Juan and San Pedro.
Lastly, if you want to spend more time in nature, don’t miss the incredible Zumaia Flysch. It’s a spectacular place located 40 minutes by car from San Sebastian. On the way, be sure to visit Guetaria and Zarautz. Another day trip option is visiting San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and Butron Castle.
22. Visiting La Tabakalera, one of the best things to do in San Sebastian
One of the best things to do in San Sebastian, especially if you are a culture lover, is visiting Tabakalera, an international center for contemporary culture. It has that name because, for 90 years, the building housed a tobacco factory. In 2015, it reopened its doors with the aim of “contributing to the development of the creative and critical capacity of Basque society.
It focuses primarily on film and audiovisual, contemporary art, and the cultural and creative industries. If you are interested in visiting Tabakalera, I advise you to refer to its website.
23. Maria Cristina Bridge and Zurriola Bridge
There are several bridges that cross the Urumea River in the city of San Sebastian, but the Maria Cristina Bridge and the Zurriola Bridge stand out. The Zurriola Bridge is the one closest to the coast. It connects the city center with the Gros neighborhood. It was built in 1915 and stands out especially for its white and green streetlights.
The Maria Cristina Bridge is also one of the most beautiful and elegant bridges in the city. It was built and designed by José Eugenio Ribera and Julio María Zapata in 1904. The two obelisks located at each entrance of the bridge are striking.
24. Victoria Eugenia Theater and Hotel Maria Cristina
Another beautiful building worth visiting in Donostia for its architecture and cultural importance is the Victoria Eugenia Theatre. It was inaugurated in 1912 and hosts events such as the San Sebastian International Film Festival or the Musical Fortnight. Next to this elegant theater you’ll find the Maria Cristina Hotel, one of the most emblematic in the city.
It was designed by the French architect Charles Mewes, who also designed the Ritz hotels in Madrid and Paris. Its interior will transport you to the Belle Époque.
25. La Bretxa Market
We continue this list of things to do in San Sebastian with La Bretxa Market, located in the Old Town. The building is neoclassical in style and was built in 1870. Years later, the building where the fishmonger is located was built behind it. In this market you can find a wide variety of local products.
If you plan on spending 2 days in San Sebastian, take a look at my two-day travel itinerary in San Sebastian.
26. Cristina Enea Park, ideal for going on a walk
If you want to surround yourself with a green space and relax taking short walks, I recommend visiting Cristina Enea Park, located in the heart of San Sebastian. Its history dates back to the second half of the 19th century, when the Duke of Mandas bought this land with the intention of building a mansion with gardens. The name of the park is in honor of his wife, Cristina Brunetti.
When the dukes died, the land was donated to the city. In 2008, the Cristina Enea Foundation was created with the goal to promote the transition towards a more environmentally-responsible space.
27. Eureka! Zientzia Museoa, a great place for science lovers
Are you a science lover? If so, you should visit miss Eureka! Zientzia Museoa, a space dedicated to scientific diffusion, aimed at both adults and children. It is located in the Miramon technology park in San Sebastian. The information is displayed interactively, through the manipulation of objects and the performance of experiments. There is an entrance fee of €10 for adults and €7 for children (€12.50 and €9.50 respectively if you also buy the ticket to the planetarium).
28. Chillida Leku, a unique museum
Another museum worth visiting is Chillida Leku, a place that mixes art and nature. It is a landscaped space surrounded by an oak and magnolia forests full of steel and granite sculptures by Eduardo Chillida Juantegui. Inside the garden you will find the Zabalaga farmhouse. This museum is located about 7 km from the center of San Sebastian. The hours of operation are thursday to monday between 10am and 6pm. Admission for adults costs €12.
29. Visiting Palacio de Aiete, one of the best things to do in San Sebastian
We are now in Aiete Palace, ordered to be built by the Dukes of Bailén in 1878 and designed by the French architect Adolfo Ombrecht. It has 74,000 m² gardens, designed by Pierre Ducasse. Before the Miramar Palace was built, this was the residence of the Kings of Spain Isabel II, Alfonso XII, Maria Cristina and Alfonso XIII when they visited the city. Currently, it houses the House of Peace and Human Rights.
30. Tour of the San Sebastian Palace
If you want to get to know the history of the most important palace in San Sebastian, I recommend this tour. The tour is currently in Spanish. The tour start in Kutxa cultural center, where you begin a walk to Cristinas Enea park. During the tour you’ll visit Duke of Mandas palace, located inside the park near a beautiful pond. After visiting Aiete Palace, you’ll continue walking until you get to Miramar Palace. Lastly, you’ll get a courtesy beverage in Antiguo neighorhood.
Where to stay in San Sebastian
I stayed at the Hotel Sansebay and loved it. I highly recommend it! It is located in the Old Town, next to Mount Urgull. The location is perfect as you can walk anywhere in the city. My room was spacious, bright, very clean and with very nice views of the Bahía de la Concha. In addition, they have just expanded the hotel and have 12 new rooms, all of them with beautiful views and a very attractive design.
The breakfast was very good. They have a wide variety of products and everything I tried was very tasty. The hotel team is lovely. Everyone is very nice and willing to help with anything. Another thing that I really liked about my stay at the hotel is that in the bathroom they offer very good quality gel, shampoo and conditioner, something that is very much appreciated.
If you are still searching for a place to stay, this hotel is an amazing option. If you are interested in knowing price and availability for Sansebay hotel, click on this link.
If you are interested in knowing more places and areas to stay in San Sebastian, I recommend my article about where to stay in San Sebastian.
I hope that this article on things to do in San Sebastian has been informative and very useful when planning your visit to the capital of Gipuzkoa. If you have any questions, I encourage you to leave a comment or write me an email. Until next time, travelers!