It is easy to go to San Sebastian and fall in love. The sophisticated city, surfer-filled beaches, award winning food, and stunning panoramic views are arguably unmatched. By day, the city is bustling with beach goers and shoppers. By night, sultry crowds at pintxos bars overflow into the street and sip rioja wine until sunrise.
San Sebastian can easily be overlooked when planning a trip to Spain. While this is unfortunate, it is also understandable. San Sebastian is not the most convenient place to get to. The stunning city is located in the Basque country on the northern coast of Spain. When looking at a map it appears to be nowhere near Spain’s two largest cities, Barcelona and Madrid.
The truth is, San Sebastian is not that hard to get to. Simply catch an early morning bus or train from Barcelona or Madrid and you will be on the Basque coast in time for lunch.
If you are spending a week or more in Spain and have a few extra days to spare, San Sebastian is definitely worth the trip. If you have been to Spain before, you may even want to consider going to San Sebastian instead of returning to one of the larger cities.
Here are 10 reasons why you must visit San Sebastian (as soon as possible 🙂 )
1- The pintxos culture
Simply put, pintxos are the Basque region’s take on tapas. “Pintxos” is Basque for the Spanish word “pinchos” (yes, they speak Basque in Basque country- but most people also speak Spanish). At the most basic form, pinchos started out as food topping a piece of bread with a stick holding the two together. But, needless to say, as time has passed and Michellin stars have fallen from the skies, pouring onto San Sebastian… pintxos have evolved.
Now, pintxos can range from topped bread to small meat and seafood dishes to salad. The best part is most pintxos fall in the 3-8 euro range.
2- San Sebastian is a surf haven
First of all, if you love to surf, there is an entire beach dedicated to the sport called Playa de la Zurriola. Even if you don’t know how to surf, this beach is great for meeting both locals and younger travelers that are drawn to surf towns.
Don’t know how to surf? There are lessons taught on the beach daily. (Which- side note- makes the sport of watching people trying to surf even more entertaining).
3- Proximity to the Guggenheim
A one hour bus ride and you will find yourself at the most famous contemporary art museum in Spain: the Guggenheim Bilbao.
There is an excellent cafe across from the Guggenheim with live music, excellent bocadillos (sandwiches), and… the magic word… WIFI. You will see it on the left side of the building by the staircase and fountain.
4- The views alone
The views in San Sebastian are breathtaking. There is a walking path that runs around both major beaches of San Sebastian. This walk is breathtaking and there are views on every corner.
Unfortunately, there was some cloudy weather during my trip that made pictures a little tricky. Nevertheless, the views alone are worth a trip to San Sebastian.
5- Friendly locals
Something about the Basque culture is the perfect recipe for friendly locals. On top of that, there are several expats from South America and other regions of Spain that have fallen in love with San Sebastian and never left. The locals will never hesitate to answer any questions you have with a smile. Make sure to ask them to direct you to their favorite pintxo bars 🙂
6- The beaches
Many would rather watch boats in a harbor than surfers riding waves (which you would do at Playa de la Zurriola, as mentioned above). If this is the case, head over to famous Playa de la Concha, which rivals beaches throughout Europe. It is stunning, breathtaking, and perfect for a day basking in the sunshine.
Sidenote: Be careful of the tide and waves! There are rogue waves at both beaches that can wash up all of your belongings if you are not careful. This happened to me more than once (ah… you think I would learn).
7- San Sebastian is very walkable
One of the best parts of this city is that everything is in walking distance. For those that prefer not to walk or want a quicker view of the city, there are bicycles for rent on seemingly every street corner.
Additionally, the city is pretty flat which makes San Sebastian pretty handicap-accessible. However, it should be noted for everyone that the streets can get incredibly slippery in the rain.
8- Endless water sports and hiking trails
There are several options for those that are looking for some adventure during their trip to San Sebastian. In addition to surfing, tourists and locals stick to the water for stand up paddle boarding, sailing, and jet skiing.
Furthermore, there are hiking trails in practically every direction. Apparently hiking up the hill at Playa de la Zurriola (on the opposite side of old down) leads to a neighboring fishing village.
9- The city is a mix of old and new
In addition to literally having an old town (like seemingly every Spanish city), San Sebastian also has an upscale shopping district. New buildings emulate classic Spanish style as modern beach chairs line the sea. In San Sebastian, there is an undeniable “European feel” on the streets filled with outdoor cafes below towering apartment balconies. There is something to explore on every corner. old and new.
10- It hasn’t been ruined by tourists
You will find more tourists from Spain and Australia than America, which I just find lovely.