It’s hard to resist San Sebastian’s charm. It’s a place filled with lively people, nostalgic grandeur, and food culture unmatched anywhere else. This city – known as Donostia in the Basque language – was once Spain’s royalty preferred summer spot, and it is still today a trendy place for travelers. San Sebastian surely knows how to command attention with its belle époque architecture, vibrant culture, and miles of sandy beach.
Although San Sebastian is best enjoyed leisurely in three to four days by tasting its delicious food, exploring its historic streets, and visiting the nearby towns, you can get the essence in just two days if you are short of time.
San Sebastian 2-Day Itinerary
Explore Parte Vieja – Old town
Mercado La Bretxa
Start the day by exploring Mercado La Bretxa and mingle with locals – if you are lucky, Michelin star chefs too – as they shop for fresh and local produce. If you get a chance, try the local cheese, as they are renown. After you have graced all the stands, check the underground market as well – sweets and Jamon awaits, yum!
Victoria Eugenia Theater
Graced by the A-listers – and locals as well – Victoria Eugenia Theater hosts the San Sebastian film festival every year. The event is not only reserved for celebrities; you can purchase a ticket and partake in this glamorous event as well. If you have time, check out one of their seasonal shows. You can check schedule and prices here.
Fermin St. + Mayor St.
If you worried that Mercado La Bretxa was the only culinary segment of San Sebastian, fear not. Head to the gastronomic heart of San Sebastian: Fermin Calbeton St. and Mayor St. Here you will find a plethora of bars serving a vast variety of mouthwatering pintxos and sidra. You will also find on this street, souvenir shops, and local boutiques – worth checking out. On Mayor St. you will see the baroque Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus standing proudly at the end of the street.
Constitution Square – Plaza de La Consituticion
Previously a plaza de toro (bullring), it’s now a charming square full of history, bars, and shops; a fitting place to enjoy a glass of wine or two.
Before it was turned into the city hall, El Ayuntamiento was a casino during San Sebastian’s golden years until gambling was banned in 1924. Now the building serves a more administrative role. It also makes for a beautiful backdrop for the plaza Gipuzkoa.
Puente de Maria Cristina
Enjoy the view from arguably the most beautiful bridges in Spain: the Maria Cristina Bridge.
Watch the sunset
Watch the sunset from the Playa de la Concha. Sunsets in the Basque countries are famous for a reason. The sky gets tinted in cotton candy pink and lavender. It’s indeed a spectacular sight.
Before you head out for dinner in Parte Vieja, work out an appetite strolling the shopping area of San Sebastian. There are many local designers as well as boutique stores in Donostia. I highly recommend checking them out before you go running towards one of the biggest Zara’s stores in the world.
Local designers and stores
Take a stroll on the beautiful Concha Promenade
One of the main attractions in San Sebastian is the stunning promenade along the beach. Take a stroll on the avenue and watch the waves crash into the seawall.
Visit El Peine del Viento
Check out the famous sculptural work of Eduardo Chillida – El Peine del Viento or The Comb of the Wind. It’s a magical spot to enjoy the view of the sea; and if you are lucky, watch the fury waves pound against the rocks and hear the sound it makes through the pipes.
Funicular Monte Igueldo
Making its way up and down since the 1920’s, the funicular is still a top-rated attraction and for good reasons. The ride to the top is a treat, and the spectacular view from the peak of Monte Igueldo is just breathtaking.
Make sure to check their schedule – and weather condition – before heading there.
The Miramar Palace has a beautiful garden and spectacular view of the beach. Grab some Basque pastries and coffee, and enjoy the afternoon in the garden. Although the palace is a must on any visitors’ list, locals enjoy the garden as well.
Where to eat in San Sebastian
With the most Michelin-star per capita in the world, pintxos bars for days, and where Comida de Cine – Film festival mesh Food – is a thing, San Sebastian is foodie’s 7th heaven.
On the first night, I got to try the more traditional pintxos – simply grab a plate and fill it up with the ones that call your name. But don’t get full in the first bar you walk in, the key is to go bar hopping because not all pintxos are created equally – each bar has its own creations. Don’t forget dessert! Head to La viña for their world famous pastel de queso – “Cheesecake.” It was highly recommended by locals and as soon as you take a bite, you will know why.
On the second day for lunch, I went to a few different bars where I got to order pintxos from either their menu of the day or set menu – and let me tell you, this where the Donostians’ culinary skills shine.
Pintxo Bars recommended by locals
La viña – for their Cheesecake
A Fuego Negro
Restaurants and Cafes
Although Pintxos are all the rage in Donostia, don’t forget San Sebastian is a culinary capital after all and one must try their other local eateries as well.
Restaurants recommended by locals
And of course, one must not forget to check out the Michelin star restaurants in San Sebastian!
Where to stay in San Sebastian
If you want to stay in the heart of the city, Parte Vieja is the place to be. Right over the bridge, in Gros, you can get more value for your money. For a more quiet and local vibe, pick a place in the Zona Antigua.
How to get around San Sebastian
San Sebastian is a small city, and the main attractions can be easily explored on foot. If you want to give your feet some rest, hop on a bus – They are clean and easy to navigate. You can also rent a bike and explore the city on two wheels. It makes for an excellent activity/workout – you know, after eating all those pastries and pintxos- in San Sebastian.
Standard fare: €1.70 | Night fare: €2.10
How to get to San Sebastian
San Sebastian has a small airport, so if you are flying from the United States, you may have to do a short layover in Madrid. The main airlines flying in and out are Iberia and Vueling. You can also go through Bilbao, which is the nearest international airport and only an hour and a half away by bus.
Best time to visit San Sebastian
Summer is the busiest season in San Sebastian. But the sun is out, and the city is bustling with life. If you want to escape the blazing heat, March is a great time to visit with mild temperatures. While in the fall or winter, be prepared for some rain.
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