12 Best Things To Do In San Sebastian
San Sebastian, on Spain’s Basque Coast, is one of the culinary epicentres of the world. Not only does it boast more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in Europe, but it also has some of the best seafood in Spain, it’s the home of pintxos and has thousands of affordable and tasty dining options.
It’s far from just a place to eat though. It’s one of the surf capitals of Europe, surrounded by stunning mountains and boasting numerous gorgeous beaches, along with high-end shopping, some of the best craft beer breweries in Europe and beautiful historic architecture.
It’s often coined as the Rio of the Northern Hemisphere due to its numerous sweeping bays surrounded by lush green mountains. It’s an incredible destination, which is a foodie and outdoor lover’s dream.
Join us as we explore the best things to do in San Sebastian….
12 Best Things To Do In San Sebastian
Due to the city’s incredible foodie reputation, it would be amiss of us not to start by talking about some tasty grub. Pintxos are a Basque speciality – it’s a type of dining where you eat little small bread dishes, topped with hundreds of different flavour combinations, while sipping a cool beer.
There are hundreds of different pintxos bars around the city, packed to the rafters with locals and tourists alike.
They’re an absolute institution in this part of the world and it’s an absolute must when you visit San Sebastian. We recommend Pintxos bar hopping through the Old Town where there are hundreds of pintxos bars next to each other, in a network of narrow streets.
Diners spill out onto the street creating a very atmospheric vibe.
You can go to specialised seafood pintxos bars, vegetarian pintxos bars and many traditional meat options. These tiny holes in the wall are ultra-atmospheric and a wonderful place to spend an afternoon or evening. A great way to get acquainted with San Sebastian culture.
#2. Michelin star dining
Pintxos are super tasty and super affordable, but if you fancy something fancier, then you don’t have to look far in San Sebastian. As we’ve already mentioned – the city is one of the culinary capitals of the world, with more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in Europe.
There are 16 Michelin stars in total in the city and 3 of the country’s total of 9 restaurants with 3 Michelin Stars are based in San Sebastian.
That’s some achievement for a city with a population of just over 186,000. The region is at the forefront of European cuisine and the area’s chefs are renowned for their ingenuity, with 33 restaurants listed in the acclaimed guide.
We recommend delving into the guide and enjoying one of the tastiest restaurant scenes in Europe…
The Basque Country is one of the best places to surf in Europe. The geography of the land, in the Bay of Biscay, creates perfect surf conditions, with strong currents channelling across the Atlantic straight into the direction of San Sebastian.
There are two large sandy bays in the city, but it’s the easterly bay, called Zurriola which draws in surfers in their many thousands.
It’s rare to have a day go by without seeing hundreds of surfers out in the water and many people watching on from the beach. The city is a hotspot for the sport, with lots of surf related businesses around the town – including surf orientated clothing brands, board shops and fitness classes.
There are many places to rent a board around Zurriola and lots of surf schools, which offer beginner sessions right up to advanced coaching. Take in a slice of local culture by taking to the water.
#4. Craft beer
The Basque Country has a world-renowned reputation for producing outstanding wine, with the famous Rioja region only an hour and half’s drive inland from San Sebastian. But it isn’t just wine which claims the plaudits here – the region also take beer very seriously and they’re more passionate about their beer than many destinations around Spain.
The area boasts a number of excellent craft breweries, which have claimed numerous awards in recent years.
The brewery called Basqueland is at the forefront of the Spanish craft beer scene and it’s just outside San Sebastian where it’s made.
You can visit the brewery for a tour and drink delicious craft beers on site, you can also find it sold across the city and at a small taproom just off Zurriola beach.
They aren’t the only noticeable name though, Mala Gissona is another excellent local beer producer. Make sure to drink some cold ones in the sun during your visit to San Sebastian.
Almost the entire Basque region is made up of stunning lush hills and mountains, which drop right down to the sea. Getting out into the bountiful supply of beautiful nature is a must when visiting San Sebastian.
There are excellent hiking routes in the area, ranging from advanced level mountain hikes, all the way down to family friendly, manageable routes.
You don’t have to go far to get a taste of nature either – the city is surrounded by mountains on multiple sides and you can find well signposted routes, which rise straight out from the city and beach.
If you don’t have time to head out into the bigger mountains outside the city, don’t worry, there is an excellent route which climbs out of the western side of the city to the top of Monte Igueldo. It provides stunning views across the city, the mountains behind and the surrounding coastline.
There is also an excellent and easily accessible hilly route at the eastern side of Playa de la Concha, opposite Monte Igueldo, to the top of the smaller Monte Urgull. Another great spot with beautiful views across the city and surrounding landscape.
#6. Monte Igueldo
Getting to the top of Monte Igueldo is something that shouldn’t be missed during a stay in San Sebastian. We’ve already mentioned there is a great hiking route to its peak, rising out from Playa de la Concha, but if that’s too taxing, we’ve got you covered.
There is an excellent funicular service, which climbs from sea level to the top of the mountain, running throughout the year.
From the top of the mountain you not only have stunning views across the local landscape, but there is also a historic amusement park, with family friendly games and rides, along with a zipline park.
You can also dine at the top of the mountain at the Mercure Monte Igueldo hotel or at a variety of local stalls. The views from the top are an absolute treat and we highly recommend a visit.
#7. Visit the island of Santa Clara
One thing you can’t miss while walking along the stunning Playa de la Concha beach is the sight of a sizeable island out in the middle of the bay.
The rocky outcrop, called Santa Clara, shelters the city from the stormy Atlantic Seas and is an imposing visual sight out in the bay. But you can do more than just look at it.
You can visit the island throughout the year, with a regular shuttle boat service between June and September. Many people also take to kayaks and paddleboards to make the short journey out to the island, where you can also find excellent sheltered swimming spots and a few small eateries and bars in the summer.
A lovely escape from the city during the busy summer months and a great spot to get a good view of the city from a different perspective. It’s a haven for bird life too and there are numerous types of lizards, some only found on the island.
We’ve spoken a lot about San Sebastian’s coastal lifestyle and it goes without saying that spending time on the beach is an absolute must while visiting the city. The city boasts two large horseshoe shaped bays – Playa de la Concha, which is the city’s sheltered bay, and the safest place to go swimming.
At the height of the summer it’s thronging with people and at times can be a little too busy for our liking, but aside from the peak school holiday period, it’s a beautiful spot to spend a day. Along with a 1.3km stunning beach, which is shrouded by mountains, there are also lots of tasty restaurants, bars and cafes nearby.
It’s also got a lovely long promenade, with good running and cycle routes. A decent way to burn off the tasty excesses from the previous night.
The easterly sandy bay, Zurriola, is similarly beautiful, but has surfing at its heart, as we touched upon earlier. You can find 100s of people out in the water every day and it’s a fantastic spot to pass the time while watching amateurs and pros take to the waves.
Many locals flock to the beach after work to play sports and watch the stun drop behind the mountains to the west. It’s another of our favourite places in San Sebastian.
#9. Explore the Old Town
San Sebastian’s Old Town, called Parte Vieja, is an architectural gem, with many examples of ornate Basque architecture in a network of narrow streets. The area oozes authenticity, with many tiny pintxos bars spilling out with drinkers onto the street from lunch time onwards.
You can eat incredibly well in this part of San Sebastian and for bargain prices, with 100s of eateries sitting within a very small geographical area.
Alongside the pintxos bars, you’ll also find lots of cool coffee shops, small boutiques and impressive Gothic architecture, which dates back to the 1500s.
Many Old Towns around Europe have lost elements of their character due to mass tourism, but Parte Vieja has very much maintained its authentic buzz, with many locals still living and working in the area.
One of our favourite things to do in the city is to wander aimlessly around the historic streets, bar hop and munch on some tasty pintxos.
#10. Museo San Telmo
We’ve talked a lot about the natural wonders around San Sebastian, but it’s also a bustling hub of creativity too and has multiple excellent galleries and museums. One of our favourite spots is the Museo San Telmo – a vast museum, which celebrates Basque Heritage and creativity.
It has fantastic art collections dating through the ages, with regular pop-up and visiting exhibitions, along with a permanent collection showcasing the most decorated Basque artists. It’s a must for art lovers while visiting the city and free to everyone on Tuesdays.
#11. Hit the mountains
We’ve talked about nature a lot so far and highly recommend getting out the city for a day and explore up into the beautiful Basque mountains. There are many beautiful hiking routes throughout the whole region and it’s a haven for cyclists and MTBs, with challenging mountainous road routes and many dedicated MTB trails through the dense forests.
There are many quaint Basque villages up in the hills filled with welcoming family restaurants serving up hearty Basque mountain food, along with many fine dining restaurants.
#12. Eat one of the best steaks on earth
You’ll have to leave San Sebastian for this little excursion, but the carnivores amongst us will be rewarded highly. A 30 minute drive inland from San Sebastian you’ll reach the small town of Tolosa, which is surrounded by steep mountains.
It’s here where you can find one of the best steak restaurants on earth.
Casa Julian has featured on many TV programmes and been coined by many food critics and Forbes Magazine as the best steak you can find anywhere on the planet.
The small family restaurant looks unassuming on the outside, but inside you’ll be treated to a steak like no other.
It’s been going since the 1950s and only has one main dish, stunning beefy goodness, cooked over an open flame in front of diners.
The building has barely changed in that time either, with the walls blackened from the cooking process over the years. It’s a truly sensational place to eat.
San Sebastian is quite rightly called one of the culinary epicentres of the world and you will leave the city feeling extremely satisfied in the food department. It’s a city where the dining scene caters for all budgets, from Michelin star special occasion meals, all the way down to bargain pintxos feasts, which can leave you stuffed for less than €10.
But it offers much much more, with a relaxed pace of life in a stunning coastal setting. The city offers an incredible balance of nature and city life, with the sea on its doorstep and mountains in every direction.
We think it’s one of the most visually impressive cities in the whole of Europe, with an incredible surfing culture and a community who feel connected to sea. We’ll admit, writing this has made us incredibly hungry, now get out there and eat your way around one of the most delicious cities on earth.