Nestled on the northern coast of Spain, San Sebastian (known locally as Donostia) is a seaside haven where Basque charm meets culinary excellence. With its unique blend of coastal beauty and mountainous landscapes, this elegant town offers a plethora of experiences. From savouring Michelin-starred cuisine to strolling along pristine white sand beaches, we’ve compiled a list of our favourite things to do in San Sebastian.
- Ascend Mount Igueldo and soak up the views
- Visit the majestic San Sebastian Cathedral
- Experience the beauty of La Concha Beach
- Take the ferry to Santa Clara Island
- Get lost in San Sebastian's Old Town
- Visit the Basílica de Santa Maria del Coro
- Sample pintxos and Basque delights in local bars
For a dazzling view of San Sebastian's iconic bay, head to Mount Igueldo on the west side of town. Jump aboard the antique funicular railway to reach the summit, a charming mode of transport that’s been around since 1912. At the top awaits El Torreón, a formidable 16th-century tower that can be ascended for a small fee. The reward? 360-degree panoramas of the surrounding area. And while you're up there, don't miss the historic photograph exhibition which offers a fascinating insight into the town's past. There’s even an old-fashioned amusement park, replete with bumper cars, paddle boats, slides, a carousel and a log flume, for some good old-fashioned family fun.
Constructed in the late 19th century, San Sebastian Cathedral – or as the locals call it ‘Catedral del Buen Pastor de San Sebastián’ – is a monumental Neo-Gothic masterpiece, located just south of the Old Town. Upon stepping inside, you'll find yourself bathed in the soft, enchanting glow of some seriously exquisite stained glass windows, and with influences from medieval German and French churches, the architectural wonder is a standout religious landmark of the Basque Country. The cathedral is renowned for its colossal pipe organ, which is one of the largest in Europe and boasts over 10,000 whistles. And don't forget to also inspect the facade, adorned with The Cross of Peace by Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida.
With its shell-shaped bay, La Concha is more than just a beach – it's a superstar among San Sebastian's sandy hangouts. It's had the royal nod of approval from Queen Regent María Cristina, who declared it the summer capital of Europe, making it a must on our list of things to do in San Sebastian. La Concha Promenade hugs the Cantabrian Sea and is your ticket to tranquillity with outstanding views of the serene beach. Take a leisurely stroll along this mile-long slice of coastal paradise, before stopping for a drink at one of the beachside bars or restaurants.
Located in the heart of La Concha Bay, Santa Clara Island is a delightful oasis accessible by ferry between May and August. Don't be fooled by its small stature; it packs a punch with a lovely beach and some seriously Instagrammable city views. And this tiny island won’t leave you high and dry either, as it has a charming lighthouse and a snug cafe for post-swim snacks. Plus, there are lifeguards on duty, so you can cannonball into those cool waters without a care in the world. Tucked away between Montes of Urgull and Igueldo, Santa Clara Island is one of the city's most idyllic spots and perfect for a leisurely picnic, earning it a place on our list of things to do in San Sebastian.
At the heart of San Sebastian sits the atmospheric Parte Vieja, or Old Town, a labyrinthine network of cobblestone streets punctuated by enticing pintxo (Basque tapas) bars and restaurants. Stroll through the pedestrian-friendly alleys, peruse boutiques and admire the historic buildings. Emblematic landmarks like the Church of San Vicente and the Basilica of Saint Mary of Coro add to the charm. Dating back to medieval times, many of the Old Town’s buildings were reconstructed after a devastating fire in 1813 and other highlights include the Municipal Museum San Telmo and the enchanting Plaza de la Constitución, with its arcades and balconies. And when mealtimes roll around, the Parte Vieja transforms into a street-food fiesta as hungry diners spill out in search of tapas.
The Basílica de Santa María del Coro, also known as the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, is one of San Sebastian's most visited attractions. This 18th-century architectural marvel boasts a Baroque facade that comprises a blend of Gothic, Churrigueresque and Neo-classical elements. Step inside to marvel at the neo-Gothic vaulting and an impressive altarpiece dedicated to Our Lady of the Choir, the patron saint of San Sebastian.
Take your taste buds on a culinary journey through San Sebastian by indulging in pintxos, the Basque version of tapas. Wander through the charming cobblestone alleys and let your nose lead the way to an array of restaurants and pintxos bars; most bars in the city proudly display plates of these bite-sized delights right on their counters. A glass of the local txakoli wine or a beer make for great accompaniments to these scrumptious bites, and whether you're in the mood for a fancy meal in a swanky setting or a relaxed outdoor dining experience, San Sebastian's dining scene has something for everyone. Here, it's all about comfort food, local ingredients and the freshest seafood. Antonio, renowned for its coal-grilled meats and traditional Basque seafood dishes, is one of the city's favourite restaurants. You’ll also find more Michelin stars per square metre here than almost anywhere else in the world, so when you visit San Sebastian be sure to pack your appetite.