18 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in San Sebastián

Written by Lisa Alexander
Updated Dec 24, 2023
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Set on the crescent-shaped Bay of Concha, this elegant town is one of Spain's most fashionable beach resorts. The expansive shoreline extends for several kilometers along a curving coastline, bookended by the Urgull and Igeldo hills.

Aerial view of San Sebastian, Spain
Aerial view of San Sebastian, Spain

The natural splendor of San Sebastián sets the stage for a fabulous vacation. Favorite things to do include sightseeing, sunbathing at the beach, gourmet dining, and taking evening strolls through the Old Town or along the waterfront promenade.

The city is famous for its cuisine and renowned for its Michelin-starred restaurants. For an authentic experience, you must wander the city's quaint cobblestone lanes in search of pintxos, the Basque version of tapas. These tantalizing small bites include specialties such as seasoned olives, marinated sardines, and salted cod omelets.

Discover the best places to visit in this happening seaside city with our list of the top attractions and things to do in San Sebastián.

See also: Where to Stay in San Sebastián

1. The Seaside Elegance and Beautiful Beach at La Concha Bay

Playa de la Concha
Playa de la Concha

The picture-perfect white-sand beach of the Bahía de la Concha (Bay of Concha) is the most iconic sight in San Sebastián. This expansive beach has a wide shoreline and mesmerizing turquoise waters that are safe for swimming. During July and August, rows of blue-and-white striped parasols make the beach look even more vibrant.

The Playa de la Concha (Beach of Concha) has retained the regal air of its Belle Époque days. In 1868, Queen Maria Cristina inaugurated the Playa de la Concha as a "Royal Beach" and established San Sebastián as a prestigious summertime resort.

Part of the distinguished heritage are La Perla's thalassotherapy spa on the shores of La Concha and the Palacio de Miramar (summer residence of the Spanish royal family until 1973) perched on a hillside above the beach.

La Perla thalassotherapy center has been offering therapeutic treatments since the Belle Époque. This upscale spa features Jacuzzis, saunas, steam baths, a gym, a saltwater pool for aquatic therapies, and a gastronomic restaurant with amazing views of the bay.

The spa also provides beach access and 5,500 square meters of swimming facilities found on the site of the former Royal Bathing Pavilion.

Paseo de la Concha
Paseo de la Concha

Besides sunbathing and swimming, La Concha is a place to visit for scenic strolls. The Paseo de la Concha encircles the bay along the beach. This pedestrian-only seafront promenade features decorative railings and elegant street lamps.

Sporty types appreciate La Concha Beach for the kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding opportunities. Other outdoor adventures include boat trips (departing from the Bahía de la Concha port), such as fishing excursions and scenic cruises.

The Playa de la Concha has public toilets and showers, lounge chair and parasol rentals, and lifeguards on duty during high season.

Within walking distance of the Bay of Concha is the tree-lined Alameda del Boulevard, a hub of San Sebastián's life with many shops, restaurants, and cafés. From here, you can explore the charming Old Town of San Sebastián.

2. Historic Charm and Gourmet Cuisine in the Parte Vieja (Old Town)

Parte Vieja (Old Town)
Parte Vieja (Old Town)

The Parte Vieja (Old Town) of San Sebastián is tucked between the base of Monte Urgull and the Alameda del Boulevard. This bustling area is one of the most popular places to see and be seen, for both tourists and locals alike.

A highlight of the Parte Vieja is the arcaded Plaza de la Constitución, a large public space that once hosted bullfights while the spectators watched from the rows of balconies above.

Notable attractions nearby include the Neoclassical municipal library and the traditional food stalls at the Mercado de la Bretxa, a 19th-century covered market hall.

Also near the Plaza de la Constitución is the 16th-century Iglesia de San Vicente. This Gothic church is San Sebastián's oldest church and has a richly carved retablo dating to 1584.

A favorite pastime in the Old Town is strolling the quaint cobblestone streets in search of traditional Basque tapas. This lively quarter is filled with authentic pintxos restaurants. In the evenings, tourists and locals flock to the area to enjoy convivial dining.

Pintxos are delicious little snacks rather than a full meal, but are served in abundance with plenty of variety. These tantalizing delicacies range from deep-fried cod and marinated anchovies to crisp handmade croquettes. Sampling pintxos is a Basque culinary adventure.

3. Monte Urgull & Monte Ulía: Historic Sites & Nature Walks

Mota Castle
Mota Castle

Beginning at the aquarium, the Paseo Nuevo encircles the entire Monte Urgull. The hilltop is crowned by the Castillo de la Mota, a formidable 12th-century fortress, and a statue representing the Sacred Heart.

The promenade of Paseo Nuevo invites leisurely rambles on warm sunny days, especially during summertime, when the beach-vacation ambience fills the air. (During wintertime, waves can crash above the sea wall onto the promenade.) You will be awed by views of La Concha Bay, the Cantabrian Sea, and the rocky shoreline extending to the Urumea River.

Beyond the river's Puente de la Zurriola (bridge), a seafront promenade runs east towards Monte Ulía. This early 20th-century bridge features a Modernist design with futuristic lamps. Nearby is the Teatro Victoria Eugenia, an opulent Belle Époque theater that hosts music concerts and other cultural events.

Beyond the Zurriola Beach, the expansive Parque de Ulía is a beautiful natural space that's ideal for hiking and picnics. If you don't feel like carrying your lunch, the Mirador de Ulía restaurant serves gourmet cuisine. The dining room affords panoramic views of the city, beach, and water from its perch on the slopes of Monte Ulía.

4. Museo San Telmo

Museo de San Telmo
Museo San Telmo | C D _Fr / photo modified

The Museo San Telmo presents an overview of the Basque Country's cultural heritage. The exhibits are displayed within a former Dominican convent, dating to the 16th century, in the Old Town.

The museum's collection includes several different departments: Archaeology (pre-Columbian, Egyptian, Phoenician, and ancient Roman artifacts); Fine Art (paintings, drawings, engravings, and sculptures); Ethnography (focused on Basque culture); as well as Photography (mainly local photographs) and History (from the 15th century to present day).

Among the highlights are historical paintings by El Greco, Alonso Cano, Rubens, Depièce, Morán, Ribera, and Coello. The Basque artists represented include Ugarte, Zubiaurre, Echagüe, Salaberría, Arteta, and Zuloaga.

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, with free admission on Tuesdays. The museum is closed on Mondays and on January 1st, January 20th, and December 25th.

Address: 1 Plaza Zuloaga, San Sebastián

5. Palacio de Miramar

Miramar Palace
Miramar Palace

Presiding over La Concha Bay, the Palacio de Miramar was built as a vacation home for the Spanish royal family. Several Spanish Queens favored this location for their summer holiday.

The palace was designed in 1888 by architect Selden Wornum of England. Queen Anne style predominates, but the building also incorporates Neo-Gothic architectural elements. A coat of arms of the Habsburg dynasty (a line of the Spanish royal family) adorns the facade.

This elegant country "cottage" was designed with two floors for the private residence. Today, the palace is used as a venue for weddings and other events.

A lush parkland surrounds the palace, including manicured gardens with spectacular sea views. Below the gardens is a beachfront promenade along the Bahía de la Concha.

The gardens of Miramar Palace are open daily, free of charge. The palace is not open to the public.

Address: 48 Paseo de Miraconcha, San Sebastián

6. Amusement Park on Monte Igueldo

Scenic views from Monte Igueldo
Scenic views from Monte Igueldo

For stunning views of the San Sebastián scenery, head to Monte Igueldo just beyond the Playa de Ondarreta at the far end of the beach near the Royal Tennis Club.

You can take a funicular ride up to the top. The hilltop stands 180 meters above the sea, offering sensational panoramas.

A favorite tourist attraction is the Monte Igueldo Amusement Park. Children love the charming carousels and roller coasters.

Another highlight is the Igueldo Tower, an 18th-century lighthouse. Ascend the tower for magnificent views of the town, the Bay of Concha, and the rolling hills of the Basque countryside.

For gourmet dining with fantastic sea views, try the restaurant at the four-star Mercure San Sebastián Monte Igueldo. The restaurant specializes in Basque cuisine prepared from local, seasonal ingredients.

7. Isla de Santa Clara

Isla de Santa Clara
Isla de Santa Clara

Hop on a ferry and enjoy an island getaway right in the city of San Sebastián.

Declared a Historical National Interest Site, the Isla de Santa Clara is a tiny 30-meter-wide island just off the coast, combining the peacefulness of nature along with the amenities of civilization. The island has cafés, restaurants, picnic areas, and a post office.

From mid-April through October, ferries run from the San Sebastián harbor to the island several times daily.

Isla de Santa Clara in Concha Bay
Isla de Santa Clara in Concha Bay

The island's small beach is surveyed by a lifeguard during summertime and is ideal for swimming. Hidden nooks along the island's coast offer natural swimming pools.

You can also go for a scenic stroll to the island's lighthouse and enjoy the stunning views along the way.

8. Basilica de Santa María del Coro

Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro
Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro

This exquisite 18th-century Baroque church stands on the foot of Monte Urgull. In the heart of the Old Town, the Basilica of Santa María del Coro was built on the site of an ancient Roman temple.

The church has a splendid facade with a statue of Saint Sebastián in a niche and two towers. Exemplifying Churrigueresque (Spanish Baroque) style, the exterior reveals an abundance of lavish details that give it the appearance of a decorative wedding cake.

Step inside to admire the grandiose interior. The sanctuary features delicate Neo-Gothic vaulting and impressive pillars with ornate capitals.

A must-see attraction, the Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro is one of the most-visited monuments in San Sebastián. The basilica is open daily year-round. Organ concerts are held here on occasion.

Address: 46 Calle 31 de Agosto, San Sebastián

9. Playa de la Zurriola: Surfers' Beach

Playa de la Zurriola: Surfers' Beach
Playa de la Zurriola: Surfers' Beach

This well-known surfers' beach is in a commercial district of San Sebastián that has many sports shops, large department stores, and art galleries. The Playa de la Zurriola draws surfers from all over the world because of its challenging waves and surf competitions.

With its broad shoreline of golden sand, this beach is also a favorite destination of sports enthusiasts, who come here to play beach volleyball, football, and beach tennis.

Playa de la Zurriola: Surfers' Beach
Playa de la Zurriola: Surfers' Beach

The beach is found between Monte Ulía and Monte Urgull, and is backed by a wide promenade with benches for admiring the picturesque landscape and sea views.

At the western end of the Playa de la Zurriola is the Centro Kursaal, which has an auditorium for music concerts and space for cultural events. Architect Rafael Moneo designed the center to blend into the beachfront geography. The building was awarded the Mies van der Rohe Contemporary Architecture Prize.

Also nearby is the Puente de la Zurriola, a Modernist bridge with a wide pedestrian concourse that leads to the Old Town.

10. Playa de Ondarreta

Playa de Ondarreta
Playa de Ondarreta

This lively beach swells with vacationers during summertime. On the Bahía de la Concha, the Playa de Ondarreta borders Monte Igueldo and the grounds of the Palacio de Miramar.

This fine golden sand beach is a great place for sunbathing, strolling, swimming, and playing beach volleyball, or for taking a stroll along the promenade. The 100-meter-wide shoreline extends for a kilometer, offering enough space to handle the high-season crowds.

During the most popular months of June, July, and August, the shore is packed with families, water sports enthusiasts, beach volleyball players, and sunbathers lounging on beach towels. Kids love the children's playground that's right on the beach.

In the winter, when the waves are up, the beach draws many bodyboarders and surfers.

11. Aquarium San Sebastián

Turtle at the Aquarium San Sebastián
Turtle at the Aquarium San Sebastián

The San Sebastián Aquarium is fittingly located along the harbor at the end of the Bahía de la Concha in the Old Town. The aquarium began as an Oceanographic Society in 1908 and is one of Europe's first museums devoted to ocean sciences and marine life.

At this dazzling aquarium, you will find 31 habitats filled with colorful aquatic species, from tropical fish and sharks to species unique to the Atlantic and Cantabrian areas. You can observe over 40 different species of fish.

Not to be missed is the Oceanarium, an underwater exhibition space. A walkway leads through a clear tunnel with 360-degree views of the swimming fish, sharks, and sea turtles in the aquarium.

Next to the aquarium is a lovely seaside restaurant that serves exquisite Basque specialties. The Bokado Mikel Santamaría offers innovative regional cuisine in a modern dining space. The floor-to-ceiling windows and shaded outdoor terrace afford sweeping views of La Concha Bay.

The San Sebastián Aquarium is open year-round every day except Mondays. During July and August, the aquarium is open every day including Mondays.

Address: Plaza Carlos Blasco de Imaz, San Sebastián

12. Catedral del Buen Pastor

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd (Catedral del Buen Pastor)
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd (Catedral del Buen Pastor)

The largest church in San Sebastián, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is in the New Town near the busy Calle de San Martín. With its 75-meter-high tower, this monumental edifice is an important city landmark.

This Neo-Gothic cathedral was designed by Basque architect Manuel de Echave in 1880, constructed over a nine-year period beginning in 1888 and inaugurated by Spain's royal family in 1897.

The cathedral was built out of sandstone from the Monte Igueldo. The immense structure covers an astounding surface area of 1,915 square meters. The spaciousness of the interior is breathtaking.

An abundance of stained-glass windows gives the sanctuary an ethereal, soul-inspiring quality. In fact, the windows cover almost all the cathedral's side walls. The stained-glass windows were created by Juan Bautista Lázaro.

You may visit the cathedral daily year-round. Opening hours are from 8am until 12pm and 5pm until 8pm.

Address: Plaza del Buen Pastor, San Sebastián

13. International Jazz Festival in July

Saxophone player
Saxophone player

At the end of July, the International Jazz Festival is a must-do cultural event in San Sebastián. Concerts are performed at the Centro Kursaal along with seven other venues in the city.

Devoted to high-caliber jazz and blues music, this prestigious festival presents a wide range of musical styles and genres. The festival takes place over six days with more than 60 performances.

Concerts at the Centro Kursaal and Trinidad Square require tickets, while the concerts at the other venues, such as Playa de la Zurriola and the Kursaal Center's outdoor terraces, are free.

14. Scenic Walks in the Parque de Aiete

Parque de Aiete
Parque de Aiete

The 19th-century Palacio de Aiete of the Dukes of Bailen was built on a Camino de Santiago site where medieval pilgrims stopped on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The aristocratic palace once hosted illustrious visitors, including Queen Victoria of England.

Today, the palace grounds are used as a public park and venue for cultural events. It's a delightful place to explore on a sunny day, especially during spring and summer when the colorful flowers are in bloom.

The romantic parkland was designed by French landscape architect Pierre Ducasse. With its lake, ponds, and rushing waterfalls, the lush landscaping gives the impression of untouched nature. Hundreds of different trees and plants flourish in an idyllic setting.

The Parque de Aiete also has walking trails, a children's playground, and a café-restaurant with pleasant outdoor seating.

15. Fishing Village of Hondarribia


Hondarribia is a charming little fishing village and seaside holiday resort. If you appreciate quaint historic towns, Hondarribia is a wonderful place to base your vacation.

The Old Town (classified as a Historic Artistic Site) is a medieval walled city, entered through the 15th-century Puerta de Santa María. Wandering the narrow cobblestone streets leads to the discovery of many historic landmarks, including houses with coats of arms on the facade.

An important sight is the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. In this Gothic church, the marriage of Louis XIV of France and the Infanta María Teresa of Spain was sanctified.

For coastal views, head to the Plaza de Armas, which overlooks the mouth of the river and the lighthouse on Cabo Higuer to the north.

Hondarribia is also known for its gastronomy. The city boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant, the Alameda, which specializes in Basque Nouvelle Cuisine. Seasonal cooking, based on mostly local ingredients, is the focus of this fine-dining establishment.

For those who want to live like a king for a night, stay at the renovated Castillo de Carlos V, a 10th-century castle that has been converted to the luxurious four-star Parador de Hondarribia hotel.

Hondarribia is a 23-kilometer drive from San Sebastián.

16. Carretera del Jaizkibel (Scenic Drive)

Carretera del Jaizkibel
Carretera del Jaizkibel

This scenic driving route begins 25 kilometers outside of San Sebastián and less than three kilometers from Hondarribia. The road travels up the bare sandstone ridge of Jaizkibel to a height of 584 meters, where the pilgrimage church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe stands.

For a relaxing stay in the area, try the Hotel Jaizkibel. This modern four-star hotel offers quiet, comfortable accommodations, a lovely garden setting, and excellent services including a breakfast buffet and concierge. Some guest rooms have views of the countryside and coastline.

17. Day Trip to Getaria


Getaria is a worthwhile excursion, about 25 kilometers from San Sebastián. On the way here, you will enjoy a lovely scenic drive.

Beginning at Zarautz (22 kilometers away from San Sebastián), the Cornisa Cantábrica (Cantabrian Corniche) scenic route extends along the rocky coastline.

The fishing port of Getaria lies on a picturesque promontory, with its harbor sheltered by the fortified island of San Antonio. The town's port is below the 13th-century Gothic Church of San Salvador, and the waterfront of the harbor is lined with enticing seafood restaurants.

18. Monasterio de San Ignacio de Loyola

Monasterio de San Ignacio de Loyola
Monasterio de San Ignacio de Loyola

Nestled in the Urola Valley about 40 kilometers from San Sebastián, the Monastery of San Ignacio de Loyola now houses a Jesuit college. The monastery was built between 1689 and 1888 based on the design of Carlo Fontana, a student of Bernini.

The splendid Baroque church at the monastery features an impressive 65-meter-high dome by Joaquín de Churriguera and is considered one of the finest in Spain.

You will be dazzled by the lavish sanctuary, with its overwhelming spaciousness and decorative marble inlays. A masterpiece of Baroque art, the high altar displays a statue of Saint Ignatius.

Where to Stay in San Sebastián for Sightseeing

Most top attractions in San Sebastián are found in the Parte Vieja (Old Town) and along the crescent of beaches that skirt the Bay of Concha. Across the Urumea River, the bustling Barrio de Gros quarter is within walking distance of the Old Town and close to a popular surfers' beach. In the center of the Old Town, the Calle 31 de Agosto street is lined with convivial pintxos bars. Here are some highly rated hotels in San Sebastián:

Luxury Hotels:

  • Overlooking the Urumea River and just around the corner from Calle 31 de Agosto, the Hotel Maria Cristina is a grand hotel in a central location of San Sebastián. This Belle Epoque landmark catered to aristocrats and royalty in the 19th century and still offers sumptuous accommodations, as well as impeccable service. Amenities include a concierge, a fine-dining restaurant that serves Asian cuisine, and a tea room/pintxos bar.
  • The Hotel Villa Soro is close to the shops and pintxos bars in the Barrio de Gros neighborhood. Surrounded by enchanting gardens, this 4-star boutique hotel occupies a 19th-century villa listed as a historic landmark. Hotel services include a concierge, bicycle rentals, and a gourmet breakfast with French pastries served on the garden terrace.
  • You will appreciate being in the heart of the city's action at the 4-star Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra, a stately Belle Epoque hotel facing La Concha Bay and a short walk to the Old Town. The bright cheerful rooms feature fine linens and recently renovated bathrooms. Some rooms have balconies with sea views. The hotel's gastronomic restaurant serves traditional Basque cuisine.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • The 3-star Hotel Niza overlooks the beach promenade along La Concha Bay and is steps away from the Old Town. The chic contemporary-style guest rooms feature private balconies, some with sea views. Amenities include a concierge, paid parking, free use of bicycles, and a restaurant that serves pintxos and traditional Basque dishes.
  • On the hill just above the Playa de Ondarreta near Miramar Palace, the NH Collection San Sebastián Aránzazu has stylish modern guest rooms and excellent amenities, including a concierge and fitness center. The hotel's restaurant specializes in local cuisine.
  • A 15-minute walk from the Old Town and La Concha beach, the Hotel Zinema7 features rooms decorated on the theme of classic motion pictures. Amenities at this 4-star hotel include a swimming pool, fitness center, and restaurant. Guests appreciate the location in a quiet neighborhood on a street lined with shops and restaurants.

Budget Hotels:

  • The Parma Hotel is located at the edge of the Old Town across the river from the Playa de la Zurriola. This 2-star hotel has tastefully decorated guest rooms, some of which have sea views. The hotel provides a 24-hour front desk, concierge, and a breakfast buffet.
  • The centrally located Hotel Zaragoza Plaza is one block from the beach and an easy walk to many shops, tourist attractions, and the railway station. A concierge and 24-hour front desk ensure an enjoyable stay. A breakfast buffet is available.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to San Sebastian

  • Guided Walking Tour: Take a San Sebastián City Tour that covers the city's highlights: Monte Igueldo, Miramar Palace, Zurriola Beach, the Mercado de la Bretxa, and Buen Pastor Cathedral. Your knowledgeable guide will share interesting commentary along the way. The tour includes pick-up and drop-off.
  • Electric Bike Tour: You'll have fun touring the city on a small-group electric bike tour of San Sebastián. With this guided tour, you will see more sights (in three hours) than is possible on a walking tour. Battery-powered bicycles make the trip up Mount Igueldo a breeze. The tour takes the group to popular spots like La Concha Beach and Miramar Palace, as well as some lesser-known gems.

Map of Attractions & Things to Do in San Sebastián

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