18 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in San Sebastián
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Sunny days spent on sandy beaches and evening strolls through the quaint Old Town are among the attractions of visiting San Sebastián. 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. San Sebastián delights visitors with its scenic beauty and savory cuisine (the city is known for its Michelin-starred restaurants), and surprises with its lively ambience and cultural attractions.
Tourists will enjoy visiting the royal palace and its gorgeous gardens; ambling along the terraced seaside promenade that overlooks the town's inspiring architecture; and then wandering atmospheric cobblestone lanes in search of authentic pintxos, the Basque version of tapas. These tantalizing small bites include specialties such as seasoned olives, marinated sardines, and salted cod omelet.
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 Sebastian
1. The Seaside Elegance and Beautiful Beach at La Concha Bay
The picture-perfect white-sand beach of the Bahía de la Concha (Bay of Concha) is the most iconic sight in San Sebastián. With a wide shoreline and mesmerizing turquoise waves, this expansive beach extends for more than a kilometer. A protected location in the bay ensures calm, gentle waters that are safe for swimming.
In the heart of San Sebastián, the Playa de la Concha (Beach of Concha) is known for its ambience of elegance and distinguished regal heritage. The fancy La Perla spa stands on the shores of La Concha, while the majestic Palacio de Miramar (summer residence of the Spanish royal family until 1973) is nestled on a hillside above the beach. During July and August, rows of blue-and-white striped parasols add to the classic look.
La Perla thalassotherapy center has been offering therapeutic treatments since the Belle Epoque. 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.
La Perla thalassotherapy center also has beach access and a 5,500-square-meter swimming area found on the site of the former Royal Bathing Pavilion. In 1868, Queen Maria Cristina inaugurated the Playa de la Concha as a "Royal Beach" and established San Sebastián as a prestigious summertime resort.
Besides sunbathing and swimming, tourists will enjoy strolling La Concha. A lovely seafront promenade with decorative railings and street lamps, the Paseo de la Concha encircles the bay along the beach.
Sporty types appreciate this 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.
Well-equipped to welcome visitors, 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, tourists can explore the charming Old Town of San Sebastián.
2. Explore Parte Vieja (Old Town)
The 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 shopping 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. The quarter is filled with authentic pintxos restaurants and is at its liveliest in the evening, when tourists and locals flock to the area.
Pintxos are delicious little snacks rather than a full meal, but are served in abundance with plenty of variety. These tantalizing gastronomic 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
Beginning at the aquarium, the Paseo Nuevo encircles the entire Monte Urgull, which 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.) Tourists marvel over the 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 Epoque 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 provides panoramic views of the city, beach, and water from its perch on the slopes of Monte Ulía.
4. Museo San Telmo
The Museo San Telmo is an exceptional museum devoted to the cultural heritage of the Basque country. The museum occupies the Renaissance-era buildings of a 16th-century convent in the Old Town.
Several different departments are represented in the museum's collections, including Archaeology (pre-Columbian, Egyptian, Phoenician, and ancient Roman artifacts); Fine Arts with a wide array of paintings, drawings, engravings, and sculptures; and Ethnography (focused on Basque culture).
Among the highlights of the Historical Art Collection are 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.
Address: 1 Plaza Zuloaga, San Sebastián
Official site: http://www.santelmomuseoa.com/index.php?lang=en
5. Palacio de Miramar
This English Tudor-style palace was designed in 1888 by architect Selden Wornum of England but was completed by Benito Olasagasti. Presiding over La Concha Bay, the palace was built as a vacation home for the Spanish royal family. Several Spanish Queens favored this location for their summer holiday.
The building is distinguished by its octagonal tower and half-timbered details. The coat of arms of the Habsburg dynasty (a line of the Spanish royal family) adorns the facade.
The relatively simple but elegant home has two floors for the private residence and a third floor that was used by the servants.
Over three hectares of lush parkland surround the palace. The estate includes exquisitely manicured gardens with spectacular sea views. Below the gardens is a beachfront promenade along the Bahía de la Concha.
Miramar Palace is open to the public for visits every day free of charge, except when events are held here.
Address: 48 Paseo de Miraconcha, San Sebastián
6. Enjoy the Views and Visit the Amusement Park on Monte Igueldo
For stunning views of the San Sebastián scenery, head to Monte Igueldo. This steep mount lies just beyond the Playa de Ondarreta at the far end of the beach near the Royal Tennis Club.
Tourists can take a funicular ride up to the top. The hilltop stands 184 meters above the sea, offering sensational panoramas.
A favorite tourist attraction is the Parque de Atracciones de Monte Igueldo amusement park. Families with children will enjoy the charming carousels and roller coasters.
Another highlight is the observatory with an outlook tower. Ascend the tower for magnificent views of the town, the Bay of Concha, and the rolling hills of the Basque countryside.
At the four-star Mercure San Sebastián Monte Igueldo, guests can enjoy gourmet dining and breathtaking seaside scenery at the hotel's fine-dining restaurant or pintxos bar. The restaurant specializes in Basque cuisine prepared from local, seasonal ingredients. The pintxos bar has an outdoor terrace with incredible views of San Sebastián and its coastline.
7. Catch a Ferry to Isla de Santa Clara
Travelers can enjoy a delightful 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.
During summertime from June 1 to September 30, a ferry runs from the San Sebastián harbor to the island every 30 minutes.
The island's small beach is surveyed by a lifeguard and is ideal for swimming. Hidden nooks along the island's coast offer natural swimming pools.
Tourists can also go for a scenic stroll to the lighthouse and enjoy the stunning views along the way.
8. 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. One of the most-visited tourist sites in San Sebastian, the Basilica of Santa María del Coro was built on the site of an ancient Roman temple.
The church has a splendid Churrigueresco (Spanish Baroque) facade with a statue of Saint Sebastian in a niche and two towers. Exemplifying Churrigueresque style, the exterior reveals an abundance of lavish details that give it the appearance of a decorative wedding cake.
A must-see attraction, the Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro is one of the most-visited monuments in San Sebastián. The grandiose interior features delicate Neo-Gothic vaulting and impressive pillars with ornate capitals.
The basilica is open to the public every day year-round, and guided tours are available. Organ concerts are held here on occasion.
Address: 46 Calle 31 de Agosto, San Sebastián
9. Surf at Playa de la Zurriola
This well-known surfers' beach is in a commercial district of San Sebastian 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.
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, and the building has been awarded several architectural prizes including 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. Relax at 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
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 is part of an Oceanographic Museum that was founded over a century ago. It is one of Europe's first museums devoted to ocean sciences and marine life.
A popular tourist attraction, the San Sebastián Aquarium features 31 habitats filled with colorful aquatic species, from tropical fish and sharks to species unique to the Atlantic and Cantabrian areas. Visitors 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.
Tourists can also enjoy a seaside dining experience here at the Bokado Mikel Santamaría. This contemporary-style gastronomic restaurant serves innovative modern Basque cuisine. The floor-to-ceiling windows of the dining room and the shaded outdoor terrace afford sweeping views of La Concha Bay.
The San Sebastián Aquarium is open year-round everyday except Mondays. During July and August, the aquarium is open every day including Mondays.
Address: Plaza Carlos Blasco de Imaz, San Sebastián
Official site: http://aquariumss.com/
12. 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.
Visitors are awed by the spaciousness of the richly decorated interior, which has a symmetrical Latin cross formation with three naves and a transept.
An abundance of stained-glass windows give 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.
Address: Plaza del Buen Pastor, San Sebastián
13. Attend the International Jazz Festival in July
For tourists visiting San Sebastián at the end of July, the International Jazz Festival is a must-see cultural event. 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. Stroll through 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 for tourists to explore on a sunny day, especially during spring and summer when the colorful flowers are in bloom.
Designed by French landscape architect Pierre Ducasse, this romantic parkland features a peaceful lake, ponds, and rushing waterfalls. The free-form 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.
A short drive from Aiete Park on Monte Igueldo is Espazio Oteiza. This top gourmet restaurant has expansive terraces, so that guests can enjoy spectacular views of the Cantabrian Sea while dining al fresco.
15. See the Fishing Village of Hondarribia
An easy 23-kilometer drive from San Sebastian, Hondarribia is a charming little fishing village and seaside holiday resort. The town is entered through the 15th-century Puerta de Santa María. Wandering the narrow cobblestone streets of the Old Town 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 and boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant, the Alameda, which has been run by the same family for three generations.
For those who want to live like a king for a night, stay at the 10th- to 12th-century Palacio del Rey Carlos V, which has been converted to the luxurious Parador de Hondarribia hotel.
16. Carretera del Jaizkibel (Scenic Drive)
This scenic driving route begins 25 kilometers outside of San Sebastian 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.
The Hostal Provincial de Jaizkibel is a rustic hotel that offers quiet, comfortable rooms and commanding views of the countryside.
17. Day Trip to Getaria
About 25 kilometers from San Sebastian, Getaria is a worthwhile excursion. On the way here, enjoy a lovely scenic drive. Beginning at Zarautz (22 kilometers away from San Sebastian), the magnificent road of the Cornisa Cantábrica (Cantabrian Corniche) 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. Visit nearby Monasterio de San Ignacio de Loyola
Nestled in the Urola Valley about 40 kilometers from San Sebastian, 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. The lavish sanctuary dazzles visitors 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 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:
- 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 guests sumptuous accommodations, as well as impeccable service. Amenities include a concierge, a fine-dining restaurant, and a tea room/pintxos bar.
- The Villa Soro is a 15-minute walk from the Old Town and slightly closer to the shops and pintxos bars in the Gros neighborhood. Surrounded by enchanting gardens, this 4-star boutique hotel occupies a 19th-century aristocratic villa that's part of the city's Historical Heritage. Hotel services include a concierge, bicycle rentals, and a gourmet breakfast with French pastries.
- Tourists appreciate being in the heart of the city's action at the 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.
- 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, bicycles that guests may borrow for free, 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 and has an outdoor dining terrace.
- 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.
- The family-run 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.
- Across the river and about a 15-minute walk from the Old Town, the Hotel Record offers terrific service considering the price. Amenities include a concierge, 24-hour front desk and free parking.
- The centrally located Hotel Zaragoza Plaza is one block from the beach and an easy walk to many shops, tourists 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
- Way of St. James Hiking Tour: Active tourists will enjoy the half-day Way of St. James hiking tour from San Sebastián, an 8.5-kilometer hike along the historic pilgrimage trail of Camino de Santiago. After the hike, tourists will have some time to explore the quaint town of Pasaia San Pedro and take a sightseeing cruise in the bay before heading back to San Sebastian.
- Electric Bike Tour: Tourists can explore more of the city on a small-group electric bike tour of San Sebastián, visiting areas and attractions which would be too remote for 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, and the knowledgeable guide points out some lesser-known gems for an insider's look at this beautiful city.
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