San Sebastián, País Vasco
[in Basque Language: Donostia]
Transport options to arrive: Train, Bus, Plane, or Car
San Sebastián is pretty well-connected in terms of transport and so, depending on where you are traveling from, you can often find every form of transport, but at varying costs. For example, coming from Barcelona, flights are a good option as they only cost around €60 and get you there in about an hour. On the other hand, flights from Madrid are the same length but cost around €200. Trains and buses offer great, more economical options whereas a car is not necessary for San Sebastián itself but might be fun if you’d like to take a quick trip into France or other surrounding cities.
Recommended time of year to visit and length of visit: Late June – early September, 2-3 days
Despite being a popular summer destination and therefore having higher prices at this time, I would highly recommend seeing San Sebastián ‘in its glory.’ As a coastal city on the beautiful Bay of Biscay, temperatures get chilly here at night even in the summer so visiting in winter might not be as pleasant.
Fun Fact: The city is a hot spot for fine dining and even boasts being #2 in the world in terms of the most Michelin stars per capita. Some of San Sebastián’s restaurants have been in and out of the top 10 of “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” as well. Be sure to book ahead (and be ready to fork over the cash if you plan to eat there). Rest assured, however, that if that’s not your thing, very tasty, more affordable pintxos bars are abundant as well.
Top three must-sees:
1. Playa de la Concha and Playa la Zurriola: San Sebastián is definitely a beach bum or surfer’s delight! Both the main city beach, Playa de la Concha, and the surfer’s beach, Playa la Zurriola, are popular places to be and each has a slightly different vibe. Take some time to lay out, play in the water, or walk the coast at both. Surf lessons are offered, too!
2. Palacio Miramar (Miramar Jauregia): This “palace” that overlooks the Playa de la Concha looks a bit less palace-like than I expected (the pamphlets say it was designed in the English cottage style) but it was once the summer residence of the Spanish royals. Its grounds are now kept open to the public and therefore the sight is the perfect place to take in the views at sunset or over a picnic lunch. There’s not really much to see nowadays inside, but its location alone makes it a worthwhile stop.
3. Parte Vieja (the old town) and its many pintxos bars: If you know anything about pintxos (if not, read up here) you already know this is the place to be at meal time!! The old town and port are beautiful to wander in general but be sure to snag yourself a heaping plate (or two or three) of pintxos to taste-test the best of this region’s cuisine. As noted in the pinxtos article, there are a few different ways that bars may go about this kind of dining but we found the most common culture in San Sebastián to be helping yourself to a plate at the bar, filling it with as many pintxos as you’d like, and turning this plate over to bartender to count up and charge you for your plate and drink before you find a seat.
One thing to eat: Chipirones en tempura
I tried so many finger-food-sized delicacies while in this town I thought it’d be impossible to narrow it down to just one, but once I had a skewer of chipirones en tempura (fresh off the grill!) I was sold. I’m not typically a big fan of seafood but these baby squids were perfectly seasoned and prepared (as well as likely fresh from the sea). If you already know you love calamari and similar dishes (I found this article helpful for figuring out how to explain this pintxo) or if you’re ready to branch out and try something new, chipirones en tempura should top your list.