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San Sebastián , located in the Basque Country of Spain, is a stunning coastal city that boasts an exceptional mix of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and culinary delights. From its pristine beaches and picturesque mountains to its lively festivals and world-renowned gastronomy, San Sebastián (Donostia in Basque) has something to offer every type of traveler. Whether you're looking to relax on the beach, hike in the mountains, or indulge in delicious food and wine, San Sebastián is the perfect destination.

After living in Donostia for the last 6 years, I give you my Top 10 recommendations and experiences that make San Sebastián a must-visit destination for any traveller seeking an unforgettable adventure.

1. Basque Food

If there’s one thing that the Basque are proud of, it’s their food. The city is characterised by its focus on high-quality, locally sourced ingredients and traditional cooking techniques. The city is home to numerous Michelin-starred restaurants, including some of the most famous and highly regarded in the world. Among these are Arzak and Akelarre, both of which have been awarded the coveted three Michelin stars. You can expect exquisite dining experiences that showcase the best of Basque cuisine, including dishes like grilled octopus, Iberian pork with truffles, and spider crab with lobster. Whether you're a gourmet food enthusiast or just looking for a unique culinary experience, a visit to one of these Michelin-starred restaurants is a must when in San Sebastián.

But don’t fret if your budget doesn’t extend to a starred establishment. The quality of food seeps throughout the city and into the modest bars filled with locals. For more information on Basque pintxos and where to eat them, check back soon for an upcoming blog post.

2. Beautiful Beaches

If you're reading this blog because, like me, you're travelling in your 30s, you may also appreciate that being on the go all the time often takes its toll and a beach day or two, is always welcome! San Sebastián has three great beaches, making it a perfect destination to enjoy soaking up the sun and taking a refreshing dip in the ocean. The city boasts three main beaches, each with its own unique character and appeal.

La Zurriola is the perfect beach for surfers and beach volleyball enthusiasts, with its powerful waves and ample space for sports. If you're looking for a more relaxing beach experience, La Concha is the place to be. Its calm waters make it ideal for swimming, sunbathing, and strolling along the promenade. Finally, for those who prefer to avoid the crowds, Ondaretta is the perfect option. It's a quieter beach located a little further from the city centre, but still within walking distance, and offers a tranquil atmosphere perfect for unwinding and enjoying the scenery. Whether you're looking for excitement, relaxation, or solitude, San Sebastián's beaches have something for everyone.

3. Mighty Mountains

San Sebastián is not only known for its beautiful beaches but also for its picturesque mountains, offering breathtaking views of the city and the Bay of Biscay.

Monte Igueldo is one of the most popular mountains to visit, with its amusement park at the top providing entertainment for travellers of all ages, particularly young children. For those looking for a short hike and panoramic views, Monte Urgull is a great option. At the top, you'll find a historic fortress and a lighthouse, as well as stunning views of the city and the coastline. For a more challenging hike, Monte Ulia is the perfect choice. The trail is steep and rocky, but the views from the top are well worth the effort. Additionally, the hike provides the possibility of continuing on to nearby towns such as Pasajes San Juan or Pasajes San Pedro, offering travellers a chance to explore more of the Basque region's beautiful landscapes.

Whether you're seeking an easy family-friendly day out or a challenging hike to explore the natural beauty of San Sebastián, the city's mountains offer plenty of options for all kinds of travellers.

4. The Old Town

No trip to a Spanish city, is complete without a visit to its Old Town (La Parte Vieja). The neighborhood is known for its charming, narrow streets, lively atmosphere, and rich cultural heritage. The area is full of down-to-earth bars and pintxo restaurants, where you can enjoy delicious Basque cuisine and mingle with the locals.

The Plaza de la Constitución is the heart of the old town and a great place to relax and soak up the vibrant atmosphere. During sunny days, the streets are filled with people enjoying the warm weather, drinking txakoli (a local white wine), and indulging in the delicious pintxos. Whether you're looking for great food, friendly locals, or a taste of the city's rich history and culture, San Sebastian's old town is the perfect place to explore.

5. Fun Festivals

San Sebastián is a city with a rich and vibrant cultural calendar, with festivals and celebrations taking place throughout the year. The most important festival is San Sebastian Day, held on January 20th, which commemorates the city's patron saint. During this festival, the streets are filled with live music, street performances, and fireworks displays. Jazz enthusiasts flock to San Sebastián every July for the Jazzaldia festival, one of the world's most prestigious jazz festivals. The city's Semana Grande, or Big Week, takes place in August and features a diverse range of cultural events, including concerts, dance performances, and a fun boat race. Finally, Santo Tomas, held in December, is a celebration of Basque culture and gastronomy, featuring traditional food and drink stalls and live music performances.

If you're planning a visit to San Sebastián, make sure to check back for my blog (wip) on the city's festivals to see if your trip coincides with a significant date in the Basque calendar. You won't want to miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in the cultural richness and festive spirit that these events bring to the city.

6. Spanish Classes

Spanish classes during Santo Tomás

Although San Sebastián is located in the Basque Country, where the local residents take pride in speaking Euskera (Basque), the opportunity to learn Spanish is still readily available. One of the standout language schools in the area is El Aula Azul, known for its exceptional teaching of Castellano (Spanish from Spain rather than Latin America) to both visitors and expatriates. Their range of packages extends beyond traditional language instruction, offering an enticing combination of Spanish classes and surf lessons, particularly popular during the sunny summer months. Whether you're a language enthusiast or a curious traveler, El Aula Azul provides an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the Spanish language while enjoying the vibrant coastal culture of San Sebastián.

7. Bike Tours

San Sebastián is a city that is easily explored by bike, thanks to its "bidegorri" - the red bike lanes. Hire a bike and ride the lanes around the city to explore everything from Sagüés where you can watch the locals practise their basketball skills or join the other locals on the wall watching the waves, to the other end to admire the sculptures of Eduardo Chillida, el Peine del Viento (The Wind Comb). If you don’t fancy the idea of trying to read a map and ride at the same time, bike tours of the city are available through a number of small businesses in the area. Just ask at the tourist office or check out local companies here.

8. Peine del Viento

As mentioned previously, one of the most renowned sculptures by Eduardo Chillida is the Peine del Viento (the Wind Comb). This iconic artwork captures the powerful imagery of waves crashing against the steel structure, often depicted on postcards and photographs.

If you're eager to explore more of Chillida's impressive works, a visit to Chillida Leku, a tranquil outdoor museum located just outside of San Sebastián, is highly recommended. To reach the museum, simply catch the E2 bus from Okendo towards Lasarte-Oria. Chillida Leku offers a serene and immersive experience where you can appreciate the artist's creations amidst the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape.

9. Santa Clara Island

Resembling the shape of a turtle, the little island that can be seen from the shores of La Concha and Ondaretta is La Isla de Santa Clara. During the hotter times of the year, it becomes a popular place to swim to, paddle to (via SUP) or to visit by taking a small family-run boat which runs from 1st June - 30th September. On the island you’ll find energetic youngsters jumping into the refreshing water, and having fun in the sun. Take a walk around the paths you’ll find a lighthouse which dates back to 1874 and a beach bar offering snacks and refreshments.

10. Cider Houses

During cider season in San Sebastián, the local cider houses become bustling gathering spots for friends, families, and colleagues, all coming together to celebrate the maturation of their beloved beverage. Upon entering the cellars, everyone is equipped with a cider glass, ready to embark on a unique tasting experience. The immense barrels patiently await to be emptied, and the knowledgeable staff members are at hand to release the cider from the taps. As you fill your glass, take a cue from the locals and resist the urge to fill it to the brim. Consider it akin to a cider-tasting ritual, where filling the glass beyond halfway may draw playful mockery from the seasoned locals.

These cider houses not only specialise in apple cultivation and the production of exquisite cider but also offer a traditional set menu that is adored by the community. However, it's worth noting that this menu is not suitable for vegetarians, as the star attraction is always the succulent "txuleta" - a Basque T-bone steak that truly steals the show.


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