If you haven’t been to San Sebastián, or perhaps you’ve never heard of it, now is the time to add it to your bucket list. Whether you make it there during the peak of summer with the sun shining brilliantly, or on a quieter grey day, you will be equally blown away by its beauty and charm.
San Sebastián is an absolute Basque paradise, located on Spain’s northern coast in the dramatic Bay of Biscay, 20 km from the French border. Though small is size the coastal city boasts with culture, the arts, magnificent scenery and culinary delights. Situated along pristine beaches with rolling green hills setting the backdrop, the landscape and views here cannot be beat.
The city is laid-back during the day and hopping with excitement in the evenings. Whether you’re looking to unwind on the beach, catch some barrels surfing, indulge in Basque pintxos (tapas), or simply wander and marvel at its loveliness, San Sebastián has something for you. The city is easily walkable, perfect for exploring, chilling and indulging.
La Concha Beach
La Concah Beach, named after its resemblance to a scallop shell shape, is considered to be one of Europe’s hottest city beaches. The waters are warm, calm and safe, and the beach is expansive, with room for plenty of beach lovers. Off in the distance is a massive statue of Christ atop Monte Urgull as pictured below, watching over the city.
The beach is rather quiet and solemn when the clouds loom overhead, perfect for a stroll along the shore to soak in its beauty in peace. You may be lucky enough to catch a squash match on the beach, where the locals use the beach retaining wall as their opponent.
But be prepared, as soon as the clouds part, within 30 seconds the beach goes from empty to completely filled with beach goers ready to get their relax and tan on. So have your beach bags packed, and be ready to bolt as soon as the sun reveals its pretty rays.
When you’re ready to stretch your legs, put on some comfy shoes and make your way up to the summit of Monte Urgull where you’ll find a grand statue of Christ surrounded by the ancient castle walls of Castillo de la Mota and fabulous views of the city, beaches and surrounding hills. Monte Urgull is located at the east end of Concha Beach, accessible from the Parte Vieja (old town). Begin your trek along the sea boardwalk pictured below, and then wind your way up to the top surrounded by striking sea views and peaceful park land. The walk is a bit steep yet leisurely, and takes around 30 minutes.
Once you reach the top, have your cameras out and ready to capture the beauty that surrounds.
Monte Igueldo & Combs of the Winds
Once you’ve explored the views from the east end, it’s time to make your way to the west end of the beach, and perhaps stop for a coffee or snack along the way at one of the beachfront cafes. From the peak of Monte Igueldo pictured on the righthand side of the photo below, you can find equally amazing views of San Sebastián, simply from a different perspective.
As you make your way along the west end of the beach before reaching the base of Monte Igueldo, you’ll come across Playa de Ondarreta on your left, a ritzy area which is home to fabulous holiday homes.
My favourite part of this trek is the Combs of the Winds statues which can be found at the base of the rocks along the far west end of the sea path. You may find yourself sitting and reflecting for quite some time, captivated by the contrast of the sea and iron combs created by Basque artist Eduardo Chilled Juantegul.
Playa de Gros
While less popular than La Conca Beach, Playa de Gros is a surfer’s paradise, found on the east side of the river in the Gros district, donning a chill surfer’s vibe. If you’re here on the right day, you may get lucky and catch an epic barrel rolling across the sea. If you’re extra lucky, you may catch a sculpture exhibit displayed along the beach’s promenade.
The Parte Vieja (old town) district is the heart and soul of San Sebastián, situated at the base of Monte Urgull, east of La Concha beach. Get lost wandering through the maze of narrow streets, do a bit of shopping, check out the baroque Roman Catholic parish church Basilica of Saint Mary, and finally, scope out a restaurant or bar for some delectable pintxos.
Pintxos & Gelato
Over the decades San Sebastián has evolved into a food Mecca. It is considered one of the best gastronomic destinations in Europe and is home to half of Spain’s Michelin-star restaurants. But the city may be even more popular for its array of beloved stand-up tapas bar serving mouth watering pintxos (the Basque version of tapas). These are bite sized delicacies where you can find baguette slices topped with countless creative assortments of seafood, meats, cheeses and other treats. You may even find yourself drinking a gourmet soup out of a sea urchin.
The popular pintxos bars are lively and crowded. You order drinks and eats while you go, standing inside our out on the street. You’ll have to strike a nice balance between patience and assertiveness as you wait in line drooling. Be careful to hold your ground and don’t let anyone cut in front of you or you’ll be waiting all night! One of the deep rooted traditions of pintxos is to throw your napkin on the floor when you’ve finished. So you can basically tell which bars are well loved by the amount of napkins they accumulate on the floor. Many bars operate on an honor system, so when you are ready to go, you simply tell the bartender what you ate and drink, and pay accordingly.
Once you’ve eaten all the pintxos you can possibly endure, it is highly advisable to make your way to one of Gelateria Boulevard’s two locations and load up on the best gelato you will ever feast your eyes on. The flavours are labeled in both Spanish and Basque and the options are endless.
Grab your ice cream cone, walk to the beach, and watch the sun set behind sculptures and sailboats.