San Sebastian – one of my favorite places we visited when we lived in Europe. We went to Spain in October 2021 and visited Madrid for a few days, followed by San Sebastian and Bilbao. The Basque region of Spain was so surprisingly and refreshingly different from what we were expecting. I love beach towns but San Sebastian was still so different – Euro chic mixed with laid back surf vibes combined with the best food. San Sebastian is also super walkable, so bring comfy shoes and a big appetite!
Where to Stay
For first time visitors I recommend staying close to the Old Town. We stayed in this AirBnb on the Boulevard, which is right in between the Old Town and the New Town. It was the perfect location – close to the water and the Promenade, the Old Town, and the cute shops of the New Town. Santiago was an amazing host, and he also has other AirBnb properties and a boutique hotel in San Sebastian.
What to Do
Pintxos in the Old Town – The old town is the heart of the foodie scene in San Sebastian and is lined with cool bars and restaurants. Pintxos (pronounced peen-chos) are the Basque version of tapas, but they are smaller than what we Americans consider tapas, and are also much cheaper. They are typically something you can eat in one to two bites, but you could have dinner + two drinks each for two people for 24-30 Euros total. And these pintxos are small but bursting with flavor!
Walk along the Promenade – La Concha is the most popular beach and the Promenade is the gorgeous walkway along the beach. The famous white banister of the Promenade has become a symbol of the city. Even if you don’t visit San Sebastian in the summer months, you can walk along the Promenade for some prime people watching. There are some cute beachside restaurants as well.
Aquarium – The San Sebastian Aquarium has huge tank with a 360 degree tunnel, and oceanographic museum. It was so fun to take Mac to, and we enjoyed walking around that area of town – the picturesque fishing port. There is also a free public elevator around the corner that leads to an amazing viewpoint of the city!
Shopping in the New Town – The New Town is known as the Romantic Area of San Sebastian and it has some amazing shopping. Miss Manuki Boutique is where I got my green dress and plaid jacket (@missmanuki on Instagram, but their social media game isn’t as cute as their actual store). There are SO many cute baby/children’s boutiques here too. Usoa Moda Infantil was one of our favorites. I’m also a huge fan of Mango Kids, and they have a Mango store with only baby and kids clothes right around the corner from Usoa. Just don’t forget about the Spanish Siesta – check the store hours before you go shopping in the afternoon. Also in the New Town is the Good Shepherd of San Sebastián Cathedral. This was the meeting point of the Food Tour (see below).
Food Tour – We usually try to do food tours at the beginning of our visits to a city because we learn so much about the area while trying local food. This food tour is a definite must! We had such a great tour guide and learned so much about the proper Pintxos etiquette. The food we had was amazing, and afterwards Cristina sent us a personalized list of recommendations, based on what we talked about during the tour. Highly recommend!!
Explore the Surf Side – The Zurriola Beach is the surf beach, and there are tons of surf shops and cool bars and restaurants on that side of the city. We definitely recommend walking around this side of town as well. Watching the surfers is fun, and the vibe of this part of town is laid back and chill.
Pasajes – A small picturesque fishing village a few miles outside of San Sebastian. We had some of the best calamari in my life here. We hiked over there, but I would recommend taking the bus. The bus ride costs around 2 Euro and only takes 15 minutes.
Mount Urgull – A 30 minute hike from San Sebastian with gorgeous views of the city. The Mota Castle and Fortress, with the Sagrado Corazon statue is at the top.
Mount Igueldo – Another hike with gorgeous views, or you can ride to the top via funicular. This one is popular because there’s an amusement park on top! We were really disappointed because we made the hike, only to find out it was closed once we got to the top – but the views were worth it.
Where to Eat/Drink
*At most restaurants you can order the hot pintxos from their menu, and their cold pintxos will be on display at the bar. For the cold pintxos, you just point to what you want, and for the hot ones you order with your waiter.
*For drinks, Txakoli (pronounced Chack-ol-i) is lightly sparkling white wine – so refreshing! San Sebastian is also known for their cider houses and gin and tonic bars.
La Vina – You’ll probably go here on the food tour, but in case you don’t, you definitely have to go here to try their Basque cheesecake. You also have to try their pintxos with cheese & anchovies (the first thing on their pintxos menu). Sounds sketchy but trust me it’s delicious. La Vina is my *absolute must* recommendation for their pintxos and cheesecake!! I think you can just wander around and get a good meal anywhere in San Sebastian, but you definitely have to go to La Vina.
We actually ended up going back to San Sebastian in June 2022 as part of our #vanlife tour (because we loved the city so much) and we went back to La Vina and had one of our favorite meals. Their entrees are also absolutely delicious.
Xarma – Great ambiance, amazing service, innovative food. We did the tasting menu.
Constitution Square – The Plaza de la Constitución is a great square to pinxto hop and people watch. There are tons of restaurants and pinxto bars to try, and a few shops as well, and it’s the perfect place to meet because it’s right in the center of Old Town.
Bodegon Usarbi – Went for a drink before dinner. It has cool vibes, and is knowns for their up and coming young chef. Note: you have to walk down stairs to enter (so plan the stroller accordingly). They have a seasonal pintxos menu. We weren’t planning on getting food but we couldn’t not try the pintxo specials.
Sidreria Beharri – This was our first stop in San Sebastian. We were wandering the Old Town hungry AF and stumbled upon this place. San Sebastian is also known for their cider, so we had some cider and pintxos (their cold smoked salmon pintxos and hot beef ribs were my two favorites).
Gandarias – One of our favorite pinxtos bars, we came back to it during our #vanlife trip. They have a nice restaurant attached to their pinxtos bar, and they have a huge selection of hot and cold pinxtos. It is always packed with tourists and locals, so find a spot along the wall to post up.
Now that I am sufficiently hungry and craving pinxtos, I hope this inspires you to take a trip to the Basque region! It’s one of my favorite areas we’ve visited and I can’t wait to go back again (hopefully soon)!