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San Sebastián City Guide
- Places of Interest
- Getting to
- Getting around the city
Tucked away on the northern sea coast, close to the border with France, lies San Sebastián, a diverse and undeniably Basque city. Some say it is worth coming to purely for its famous pintxos, which underpin a cuisine worthy of thirteen Michelin starred restaurants, an accolade only superseded in central Paris. However, there is so much more to San Sebastián than simply fabulous food. Although it does not boast as many famous monuments as neighbouring Bilbao, San Sebastián is a city to be enjoyed purely by walking around; admiring its beautiful Art Nouveau buildings and soaking up its cheerful, upbeat atmosphere. The Parte Vieja (Old Quarter) boasts more bars than any other neighbourhood the world over, and the city is said to be the event capital of Europe's Atlantic Arc. Both the San Sebastián Jazz Festival and the International Film Festival are famous all over the globe. Combine this with beautiful beaches with ample opportunity for surfing, what more could you want from a city?
A small settlement on the site of San Sebastián has been unearthed dating back as far as the Roman age. For centuries, the city was little more than a fishing village, until it was finally granted self-governing status by Navarre in 1174. The city was at the centre of a number of European conflicts, namely the Peninsular War, when Anglo-Portuguese troops fighting Napoleon lost control and burnt down the entire city in 1813. However, during the 19th century, the city enjoyed a renaissance, when it became a fashionable holiday resort for Spanish royalty and prominent figures. Today, San Sebastián continues to hold its title of style capital of northern Spain and attracts thousands of visitors every year.
San Sebastián is a jewel in the nation's crown, and not a city you are likely to forget easily. The relaxed, cheerful lifestyle is infectious, and we guarantee that whether you are surfing on the beach, soaking up the history and architecture or just enjoying a pintxo in the sun, you will wonder why it was you never came sooner.
Places of Interest
Just west of the town, this is the best place from which to see stunning views of the Bahía de la Concha and the surrounding coastline and mountains of Guipúzcoa. Step back in time and reach it via funicular railway.
Contains displays and exhibits about the Bay of Biscay, as well as bringing you face to face with what you might be eating for your dinner that night!
This beautiful 19th century building gives you a look into the history, culture and traditions of the city. Situated in the Old Quarter of the town, in the picturesque city garden area.
This baroque limestone palace, constructed in the 1600s, is situated in Fuenterrabía, which is only a few minutes' drive outside of the city.
Playa de la Concha
Said to be one of the best beaches in Europe. You can go to the Isla de Santa Clara, which is about 700m away from the coastline, by boat for 2€. The boats run every half an hour from June to September.
Playa de la Zurriola
Slightly less crowded than the other beaches, great for swimming and surfing.
Museo de San Telmo
Housed in a former 16th century monastery, this museum features paintings from the Renaissance and Baroque periods through to the 19th century. Make sure you see the chapel, which has walls covered in frescoes by José María Sert chronicling Basque artisanship.
A museum offering an in-depth look into the Basque sea-faring tradition. A basic knowledge of Spanish will make this more enjoyable.
Getting to San Sebastián
There is an airport in San Sebastián, from which you can catch a bus for just 2€ into the centre which goes every 30 minutes. However, it only flies to Madrid and Barcelona.
You can fly into Bilbao international airport, 96km/60 miles away, which offers links to all over Europe.
Another option is to fly into Biarritz airport in France, 50km/31 miles away, which connects with London Stanstead, Paris, Frankfurt, Brussels and Madrid.
RENFE runs a service from Madrid to San Sebastián. There are also services from Barcelona.
From Bilbao or Pamplona, the easiest way to reach San Sebastián is by bus. Buses also run internationally from all over Europe. See www.eurolines.com.
Getting around the city
San Sebastián is a pleasure to walk around, and fairly accessible on foot. However, there are also other modes of transport available:
You can rent bikes at Bici Rent for 4€ an hour or 16€ a day.
Buses are a great way to get around the city. They are clean and efficient and usually only cost 1€. You can also save money on buses by getting a re-chargeable card from the bank KUTXA if you are in San Sebastián for a long period of time.
Taxis are charged at a standard flag down rate plus a rate determined by the distance covered and how long the journey takes.
There are a large number of coach companies which operate within San Sebastián.
Driving is a nightmare for people not used to San Sebastián's road system, and parking in one of the underground car parks can cost up to 13€ per day. It is best to take public transport in the city centre