Not much is necessary to enjoy a two perfect days itinerary in San Sebastian, Northern Spain’s wonderful coastal city. This article is going to showcase Donostia’s must-have places and – it wouldn’t be us if not – some “Besides the Obvious” tips on how to spend a magical weekend in one of the most beautiful Basque cities. So, let’s see our San Sebastian bucket list now, broken down into 2 unforgettable days.
- 1 Intro to our San Sebastian Bucket List
- 1.1 The first year of Covid
- 1.2 Day 1.
- 1.3 Day 2.
- 2 Where to stay in San Sebastian
- 3 What else to visit in & around San Sebastian
Intro to our San Sebastian Bucket List
We wanted to go to the Spanish Basque Country for a very long time. Dani, of course, has been there before, but for me, it was a completely unknown territory. Even during 2019, when we went to our first Vuelta a España, we were hesitating for a while to go rather to the North, instead of Andalusia. But planes changed and we parked the idea of Pais Vasco for a while.
The first year of Covid
And then 2020 came, with all its limitations, and during July we ended up in France, since we couldn’t travel further… we spent some lovely days in inner France, and just had a crazy idea of visiting Cap Ferret. And since we were already that far, why not to continue our route along the ocean coast and visit the French Basque Country?! So we did it, and couldn’t stop laughing on ourselves, that we are actually visiting Iparralde – where we haven’t planned to go – before going to Pais Vasco?!
And then September came, a long weekend happened to be free of duties, and we knew, that’s the moment, we cannot delay the visit of Pais Vasco further. Since we had only a limited number of days available for the route – we also filtered our desired places to visit. But one couldn’t be missed from this list: San Sebastian, known as Donostia in the Basque language.
Among all the places on the Spanish Atlantic Coast, San Sebastian was my biggest dream for many years. Of course, it’s not an unknown place, I heard and read before many amazing travel stories linked to this city. But as usual, it was a completely different experience as a first-timer versus as I would have been imagining based on others’ reviews.
It’s hard to resist Donostia’s charm. It’s a place filled with life, joyful people, a nostalgic atmosphere, breathtaking views, and a superb food culture unmatched anywhere else. This city was once Spain’s royalty preferred summer spot, and it is still today a trendy place for travelers. So, let’s see what we could do in 2 days there in 2020!
Mirakontxa! The Royal beach
One of the main attractions in San Sebastian is the stunning promenade along the Concha / La Kontxa beach. The “Playa de la Concha” is without a doubt the most symbolic beach of the city, and many times it is referred to as the most beautiful city beach of Europe. It is located in the stunningly beautiful, shell-shaped Concha bay. The shape of the bay explains the name “Concha” that has been given to it. On one side of the bay, you will find the Urgull mountain, next to the harbor and the city hall, and on the other side of the shell, you will find the Igueldo mountain.
In the 19th century, La Concha beach was the place where Queen Isabel II came for her bath therapy after her doctor recommended this. Because of this, San Sebastián automatically turned into the summer residence of the Spanish royal family, and due to this, also other European royals spent their summers in this beautiful city.
Of course, we have also started our visit here. It was still amazing summer weather, so we couldn’t have a better idea than to refresh ourselves on the famous beach while enjoying the view of the long ocean waves breaking into the bay surrounded by the green mountains.
Explore Parte Vieja
Parte Vieja – home to cobblestone streets lined with upscale shops and vibrant pintxo bars that offer local wines and a selection of delicious regional pintxos. This old town is located at the bottom of Mount Urgull, and most likely it is San Sebastian’s most popular area – full of life and irresistible vibe.
You would be able most likely to spend your entire day here exploring its historical streets and walk down to the harbor if you happen to have more time.
Mount Urgull & Cristo de la Mota
On the highest point of the Urgull Mountain lies Mota Castle, constructed in the 12th century and today hosting the History House Museum, granting insight into San Sebastian’s past. The 12-meter high sacred heart statue (Cristo de la Mota) watches over the city from the mountain peak and was sculpted by Frederico Coullaut in 1950.
The New Promenade around the mountain is one of the most beautiful and tranquil walkways in San Sebastian and the view over the city is worth the visit alone.
Pintxos, pintxos & pintxos
“Ritmo, ritmo!” as the locals say. Meaning, don’t get full in the first bar you walk in, the key is to go bar hopping because not all pintxos are created equally – each bar has its own creations. With more than 200 pintxos bars throughout the city, it’s essential to experience the txikiteo (bar hopping or pub crawl in Basque) once you are in San Sebastián.
Basque gastronomy has gained its fame largely for two quite different areas of the culinary world: pintxos, or pinchos – a small, savory snack, that is typically eaten in bars. And second: their Michelin star restaurants…(!)
Pintxos are not necessarily cheap, but at least risk-free. With portions small, service quick, even if you don’t speak Spanish or are a particularly fussy eater, you can order pretty much at random and move on to the next one if what you ordered isn’t to your fancy. Plus, many bars have food on the bar-top that you can either help yourself or point to purchase.
By the time we arrived back down from Mount Urgull, it was early evening, so the perfect time to start a bar crawl with pintxos, pintxos, and even more pintxos. Yummy!
Where to eat Pintxo?
Almost on every corner… but here is a selection of the most recommended places:
- Meson Portaletas
- Borda Berri
- A Fuego Negro
- Casa Alcalde
- Munto Jatetxea
- Casa Urola
- Sirimiri Gastroleku
- La Viña
Txakoli or chacolí is a slightly sparkling, very dry white wine with high acidity and low alcohol content. It is the wine of The Basque Country, you can order it in every bar and buy it in every shop. It used to be made in a pretty basic way, designed to be drunk much like Basque cider—poured from a height to aerate and reduce the acidity. But more recently, the standard of production has improved greatly. I’m not saying that I would go far for it, but with a couple of pintxos, in Parte Vieja, undoubtedly the perfect way to enjoy it.
And of course: Patxaran
Patxaran is sloe-flavoured liqueur, usually served as digestif either chilled or on ice. It is made by soaking sloe fruits, collected from the blackthorn shrub, along with a few coffee beans and cinnamon pod in anisette, for on to eight months. The process produces a light and sweet reddish-brown liquid around 25% alcohol content.
Visit El Peine del Viento
Check out the famous sculptural work of Eduardo Chillida – El Peine del Viento or The Comb of the Wind. It’s a magical spot to enjoy the view of the Atlantic ocean.
It is located at the end of the Ondarreta beach, in the western area of San Sebastián and at the foot of Mount Igeldo. The monument was installed in this place in 1977 with the collaboration of architect Luis Peña Ganchegui, who was responsible for designing the vicinity.
Funicular Monte Igueldo
Monte Igueldo is situated west of town and offers a dazzling panorama over San Sebastian’s coastlines and mountains. Monte Igueldo also possesses an old fashioned amusement park, with the reasonably priced individual rides.
Making its way up and down since 1912, the funicular is still a top-rated attraction and for good reasons.
The ride to the top is a treat, and the spectacular view from the peak of Monte Igueldo is just breathtaking. Make sure to check their schedule – and weather condition – before heading there.
Visit San Telmo neighborhood for the best Marmitako!
Marmitako, the amazing red tuna stew is undoubtedly one of the most typical and wanted dish all around Pais Vasco. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that its availability highly depends on the season and on the daily tuna catch. If all is fine and the fishermen have a better day, in all restaurants you will find Marmitako on the daily menu. If you are unlucky, you can walk kilometers around the city, restaurant by restaurant and you won’t get it. As the key is that they always produce it out of fresh tuna. So our tip is: if you see it on the daily menu, just get in, order it and enjoy!
According to the locals, the best Marmitako you can taste in San Telmo neighborhood. You just need to cross the city via Puente de Santa Catalina and you are already there!
Where to stay in San Sebastian
- We wanted to stay in Parte Vieja, just to make sure we are within walking distance to the best pintxo bars around the Old Town and decided with Pensión Koxka. Cute place, and its biggest advantage is definitely the location. They are offering tiny, but nicely renovated apartments for a very reasonable price in the heart of Donostia with breakfast.
- If you want even more value for your money, right over the bridge, Gros is the place to check!
- For a more quiet and local atmosphere, you should look for a place in the Zona Antigua.
What else to visit in & around San Sebastian
- Visit the historical local market: Mercado La Bretxa
- Try the local beer: Keler
- Check a Basque cider house. Basque cider is a sour, virtually-flat alcoholic drink that is usually poured from up high into your glass before being downed in one go.
- Try the famous local cheese, Idiazabal.
- Drink the locals’ most beloved cheap drink: Kalimotxo, consisting of equal parts red wine and cola-based soft drink.
- Everything is walking distance in San Sebastián, so pack comfortable walking shoes and plan to walk everywhere.
- Go on a day trip to Biarritz, France
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