What to Do in San Sebastian in 3 Days
October 25, 2015
This is the Basque word for goodbye but don’t leave yet! Everyone says this to each other while walking around San Sebastian so I thought it was a good way to start the blog.
I recently traveled to San Sebastian, Spain and wanted to share the great options to fill your days there.
Why San Sebastian? It honestly was not on my radar until I started planning a trip to France for my friends’ wedding. Read about my time in Bordeaux here.
Like I said before I wanted to spend a few more days in Europe before I came back to the US so I was trying to find another great city to visit while I was there. Paris was out – I’m single and traveling alone.
BTW I am going to write about traveling alone very soon because I made a ton of mistakes that I want to share so you can be spared the pain.
I thought about my recent 35 before 35 list and took advantage of executing yet another 35 before 35. My #15 on this list was: Travel to Spain again. I have been to Barcelona, Ibiza, and Mallorca before and always wanted to go back to Spain. Plus, I am learning Spanish slowly and thought it would be a great way to practice more.
Side note: It’s crazy what happens when you set intentions and make lists like these. The opportunities to execute start showing up!!! All I can say is: You better take them!
Bordeaux is incredibly close to the northern portion of Spain aka Basque country aka Donostia. From my research, San Sebastian was highly recommended over and over again by other travelers. So, San Sebastian, it was! I am so glad I chose to cross #15 off the list.
Here’s how I spent 3 full days in San Sebastian, Spain.
I arrived the night before in San Sebastian after traveling a couple hours on the train from Bordeaux. The train (Renfre/ SNCF) was super easy and cheap!
When I arrived in San Sebastian I took a taxi into the main city. I researched a bunch of areas to stay and found multiple hotels and Pensions (guesthouses) to choose from. San Sebastian is very tourist and English friendly because of all the European travelers so it was very easy to find hotels to stay unless you come during the film festival. I was lucky (or unlucky) because I missed the festival by a few days.
Depending on your preference beach or city, you can choose where to stay, but honestly, no place will be too far from the other. The pension I stayed in was technically in Parte Vieja or Old Town, but an easy 5-minute walk to the beach.
Once I checked in, I found food because I don’t like being hungry. My sister says I get hangry and she is right. I found myself at Bar Nestor, an incredibly popular restaurant, where the menu is really easy to chose from as a tourist. They have steak, tomatoes, and peppers. If you ask nicely they have ham. I will talk waaay more about food later but, needless to say, it is plentiful and delicious in San Sebastian.
1. Walk the City
I don’t know about you but when I travel I want to feel like a local. One of the ways I try to feel like a local is to learn the main parts of the city early by walking if possible. There is no better way to start feeling familiar with the city than to walk it and get lost. Inevitably, I learn the city better by getting lost in it.
Very unlike a local, I took a walking tour with a local guide in the morning. I did this because I was traveling alone and was hoping to learn a local’s recommendations and tips. I was also hoping to meet other people since I was traveling alone.
Unfortunately, I was the only person on the tour! Ahhh! But fortunately, my guide was awesome and we had a great time together. This was probably a blessing in disguise so that I did not look so much like a tourist.
She was from Basque and spoke both Basque and Spanish. Something I did not know: Basque is the mother language of this area not Castellano aka Spanish. Everyone speaks Spanish, not everyone speaks Basque and it is in danger of being a lost language. I learned that most of the local people that live in San Sebastian are Basque and work in the tourist industry. San Sebastian is also known to be an old fisherman’s village.
We walked the Old Town of San Sebastian in about an hour and she shared so much of the rich history of San Sebastian. From the wars over this tiny port town to the chocolate factory, she taught me a great deal. She showed me the oldest church in San Sebastian – San Vicente Church –
which faces the main staple of Old Town, Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro,
the best hikes, and the best ways to get to the beach.
The most important things she showed me of course: the best places to eat and shop! Keep reading I’ll talk more about these down there.
2. Take a Hike
From the recommendation of my local tour guide, I decided to hike to the top of Monte Urgull. I started in Plaza de Zuloaga just behind the museum. You will know you are in the right place because it smelled like chocolate! At the top, the views are unbelievable especially on a clear day. You see all of San Sebastian including the beaches and ocean.
Plus the old abandoned castle, Castillo de la Mota
is awesome to explore while being looked over by the Christ statue.
This hike takes about an hour and is great to do with a picnic to eat at the top.
3. Go to the Beach
San Sebastian has three city beaches to choose from. One of them happens to be a well-known surf spot Playa Zurriola.
I do not surf unless it’s like this:
but this beach attracts surfers from all over the world and the beach is perfect for laying and relaxing. I went in September, and the temperature was a bit cooler, but that did not stop the pale folks from England/Ireland catching rays to prove they traveled to the beach. The walk to the beach reveals multiple buildings with strangely repetitive windows. By strange I mean kind of beautiful.
Apparently in San Sebastian if you live in a building and want to change your window, it has to look exactly the same as your neighbor’s window. So every window ends up being the same. Not the way to stand out but then again strangely each building ends up standing out by its uniformity.
On the way to the beach, I ate at a horribly overpriced tourist trap right on the water so I don’t want to mention the name here. Oh well, gotta pay the beach tax. On the way back from the beach I grabbed a gelato and people watched.
4. Watch the Sunset
There is no shortage of venues to watch the beautiful sunset in San Sebastian. I chose the boardwalk which was full of people doing the same thing, but totally worth it and totally beautiful.
5. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
What can I say about the food in San Sebastian except pintxos, pintxos, pintxos!
They say tapas in Barcelona but here in Basque country they say pintxos – pronounced pinchos. These little pinches of delight are the perfect small bombshell of food to sample the cuisine at any restaurant.
There is no shortage of restaurants in San Sebastian. In fact, it has one of the highest ratios of restaurants to square feet in the world. It also has the second highest number of Michelin stars per square meter second only to Kyoto Japan.
At least you know you will not starve in San Sebastian. Plus pintxos are incredibly friendly to your wallet. Each one is about $3-4 and 2-3 is plenty for one person depending on how hungry you are. I got greedy once and tried to order 4. My stomach nearly exploded pintxos.
My first night happened to be a Monday. A day a lot of local shops and restaurants are closed. Gotta love that Spanish culture. So I ended up at a restaurant that was tourist friendly and posted up at the bar with a glass of wine. Glass of wine $3 – as usual in Europe, cheaper than a bottle of water. I learned something, though, if you ask for a cup of water they give you tap water in a glass. If you ask for water they will try to sell you a bottle. Learn that Spanish word for cup – hint its copa!
The pintxos menu consists of cold or warm. The warm is always better. The cold tend to be sitting out on the bar and me being a germaphobe – I do not know how long they have been sitting there.
Being near the water expect lots of seafood, but that meat, though! Beef cheeks are very popular as well as a skirt steak. Octopus and scallops were plentiful. Croquetas are rampant as well as patatas bravas.
It is easy to spend the entire night pintxos bar hopping especially if you are like me and trying to avoid the club scene after coming off a wedding.
Day 2: Repeat
Ok, so I did not do exactly the same thing as I did on day 1 but keep reading you will see what I mean.
I started off the day with a pintxos breakfast, my favorite, the spanish tortilla. I am going to have to learn how to make this. I love this egg pancake!
1. Walk the City
I started out wandering Old Town and checking out Constitution Plaza and shopping. By the way, Constitution Plaza is a great place to have a drink at night but not to eat! Don’t be that basic tourist and fall into the trap.
My tour guide told me that espadrilles are a shoe native to Basque country. These famous shoes were originally farmers’ shoes and a sign of poverty. Now the hipsters have made them famous and the people of Basque country are making a killing.
2. Take a Hike…
…Through the museum. Museo de San Telmo is the main city museum and free on Tuesdays. Different exhibits travel through this building full of holes to signify the multiple wars San Sebastian has seen.
3. Go to the Beach
Playa La Concha is a long stretch of city beach that doubles in size during low tide. Spend the entire day just chillaxin’ on this beautiful fine sand beach. I never regret those days at the beach.
4. Watch the Sunset
The Real Club Nautico de San Sebastian is a perfect location to grab a drink and watch the sunset. The entire top floor is windows with an alternative option of sitting outside. This club doubles as a discotech at night.
5. Eat, Drink and Be Merry
This is the perfect day to take a pintxos tour or eat at one of the many Michelin restaurants in the city. Mugaritz, Alameda, Kokotxa, and Arzak are just a few restaurants to enjoy.
1. Walk the City…
San Sebastian has the coolest aquarium honoring their history of being a fisherman’s village. The aquarium is full of water and it’s easy to get lost in the wall of fish.
The best part: A tunnel where you are surrounded by water, fish, sharks, turtles!
This is the perfect place to spend with kids or just yourself especially on a rainy day. Just next door is the Naval Museum if you fancy another museum walk.
2. Take a Hike
Or let a funicular do it for you.
San Sebastian has a cool old red funicular on the edge of Playa Ondaretta. This funicular will take you up to Monte Igueldo, another awesome opportunity to take in fabulous views of San Sebastian.
At the top is an amusement park. The day I went there the amusement park was completely abandoned and dead. There is something slightly sad to me about an abandoned amusement park. I could hear the ghost sounds of kids screaming and laughing haunting me from the rides. I did not spend much time on that side but walked around the other side of the mountain to enjoy the views. I took some time to sit and enjoy the view of Isla de Santa Clara with a glass of wine.
3. Go to the Beach
On the way back from the funicular, I walked along San Sebastian’s less known but just as beautiful third beach Playa Ondaretta. This beach is a lot smaller, but its landscape is amazingly shaped by the ocean. The cascading rocks have an undertone of lilac that are hard to take your eyes off of.
4. Watch the Sunset…
…like a royal. The royal family used to have prime real estate just in front of Playa La Concha as a vacation home. Miramar Royal Palace was given up by the royal family to the city to be a museum. Anyone can walk through and sit on the front lawn to enjoy the view now.
5. Eat, Drink and Be Merry
I took the last day to hit up the pintxo bar my tour guide recommended. She talked up La Cuchara de San Telmo as her favorite and she is not alone. A line was out the door before it opened. Their specialty: beef cheeks and fish. I ate a delicious scallop wrapped in bacon and had my only green salad for the trip. No pintxos sitting out on the bar here, look up at the chalkboard for the menu.
Dessert? I don’t believe it’s a proper meal unless dessert is served. The Spanish style cheesecake is famous in San Sebastian. The cheesecake is not like the American ones. It’s a lot more cheese custard and a lot less cake sugar. My tour guide recommended the best place in town: La Vina. I tried to get my cheesecake early but true to Spanish culture this place siestas from 5-7pm. Don’t think you are getting any food during those hours at an authentic Spanish restaurant.
This cheesecake lived up to the hype. Each bite melted in my mouth without the sugar residue. My inner fat girl got two slices and saved one for later!
In most travelers’ views, 3 days might be a bit much for San Sebastian but I like to really enjoy my time in a city. San Sebastian is on my list of cities I might have to hit up every time I’m in the area. The food and beaches are just soul filling. I recommend a trip to San Sebastian and practice eating before you come!
Kirol is the Basque word for sports…
We’ve officially lost World Series status…
The teams are set and the lone Canadian team is out. The Blue Jays lost to the Kansas City Royals 4-2. The Royals will get a second chance at the World Series title after losing last year to the Giants. Remember that?
They will have to face the beast out of the National League known as the New York Mets. The Mets swept the Chicago Cubs disappointing everyone’s hopes for Back to the Future’s predictions coming true in 2015.
The World Series begins on Tuesday with the Mets at the Royals.
This is the real world series…
The rugby world cup is now in its final stages. The semifinals just occurred with Australia beating Argentina and New Zealand beating South Africa.
This is a big deal everywhere but the US.
Australia will play the All Blacks (New Zealand) on Saturday for the championship. Argentina and South Africa will play on Friday for the second loser position aka third place.
It’s time for some to fall…
A pretty long list of teams were undefeated in college football, but as the season advances, that won’t last. Two big teams fell this weekend.
Utah lost to the demoralized USC in LA and it wasn’t even close.
Everybody is talking about: The blocked kick that was returned by Georgia Tech leading to their win against the undefeated Florida State. This rivals last week’s Michigan State comeback against Michigan. Seminole fans were more stunned. They can call Wolverine fans to commiserate.
Six teams remain undefeated: Baylor who beat Iowa State easily, LSU who rained down on Western Kentucky, TCU was on a bye, Michigan State took down Indiana, Clemson crushed Miami with a shutout and, of course, one of my favorites…
The Ohio State University proved their #1 seeding with a convincing win over Rutgers. I was hoping for a shutout, but the canon guys needed something to do.
Four overtimes led to the fourth straight bowl eligibility for Duke while they played Virginia Tech. I thought they had Ross Martin’s number, but luckily they didn’t have Sirk’s.
My prayers go out to the victims of the drunk driver at the Oklahoma State parade. Sadly she killed 4 people including children and 8 more are in critical condition. Of course, she walked away. I pray for her too.
No one fell here…
The undefeateds in the NFL are still going strong, but Green Bay and Cincinnati were on bye weeks.
The Patriots did not look so great at first playing the Jets, but came back to win. The Panthers had no idea what it’s like to be 6-0 but are now there chillin’ after beating the Eagles.
So apparently the NFL is stretching to London and we can all watch with the rest of the world since Yahoo! now broadcasts the game. The Jaguars played tough against the Bills and held them off in the second half.
The Colts struggled today against the Saints losing after attempting a comeback. That was the same story with the Chargers and Raiders.
The Redskins did comeback to beat the Buccaneers by 1 point. Other greater point comebacks: The Vikings versus the Lions and the Falcons versus the Titans.
No comebacks here…
The Browns didn’t even score a touchdown in their loss to the Rams. La Sigh…
Eskerrik asko (Thank you) for reading my San Sebastian blog! Mesedez (Please) come back again and share it if you liked it!
Is there a destination with a very interesting language you have visited?
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