The Basque country has been on my travel list for a long time. Somehow, it always drew me to it. Since San Sebastian is the European Capital of Culture in 2016, a visit to the old seaside resort on my Basque Country tour was scheduled. I would like to introduce you to the sights in San Sebastian in my Top 10 travel tips.
The old seaside resort of San Sebastian is like the little sister of Barcelona for me after my visit. Even though the metropolis on the Mediterranean has more attractions to offer, I find San Sebastian familiar with its attractions.
Why? I don’t know, sir. But maybe you’ll feel the same way if you have seen my top sights in San Sebastian.
“To visit San Sebastian is to fall in love with it.”
Many people will know San Sebastian in other contexts. Football fans will know the local football club Real Sociedad San Sebastián. Film enthusiasts will see the international stars arriving at the annual Festival Internacional de Cine.
In Germany, San Sebastian is still one of the undiscovered pearls as a holiday destination. With my top attractions in San Sebastian, I might be able to make you want to go there. You won’t regret it. See for yourself.
The award as European Capital of Culture together with Wroclaw is certainly the crowning glory of the tourist endeavours of recent years. San Sebastian is one of the cities that has something to offer for tourists with different interests.
Hugh Jackman fell in love with this city during his stay in San Sebastian. He says to visit this city: “To visit San Sebastian is to fall in love with it.”
In addition to the cultural attractions in San Sebastian, surfers with beautiful beaches and impressive waves and winds in the north of Spain will also get their money’s worth. Filmfans are thrilled by the annual film festival and connoisseurs visit some of the Michelin star cuisine in San Sebastian.
List of my top attractions in San Sebastian
- The buildings of the Belle Époque
- The old town of San Sebastian and the harbour
- Monte Igueldo with cogwheel railway
- Monte Urgull with the City Museum
- The beaches: La Concha, Ondarreta and La Zurriola
- Around the Cathedral
- On the river Urumea and the bridges of San Sebastian
- The promenade and the squares
- The oldest church in town: San Vicente
- San Sebastian in the evening
The buildings of the Belle Époque
The mild sea climate has given San Sebastian numerous buildings that can still be admired today. The Spanish Queen Isabella II. spent a lot of time here because of health problems.
Since the middle of the 19th century, many other Spanish and European nobles have come with it to this beautiful seaside resort, so that many impressive buildings for this illustrious society were built during this time. One of the most beautiful buildings from the time is the thermal spa “La Perla”. Even today, it is still a feast for the eyes and a place of relaxation.
Just a few steps further on towards the old town of San Sebastian is the building of the former casino. Today it is the seat of the mayor of San Sebastian. Is there a nicer place to work?
Looking from the town hall towards Monte Igueldo, you can sense it. Provided they’re expected there. The funicular of San Sebastian. A ride on the cable car up the mountain is one of the highlights in San Sebastian for me. Starting point: The station at the foot of the mountain – located in a building from the Belle Époque.
In addition to these buildings, there are many other sights in San Sebastian that date back to the Belle Époque: the Victoria Eugenia Theatre, the Hotel María Cristina, the façade of the Gipuzkoa Regional Administration building, and the Koldo Mitxelena Cultural Centre.
The old town of San Sebastian with the harbour
The old town of San Sebastian is the historical and pulsating centre of the city. During the day, residents and tourists stroll through the narrow streets.
In the evening, people come to the bars to taste the rich offer of pintxos with a glass or two of Txakoli. Pintxo is the Basque brother of Spanish Tapa.
The old town of San Sebastian attracts people and me magically. You can spend a whole day strolling around the old town and see the different sights in the Old Town.
Don’t forget the harbour of San Sebastian. The small boats rock comfortably in the harmony of the waves. From here you have a beautiful view of the hustle and bustle of the city beach Playa de La Concha.
In fine weather the ideal place to enjoy a delicious ice cream. My insider tip very close to the harbour: The ice of the Pasteleria Oiartzun. You can choose from 36 varieties. I’ve always chosen blackberry. For me, the most delicious ice cream in San Sebastian.
Mount Igueldo by cogwheel railway
Monte Igueldo in San Sebastian is the ideal place for a relaxing trip. Either you can take a leisurely walk along the two beaches of La Concha and Ondarreta or you can reach the valley station in a few minutes by bus. Bottom station of what?
From another attraction in San Sebastian: the cogwheel railway in San Sebastian. A real highlight. You can take this train, inaugurated in 1912, to reach the mountain.
From there you have a fantastic view over San Sebastian, the bay and the Bay of Biscay. It is the most beautiful view over the city. Ideal for families, as there is a small amusement park.
Mount Urgull with the City Museum
On the other side of the bay there is another mountainous sight in San Sebastian. Monte Urgull also offers a great view of the city.
Here, several paths wind their way up to discover small attractions. On several levels with old bastions you have a great view of the old town, the island of Santa Clara, the bay of San Sebastian and the Cantabrian Sea.
At the top is the highest monument in San Sebastian: a statue of Christ blessing the city. You will also find the Historical Museum of San Sebastian, which is free of charge.
But this is not the only reason to visit the museum. It offers an interesting insight into the history of the city, but also illuminates the life today. Very well done.
The city beaches: La Concha, Ondarreta and La Zurriola
The character of the city is shaped by the three beaches. That’s why they are among the top sights in San Sebastian for me. Framed by the mountains Igueldo and Urgull, the bay opens up to the sea. This natural composition gives the bay the appearance of a shell.
Playa de la Concha
Playa de la Concha is the name of the city’s beach, Playa de la Concha. For me the most picturesque sight in San Sebastian.
The old beach resort of San Sebastian, La Perla, is part of this chain of shell associations.
Another beach is also in this bay. The beach of Ondarreta is separated from Playa de la Concha by the Pico del Loro.
On the other side of the old town of San Sebastian, just behind the Kursaal in the Gros quarter, there is the Zurriola beach. Surfers will find their attractions here all year round: waves and wind.
Around the Cathedral
The Cathedral of San Sebastian (Catedral del Buen Pastor de San Sebastián) is one of the city’s most imposing buildings. Due to its size, it can be seen from all parts of the city.
It is located in the Centro district south of the old town. It was built after the demolition of the city walls in 1862.
The importance of this sacred monument to San Sebastian is demonstrated by the presence of the Queen Mother and her two-year-old son, Baby King Alfonso XIII, at the inauguration in 1897.
On that day, when he signed his first official document, she also had to guide him by the hand. Imagine that in this day and age.
But also the buildings around the cathedral of San Sebastian are worth a short walk. There are also a number of cafés under the arcades.
As we are at Del Buen Pastor, we simply walk along the river.
On the river Urumea and the bridges of San Sebastian
San Sebastian is not only blessed with beaches that give the city a maritime flair. The river Urumea also meanders through the city.
Impressive bridges connect the two banks of the river. For me, a highlight of San Sebastian is a short walk along the river. Come along on a little bridge tour.
María Christina Bridge
There you will pass the impressive María Christina bridge. The bridge was built as a wooden bridge and gradually became the impressive river crossing it is today.
The special attraction at this bridge for me are the obelisks, which have their place in each of the four corners. They tower 18 metres high and are surrounded by numerous groups of sculptures. Simply beautiful.
Santa Catalina Bridge
Less impressive is the Santa Catalina bridge. But she wins by her age. The oldest bridge was also a wooden bridge in its original form. Due to its strategically good position, it has been destroyed and rebuilt more often.
The Zurriola Bridge is the last bridge in San Sebastian that spans the river before it reaches the sea. Victor Arana created her beautiful futuristic lamps in Art Deco style in 1921. I was very impressed by the symbiosis of old and new at this bridge.
At the place where the river gushes into the sea there is another sight in San Sebastian like a watchman: the futuristic Kursaal. It is not without reason that it is also called “Kursaal cubes”.
The promenade and the squares
The Promenade of La Concha
The two city beaches of Ondarreta and La Concha with their promenade offer an ideal place to stroll comfortably. Here, the Belle Époque is wrapped in cotton wool. I encounter squiggly railings, impressive lanterns, the La Perla thermal spa and many other things on my walk.
The view goes again and again from the beach to Monte Igueldo and over the sea, from the island of Santa Clara in the middle of the bay to the Jesus statue on Monte Urgull. Fantastic.
In the end I meet a relic from the old days: The carousel in the Alderi Eder Park directly at the town hall.
Plaza de la Constitución
The Plaza de la Constitución is located in the heart of the old town of San Sebastian. On the west side is the building in which the town hall was housed until 1940.
The colourful buildings around the square are full of numbers. These were the lodges for the bullfighting arena of San Sebastian, because that was the Plaza de la Constitution before its redesignation. Now you can sit comfortably in the cafés and watch the colourful hustle and bustle in the old town.
Plaza de Gipuzkoa
The Plaza de Gipuzkoa is located in front of the government building for the Gipuzkoa region and is reminiscent of an English garden. Various trees and plants are found here, as well as a pond inhabited by ducks and swans.
Some “micro-sights” can be found in the square de Gipuzkoa: a monument to the musician José Maria Usandizaga, a large white marble table showing the time of day, a temple-shaped weather station and a colorful flower clock.
Plaza Del Buen Pastor
Like the Plaza de Gipuzkoa, the Plaza del Buen Pastor is located in the Centro district. This part of the city extends south of the old town. The pedestrian zone with numerous shops is also located here. Shopping Queens and Kings will surely find something here.
Both squares are tempting with cafés to stop after a shopping spree. At the Plaza del Buen Pastor you have a view of the imposing cathedral and other beautiful buildings. That’s why he is one of the highlights of my San Sebastian city trip: shopping, lingering, art and culture. All in one place.
The oldest church in town: San Vicente
The church of San Vicente is the oldest church in the city and for me one of the top sights in San Sebastian. The great fire of 1812 destroyed almost the entire old town. The church built in the early 16th century survived this catastrophe. From the outside, this sacred building looks more like a fortress.
It is indeed quite dark inside the church. But suddenly, when the heavy wooden doors close, it suddenly becomes quiet. I don’t feel the trouble of the old town of San Sebastian anymore.
I look around the church and see the impressive wooden altar with its filigree carvings.
One of the highlights in the church for me is the beautiful window rosette, which illuminates the interior of the church with coloured daylight.
San Sebastian in the evening
What does a beautiful city like San Sebastian look like after dark? Indescribably beautiful. The many small lights of the city line the beach Playa de la Concha and are reflected in the water of the bay. But here, pictures say more than a thousand words.
Top 10 San Sebastian Sights – My conclusion
With these evening impressions I would like to conclude at this point. You know my top sights in San Sebastian now. But you must have experienced this city.
During the day you can walk along the Playa de la Concha city beach or lie in the sun. With an ice cream in your hand you explore the beautiful old town and maybe you go for a walk on Monte Urgull and enjoy the view over the city of San Sebastian and the wide sea.
In the evening you stroll along the promenade and enjoy the lights reflected in the bay of the shellfish. Until you arrive in the old town of San Sebastian, jump from bar to bar and enjoy the Pintxos variations. I’d really like to be there right now.
After my stay in San Sebastian, I can only say one thing to this city:”I love this city”. And like me, many are. Julia Roberts also gave San Sebastian a declaration of love.
Add On: Peine del Viento
The sculpture ensemble Peine del Viento by Eduardo Chillida, which is recommended in many travel guides, is missing here at my top attractions in San Sebastian for a good reason.
Unfortunately, they were renovated during my stay. I guess I’ll have to go back to San Sebastian. Therefore, I cannot say anything about the sculptures at this point. You, by any chance? Gladly in the comments.