San Sebastian is the pearl on the Basque Atlantic coast. The most visited part of this beautiful place is the old town of San Sebastian. Pittoresk at the foot of Monte Urgull. Surrounded by the sea and directly on the river Urumea. No wonder that the old core of the city attracts people magically.
Here, tourists stroll through narrow lanes in fine weather, admire the cultural and historical buildings or relax at the harbour. In the evening, bar visitors flock into the old town of San Sebastian to eat the best pintxos in the bars.
In 1812, after a devastating fire on the drawing board, this town was planned and rebuilt, which explains the geometric shape of the old town. Looking from the top of Monte Urgull to the old town, it looks like a chessboard.
Strolling through the old alleys you can see some beautiful sights in San Sebastian or simply indulge in the culinary delights of the numerous Pintxos bars. I would like to introduce you to my top attractions in the old town of San Sebastian.
My top sights in the old town of San Sebastian
- Today the town hall of San Sebastian – formerly a casino
- The most important churches of the city
- The Museum of San Telmo in an old monastery
- Today Plaza de Constitución – formerly a bullfighting arena
- The Port of San Sebastian’s Old Town
- Monte Urgull with the Casa de la historia
- Mercado de la Bretxa – The Market Hall in the Old Town of San Sebastian
Today the town hall of San Sebastian – formerly a casino
The Town Hall is one of the most imposing buildings in San Sebastian and bears witness to the splendour of the former beach resort.
The historical building is beautifully situated directly on the Playa de la Concha – the city beach of San Sebastian. Coming from the promenade of La Concha Beach, the town hall welcomes you first. Behind it the old town is hidden up to Monte Urgull.
It was opened in 1897 as a casino. Maria Christina of Austria, the then Spanish queen, was present at the inauguration ceremony. The building has housed the town hall of San Sebastian since 1947.
The most important churches of the city
Iglesia de San Vicente
The church of San Vicente is a worthwhile destination. It is the oldest church in San Sebastian and has survived the great fire. It was built in the 16th century in the Basque Gothic style.
Particularly worth seeing are the altar with carvings, the organ, statues of the Virgin Mary and the beautiful window rosette.
Basílica de Santa María del Coro
Unfortunately, during my stay I was only able to see the Basilica of Santa María del Coro from the outside. Due to the narrow development, the typical church forecourt is completely missing. It’s not for photographers. But this does not detract from the beauty and impact of the church.
Already during the walk through the alleyway I notice the impressive facade with the arched entrance portal. The closer I get, the more I see of the two church towers that frame the entrance.
I still find the modern work of art on the right-hand side of the entrance to be clever. I’m a big fan of old and new coming together in symbiosis. This has succeeded in a very nice and discreet way.
The Museum of San Telmo in an old monastery
The San Telmo Museum is located at the foot of Mount Urgull. The modern extension to the existing museum looks like a fresh sprinkler in the old town with its historic buildings.
I find the green facade of the museum particularly beautiful. From the holes grow plants that grow on the mountain. This makes the museum look like an artificial rock face of Monte Urgull.
The Museum of San Telmo was inaugurated in 1902, making it one of the oldest museums in the Basque Country. It highlights the cultural and historical development of Basque society.
The museum currently has over 26,000 pieces from various fields of expertise: ethnography, art, photography, archaeology and history.
The historical part of the museum: The Dominican Monastery
The former Dominican monastery is from the 16th century and was extended in the 1930s. It’s a nice place to unwind.
Today Plaza de Constitución – formerly a bullfighting arena
The Plaza de la Constitución with its old town hall is the central square in the heart of the old town. Numerous festivals and activities take place here throughout the year. Cafés and restaurants invite you to stay here.
The numbers on the balconies of the surrounding buildings indicate that the square was previously used for other purposes. These numbers used to be the boxes from which the visitors looked into the bullfighting arena. Because that used to be the use of this place.
I like today’s use better. That’s why I like to enjoy my Aperol Spritz in one of the cafés on a Spanish summer evening.
The Port of San Sebastian’s Old Town
The harbour of the city is located on the western edge of the old town in the bay. It has lost its importance, so that today it is only used as a fishing and sports harbour.
However, this contributes to the fact that it clings picturesquely to the old town with the many small boats. From here also the boat trips to the Bay of San Sebastian start.
I take a short walk around the harbour and watch the hustle and bustle with a view of the bay and the city beach Playa de la Concha. Sea air stimulates the appetite, as you know – and so do I. There are many ways to stop in the harbour area.
I can recommend the Pintxos-Bar Portaletas. This is not only in a modern style, but also belongs to one of the best Pintxos bars in San Sebastian.
Monte Urgull with the Casa de la historia
From the harbour area I take a nice walk to Monte Urgull. On it, several paths wind their way up to the top. In many places I am rewarded with a beautiful view over San Sebastian, the bay and the sea.
Particularly worth seeing are the English cemetery on Monte Urgull, numerous remains of the fortifications, the 12.5-metre-high statue of Christ and the Casa de la historia museum.
Mercado de la Bretxa – The market hall in the old town of San Sebastian
The market hall La Bretxa dates back to 1870 and the name of the market is closely linked to the history of San Sebastian. “La Bretxa” means gap or breach.
At this place was a part of the fortress wall, in which two breaches were struck during an attack in the early 18th century. This allowed the city to be captured.
On the ground floor of the La Bretxa shopping centre there are more than forty stalls selling fruit, vegetables, delicatessen, sausages and fish – all in all a normal market. The building also houses shops, restaurants, cafés and even a cinema.
Conclusion on the visit to the Old Town of San Sebastian
Even though I visited San Sebastian a lot during my stay in San Sebastian, I was always drawn to the old town. Life just pulsates here – except at lunchtime. The alleys are empty. Occasionally, only tourists stroll through the city.
Especially in the evening I was drawn to the numerous Pintxos bars. After eating some pintxos and the accompanying Txakoli I went to my hotel satisfied.
But be careful: Not all Pintxos bars are really great. Where in my opinion the best Pintxos bars are located in San Sebastian, comes later on my blog.