San Sebastian, Spain

Beautiful San Sebastian from Monte Igueldo sabastian spain view
Beautiful San Sebastian from Monte Igueldo
San Sebastian, Spain (5/5-6/2013) – We were pleasantly overwhelmed with San Sebastian!

The jewel of the Basque Country, elegant and romantic seaside San Sebastian is a must visit destination with its renowned cuisine, very nice city beach, and beautiful architecture.

Paseo Nuevo Promenade San Sebastian Spain
Paseo Nuevo Promenade 
- San Sebastian, Spain
Ayuntamiento City Hall in Parte Vieja Old Town San Sebastian
Ayuntamiento City Hall 
in Parte Vieja (Old Town) - San Sebastian
We had a fabulous introduction to San Sebastian walking on Paseo de la Concha along the picturesque crescent-shaped La Concha Bay. We strolled pass the beautiful flowered Paseo Nuevo Promenade into the San Sebastian’s old town viewing the Town Hall (see photo) that once was a grand casino before gambling was outlawed in 1925. San Sebastian’s lovely beachfront promenade runs the length of the bay, with old town at one end and a shopping district in the center.

Street in Parte Vieja Old Town San Sebastian
Street in Parte Vieja (Old Town) 
- San Sebastian

San Sebastian’s old town (Parte Viejo – see photo) comes alive at night. Its cobbled streets are packed with traditional pintxos bars dishing up wonderful local specialties and regional Rioja wine – see more about tapas below. Check out Constitucion Square with its numbered houses, a throwback to the bullfighting days that took past here.

Playa de La Concha San Sebastian Spain
Playa de La Concha 
- San Sebastian, Spain
Wayne on Merry Go Round on Paseo Nuevo Promenade San Sebastian
Wayne on Merry-Go-Round 
on Paseo Nuevo Promenade - San Sebastian

San Sebastian's beaches capped by twin peaks at either end are a big draw. Even in early May when we visited, we had a lovely beach day on Playa de La Concha beach (see photos). It is easily among the best city beaches in Europe. Pat says the topless lady sunbathers (no photos) caught Wayne’s attention. After relaxing on the soft white sand you wander back to your hotel along the beautiful Paseo Nuevo Promenade where children can ride the merry-go-round (see photo). On the other side of San Sebastian is the laid-back community surrounding Zurriola Beach known for its good surfing.

Parque de Atracciones on Monte Igueldo San Sebastian Spain
Parque de Atracciones 
on Monte Igueldo - San Sebastian, Spain
Sunday Market on Alameda del Boulvevard  San Sebastian Spain
Sunday Market on Alameda del Boulvevard 
- San Sebastian, Spain
Another fun thing to do is to take the 1912 funicular railway up Mount Igeldo for amazing panoramic views of La Concha bay and San Sebastian (see photo). There is a restaurant and Amusement park (Parque de Atraccones) for the kids. For the more energetic, a vigorous walk up to the Statue of Jesus on Monte Urgull looking the old town is worth the hike. A visit to the Aquarium is nice and you should take a walk on Ensanche Cortazar though the Centro area to see the French influenced buildings and San Sebastian's boutique stores. Don’t miss the Gipuzkoa Square to see one of the most romantic city parks we have ever seen.

Travel tip... San Sebastian is a great place to base day trips to the Basque coastal villages with easy 60-minute bus or car rides.

Great Food from Standard Restaurant  San Sebastian Spain
Great Food from Standard Restaurant 
- San Sebastian, Spain
Pastel Vasco Basque Pastry
Pastel Vasco - Basque Pastry
About the cuisine... San Sebastian’s cuisine is legendary. There are 14 Michelin-starred restaurants in San Sebastian with three rated with the coveted 3 stars including the Arzak restaurant. That is more per square foot than any other place in the world and more per inhabitant than Paris. Even the less expensive family restaurants are great (see photo). The tapas, called pintxos in San Sebastian, are wonderful! Pintxos are made of various things and you fill up on around 4 of these. It’s fun to tapa bar hop trying one or two from several tapa bars that like good to you (see photo). Many good tapa bars and restaurants are located in old town (Parte Vieja).

Tapa Pintxos Bar in Parte Viejo Old Town San Sebastian Spain
Tapa (Pintxos) Bar in Parte Viejo (Old Town) 
- San Sebastian, Spain
About the art of eating tapas (pintxos)... Many tapas (see photo) are made on top of small pieces of bread or tiny half baguettes. Some are stacked high held together with toothpicks. Some tapa bars specialize in seafood and other have a mix of everything. Tapas are offered on top of the bar and you point to the one you want and the barman heats it up for you. You can also order wine or beer and pay up when you are finished. Sometimes tapa bars have specials listed that are made to order. Tapa bar hopping is normal and fun after having one or two at each place. We often made quick new friends and asked them what their favorites are.

beach bikini girl girls Playa de La Concha with Parte Viejo Old Town in Background  San Sebastian Spain
Playa de La Concha 
with Parte Viejo (Old Town) in Background 
- San Sebastian, Spain
Some history... At the beginning of the 20th century, San Sebastian experienced growth when Queen Maria Cristina moved the court to San Sebastian during the summer. Luxury hotels, casinos, and theatres were built putting the city on the map. The beachfront area now contains some of the most expensive properties in Spain.

church Iglesia de Santa Maria in Parte Viejo Old Town San Sebastian
Iglesia de Santa Maria 
in Parte Viejo (Old Town) 
- San Sebastian, Spain
More about the Basque people... The Basque Country is a region at the north of Spain, bordering the Atlantic Ocean and France. It is defined as an autonomous community of three provinces in Spain and a fourth province in France.

The origin of the Basque people is undetermined. The Basque language is unrelated to any other language in the world. It doesn't belong to any language family. Grammatically, the Basque language is the most complex language in the world. Even many Basques who speak Spanish as a first language have extreme difficulty learning it.

flag spain spanish
Flag of Spain
The Spanish constitution of 1978 established the Basque Autonomous Region with a great amount of autonomy from the national government (including recognizing Euskara as an official language of the region). This has not satisfied some of the Basque people.

Basque Flag
Basque Flag
Proud of their culture, the Basque people have had a stormy relationship with Spain and there have been occasional violence in the name of independence. ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna - the Basque separatist organization) announced a permanent ceasefire at the end of March 2006, but has since reopened hostilities with bomb attacks in 2007 and 2009. Things are calm now and tourism is thriving.

Please see our 3 other posts about interesting Spain: 

Canary Islands, Cadiz, Malaga, & Valencia, Spain 

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  1. We're intrigued by the Basque region, so I appreciated this writeup very much.

  2. I loved my stop in San Sebastian two years ago, the food was amazing and the beach was fantastic. I can't wait to go back. I have a friend who will be organizing a culinary vacation there with a chef in the next year or so and I plan to join them.

  3. I have been dying to visit San Sebastian and your post has certainly whet my appetite even more!

  4. Totally agree, Playa de La Concha beach is beautiful. I took a day trip down from Biarritz France as it was so close. San Sebastian is a lovely town (and I think you saw a lot more than I did!)

  5. Basque country is the only part of Spain I have never visited and this really makes me want to go. I stayed away for years because of the violence but given the state of the world I can't imagine that it's any more dangerous there than a movie theater in the U.S. - and more fun too!


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