Whether you’re soaking up the sun on one of San Sebastian’s beautiful beaches, sipping txakoli (a lightly sparkling white wine) and snacking on pintxos in the scenic old town, bar-hopping with locals long into the night, or enjoying San Sebastian’s rich cultural scene, we’re willing to bet you won’t regret your choice to visit. With that in mind, our local San Sebastian tour guides have shared everything you need to know before you go and once you arrive.
Just keep in mind that Basque cities have two names, one in Basque and one in Spanish. In Basque, San Sebastian is known as Donostia and you may notice other places are also referred to by two different names.
If you’re flying into San Sebastian’s domestic airport (EAS), your best bet for getting into the city is by taking the bus. Bus E21 runs hourly to San Sebastian, stopping at Plaza de Gipuzkoa. A ticket costs EUR 2.45 and the trip should take about 30 minutes.
You may also be flying into Biarritz airport (BIQ) in France (served by French and international low-cost carriers), which lies about 47 kilometres from San Sebastian. Buses run six to eight times daily to San Sebastian and the 45-minute journey will cost EUR 7
Bilbao Airport serves all of Europe and is the largest airport in Basque country. If you find yourself flying into BIO, you can get a bus from the airport to San Sebastian for around EUR 17 and a travel time of 75 minutes.
San Sebastian is well connected by the local public bus service, D-Bus, which can easily get you to the main points of interest in the city. A one-way fare is EUR 1.70 and buses run roughly from 7.30am to 10.30pm. After that, there are a limited number of night buses that continue until about 4am. Just note that drivers will not take more than a 20 euro note for a single ticket so it’s best to have small change on hand.
If you’re going to be in San Sebastian for more than a few days, there’s the option of getting a San Sebastian Card. Valid for 10 days, you can choose a six- or 12-journey card (EUR 9 and 16 respectively). In addition to transportation, the card gets you discounts on museums, restaurants and shops.
It’s relatively easy to get around the city on foot, since many of the noteworthy attractions are fairly close together, making walking a good sightseeing option.
Even if locals in San Sebastián are ultra-passionate about their local football team, that’s not the only sport to be aware of here. The city is well-known locally for being a sublime surfing destination and a great place that combines beautiful landscapes with fun water sports. If you’ve never tried surfing (or just need to brush up on your skills), you can take a lesson. Or, if you’d prefer not to catch a wave but still want to be on the water, why not rent a kayak?
San Sebastian’s parte vieja, or old town is a must on a visit to the city, and even if you just go for the food (seriously, go for the food), you won’t be disappointed. The area is jam-packed with bars and restaurants just waiting to be discovered down narrow streets, and this is where to go to find some of the best pintxos in the city (essentially small, tapas-like bites). The old town is also home to the city’s two oldest churches: San Vicente Church and Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, many boutiques, and Plaza de la Constitución, home to even more bars and restaurants and an ideal place to relax amidst exploring. (For even more pintxos, check out our delicious and informative Grab Your Pintxo Tour.)
Housed in a 16th-century building once used as a Dominican convent, Museo de San Telmo is located in San Sebastian’s Old Town and aims to showcase aspects of Basque life from prehistory to the present day through a variety of mediums. This is a great place to visit to get a better understanding of local culture, and the permanent collection here encompasses fine art, photography, ethnography, archaeology and history.
Opened in 2015 as an international centre for contemporary culture, Tabakalera was formerly a tobacco factory and now features a wide array of things to see and do, most of which are free. Head here for art exhibitions, film screenings, workshops, seminars, presentations and more. There is also a cafe and restaurant on sight.
Anyone interested in seeing some live music in San Sebastian has a few good options to check out during a visit. Some of your best bets include Dabadaba, Le Bukowski, Altxerri Bar & Jazz and Convent Garden – all welcoming an eclectic and diverse range of musicians to the stage.
Looking for more things to do? Urban Adventures offers several day tours in San Sebastian, all led by local experts that will give you a taste for local life in the city:
Royals, Stars and Surfers
For years, San Sebastian was the ultimate place to see and be seen. Aristocrats in search of seaside vacations flocked to this city known for its parties, games and perfect surf, but things weren’t always easy. Take a walk and learn about the city’s trials, its Belle Époque, and why it’s still awesome today.
Basque by Bike
What do you get when you mash up history, art and culture, add a sprinkling of beaches and palaces, and mix it all up with some Basque charm on two wheels? The best San Sebastian bike tour ever, that’s what! Give your brain a workout along with your legs and learn all about San Seb while riding the city’s fabulous bike trails.
Grab Your Pintxo
Forget museums, textbooks and culture lessons; one of the best ways to understand Basque culture is through its food. Join this San Sebastian tour to taste (and drink) your way through the Basque territories with a local guide and learn the most important facts about culture and history.
St. James Way Adventure
Don’t have enough time to walk the entire Camino de Santiago? Join this tour to get a taste of ‘The Way’ in a day. Hike a stunning stretch of coastline, cross an inlet by boat, then kick back in a bar with a wine in hand.
Mysterious Urgull Hill
From the historic Old Town, we’ll take you on an adventure up Urgull Hill where you’ll hear stories about Donostia and its rich and colourful past, enjoy spectacular vistas across the city and get an overview of its must-do sites from a local.
Cider House Experience Private Tour
You cannot get more Basque, gastronomically speaking, than a visit to a cider house. These places are steeped in tradition and serve legendarily great food; we’ll take you to our favourite local cider joint where you will enjoy a delicious lunch, meet the locals, learn about the cider-making process and soak up the friendly, vibrant atmosphere, on a tasty private tour that’s just for you!
Ocho Apellidos Vascos (Spanish Affair), is a 2014 Spanish comedy with some parts shot in San Sebastian.
It might seem strange to see Bruce Springsteen’s songs as a suggestion for what to listen to leading up to your trip, but hear us out (pardon the pun). Springsteen is a huge fan of the Spanish culture, and he also feels a great affection for San Sebastian and its people, always making sure to perform here. Every time Springsteen sets foot in Basque Country, he stays in the same room at Hotel Maria Cristina, and walks around the city with his wife and daughter. So go ahead, make like The Boss and book your trip!
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway is a great book to read before or during your trip because San Sebastian was the setting of the last chapter, and because Hemingway finished his book somewhere between the city and Hendaye in France. It’s common knowledge Hemingway was in love with Spain, and he used to come to San Sebastian.
Donostia Kultura is a great resource for keeping in the loop of what’s happening around San Sebastian. From cultural activities, to arts festivals, to exhibitions, this website lists it all!
Give us call at +34 633 302 594 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to play your Best. Day. Ever. while you’re in town. You can also tweet us on Twitter, friend us on Facebook or follow us on Instagram for all the latest San Sebastian updates.