What’s on in San Sebastian: Parties and festivals for the 2016 Capital of Culture

What’s on in San Sebastian: Parties and festivals for the 2016 Capital of Culture

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2016 is San Sebastián’s year to shine! Donostia, or San Sebastián, has been selected as the European Capital of Culture. The picturesque coastal town along the Bay of Biscay in Spain’s Basque Country will host a colossal amount of cultural activities throughout the year. Programming includes various artistic initiatives that all stem from the local community. Many of the exhibitions and festivals are events that focus on culture, or events that aim to create conversation about life, peace, violence, war, and energy.

Looking out over the harbour in San Sebastian

Your first view of San Sebastian will be so surreal you’ll think it’s a painting!

If you’re thinking of visiting the city, aside from sampling local fare, basking in the sun, and taking in the gorgeous views of the water, be sure to attend one of the several events happening in the city — you’ll thank us later!

View of boats in the harbour of San Sebastian at dusk

Any time is the perfect time to visit San Sebastian!

As the summer rolls in, so do all the festivals! From May 28th to June 5th, the World Puppet Festival takes place in the city, with various street performances taking place. Also taking place in June is “Break a leg!, an exhibition that showcases 16 professional performers living together. The collaborative experience takes place over two sessions and aims to showcase their experiences living with each other’s various abilities and disabilities. From June 11th to 26th, the Music Box Festibala takes place. This festival is a collection of 15 concerts that will take place in urban spaces that are not normally used for concerts. The concerts will feature independent local and international artists such as The Coup + Albert Cavalier, Amor de Tokyo, and Ventura who will all be performing at Viveros de Ulía on June 26th.

From June 12th to October 30th, the city will host Biziz. Biziz will consist of five-vehicle motorcades, each led by a bicycle, which will make their way across Europe to San Sebastián. Each route will have a theme: architecture, gastronomy, biodiversity, communities, and sexuality. Along each route, bloggers and journalists will document the customs and lifestyles in each city participating, with stories inspired by their given theme. The five cities participating also happen to be twinned with San Sebastián: Las Palmas, Athens, Copenhagen, Konstanz, and Kaliningrad. All five expeditions will conclude with a party in San Sebastian, which happens to coincide with European Mobility Week.

From the 21st of June to the 24th of July, there will be a staging of Shakespeare’s, A Midsummer Night’s Dream to an audience of 250 people that runs every day except Mondays. The open-air performances will take place in Cristina Enea Park, one of San Sebastian’s most beautiful attractions. The show coincides with the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, and is a wonderful opportunity to witness an enchanting performance. Currently, 30 shows are scheduled — 20 in Spanish, and 10 in Basque. The play will also be adapted in English and French for international visitors. Performances start at 9:00 pm and doors open at 8:45 pm. Tickets can be purchased online or at the ticket office.

A metal sculpture along the waterfront in San Sebastian

The natural views in and around San Sebastian are the perfect backdrop for photos

From June to July, the Mugaenea project takes place. This project aims to present a united Europe to the world and eradicate the idea of borders by focussing on the similarities between neighbours. To tangibly demonstrate this idea, the Avenida Bridge that joins Irún, Spain and Hendaye, France will be transformed into a cultural centre that provides a space for reflection and encourages artistic expression, experimentation, and exchange. Several exhibitions, film screenings, and literary meetings will take place to start dialogue and conversations about the restrictions that borders place on us as a society, both culturally and socially.

In Varietate Concordia starts in June and runs all summer until the end of August. This exhibition aspires to foster unity between people from different backgrounds by bringing together 11 San Sebastián residents with different mother tongues. Approximately 100 languages are spoken in San Sebastián! The chosen residents have all worked tirelessly to find words in their respective tongues that sound similar to words in the other residents’ languages. Aside from the actual exhibition, this project will also result in a book that talks about the residents’ experience. If you’re a polyglot or just have a general interest in languages, this is definitely an exhibition worth checking out!

Looking down a street in San Sebastian, the 2016 European Capital of Culture

The architecture in San Sebastian is astounding

From June to December, you can take a walk down the Mile of Peace. The walk’s route is along the Urumea River, which is a natural border, and utilising the river serves as a metaphor for what the walk is truly about: reflecting on life in times of peace and in times of war or conflict. The bridges that are built over the river serve as solutions to overcoming barriers. The route has three major points of interest along it: the Square of Nations, which addresses current conflicts happening across the globe; Peace, which will take place in Cristina Enea Park and will feature a game for children; and the Peace Laboratory in Loiola.

Aside from the festivals and exhibitions that start in June and go on throughout the summer, various events take place throughout the year. Here are a few interesting ones we’re sure you won’t want to miss!

In 2016, Itsasgileak will take place, and is an event that displays the maritime heritage of the Basque region of Spain. Various topics like the role of women in maritime history and the relationship between the Basque Coast and Castile concerning shipbuilding will be explored through various exhibitions set to take place. In September, a caravan of oxen will travel between Quintanar de la Sierra (in Burgos), and Pasaia, and will shed light on the economic value that the transportation of raw materials to Basque ports had in the past.

This year, the Forum Theatre is also hosting several performances as part of San Sebastián’s cultural programme. They will host seven performances that explore the recent conflicts that haven taken place in Basque country, and will encourage attendees to reflect on what happened, and what can be done to ensure that similar events never take place again. An interesting twist to these performances is that the audience will be asked to construct these stories through participation and improvisation.

Another interesting place to check out is Hirikilabs. Hirikilabs is a laboratory that focuses on digital culture, technology, and empowering citizens through digital knowledge. This project is a place of reflection that enables you to think about the reasons behind why we use technology, and the manner in which we use technology in society. There is the opportunity to use state-of-the-art technology including 3D printers and robots.

Massive sculpture along the boardwalk in San Sebastian

With so many cultural events and art exhibits taking place in the city, you’ll find it hard to choose which ones to check out!

Mugalariak is another event that takes place this year. Theatres and cultural centres in the Southern Basque Country and in the Aquitaine region of France will host projects related to the performing arts. Now in their third year, Mugalariak will continue to work towards its goals of challenging traditional methods of artistic expression and creation and connecting artists and those outside the artistic community.

If you’re interested in literature written in minority languages, check out some of the artistic residencies at Beste hitzak. Translators will also be in town as part of Itzultzaile berriak. This project focuses on expanding Basque literature, with translators sharing their translation experiences with the general public. There is also an audiovisual project about innovation and experimentation that is happening, called Ikusmira berriak. The material that results from this project will be screened as part of the San Sebastián Film Festival.

For further information about exhibits, festivals, and other events in San Sebstián, visit the official website of the Donostia-San Sebastian Cultural Programme.

San Sebastian Tours | Urban Adventures

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About author
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Tomasz Kolinski

Owner and tour guide @ San Sebastian Urban Adventures. Tour leader @ Intrepid Travel. Love the Basque Country, gastronomy, pintxos, and San Sebastian.

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