San Sebastian, located in Spain’s Basque Country, is a stunning coastal city that offers a wide range of activities and attractions for visitors. From world-renowned beaches to delicious cuisine, San Sebastian has something for everyone and it is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain.
However, by far the best thing to do in San Sebastian Spain is to wander its old town streets and experience the fantastic pintxos in its many small bars. I was lucky enough to travel to San Sebastian with Laura Lynch from Savored Journeys. She had visited the city several times before and provided many of the recommendations that are in this article.
So here are some interesting things to do in San Sebastian when the pintxos bars are closed and then which pintxos bars to go to and what to eat when you get there!
23 Interesting Things to do in San Sebastian
Table of Contents
- 23 Interesting Things to do in San Sebastian
- Things to do that aren’t Eating Pintxos
- 1. Visit Mount Igueldo
- 2. Head to the Beach
- 3. Walk up Monte Urgull
- 4. Admire Basilica Santa Maria del Coro
- 5. Miramar Royal Palace
- 6. San Telmo Museum
- 7. Isla de Santa Clara
- 8. San Sebastian Town Hall
- 9. Visit the Comb of the Wind
- 10. Buen Pastor Cathedral
- All things Pintxos and Related
- 11. Bar Sport
- 12. Bar Goiz Argi
- 13. Borda Berri
- 14. La Cuchara de San Telmo
- 15. 1813
- 16. Paco Bueno
- 17. La Cepa de Bernardo
- 18. Taberna Gandarias Jatetxea
- Non Pintxo Things to Eat in San Sebastian
- 19. Bar Nestor
- 20. La Vina Cheesecake
- 21. Loco Polo Ice Cream Bars
- Things to do Near San Sebastian
- 22. Cider Tasting and lunch at Petritegi
- 23. The Guggenheim Bilbao
- How to get to San Sebastian
- Where to Stay in San Sebastian
- FAQs San Sebastian Things to Do
- Is San Sebastian Worth Visiting?
- Is Bilbao or San Sebastian nicer?
- What are the best months to visit San Sebastian?
- How Many Days Do You Need in San Sebastian?
Things to do that aren’t Eating Pintxos
1. Visit Mount Igueldo
Mount Igueldo is a hill/mountain that overlooks the city of San Sebastian and offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area. Hop on the cute funicular at the end of Ondarrreta Beach (it runs every 15 minutes and the journey literally takes just two minutes) and head up for the views over the city.
There is a decent-sized amusement park at the top of the mountain with a large number of rides and attractions. Great if you’re traveling with kids but not terribly interesting if you’re not.
You might enjoy reading some of my other articles on Spain: Famous landmarks in Spain, Ibiza Sunsets, Barcelona landmarks, Best Rioja Wineries, Most Beautiful Cities in Spain, and What is Spain Known For?
2. Head to the Beach
There are two main beaches in San Sebastian and they are next to each other: La Concha and Ondarreta. Both have golden sands and clear blue water as well as many facilities from deck chairs to food stalls. And they both have great views of Monte Urgull and the San Sebastian old town.
La Concha is the beach closest to the San Sebastian old town and you can expect it to be quite busy. As Ondaretta is a bit more of a walk it doesn’t tend to get as busy as La Concha.
3. Walk up Monte Urgull
Start your mountain walk from the Telmo museum. It is clearly signed and easy to find. The walk takes about 20 minutes. It is quite steep, and there are some great views all the way up and down.
The 12th-century Mota Castle is at the top of Monte Urgull. There is a museum as well as a large statue of the Sacred Heart. This statue has blessed the city since 1950. Including the base on which it sits, it is 24 meters high.
If you started your walk at the Telmo Museum, head back towards Concha Beach. This route will take you to the spectacular Empty Construction sculpture by Jorge Oteiza.
4. Admire Basilica Santa Maria del Coro
This 18th-century baroque church is in the middle of San Sebastian’s old town. It has many beautiful features including arches, clocks and a bell tower. However, for me the best part of this beautiful church is how it just appears at the end of some of the streets in San Sebastian’s old town.
5. Miramar Royal Palace
This beautiful palace was the summer residence of the Spanish Royal Family for many years. It was built by an English architect in the Tudor style and opened in 1893.
Alas, the palace isn’t open to the public but you can visit its beautiful gardens.
6. San Telmo Museum
The San Telmo Museum is one of the most popular museums in San Sebastian with over 20,000 artefacts. It is the oldest museum in Basque Country. The museum is housed in a 16th-century convent and features exhibits on Basque history and culture. It is located at the base of Monte Urgull.
7. Isla de Santa Clara
This beautiful little island is just off San Sebastian near the base of Mont Igueldo. Take a boat over and explore the island’s natural beauty plus the views back to San Sebastian. There is a small cafe and a cute lighthouse. Boats run between May and August.
8. San Sebastian Town Hall
It’s impossible to miss this San Sebastian landmark if you visit one of the city’s beautiful beaches. Built between 1882 and 1887, the building housed a casino, battles during the Spanish Civil War and an uprising by the people in 1936. Today, it has a less exciting existence as the home to the local council in San Sebastian.
You might enjoy reading my posts on the Canary Islands in Spain: Things to do in Lanzarote, Best Place to Stay in Lanzarote, Things to do in Maspalomas, Gran Canaria Markets and Best Gran Canaria Excursions.
9. Visit the Comb of the Wind
The Comb of the Wind is three steel sculptures by Eduardo Chillida. Created in 1977, they sit at the base of Mount Igueldo at the end of Ondarreta Beach. Chillida “anchored” the sculptures to the rocks, so that the wind would be continually “combed” at La Concha Bay. The sculptures appear to have emerged from the rocks.
10. Buen Pastor Cathedral
Another San Sebastian landmark, the Buen Pastor Cathedral was completed in 1897. It is the home of the church in San Sebastian and one of the largest churches in Basque Country. It is also known for its magnificent organ which has more than 10,000 whistles.
All things Pintxos and Related
Most of the bars in San Sebastian have some type of blackboard/signed menu in their establishment. Generally, the item that is listed at the top of this menu is the specialty of the house and what you should definitely order. I would also recommend ordering any daily specials.
It is possible to get a small pour of cider, wine, beer, or vermouth to go with your pintxos – or of course a larger pour! I would recommend drinking Rioja wines while in San Sebastian as you can’t really go wrong with Rioja wines plus they are a very reasonable price as the region is so nearby.
I also recommend trying the local specialty calimocho, a mix of red wine and coke served on ice. Yes, coca cola and red wine. I was very dubious about this beverage and I ended up loving it. Do give it a try!
Here are the pintxos bars I visited and some of their specialties. All of the bars have much broader menus of course so I will only pull out the items for which they are best known.
11. Bar Sport
Bar Sport is always busy and anything you eat here will be good. But it is best known for its foie gras or foie la plancha, and you really must try this while in San Sebastian
12. Bar Goiz Argi
Head to Bar Goiz Argi for the grilled prawns served with a yellow tomato sauce.
13. Borda Berri
Borda Berri is a couple of doors down from Bar Sport and has a very cute interior. Come here for their beef short rib with sweet potato
14. La Cuchara de San Telmo
This pintxos bar has a great location next to Eglise Santa Maria and a small outdoor area. Come to La Cuchara de San Telmo for the pork belly, octopus risotto, tuna and red peppers.
It is often difficult to get a seat in the many bars of San Sebastian and once you have it the odds are it isn’t terribly comfortable. 1813 is an exception to that rule. They have both indoor and outdoor seating that is extremely comfortable.
They have a good solid range of pintxos but nothing for which they are particularly famous. 1813 is a great place to stop and relax and enjoy a drink during your pintxos hop.
16. Paco Bueno
Paco Bueno is known for its outstanding prawns fried in a light batter.
17. La Cepa de Bernardo
Ham Croquettes and chorizo sandwich at La Cepa de Bernardo.
18. Taberna Gandarias Jatetxea
A very popular busy spot near 1813 with indoor and outdoor seating. The meat at Taberna Gandarias Jatetxea is fantastic – tuck in some skewers or the mini open steak sandwiches. It looked like it had a great sit-down restaurant but I didn’t have time to try it out.
Non Pintxo Things to Eat in San Sebastian
19. Bar Nestor
I am not exaggerating when I say eating dinner at Bar Nestor was one of the best food experiences of my life. This tiny bar/restaurant is in the heart of San Sebastian’s old town and always very busy. It is pretty much impossible to call them and book – they are so busy I don’t think they answer the phone.
Bar Nestor is known for its tortilla and its steak. The tortilla is sold in limited amounts twice a day. Tortilla ticket sales start at 1pm and 6pm but make sure you get there considerably earlier than that as the queue is long and many go home without a ticket. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket come back and pick it up at 8 pm.
So is the tortilla worth it? YES! This was the best tortilla I have ever eaten. It is far moister than the typical tortilla and tastes as if it might contain stock and was removed from the oven when the insides were still creamy.
However, even better than the tortilla is dinner at Bar Nestor. They have a small number of tables inside and out and bar seating. Only the tables inside have seating. There are two seatings each night and the first one is at 745pm.
When you arrive in San Sebastian, the first thing to do head to Bar Nestor and try to get a booking for while you are in town. The second thing to do is show up around 7pm and hope someone misses their booking. This is what we did and not only did we get a table we got a tortilla that was never collected!
There is no menu as such at Bar Nestor. The waiter will show you some steaks and that is it. First up are chunky fresh tomatoes with olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic and salt. These are followed by amazing Padron peppers.
And then it is time for the steak. Bar Nestor steaks are all from old dairy cows. You will not be asked how you like your steak cooked – it will show up between blue and rare. There is no need for any sauce. The crust of the steak is covered in salt and there are no words to describe the amazing taste.
For the three of us to enjoy this amazing meal, as well as a bottle of Rioja wine, was only 100 euros.
20. La Vina Cheesecake
One of the best meals of my life was followed by the best dessert of my life. La Vina is famous for its cheesecake and proclaims that it has the best cheesecake in the world. La Vina is correct. Like all of the best things in San Sebastian, you will need to earn your cheesecake by queuing, but it is worth every minute.
Although it looks like a regular baked cheesecake, the texture is light, creamy, and incredibly moreish. And you absolutely must order a glass of La Vina’s signature chilled sherry to accompany your cheesecake. I didn’t and then tried a friend’s and immediately returned to the queue to order some.
21. Loco Polo Ice Cream Bars
Strangely the sign for these ice cream shops in San Sebastian (there are two) says Polo Loco but their website says Loco Polo? Anyway, don’t let that worry head to one of their two outlets and order at least one of their popsicles. My passion fruit poco loco was amazing. Fantastic fruit flavor and an unexpectedly delicious creamy interior. Adding sauces, nuts, etc to your popsicle is also possible.
Things to do Near San Sebastian
22. Cider Tasting and lunch at Petritegi
Petritegi is a Cider House a 15 minute drive from the San Sebastian old town. It has a beautiful location and an outstanding restaurant. Inside, the Cider House has a rustic feel with wooden tables and benches and barrels galore. There is also a lovely covered outdoor seating area.
The first thing to do at Petritegi is to grab a pint glass and head for the cider barrels. At least one of the cider barrels will be manned by a person who will turn the tap on and allow you to position your glass under the cider flow. I also really enjoyed Petritegi’s sparkling cider which is a bargain at ten euros a bottle.
For lunch, order the house menu and thank me later. Your meal will start with outstanding chorizo sausages marinated in cider. This is followed by a cod omelet and then more cod with peppers and onions (if you’re with a group, these will be placed in the middle of the table on serving platters).
All of those items were delicious but nothing compared to the amazing old dairy steak that came out for the main meal. This basque country steak was nearly as good as the one I had enjoyed the night before at Bar Nestor.
Dessert is a mix of cheeses and walnuts.
23. The Guggenheim Bilbao
Don’t go to San Sebastian and not take the opportunity to visit the Guggenheim in Bilbao. The building alone is worth the visit. Take the time to explore it from every angle. Don’t miss the huge Jeff Koons puppy out the back.
Opened in 1997, this is a modern art museum with a mixture of permanent and temporary exhibitions. I only allocated 2 hours to the Guggenheim as I assumed I would get bored. Alas, I could have stayed much longer so do make sure you allow a good chunk of time to visit this amazing museum.
It is relatively easy to get to the Guggenheim in Bilbao from San Sebastian. The easiest way is to take a bus to Bilbao and then walk. Many people visit the Guggenheim when they arrive in Bilbao or on their way home to the airport which is what I did. There is a luggage storage area at the museum.
How to get to San Sebastian
The closest international airport to San Sebastian is Bilbao, 98 kilometers away. The easiest and cheapest way to get from Bilbao Airport to San Sebastian is by bus. The bus stop is outside the airport on your right, and the bus company’s name is PESA. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time on the PESA website.
Buses depart on the hour between 5:00 and 21:00, and it takes 75 minutes to get to San Sebastian’s bus station. The bus station in San Sebastian is about a 15-minute walk from the old town. It is, of course, just as easy to take the bus back to Bilbao station. Believe it or not, the bus station in San Sebastian has a nice-looking bar with even better-looking tapas and bocadillos if you’re hungry.
Where to Stay in San Sebastian
Legazpi Doce Rooms and Suites has a fantastic location just outside San Sebastian’s old town. It is a 7 minute walk from the beach and a 5 minute walk from the main Pintxo streets. It has 11 rooms and 6 apartments. Most of the rooms also have a balcony or terrace.
My standard room was a good size with a light oak wooden floor and a simple design highlighted by red accents. The bathroom was long and spacious with a powerful walk-in shower. This was a cute, comfortable and spacious room (and good air conditioning) that I spent very little time in as I wanted to be out eating pintxo but it fit the bill.
Legazpi Doce does not have its own food facilities so it recommends the lovely Amelie located next door. This super-friendly cafe has indoor and outdoor covered seating. Their coffee is excellent as is their freshly squeezed orange juice. I loved their pan con tomate which came in many flavors.
Another great boutique hotel option near Legazpi Doce is Casa Nicolasa. It is quite similar in style to Legazpi Doce with a parquet floor and white vintage furniture and a simple design. The hotel has a lounge area with free coffee and have some free drinks in the minibars in the rooms.
FAQs San Sebastian Things to Do
Is San Sebastian Worth Visiting?
Yes Yes Yes! Particularly if you are a foodie. It is one of my favourite cities in Europe.
Is Bilbao or San Sebastian nicer?
In my opinion, San Sebastian is much nicer than Bilbao. It has its charming old town filled with pintxo, the beach and many other sites. Bilbao is a nice town and it has the Guggenheim but I would much rather spend a weekend in San Sebastian.
What are the best months to visit San Sebastian?
According to U.S. News Travel, the best time to visit San Sebastian is from May to July as these months offer the best temperatures. However, these months also fall during peak tourist season.
How Many Days Do You Need in San Sebastian?
In 2-3 days it is possible to cover the San Sebastian highlights. However, I would suggest staying at least two nights for enjoy Pintxo and adding in another day to allow time to visit the Guggenheim in Bilbao.