San Sebastian, in the heart of Basque Country, is famous for its thriving nightlife and culinary prowess. But a few days in this beautiful coastal city will reveal that there’s a lot more to it than its hedonistic attractions. Stunning urban beaches blend effortlessly with an intriguing old town and it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Its strong identity in this seemingly autonomous part of the country make it a must-visit on your Spanish rail adventure. Be sure to tick off the following things to do in San Sebastian.
1. Soak up the sun on Playa de la Concha
Technically speaking there are four beaches in San Sebastian, but few are as prominent and celebrated as La Concha. In the summer this beautiful white-sand beach is packed to capacity, with San Sebastian’s finest all looking to soak up a few rays. In the winter, it’s the perfect spot for long reflective walks.
Insider tip: This is the safest beach at which to swim. You can also rent umbrellas, lounge chairs and tents if you’re looking for maximum comfort.
2. Catch a surf at La Zurriola
Are you looking for a bit more action in the form of waves? Then head over to the eastern-most beach in San Sebastian, La Zurriola. There you’ll find waves perfect for all types of surfing. It’s generally a more active beach, so head here if you want an antidote to the laid-back atmosphere of la Concha.
Insider tip: You don’t have to travel with your surfboard to catch some waves. Surf Rental San Sebastian will deliver rental boards and wetsuits to the city, and if you’re new to the sport, Puka Surf can help you learn with a surf lesson.
3. Marvel at panoramic views, and some San Sebastian history, on Monte Urgull
A walk to the summit of Urgull Hill offers beautiful views. It’s enough to get the heart rate up, but not enough to exhaust you. As you wind your way up you’ll be treated to constantly changing views of the ocean, Old Town, city, and distant mountains. At the top you’ll find a large statue of Christ. There’s also a small museum that walks you through the city’s intriguing military history.
Insider tip: Descend on the ocean side to walk the sparkling promenade lining the turbulent sea back to the city.
4. Get close to the ocean life at the aquarium
If the weather turns bad, then the aquarium at the foot of Monte Urgull offers a good place for shelter. The aquarium is close to 100 years old, but its 2008 revamp turned it into a modern marvel on the inside. It comes complete with a Nemo tank and 360 degree acrylic tunnel surrounded by sharks and manta rays.
Insider tip: If you’re still studying, bring your student card along – it’ll get you €4 off the entrance price.
5. Have a night on the town
San Sebastian’s nightlife is legendary, and refreshingly different to how other Spanish cities usually let their hair down. There are three main districts to explore after dark – the Old Town, Calle Reyes Católicos, and Gros. Each has its own charm and appeal and you should aim to sample each.
Insider tip: If you’re in town on a Thursday evening, head to the old town for pintxo pote and then move on to Ondarra for a good night out. You’ll find the after hours party downstairs.
6. Max out on the miniature culinary art of pintxos
San Sebastian’s pintxos are world-famous, and for good reason. These little bite-size snacks are cost-effective, delicious, and good to look at. Eating them is an entire experience in itself. Expect vibrant bars with abrupt but friendly servers, a selection of delectable food ranging from the familiar to the bizarre, and a social atmosphere that will have you chatting with locals and tourists alike until the early hours of the morning.
Insider tip: The Old Town is where most of the pintxos action happens. Start out at Borda Berri for some of the city’s best pintxos, and then bounce your way around town until you’re full to capacity.
7. Walk the town
San Sebastian’s Old Town is a beautiful place to explore on foot. You’ll find intriguing churches from different eras, spectacular squares and charming, romantic gardens. If you’re feeling particularly energetic, keep walking towards the famous bridges spanning the river or make your way to the harbor to soak up some marine life. From there, the famous promenade running alongside la Concha is spotless and perfect for people watching at all times of the day and early evening.
Insider tip: Pay a visit to Plaza de la Constitución. This impressive square dates back to the 1700s, and has had a previous incarnation as a bull ring – look for the numbers above the balconies as proof.
8. Visit a traditional cider house
San Sebastian may be one of the food capitals of the world, but you can also sample some of the best traditional cider of the region there. You’ll find a handful of fantastic cider houses throughout the province, including the smaller towns of Astigarraga, Hernani, Urnieta, and Usurbil. Visit the San Sebastian tourism website for details. If a day trip is out of the question, you can always order a glass of the cider in your favorite San Sebastian restaurant or bar – just ask for a glass of sidra.
Insider tip: Some traditional cider houses are on the colder side, so pack some warm clothes and be prepared to eat standing.
San Sebastian is an incredible city to visit on a rail trip through Spain. It offers a perfect combination of food, drink, history, culture, and nature, and a few days there will expose you to another fascinating face of this diverse country.
Originally written for Eurail.com