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It’s impossible not to fall for the Basque charm of San Sebastián, known locally as Donostia. In addition to its reputation for culinary excellence, the city boasts a unique landscape thanks to its coastal scenery and mountainous surroundings. Here are the best things to see and do.
High up on the west side of town, Monte Igueldo offers a dazzling panorama over San Sebastián’s bay. To get to the top, climb into one of the wooden carriages on the antique funicular railway, which first opened in 1912. Once you’re up, gawp at the imposing El Torreón, a crenellated 16th-century tower that you can climb up for a small fee: at the top you’ll find a superlative 360 degree view and an exhibition with historic photographs. Igueldo also has an old-fashioned amusement park with rides that children will love, including bumper cars, paddle boats, huge slides, a carousel, and a log flume.
On the highest point of Monte Urgull sits Mota Castle, constructed in the 12th century and today hosting the History House Museum, granting insight into San Sebastián’s past. Urgull served as a strategic point in previous centuries, and the ruins of the defence wall are still visible. The 12m (40ft) Sacred Heart statue (Cristo de la Mota) watches over the city from the peak and was sculpted by Federico Coullaut in 1950. The New Promenade is one of the most beautiful and tranquil walkways in San Sebastián, surrounding the entire hill and following the Cantabrian Sea from the Aquarium all the way to the end of the Old Town.
San Sebastián is most renowned for its outstanding cuisine. The city is filled with a wide range of pintxo bars, offering traditional Basque-style tapas and wines. With such an overwhelming array of tasty-looking dishes, it can be impossible to choose, and while it is difficult to have an unpleasant eating experience in Donostia, it is worth joining a pintxos tour. The tours not only take you to the best places in the city but also provide insider tips and knowledge about the city’s history and culinary evolution.
Right in the middle of Concha Bay is Santa Clara Island, which can be accessed via ferry from May to August. The tiny island offers a small beach with great views over the city. Santa Clara tends to be isolated, but it features a small cafe and a charming lighthouse. Despite its small size, the island offers a lifeguard service, so you can safely go for a splash in the cool water. With its position between the Montes of Urgull and Igueldo, Santa Clara represents one of the most idyllic spots in the city and is perfect for a picnic.