The Top Things to See and Do in San Sebastián, Spain

Renowned as one of Europe’s most beautiful urban shorelines, Playa de la Concha is unmissable
Renowned as one of Europe’s most beautiful urban shorelines, Playa de la Concha is unmissable | © Michael Down / Culture Trip
Photo of Lena Blos
31 March 2021

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.

Ayuntamiento de San Sebastián

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View
AYUNTAMIENTO DE SAN SEBASTIAN (DONOSTIA). Vista general de la fachada del edificio del actual ayuntamiento. Desde su inauguracion en 1887 albergo un Casino, actividad que finalizo a partir de 1947. A partir de este momento fue la sede del ayuntamiento de
© Album / Alamy Stock Photo
Constructed between 1882 and 1887, the Ayuntamiento – San Sebastián’s city hall – is an architectural landmark. It stands proudly between Concha Beach and the historical quarter, alongside the marvellous Alderdi Eder Gardens. Originally home to a casino, it later became the site of battles between nationalists and republicans during the Spanish Civil War, and in the summer of 1936, armed citizens rose up against the forces of General Franco here. Bullet holes can still be found in the facade, which also features Doric columns and sculptures representing the opera, tragedy, comedy and drama. Since 1947, the grand building has hosted the city council.

Museo de San Telmo

Museum
Map View
Museo de San Telmo museum, Plaza Zuloaga square, San Sebastian, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country, Spain
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The Museo de San Telmo is now the biggest museum dedicated to Basque history from prehistoric times to modernity. It was first inaugurated in 1902 and is the oldest museum in the Basque Country. San Telmo is located at the foot of the hill Urgull and exhibits more than 26,000 historical artefacts. The original part of the museum consists of a Dominican convent, dating back to the 16th century, complemented by a modern extension. The mixture of Renaissance, gothic and contemporary design creates a fascinating play of architectural styles, and the extensive collection of Basque artefacts provides an exciting insight into the region’s history.

Monte Igueldo

Natural Feature
Map View
People at the viewpoint over the city. Monte Igueldo, San Sebastian, Spain.
© agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

La Catedral del Buen Pastor

Cathedral
Map View
Spain, Basque Country, Guipuzcoa province (Guipuzkoa), San Sebastian (Donostia), European capital of culture 2016, Buen Pastor
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
The cathedral was inaugurated in 1897 and was influenced by the style of medieval German and French churches. Today, it is home of the diocese of San Sebastián and considered one of the most significant religious buildings in the Basque Country. The organ consists of more than 10,000 whistles, making it one of the biggest in Europe. The neo-Gothic architecture shows the artistic prowess of its builders, and the tower is a popular symbol for San Sebastián. A marvellous feature, The Cross of Peaceby the Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida, can be found on the facade.

Playa de la Concha

Natural Feature
Map View
Playa de la Concha San Sebastian Spain Basque Country Beach Sea Sand
© Peter Horree / Alamy Stock Photo
The “shell beach” is one of the city’s three beaches and is renowned as one of Europe’s most beautiful urban shorelines. Its perfect arch made it popular with Queen Regent María Cristina, leading her to declare it the summer capital of Europe. Its charming promenade along the Cantabrian Sea offers a tranquil atmosphere and beautiful scenery. While surf lovers head to nearby Zurriola Beach, Playa de la Concha is filled with mixed crowd of locals and visitors seeking to cool off in the blue water.

Palacio de Miramar

Building
Map View
Palacio de Miramar (Miramar Palace) at La Concha beach, San Sebastia, Spain.
© Carlos Dominique / Alamy Stock Photo
This historic building was opened in 1893 to serve as a summer holiday home for the Royal Family. The British architect Seldon Wornum designed the building in an English cottage style, and its location offers fantastic views over the bay. In 1972, the gardens were opened to the public, while the building itself usually remains closed. It’s worth venturing to the small hill between the city centre and the Antiguo neighbourhood for a stroll through the fantastic landscape and to marvel at the beautiful views over La Concha.

Monte Urgull

Natural Feature
Map View
Mota Castle or Castillo de la Mota or Motako Gaztelua on Monte Urgull mountain in San Sebastian or Donostia city in Spain
© Andrey Khrobostov / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Pintxos Tour

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Group of tourists and guide making a tour of the city, Eating pintxos, Donostia, San Sebastian, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country, Spain, Europe
© agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Santa Clara Island

Natural Feature
Map View
View from Monte Igeldo onto a bay with island, Playa de la Concha, Isla de Santa Clara, Bahia de la Concha, San Sebastian, Donos
© Image Professionals GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

These recommendations were updated on March 31, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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