San Sebastian or Donostia as it is known in the local Basque language is situated on Spain’s northern coast and is only around 20km from Spain’s border with France. To get there from the UK the easiest routing is into Bilbao, and then a private transfer (which can be expensive), the local bus which takes about 1 hour and costs €17 (2016 prices) or hire a car (there are toll charges if using the AP8 which are currently €9.85 per car). The journey between Bilbao and San Sebastian gives a completely different look to how we see Spain, taking in beautiful lush scenery as you pass the national parks and countryside. It is quite a mountainous region and many of the houses and buildings could almost be Alpine in design. As you draw closer to San Sebastian, depending on which route you take, you can see glimpses of the region’s coastline as you head eastwards towards the town.
After settling in, your number one priority has to be your first glimpse of the famous promenade, standing in the central part of the promenade you will be on the iconic La Concha beach which is the largest of San Sebastian’s beaches. Looking out to sea your eyes will be drawn to a large hill – Monte Urgull. To your right the promenade leads you to the old town, the walk is a beautiful stroll which changes throughout the day from the hustle and bustle of holiday makers enjoying the beach, friends and families meeting for coffee, to a peaceful relaxing drink on the pier in the evening, watching the lights and night of San Sebastian come into life.
The old town is the beating heart of San Sebastian’s nightlife, filled with restaurants and bars serving tapas (or pinxtos as this is basque country) there is a lovely buzz of young and old relaxing and enjoying themselves.
Explore San Sebastian
So naturally you want to see more of San Sebastian, there are a few ways to do this.
For one of the best views of San Sebastian, you should make the effort and climb Monte Urgull. Start off by heading around La Concha in an easterly direction and then make your way through the old town until you reach the church, the Basilica De Santa Maria, behind and to the side of the church there are a couple of steps from where you can start your ascent. As you climb there are many tourist information boards, explaining the history of the battlements and directing you up to the Castille. The climb is relatively gentle with lots of shade, and your rewards are the most magnificent views of San Sebastian.
There are also a couple of boat trips that can take you round the bay of San Sebastian, offering a different perspective of the town. For €10 (2016 prices) you can go out and around the bay taking in the beautiful views and buildngs and then the catamaran will head out beyond the bay to take in Zurriola beach.
Who should visit San Sebastian?
Well, there is something for everyone! One of the most striking images of San Sebastian are the families enjoying the magnificent beaches from dawn to dusk, but not just families, we observed groups of friends playing games against the promenade walls on the beach, which could best be described as a cross between tennis and pelota, a high speed basque ball game. One group of participants were clearly past retirement age but still enjoying the thrill and energy of their game
.If your looking for a romantic break then again, this is just the place, take a leisurely stroll along the promenade during the day soaking up the sun, sights and sounds of this beautiful seaside town, and during the night the stylish bars looking out to the bay are so relaxing and very romantic. Continue from the seafront to the streets and alleyways of the old town, soaking up the atmosphere from the countless, bars, restaurants and shops.
San Sebastian would also suit the mature and less mobile holidaymaker, as the promenade is quite long, flat and with loads of places to sit for free or to enjoy a drink and pinxtos in a cafe or bar.
We should stress however, that San Sebastian is not a traditional British package holiday destination. This may appeal to some but not to everyone, English is not as widely spoken as it is on the Costas and the cuisine is perhaps more suited to the locals. But, if you are somebody who wants to get under the skin of Spain then this is a perfect destination and we cannot recommend it enough.