Whilst there are plenty of things to do in San Sebastian (Donostia), the Basque Country and local area has so much natural beauty, that a trip outside of the city is definitely worth the time if you have it.
We’ve compiled a list of our 10 favourite day trips that are within easy reach of the centre of San Sebastain.
Best of all, you don’t even need a car for all of these. Some are within easy reach on public transport.
Public Transport: 🚌 (1 hour 10 mins bus)
Bilbao is the biggest city in the Basque Country and the “unofficial” capital. Much bigger than San Sebastian, it has nearly double the population (350k vs. 185k).
It’s a big city, but has a charming small town feel, and there’s always plenty going on.
Bilbao has had a huge facelift in the past couple of decades and has transformed itself from a very industrial heritage to a city that won European city of the year in 2018!
Places like the Riverfront, the Old Town, Ribeira Market and new San Mamés Stadium have all helped boost the city. But undoubtedly the Guggenheim Museum has lifted Bilbao up a level.
Even if you’re not into art yourself, you can’t help but admire the incredible architecture of the building. Walking around the river and marvelling at the Guggenheim is a must for all visitors.
Away from the architecture and other areas of the city, there’s a big foodie culture in Bilbao. Whether it’s the pintxo culture of the Casco Viejo (Old Town) or trying your hand at one of Bilbao’s Michelin star restaurants, you’re bound to leave the city with a full stomach.
It’s easy to get from San Sebastian to Bilbao via bus, with reasonable ticket prices and frequent times.
Public Transport: 🚌 (1 hour bus)
Our next recommendation is actually a coastal town in France. But given San Sebastian’s location, right next to the French border, it’s actually only 40 minutes or so away and can be easily reached by bus.
Biarritz actually has many resemblances to San Sebastian.
It’s an elegant seaside town that became popular when European royalty started to visit in the 1800’s. It has a postcard seafront with incredible views. It’s also a major surfers hub thanks to its long sandy beaches and reliable waves.
And although it’s in France, it’s technically still in the Basque Country or Pays Basque (French Basque Country).
So despite similar characteristics we’re still recommending it as they have their own glitzy uniqueness. The feel of the two places are very different despite the short distance.
Biarritz as you would expect is very heavily French influenced, down to the architecture and the food. It makes it feel like you’re on holiday, whilst you’re on holiday!
Public Transport: 🚌 (45 mins bus)
Today, Hondarribia (or Fuenterrabia in Spanish) is a charming, quiet town. A place where you can enjoy a walk on the seafront, eat amazing food in one of its many restaurants or get lost in the history of the Old Quarter. But it wasn’t always that way.
It’s strong, defensive location at the foot of the Spanish-French border meant that the town has played prominent roles in wars gone by.
And funnily enough, it’s that history that has made it one of the most beautiful towns in the whole of Spain.
Built as a stronghold, the mediaeval town has one of the best preserved fortified walls dating back to the 15th and 16th century. A walk around the wall will lead you to the Santa María Gate, the old main entrance to the fortified town, which will take you back in time.
The fortified walls protect the Old Quarter which is a mix of a mediaeval quarter, narrow cobbled streets and cute, well-kept old homes with colourful wooden balconies.
Being on the coast, as you wander out of the Old Quarter, you’ll begin to reach the seafront which makes for a nice stroll or a place to grab a bite to eat.
There’s really no place like it in Guipuzcoa, so it’s well worth visiting. Buses run fairly frequently from Plaza Guipuzcoa in San Sebastian to Hondarribia, stopping at San Sebastian airport on the way.
Public Transport: 🚌 (45 mins bus)
For such a small town, Getaria has done a fair share to earn it’s spot on the map.
A small, walled, mediaeval fisherman’s town, perhaps it’s biggest claim to fame is being the birthplace of Juan Sebastián Elcano who was the first person to successfully sail around the world.
It was also the birthplace of Cristóbal Balenciaga who famously went on to conquer the world of fashion with the Balenciaga brand.
Today though, Getaria is a charming fishing town. It’s set in an idyllic location with rolling mountains as a backdrop and a dynamic sea that has created spectacular eroded rock formations reminiscent of the flysch in Zumaia (see #5).
It’s strong ties to the ocean means that there’s some of the best seafood on offer here. Often chefs will cook fish on the BBQs outside in the Old Quarter to entice hungry mouths into their restaurants.
More often than not, the fresh seafood is acompanied by Txakoli wine, a special wine with a Destination of Origen in the geographical region of Gipuzkoa.
Public Transport: 🚃 (40 mins train)
Zumaia is the choice for any Game of Thrones fan. Eager eyed viewers will recognise Zumaia as one of the filming locations for Dragonstone.
The coastal town has some of the longest sets of continuous rock strava in the world (the Flysch) which has led the area being named a UNESCO Geopark.
The formations can be explored best from the central beach, Itzurun, or from the Algorri cliffs, both just a short walk from the town centre. It’s worth visiting during low tide so you can really take in all of the natural beauty of the coastline.
Aside from the coastline, there are some nice easy walks that can be done in the area. Some with impressive viewpoints. Afterwards you can reward yourself with some fine food in one of the many popular restaurants in the town.
6. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
Public Transport: 🚗 (car required – 1 hour 40 mins)
With San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, we continue the theme of Game of Thrones. However, whether you’re into the series or not, it’s a place well worth visiting because, well… it’s pretty spectacular.
Another set used for Dragonstone, this is the location of the castle. Unfortunately, there actually isn’t a castle or flying dragons above, but the rest of the formation is pretty much as seen in the series and even more impressive in real life.
On top of the island, there is a small church which can be accessed by climbing the 241 steps that wind themselves across the sea to the top. The journey offers some dazzling views and unrivalled Insta photos.
The only issue with San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is that it’s not really accessible by public transport and you’ll need a car to get there. The good news, tickets are free. Though it’s recommended that you pre-book online to avoid disappointment.
Public Transport: 🚃 (30 mins train)
Just 20km away, Zarautz is one of the best places to surf near San Sebastian.
With 2.8km of beach and reliable waves it’s not hard to see why people flock from all over in their thousands to visit Zarautz and try their hand at a bit of water sports.
But even if you don’t fancy getting wet, there’s plenty of reasons to come here.
There’s a very chilled, small town surfer vibe in the town with plenty of good drinking and eating spots. One of them (Hotel Restaurante Karlos Arguiñano) is owned by one of the most famous chefs in Spain, Karlos Arguiñano.
After you’ve divulged in food, the walk over to Getaria (#4 on our list) is a good way to walk this off. The road winds around the dynamic coastline and offers some spectacular views. The route takes about 45 minutes each way.
Public Transport: 🚃 (1 hour 20 mins train)
Most famous for the San Fermin or the Bull Run, Pamplona is another day trip from San Sebastian that will give you a taste of something different.
Although it’s in Navarra and not the Basque Country, Pamplona is actually closer to Donostia than Bilbao. It’s just over an hour in the car or about 1 hour 20 mins by bus.
If you happen to be in the Basque Country during the second week of July, then heading to Pamplona to soak up the San Fermin festivities is a no brainer. And you don’t have to be into (or agree with) the bull run to enjoy your time in Pamplona.
The bulls may be the star attraction, but it’s really the people that play the major role. During the 9 days, the city doesn’t sleep with parties in the streets, music, activities for families and foodie festivals making Pamplona an experience like no other.
All year round you can do guided tours of the bull run and take in some of the San Fermin spirit.
9. Saint Jean de Luz
Public Transport: 🚌 (35 mins bus)
Saint Jean de Luz is a quiet French fishing town about 35km away from San Sebastian.
It makes a great day trip from Donostia in the summer as one of the main attractions is the beach. The clean, sandy beach stretches over a kilometre long and is the perfect place to relax as it’s usually a little quieter than the beaches in San Sebastian and neighbouring Biarritz.
Behind is an elevated promenade which makes for a nice stroll with views of the sea on one side and the quaint French Basque architecture on the other.
Away from the sea, the town has a busy, bustling atmosphere but isn’t too overcrowded. Most of the buildings date back to the 17th century and there are some incredible restaurants set in some pretty amazing buildings.
Being so close to the Cantabrian Sea, the sea food is of course of the highest quality.
Public Transport: 🚌 (1 hour 15 mins bus)
Vitoria-Gasteiz is the official capital of the Basque Country, but is often less popular than it’s sister cities Bilbao and San Sebastian.
OK, it may not have the Guggenheim Museum or be as pretty as Donsotia, but you shouldn’t be so quick to overlook it.
A dynamic city, with hot summers and cool winters, it has a lot of things going for it and is often voted as one of the best places to live in Spain. But it’s also a great place to visit. In fact, thousands do each year to attend one of the many music festivals held in the city throughout the year.
As a capital, the city itself has a lot of history including a well preserved mediaeval centre where many of the buildings date back to the 1500’s.
The main Virgin Blanca Square has also played its part in some historical moments, but now is mainly used by the locals as a place to gather for a social drink.