San Sebastian is probably most famous for its beaches and culinary excellence. And whilst visiting La Concha beach and trying the city’s popular pintxos is a must for all visitors, there’s plenty more that the city has to offer.
There are things for foodies, sport enthusiasts, history buffs or those who simply enjoy a bit of wandering around and people watching.
The best things to do in San Sebastian
In this guide below, you’ll find a list of lots of things to do in Donostia, with a little bit of something for everyone!
If you’re looking to tick off all the highlights, check out our ultimate San Sebastian 1-3 day itinerary!
And whilst you can do most of the below at any time of year, we’ve made a special post on the top things to do when it rains. If you’re visiting as a family, you can also check out our in depth guide on the best things to do with kids in San Sebastian.
Otherwise, let’s get into the list!
1. Take a stroll on La Concha
La Concha translates to shell in English, but the beach is arguably San Sebastian’s pearl.
It’s been voted as one of the best beaches in the whole of Europe and it’s not hard to see why. A picture-perfect setting, the view from the promenade is probably the most iconic of San Sebastian.
No matter what time of year you visit the city, you can’t leave without paying a visit. Given the beach is in the centre of Donostia you don’t really have an excuse either!
During the summer, it’s the perfect spot for a bit of sunbathing or a cool down in the sea. In the winter, the promenade is the ideal location for a seaside stroll where you can admire the views of Santa Clara Island.
2. Explore the Parte Vieja (Old Town)
Previously the Old Town was completely surrounded by a city wall, before it was demolished in 1863 to make way for the new town.
Today, the Parte Viejas’s narrow streets are packed with pintxo bars, restaurants, bakeries and bars. The result is a thriving atmosphere full of different noises and smells.
The second oldest barrio (area) of San Sebastian, the Old Town is the heart of the city. It’s the centre of the city’s famous culinary reputation and where the party starts each weekend.
The area still contains some of the most important buildings and spaces in Donostia. Alongside the food and drink, there’s plenty to see in the Old Town.
3. Go for Pintxos
If you’re going to visit the Old Town, you may as well tick off one of the other best things to do in San Sebastian, which is going for pintxos.
San Sebastian has a worldwide reputation for its food and that begins with the pintxos.
Pintxos are small, appetiser-sized portions of food served in bars (they are ordered separately to your drink which is the main difference to the typical Spanish tapas).
The best way to get a taste for the best pintxos is to go from bar to bar in the Parte Vieja ordering a couple in each place. You can check out our recommended pintxo bars in San Sebastian here.
4. Walk Paseo Nuevo
After all the eating, you’re going to want to walk it off a little! And Paseo Nuevo is the perfect place to do so.
Paseo Nuevo or The New Promenade loops around the integrity of Monte Urgull, starting at the Aquarium and finishing up at the Zurriola Bridge near Kursaal.
The walk will take about 30 – 40 minutes in total and provides stunning views of La Concha Bay, Santa Clara Island and the Cantabric Sea. Be careful when you’re walking though! Paseo Nuevo has become famous for the images of huge waves crashing against the wall and catching out some unexpected walkers.
5. Take a ride on Monte Igueldo
The Monte Igueldo Amusement Park has been a prominent feature in San Sebastian for over 100 years.
Opening in 1912, the park is a mix of history and fun. You can ride some of the old wooden roller coasters from previous generations – which are still just as fun today!
There aren’t many theme parks in the world with as good views as those from Monte Suzia and Rio Misterioso.
6. Take a ride up the Funicular
Whilst hiking up to the top of Monte Igueldo is a good way to take in the city, the best way to reach the Monte Igueldo Amusement Park for newbies is via the funicular.
Like the amusement park, it dates back to 1912. In those days it used to transport the nobles in San Sebastian from the city up to what was the casino (now a hotel).
Its old equipment and wooden carriages have been expertly preserved and are still in use today which makes the funicular an attraction in its own right. Once at the top, you can take in some of the best views of San Sebastian.
7. Visit a Michellin Star restaurant
Hungry for some more food? Well you’ve come to the right place.
San Sebastian is a foodies paradise. Alongside the pintxo bars, the city is packed with cider houses, fresh seafood restaurants and gastronomic societies giving it one of the highest quality and most extensive ranges of options.
But what sets Donostia apart are the Michellin Star restaurants. There are a total of 19 stars within a 25km radius of the city. Apart from Kyoto (Japan), there’s nowhere in the world with a higher concentration of Michelin Stars!
8. Watch the waves crash at El Peine Del Viento
An intriguing set of sculptures, El Peine del Viento is almost alive as it lives and changes amongst the sea.
The huge steel sculptures sit on the rocks at the end of Ondarreta Beach and live in harmony with the waves.
When the sea is rough, the sculpture is it’s most impressive. Water crashes against the rocks and blasts from the number of blow holes on the viewing platform. Even if you visited El Peine del Viento 100 times, it’d offer something different on each occasion.
9. Spend the afternoon on Santa Clara Island
Sitting at the heart of La Concha Bay, Santa Clara Island is more than just a pretty thing to look at.
It measures just 400 metres wide, but there’s a lot packed into this small island with plenty of character.
As well as being on the best spots for a different view of San Sebastian, there’s a lighthouse, home to Hondalea, an impressive geographical sculpture. A small beach set up with it’s own natural swimming pool. And plenty of chill out spots as you hike up the 48 metres to the viewpoint on top of the island.
10. Chill in the gardens of Palacio de Miramar
After all the sightseeing and walking around, you’re going to want to take a bit of a siesta. There’s no better spot to do so than in the gardens of the Miramar Palace!
The palace dates back to 1893 when Queen Maria Christina purchased the land between La Concha beach and Ondarreta beach. Her summer retreat was built on the land in the style of an English cottage.
It covers a total of 3 and a half hectares and includes the main palace building, a number of outbuildings and the large gardens, which are perfect for recharging your batteries with a view.
11. Go surfing on La Zurriola beach
Largely exposed to the Cantabrian sea, La Zurriola beach has some of the best waves on the north coast of Spain.
There are not many cities in the world where you can go surfing just a short walk from the centre!
If you’re not (yet) a surfer, then the surfing vibe of Gros will probably suck you in. It’s easy to rent boards and wetsuits and even join some surf classes with a number of surf schools on the Avenida de la Zurriola.
12. Revist San Sebastian’s past on Monte Urgull
Standing high behind the Old Town, Monte Urgull has been witness to a lot over the history of San Sebastian.
A natural fortress, Castillo de la Mota sits on top of the mountain and acted as the city’s first defence. Since becoming a military base in the 12th century, Monte Urgull bears the scars of a number of sieges that have taken place over the centuries.
There are impressive viewpoints on the way to the top as you pass the English Cemetery which pays tribute to all those who died in the battles.
13. Visit the San Telmo Museum
Zuloaga Square is the best place to start your ascent of Monte Urgull, but it’s also where you can discover more about the history of Donostia and the Basque Country in the San Telmo Museum.
Set in an old convent that was also used as a military barracks, the spectacular building is worth the visit itself.
Inside it houses the Museum of Basque Society and Citizenship, containing a fine art collection alongside an ethnographic collection preserving the memory of the Basque society.
14. Take a Boat Trip
During the summer months (June – September) a boat taxi runs from the port in San Sebastian to Santa Clara Island.
There are two lines; red and blue. The blue line offers more than just a taxi to and from the island. It’s a glass bottomed boat that will also give you a tour of La Concha Bay where you can get some unique views of the city and the impressive “flysch style” rock formations of Santa Clara Island.
There are a number of companies that also offer private or group boat tours in and around La Concha Bay. From fishing trips to stag parties and romantic sunset trips – you’ll find something for everyone.
15. Visit the San Sebastian Aquarium
If the glass bottom boat has left you with a desire to explore more of the sea, fear not. At the far side of the port, at the start of Paseo Nuevo, you’ll find the San Sebastian Aquarium.
Receiving over 300,000 visitors a year, it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Basque Country. It’s worth booking tickets in advance.
Inside, it features 31 aquariums with a mixture of tropical aquariums and those dedicated to the Cantabrian-Atlantic Sea. All in all there are over 40 species of fish, 5 species of sharks and 360 degree tunnel to observe them from.
16. Walk around the River Urumea
A prominent feature that divides Donosti. The River Urumea splits the city centre from the Gros and Egia barrios.
The river enters San Sebastian through Martutene and flows down to the Cantabrian Sea near the Kursaal building. Historically it was used as a means of transporting goods (mainly Basque cider) from the local villages.
Today however, you’re more likely to find kayakers – and even surfers! The riverside has a number of landmarks along the way and some beautiful walkways making it a quiet, peaceful place to escape the city.
17. Take a Day Trip
Whilst there’s plenty to do in San Sebastian, there are also some amazing places on it’s doorstep!
Big, important cities for the north of Spain such as Bilbao, Pamplona and Vitoria-Gasteiz are all just over an hour away by bus or train. Or if you fancy some smaller traditional Basque coastal towns, there are plenty of options like Getaria, Hondarribia and Zarautz. All of them have their own history and charm.
Check out our top 10 days trips picks. Most are within easy reach on public transport.
18. Taste the famous Basque Cider
Locally and seasonally produced, it’s common for most cider to be made with Basque apples using traditional methods. This isn’t your typical Strongbow cider either. It’s a natural, cloudy cider that contains little gas so requires pouring from a height to “break” it.
The best way to taste the cider is in one of the local sidrerias (Basque cider houses). There are over 100 within 10km from San Sebastian!
These establishments have long traditions. They usually serve a fixed priced food menu containing cod omelette, fried cod with peppers, finished with a huge steak and as much cider as you want!
19. Visit the Basílica de Santa María
As you’re wandering around the Old Town, it’s worth paying special attention to the Basílica de Santa María. It’s not difficult either, the beautiful baroque facade stands out against the narrow streets of the Parte Vieja and Monte Urgull.
The basilica is a contentious site for a couple of reasons. One, it’s debated whether it’s the oldest church in Donostia. Technically it was constructed after the San Vicente church (just down the street), but on a site where there was previously a Roman church.
And two, the modern art sculpture “Harmony of sound” that has been present on the facade since 2014 very much divides the opinion of Donostiarras.
20. Take in the beauty of the Buen Pastor Cathedral
Exactly opposite, but 1km down the road to the Basílica de Santa María, you’ll find the Buen Pastor Cathedral.
The spire of the cathedral which reaches 75 metres tall sticks out above the city’s skyline, making it not only a landmark in the city but also a great reference point if you get lost!
Gothic in style, it features many gargoyles and pinnacles that are worth admiring from close up alongside the inside of the cathedral, which is flooded with light thanks to the stained glass window that lines the whole side of the building.
21. Go for a hike
The unique topography of San Sebastian means that whilst it’s on the coast there are 3 “mountains” in the city; Igueldo, Urgull and Ulía.
Each provides a unique backdrop as you walk around Donostia, but they also provide great green spaces to hike. The summits of each monte can be reached in 30-40 minutes or so and it’ll be worth it as you’re greeted with stunning views over the city and Cantabrian Sea.
Within short reach of San Sebastian there are other countryside areas well worth visiting. The Pagoeta National Park in Orio and Jaizkibel mountain range (east of Pasaia) are a couple of places where you can escape the noise and enjoy the quiet countryside.
San Sebastian also falls on the north route of the Camino de Santiago. There are a number of routes towards Bilbao and Irun that form part of the pilgrimage.
22. Rent a bike
San Sebastian isn’t the biggest city in the world. That makes it really easy to get around without having to use a car or public transport. In fact, you can easily walk from one side of the city to the other.
But another good way to get around is by bike. Donostia is bike friendly with over 30km of bidegorris (bicycle lanes). From the promenades to the shopping district the majority of the roads are equipped for two wheels.
There are plenty of bike rental places in San Sebatian for all your two-wheeler needs.
23. Watch the sunset
Given the northern orientation of the city, the sun rises behind the beaches. It’s curious as you walk down the promenade of La Concha in the morning, as most sunbathers are actually facing away from the sea.
But what that does mean is that the sun sets as you look out over La Concha bay in the evenings. This makes it a spectacular setting as the sun hides behind Monte Igueldo or Santa Clara Island late in the day.
My favourite spot to watch the sunset has to be from the port, Paseo Nuevo or Sagüés.