San Sebastián may be small in size, but it packs a mighty punch. This is why a city with a population under 200,000 attracts two million visitors annually.
People travel from near and far to take in the stunning, shell-shaped Playa de la Concha, the historic plazas, ancient churches, and beautiful Belle Époque architecture.
Then there’s the San Sebastián International Film Festival, year-round cultural events, and exquisite, world-class gastronomy.
At Basque Bites, we love sharing the passion we have for our city on our San Sebastián and Basque Country day tours.
We’ve spent countless hours exploring this remarkable place, so we have plenty of tips for the best things to do in San Sebastián! Scroll down to find our recommendations.
And if you have any questions about our guided food tours in San Sebastián and the Basque Country, please get in touch.
Explore Barrio Centro, the Prettiest Part of San Sebastián
Barrio Centro is regarded as the prettiest of San Sebastián’s 18 neighborhoods.
This barrio surrounds Buen Pastor Cathedral (Artzain Onaren Katedrala in Basque) and Plaza Gipuzkoa. It’s a family-friendly, elegant shopping area with lots of kid-friendly streets and eateries.
While this means that all the usual multinational shops are present, you can still find local and Spanish boutiques selling more interesting and authentic wares.
After siesta, well-dressed grandparents hit the streets and take their evening stroll on the promenade.
People dress up, go for a walk, see the neighbors, and have a drink or a pintxo. Kids kick the fútbol around outside the cathedral. It’s an enchanting time of day.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, you can find plenty of casual indoor and outdoor eateries surrounding the cathedral.
And if you’re looking for good, simple fare, Reyes Católicos Street is close by too.
One highlight here is Casa Valles. This old-school taberna—whose original location was destroyed in a fire—is credited as being the birthplace of the first pintxo!
When you finish reading this blog, check out our Ultimate Guide to San Sebastián. It’s packed with all the information and inspiration you need for planning your trip here.
Feel the Energy of Barrio Gros and Sagües
Across the river from Centro, you’ll find Barrio Gros and Sagües. This is arguably the hottest place in town, so it’s a must for your San Sebastián itinerary.
While the tourists rarely leave Bahia La Concha (Bay of La Concha), Centro, and The Old Town (Parte Vieja), locals spend most of their free time in Gros.
Post-pandemic, the neighborhood has witnessed a renaissance with new shops, restaurants, and bars springing up weekly. It’s becoming hard to keep track!
When it comes to food, this is where you’re more likely to find younger, more experimental chefs taking advantage of lower rents and less conservative cultural cues.
Sagües is a seaside area at the far (eastern) end of Playa de Zurriola, at the foot of Monte Ulia.
Join locals of all ages strolling on the promenade or sitting on the beach wall taking in one of San Sebastián’s best views for a sunset.
Discover even more about what makes our city so unique by reading our previous blog What is San Sebastián Know For?
Take a Guided Food Tour of San Sebastián with Basque Bites!
If you’re visiting San Sebastián for the first time, you may find yourself feeling like you’re on the sidelines.
What are pintxos and how do I order them? Why are they pouring cider like that? Where am I?
Our San Sebastián walking food tours are the perfect gateway to this fun and fascinating city.
We can help you find your bearings, show you all the best places that locals love, and introduce you to the world of pintxos, cider, and local wines like Txakoli and offerings from La Rioja.
What could be better than learning how to embrace an authentic San Sebastián experience while treating your tastebuds to a whole new world of flavors?
Then Visit San Sebastián’s Lively Pintxo Bars!
Armed with the skills and knowledge Basque Bites teaches you, you’ll have the confidence to hit the pintxo bars on your own.
Pintxo culture is a cornerstone of our city, so don’t be afraid to dive in!
When you join one of our tours, we provide you with a whole stack of pintxo taberna recommendations, so you can pick and choose and explore at your own pace.
In the meantime, check out our short guide to San Sebastián’s pintxos and find out more about this tasty topic.
Enjoy a Fine Dining Experience in Our Culinary Capital
If you haven’t already realized, many of the best things to do in San Sebastián involve food and drink. And that includes world-famous fine dining.
At the time of writing, our city is second only to Kyoto, Japan, for Michelin stars per capita. That equates to 16 stars, plus one “green star” for sustainability. Remember, San Sebastián is a city with a population of only 200,000 people!
This includes three restaurants with the highest award of three stars: Arzak, Akelarre, and Martin Berasategui.
If you’re looking for a killer dining experience to round off your food odyssey, you’re spoilt for choice in San Sebastián.
And if you have a taste for the finer things in life, we think you’ll love our La Rioja wine tour from San Sebastián. Come with us on a journey through this world-famous wine region.
Take it Easy on San Sebastián’s Beaches
If you’re on vacation, you deserve a break! And in San Sebastián, our beautiful urban beaches are the perfect place to kick back and relax.
Our city is home to three beaches:
- Playa de La Concha
- Playa de Ondarreta
- Playa de Zurriola
La Concha is the most famous of the three, with its picture-perfect curve, white sand, and turquoise water.
You can take a cooling dip in the inviting water during the hotter months. And if you’re looking for a little more action, you can rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard and explore the bay.
Playa Ondaretta sits to the west of La Concha. It’s a little quieter than its busier neighbor but still offers stunning views of the bay and Santa Clara Island.
Playa Zurriola is on the other side of the Urumea River, making it the go-to beach for people in Barrio Gros and Sagües.
Zurriola is famed for its waves and surfing culture, but it’s also home to a child-friendly skate park and basketball and volleyball courts.
All three have the amenities needed for a safe and comfortable beach visit, including toilets, showers, loungers, parasols, changing rooms, and lifeguards on duty in the busy summer months.
Do you want to explore San Sebastián or any other part of the Basque Country on a bespoke tour that we tailor to you? We think you’ll love our custom tours in San Sebastián and the Basque Country.
Get Your Legs Moving and Go for a Walk
Whether you want to get your step count up or walk off a big lunch, taking a stroll around San Sebastián is a pleasure.
You can walk along any of the beaches mentioned above, or ahead up Mount Urgull or Mount Ulia for more of a challenge.
Mount Urgull rises at the eastern end of the Bay of La Concha, while Mount Ulia sits directly beside Playa Zurriola and Sagües.
Depending on which of the four routes you take, hiking to the top of Mount Urgull takes around 30 to 40 minutes.
Mount Ulia is taller than Mount Urgull (235m vs 123m), so it’s a trickier walk. But part of the famous Camino de Santiago (Way of St James) passes over this hill, so it’s a hit with hikers.
A 7km walk up and over Ulia will take you to the town of Pasaia–one of our favorite walks.
And So Many More Amazing Things to Do in San Sebastián!
It really is impossible to cover all the amazing things you can do here in San Sebastián in a single blog.
But we can’t finish without these honorable mentions:
- Marvel at the captivating underwater world at Aquarium de San Sebastián, built in the port where La Concha Bay meets the Cantabrian Sea.
- Visit the Museo San Telmo, a museum dedicated to Basque society that addresses old and contemporary arts, culture, and history.
- Head to Tabakalera, an international center for contemporary culture catering to all ages. This Art Library and Maker Space is housed in an old tobacco factory.
- Extend your food journey at the Basque Culinary Center. At its core, this is one of the most innovative and intensive culinary academies in the world.
- Discover Mercado San Martin, an upscale and chic market in the heart of Barrio Centro. Tuesday through Saturday mornings, head downstairs to see the fishmongers in action!
- Dive into San Sebastián’s live music, disco, and bar scene. From jazz to punk to electronica, we’ve got recommendations for all tastes.
- Stroll around old parks connected to Spain’s Royal Family, including the picturesque, manicured Park Aiete and Cristina Enea Park, with its ponds and ambling trails.
- Feel the thrill of La Liga fútbol by watching Real Sociedad (one of Spain’s top clubs) play at Reale Arena (also known as Anoeta Stadium).
Get a Local Experience with Our Guided Food Tours in San Sebastián
We hope this list of the best things to do in San Sebastián has inspired you to book your visit.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to see and do here!
Remember, our San Sebastián and Basque Country day tours are the perfect way to get your bearings and create an immediate connection with the city, its customs, and its culture.
Got any questions for us? Just get in touch with Basque Bites! We’re here to give you all the answers you need.