San Sebastian – the place where mouthwatering gastronomy, history and stunning landscapes collide. Discover the best things to do in San Sebastian – charting through iconic sights and local favourites along the way. 

I’ll make a bold statement: there are few dreamier locations than San Sebastian. It’s not even up for debate. Think of sunny days spent lazing on picturesque beaches and bar-hopping around the top foodie spots in the city – sounds good right? Thought so. 

As the capital of the Basque Country in Northern Spain, San Sebastian is one of those places that has to be on your Spain itinerary. Why? Simply because the culture and atmosphere are unlike any other city or town in the country. 

Enough of the preamble, let me take you through the very best things to do in San Sebastian. Here’s what not to miss on your next trip.

Need a place to base yourself for your epic Basque holiday? Check out the stunning Hotel Antik San Sebastian

Top 5 Things to Do in San Sebastian

Go Pintxos Bar Hopping and Eat Your Way Around San Sebastian


Here’s an interesting fact: San Sebastian boasts some of the highest numbers of Michelin-starred restaurants worldwide. Which, if you ask me, says a lot about the quality of ingredients and the respect they have for food in the region. 

Naturally, then, finding good places to eat is easy. But we all know that meals at Michelin-star restaurants can be pricey. 

Instead, I suggest going pintxos bar hopping or heading out on a food tour

Pintxos are small snacks similar to tapas. The main difference is that you’ll only find pintxos in northern Spain, particularly in the Basque Country. They’re also attached to skewers and eaten on bread.

These lovely small snacks are a great way to savour the flavours of San Sebastian, and there are many places to try them. Some of the best spots for pintxos in San Sebastian include Borda Berri and A Fuego Negro. 

That said, if you do want to try out those aforementioned Michelin-starred meals, there’s no better place to start than the three-starred Arzak: this local institution has held a Michelin star since 1974. 

Top Tip: Here’s a heads up… When asking locals where to try pintxos, don’t refer to it as tapas – locals will turn their nose up at you.

Spend a Day on the Beach

Playa de la Concha San Sebastian

One of the best free things to do in San Sebastian is to head to the beach. Lucky for you (and me), the city has endless gorgeous beaches where you can soak up the sun.

If you only have time to visit one beach, it should be La Concha Bay. Referred to as the “Queen of Beaches,” La Concha is San Sebastian’s most photographed site. I’m sure you can see why, right?

La Concha is popular for a reason, with showers, lounge chairs and parasols to rent. It’s also a hub for canoeing, scenic boat trips, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding around the beach. 

Nearby you’ll find the Alameda de Boulevard, lined with dozens of shops, restaurants and cafes to explore once you’re done sun tanning. 

Take a Day Trip to Bilbao

San Sebastian is an outstanding city in the Basque Country, but it certainly isn’t the only one. The region is so vibrant in culture and heritage that it would be a shame only to visit one city. 

Luckily a few cities, including Bilbao, are relatively close to San Sebastian. Bilbao is only an hour away by car, train or bus, making it the perfect destination for a day trip. 

While San Sebastian is famous for its stunning beaches, Bilbao is a lovely urban city renowned for its stark contrasts between old and modern architecture. 

Once you arrive, you can explore Bilbao’s historic Old Town and take in the stunning design of the ultra-modern Guggenheim Museum. For lunch, go to the Plaza Nueva with its plethora of restaurants and bars for Bilbao’s unique pintxos. 

After stuffing yourself silly, take the Artxanda Funicular cable car to the top of Mount Artxanda for some of the most spectacular views of Bilbao. 

Finish your day with more food at La Riviera Market, before taking a walk along the Estuary of Bilbao. 

Explore the Old Town

San Sebastian

Like most European cities, the Old Town of San Sebastian is the city’s beating heart. Lying at the foot of Mount Urgull (more on that later), it’s the second oldest area in San Sebastian, nestled between the River Urumea and the Bay of Biscay. 

It’s one of the top attractions in San Sebastian and has numerous sites worth checking out. As its name suggests, the Old Town gives you an insight into the city’s carefully preserved past. 

Some of these include the Plaza de la Constitucion, one of the most famous landmarks in Spain. It notoriously hosted bullfights which spectators watched from the balconies of the houses surrounding the square. 

While you won’t find raging bulls and red flags in the plaza today, it’s still San Sebastian’s social centre where locals and visitors gather. You can grab a snack from one of the nearby bars or restaurants surrounding the square and do some people-watching. 

Visit the Aquarium San Sebastian

The Aquarium of San Sebastian 

Sitting along the harbour on La Concha Bay, the San Sebastian Aquarium is one of the most exciting places you’ll find in the city. It’s home to over 100 years of history and was one of the first oceanographic museums in Europe.

It proudly boasts 31 exhibits with over 40 different species of fish. But one exhibit you cannot miss is the Oceanarium – a large underwater tunnel with 360-degree views of the aquarium’s colourful fish, sharks and turtles. 

And, in true Basque style, food is at the forefront of things here. After taking a tour of this beautiful underwater world, you can sit down for a delicious meal at the Bokado Mikel Santamaria restaurant next door serving contemporary Basque cuisine. 

Brilliant Things to See & Do in San Sebastian

Marvel at the Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro

Basilica de Santa Maria - San Sebastian

If you love architecture, history and art, you’ll appreciate the Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro, where all three elements blend beautifully. 

One of the best places to visit in San Sebastian is this exquisite 18th-century church in the Old Town. It features a distinct Churrigueresco (Spanish Baroque) exterior with highly decorated limestone sculptures and other decorative elements. 

The interior, on the other hand, features Neo-Gothic details with impressive pillars and high vaulted ceilings. The Basilica is open all year round and occasionally hosts Organ concerts and guided tours. 

Admire the Views From Monte Igueldo

Monte Igueldo San Sebastian

San Sebastian isn’t short on locations with gorgeous views. However, if you’re looking for the best views of the city, then take advantage of the opportunity to visit Mount Igueldo. 

This incredible vantage point sits at the end of La Concha Bay and marks the limit between the sea and the city. Believe it or not though, there’s much more to do here than just take in pretty views. 

Start your adventure by taking the funicular up to the top. Once you get there, check out Monte Igueldo Amusement Park, built in 1912. It is still fully operational and features a wooden roller coaster, a comic walkway, game booths and 20 other attractions. 

Once you’re done with thrills, take a walk around and snap some postcard-worthy city shots from above. Time your visit just right and end the day by watching the sunset while enjoying a meal at the restaurant near the Torreon Tower. 

Visit Palacio de Miramar

Palacio de Miramar

A visit to Palacio de Miramar is a must when in San Sebastian. It sits along La Concha Bay on a hill, looking out onto the sea. 

Designed in the late 19th century by Selden Wornum, this English-style Tudor palace is a true masterpiece. In its heyday, the palace served as a holiday home for Spain’s royal family. 

Over three hectares of green parkland surround the forest, and there’s a sheltered beach along with a promenade. Visiting the Palacio de Miramar is free, so this is a great place if you’d like to see how Spain’s royals lived. Or, if you just fancy a wander through one of the prettiest palaces in the Basque region.

Take in More Stunning Views from Mount Urgull

More sweeping views? I know – I’m treating you! Monte Urgull offers very picturesque views of the city. 

Sitting in the heart of the Bay of Biscay, it’s home to a military fortress – Castillo de la Mota – that was used to protect the city from numerous invasions and attacks. 

I’ll be honest with you; it’s a bit of a journey to get here. First, you’ll have to take a boat across the island, and from there, it’s a further hike up to Mount Urgull. But it’s worth the effort because your reward is the unbelievable views you’ll witness once you reach the top. 

Top Tip: It’s quite the trek to visit Mount Urgull – make sure you pack your favourite walking shoes

Visit the Museo San Telmo

Eager to delve deeper into the history and culture of the Basque Country? You need to visit Museo San Telmo. This fascinating museum sits in a 16th-century Renaissance convent building in the Old Town. 

Step inside and you’ll be transported back in time and taken on a journey through a diverse range of exhibitions focusing on archaeology, fine arts and ethnography. It also hosts an incredible historical art collection featuring artists like El Greco, Arteta and Zuloaga. 

Top Tip: The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, with free admission on Tuesday. Plan accordingly.

Venture to Isla de Santa Clara

Santa Clara San Sebastian

If there’s one thing I highly recommend you do while in San Sebastian, it’s to take a boat ride and head to Isla de Santa Clara for a relaxed day out. 

This tiny island is one of Spain’s Historical National Interest Sites and, although it’s only a few minutes away from the main beach of La Concha, it offers peace and seclusion from the mainland. 

What can you do while you’re here? Santa Clara is home to numerous (incredible) restaurants, picnic areas and cafes where you can sit and enjoy a delicious meal. And, in true San Sebastian style, the vast majority of them are a knockout.

There’s also a tiny beach and natural swimming pools along the island’s coast, ideal for swimming. Or, if you don’t fancy getting your hair wet, there’s also a lighthouse where you can enjoy rather scenic views of the surrounding area. 

Book your boat ride in advance here.

Stroll Through the Parque de Aiete

You’ve probably noticed that Spain has many impressive castles and palaces in its different regions, right? One such marvel is the Palacio de Aiete, a stunning palace built in the 19th century by the Dukes of Bailen.

In centuries past, it hosted some illustrious visitors, including Queen Victoria. Though today it serves as a public park and event venue for all to enjoy.

It’s a romantic spot dotted with ponds, a lake, soft waterfalls, lush trees and colourful flowers. And when you’re ready to take a break, be sure to stop by the park’s charming cafe, where you can sit back and soak in the tranquil surroundings over a delicious cuppa.

Unique Things to See & Do in San Sebastian: Hidden Gems That Are Off the Beaten Track

Visit the Romantic Area

San Sebastian, Spain

No – I haven’t come up with a very cute nickname for an area in San Sebastian. It’s a legit thing. If you’re looking for an idyllic spot in the city, you don’t have to look much further than the Romantic Area. 

Tucked away between the Bay of Biscay and River Urumea, this area hosts numerous plazas, a small bridge, fountains, shops and many restaurants. It goes without saying that this is an excellent area for a date night. Enjoy a classic Basque meal while the sun sets and then take a romantic stroll along the river.

But don’t worry if you’re not in San Sebastian with your other half – you can easily enjoy this area on your own, or with friends and family, for that matter.

Explore the Tabakalera

If you want to do something a little bit quirky in San Sebastian, carve out an hour in your itinerary to visit Tabakalera. 

This former tobacco factory has been transformed into a hub of contemporary culture and arts. For over 90 years, this factory churned out cigarettes, but now it’s home to a variety of collaborative exhibitions and artworks, as well as a diverse range of films.

The exhibition constantly changes, so there’s always something to look forward to. Plus, there’s a lovely coffee bar and restaurant to grab something to eat while you explore. 

Surf at Playa de la Zurriola

Playa de la Zurriola

Now, if it’s fun things to do in San Sebastian that you’re after, you should learn how to surf at the world-famous Playa de la Zurriola beach. “Zurri,” as locals call it, is a world-class beach that hosts various water activities and competitions. 

This includes surfing championships, surf classes, volleyball and beach tennis. You can head to the water and take on the waves if you’re a pro surfer. If not, you need not worry as there are daily classes held for beginners.

Once you’re done hitting the waves, you can take the pedestrian concourse to the Old Town for more exploring. 

Take the Carretera del Jaizkibel Scenic Drive

If you’re looking for something to do in San Sebastian that’s a little more off-the-beaten-track, taking the Carretera del Jaizkibel Drive fits the bill perfectly. It begins about 15 miles (25 km) outside of San Sebastian, with stops along quaint villages and towns,

This picturesque drive takes you through quaint villages and towns, with stops along the way, eventually leading up to the pilgrimage church of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.  

It’s an ideal San Sebastian activity if you want to discover more of the Basque Country without straying too far from the city centre.

Check prices and availability for rental cars here

Wander Around the Fishing Village of Hondarribia


This next San Sebastian activity ties onto the last… But one stop that the Carretera del Jaizkibel Scenic Drive will take you to is the charming fishing village of Hondarribia. Take it from me, it’s worth parking up for a few hours.

One of the village’s main attractions is its vibrant fishing port, nestled at the mouth of the Bidasoa River. Take a stroll along the water’s edge and watch as the fishermen unload their catch of the day, with the Bay of Biscay as the backdrop.

But that’s not all; the village is also home to plenty of breathtaking historic landmarks. The Gothic-style Church of Santa Maria and the Castle of Charles V are two personal favourites that you need to check out.

Hungry? You’re in luck – while this may be a small fishing village, it proudly boasts a family-run Michelin-starred restaurant – Alameda – serving up delicious Basque cuisine. 

Attend the International Jazz Festival

Consider yourself a jazz lover? If you visit San Sebastian in July, you’re in luck because that’s when this city hosts its own International Jazz Festival. It’s hosted over five days at the Centro Kursaal with over 60 performances. 

Big names that have featured on the lineup include Norah Jones, Joss Stone, Lady Blacksmith Mambazo and Nubya Garcia, to name a few. So yeah, it’s pretty impressive.

Things to do in San Sebastian: Practical Tips for Your Trip

San Sebastian

How Long Should You Stay in San Sebastian?

Take it from me – you’ll want to spend days here just making your way around the food alone. That said, three days is enough to explore San Sebastian at a relaxed pace. 

Best Time to Visit San Sebastian?

Playa de la Concha San Sebastian

The best time to visit San Sebastian is between July and September, though you should expect large crowds and surge pricing. Booking in advance can mitigate this but, if you’re on a budget, try to visit San Sebastian in May, June or September to save some cash.

Where Should I Stay in San Sebastian

Hotel Antik San Sebastian (Mid-Range) 

Sitting just 4 minutes on foot away from La Concha Bay, the elegant four-star Hotel Antik offers sleek accommodation and idyllic views. It’s also only 3 km (2 miles) from the city centre with great transport links nearby.

Check Rates and Availability 

Akelarre Relais & Châteaux (Luxury) 

Akelarre is a stunning luxury hotel with beautiful views of the Bay of Biscay. Rooms are simple but ooze style, with plenty of modern touches that make for a totally comfortable stay.

The best part? Foodies will adore this hotel, which boasts two stellar onsite restaurants. One of which is Michelin-star rated.  

Check Rates and Availability 

Recommended Tours in San Sebastian

Things to do in San Sebastian: Map

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