The best things to do in San Sebastian showcase the city's famous beaches, quaint Old Town and first-class restaurants. Known as Donostia in Basque, you’ll find a great choice of cultural events and a strong regional character in this coastal city. 

    The Old Town hosts a great scene of local eateries, markets and shops, as well as many landmarks around an impressive cathedral. From San Sebastian Cathedral to La Concha Beach, there is plenty to see and do in San Sebastian.

    What are the best things to do in San Sebastian?

    1

    Plaza de la Constitución

    Take the pulse of San Sebastian in this lively square

    • History
    • Photo

    Plaza de la Constitución is a 2,000 sq m square in the heart of San Sebastian Old Town. Rectangular in shape and framed by 4-storey arcaded buildings, this former bull fighting arena is now a pleasant open-air space amid the maze of narrow lanes that is the Old Town. As an interesting little detail, you can still see the former arena’s seat numbers written above each of the balconies that surround the square. Take a table at the terrace of one of the restaurants and tapas bars lined around the plaza and take the pulse of the city.

    Location: In the centre of San Sebastian Old Town, Spain

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    photo by Calips (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    2

    San Sebastian Old Town

    It's a bit of a maze!

    • History
    • Photo

    Locally known as La Parte Vieja, the Old Town is the most popular district of San Sebastian. Most of the buildings there date back to the mid-19th century. It’s a real maze of small streets lined with Pintxos bars (pronounced “pinchos”, it means ‘tapas’ in Basque) and shops. Emblematic edifices such as the church of San Vicente and the basilica of Saint Mary of Coro are also worth a visit.

    Location: At the foot of Mount Urgull, between Concha Bay and the River Urumea, in the north of San Sebastian, Spain

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    photo by Grayskullduggery (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    3

    La Concha Beach

    Sunbathe on one of the most beautiful urban beaches in Europe

    • Families
    • Photo

    La Concha Beach is a 1,350-metre strip of sand named after the shell-shaped bay it’s in (concha means shell in Spanish). Often considered one of the most beautiful urban beaches in Europe, it’s sheltered from the assaults of the Atlantic Ocean by Mount Urgull and Mount Igueldo, that flank its sides, and by Santa Clara Island which lies in the centre of the bay. Sunbathing, swimming, and sea kayaking are the main activities available. The beach also features facilities like toilets, showers, lockers, beach guards and Red Cross Emergency Services (in summer).

    Location: Just west of the Old Town, San Sebastian, Spain

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    4

    Mount Igueldo

    Get a breathtaking view of San Sebastian

    • Couples
    • Families
    • Photo

    Take the vintage funicular, first opened in 1912, and get to the top of Mount Igueldo to see a breathtaking panorama of Concha Bay and San Sebastian. A popular destination right next to the city, Mount Igueldo features cool landmarks and attractions like a lighthouse and an old-school amusement park. Don't miss a ride on the rollercoaster. Looking for an eagle’s-nest kind of place to stay in San Sebastian? Hotel Mercure San Sebastian Monte Igueldo is right next to the park, at the top of the mount.

    Location: Western end of Concha Bay and San Sebastian, Spain

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    5

    Mercado de La Bretxa

    Browse through a top-notch fresh market

    Located in the basement of a shopping centre, Mercado de La Bretxa is a picturesque fresh market at which, according to the vendors, the top Spanish chefs source their ingredients. Olives, oil, wine, Iberia ham, and many more transport-friendly goods can be purchased. As in most Spanish markets, you’ll find a corner with a few stalls selling ready-to-eat local specialities, including tapas.

    Location: 3, Boulevard Zumardia, 20003 San Sebastian, Spain

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    6

    San Sebastian Cathedral

    Admire a monumental religious edifice

    • History
    • Photo

    San Sebastian Cathedral was built at the end of the 19th century in a revival Neo-Gothic style. Locally called Catedral del Buen Pastor de San Sebastián, it’s a monumental edifice just south of the Old Town. The austere interior is dimly but beautifully lit by stained glass windows, which make the atmosphere serene and reverential. The highlight of the cathedral is its huge pipe organ, one of the largest in Europe.

    Location: 12, Urdaneta Kalea, 20006 San Sebastian, Spain

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    7

    Aquarium de San Sebastián

    Aquarium on the sea

    • Families
    • Adventure

    The Aquarium de San Sebastián sits in the perfect spot on the harbour and right next to Old Town, making it an essential stop for your family holiday. This aquarium features dozens of exhibits broken up by region and houses more than 200 species of ocean life.

    Like any aquarium, you’ll find the usual creatures like sharks, jellyfish, and turtles. Things get a little more interesting with the 360-degree underwater tunnel going straight through one of the tanks. There are often deals available for children, so bring the whole family.

    Location: 1 Plaza de Carlos Blasco Imaz, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

    Open: Daily from 11 am to 8 pm

    Phone: +34 943 44 00 99

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    photo by Catatine (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    8

    Gros

    A vibrant neighbourhood with bars, surf and festivals

    Gros stretches from the slopes of Monte Ulia to the mouth of the River Urumea and back to the Egia neighbourhood in San Sebastian. The youthful and vibrant oceanfront district is known for its lively nightlife and surf culture. Zurriola Beach is a magnet for hardcore surfers, while the bustling streets are where you’ll find pintxo bars hosting live music virtually every night of the week.

    The streets of Gros are also filled with world-class restaurants and unique shops. It especially draws a younger crowd, thanks to the thriving surf culture in the neighbourhood. For music lovers, it’s also home to the Heineken Jazzaldia festival, held every year in July.

    Location: Tomás Gros Kalea, Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

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    9

    Victoria Eugenia Antzokia

    A performing arts centre overlooking the River Urumea

    • Couples
    • Families
    • Nightlife
    • History
    • Photo

    Victoria Eugenia Antzokia is a performing arts centre within the De Okendo Plaza in San Sebastian, overlooking the Urumea River. The sandstone building was created by architect Francisco de Urcola in intricate Spanish Renaissance style. It has been the main hub of performing arts in the city since 1912, with various events and performances throughout the year.

    The 20th-century building is as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. It's worth visiting for a show or performance depending on the current program. Victoria Eugenia Antzokia is also the main venue for the annual International Film Festival that takes place every September in San Sebastian.

    Location: Argentinar Errepublika, 2, 20004 Donostia-San Sebastian, Gipuzkoa, Spain

    Phone: +34 943 48 11 60

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    10

    San Sebastián International Film Festival

    Spot international stars at this major film festival

    The San Sebastián International Film Festival is one of the 14 major film festivals in the world. It presented the European premier of Star Wars in 1977 and hosts world-famous actors and directors every year. Held toward the end of September, the festival tends to focus on Latin American productions and films in the less widely spoken European languages, but not exclusively so.

    When: Annually, end of September

    Location: At Edificio Tabakalera on Plaza de las Cigarreras, San Sebastian, Spain

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    photo by Ian Irving (CC BY 2.0) modified

    Stephan Audiger | Compulsive Traveller

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