San Sebastián

For other places with the same name, see Sebastian (disambiguation).

Donostia-San Sebastián (Basque: Donostia; Spanish: San Sebastián) is in the Basque Country in Spain.

San Sebastián

Understand

San Sebastian boasts one of the best in-city beaches in Europe. It is quite unusual feeling that you can sunbathe and swim right next to major historical buildings and churches. Surfers are in abundance here.

The city is quite small and cozy, featuring many seafood restaurants, several beaches, tons of pintxos bars and a choice of designer clothes shops.

Orientation: The city is divided into Old Town (Parte Vieja), Gros and Centro.

Get in

By train

International trains from France mainly arrive at Hendaye and Irun stations, whence it is possible to take a local train to San Sebastian. Take care when booking from France, as a town named Saint Sébastien exists there as well.

San Sebastian has two main train stations: the RENFE station for national and local Cercanías trains (located at the east end of Puente de Maria Cristina), and the Euskotren Amara station for its local network (located at the Plaza Easo).

From France, there is a multitude of TGV and TER (regional trains) to Hendaye. To reach San Sebastian, change here onto an Euskotren train. Connections are frequent, and continue until late. The last train towards San Sebastian departs Hendaye at 22:33. A few trains from France do not end in Hendaye, and go across the border to Irun. At Irun station, the best option to reach San Sebastian is to change there to a RENFE Cercanías train. Direct TGVs from Paris Montparnasse depart at 10:28, 12:28 (to Irun), and 14:28. In addition, there exists a number of possible connections with a change in Bordeaux.

From Portugal, there is a daily Trenhotel overnight train, leaving Lisbon Sta. Appolonia station at 21:18, and arriving San Sebastian at 10:53.

From the major cities of Spain (outside the Basque Country), the train is much quicker than a bus, and if booked in advance often the cheapest option too. Twice- or thrice-daily direct intercity connections (Alvia) are maintained by state operator RENFE from Vitoria-Gasteiz, Burgos, Valladolid and Madrid, and from Pamplona, Zaragoza, Tarragona and Barcelona. Both lines utilize semi-high speed train sets that travel on the high-speed tracks where they can. Madrid-San Sebastian journey time is between 4h51m and 5h21m. Barcelona-San Sebastian journey time is 5h39m. RENFE also operates a daily service with conventional coaches (Arco) towards Santiago de Compostela and A Coruña, which is ideal for pilgrims looking to skip a portion of the road.

From within the Basque Country (except for Hendaye and Irun), the bus is usually quicker. There are however some scenic train routes operated by Euskotren from the surrounding area, and from Bilbao, with onwards connections by FEVE from Santander (Cantabria), and León (Castilla y Leon). The routes offer a leisurely alternative to travellers who have time to spare.

By plane

San Sebastian is well served by airports:

  • Bus to the airport: i2 (€2) departs from Plaza Gipuzkoa nearly once a hour takes 30min, making a maximum of 4 stops (typically less).
  • Cafes in the departures area are limited to a single cafe on the ground floor, plus posh restaurant on the 2nd floor.
  • Shopping in departures area is limited to a single souvenir small shop; no duty free shops available.
  • Electronic check-in is available only for Iberia and Spanair. It doesn't work for Iberia e-tickets printed from an e-mail, however.
  • Wi-Fi network is not available.

By bus

The Basque Country is generally easier to get around by bus than by train. Buses arrive and depart at the San Sebastian bus station, at Plaza de Pio XII in Amara Nuevo. A number of bus companies operate services to San Sebastian, including:

Buses are the only way to get to some areas of the Basque region, and often run more often (and cheaper!) than trains. Vitoria-Gasteiz, capital of the Basque Country, is a 2-hour ride away. Bilbao, the travel hub and biggest city in the region (1-hour ride), and Pamplona (1-hour ride) are other popular destinations, but longer-range buses do overnights to Madrid, Barcelona and even Milan.

Bilbao's bus station is accessibly via the San Mamés metro station. Buy a ticket for the next bus to San Sebastian at the Pesa window for 11.75 €. They leave from stop 2, 3, or 4 every 30 minutes or hour.

By car

In the downtown, parking is costly (roughly €20/day); most parking spots are underground, and finding a way to get there can be nerve-wracking. Left turns are more rare than rights (and are unpredictable). Having a driving map is essential. The biggest underground parking lots are in the city center, so the easiest way to find a place without wasting time is to go through the road that goes by the river and follow the signs.

There are some free parking lots in the west of the city: on the tourist maps by SanSebastianTurismo available in some guesthouses, the area is marked with a blue dotted line "Controlled parking zone".

Get around

You can see San Sebastián on foot and by taxi. Taxis only pick up passengers at designated taxi stops or when booked by phone. They aren't permitted to take passengers who hail them on the street.

Bicycle lanes are all around the downtown, and in the summer bicycles can be hired (at certain times they are free) from strategically placed locations around the city. Apart from private hiring companies, the town hall has a bike-service all over the city, which is also open to tourists. Tourists should get a bike-card at the Tourist Information Center in Boulevard, 8 (€20 deposit, €15 for 1 day, €20 for 4 days, €25 per week) . This card should be given back the day after it is purchased so as to recover the €20 deposit. This way you can use any of the multiple bikes around the city, for a maximum of 4h non-stop (Leaving 30 minutes between use allows you to cycle for a further 4h non-stop), from 10:00 to 21:00. There are several bike-service spots around the city, and bikes can be picked up and dropped off at different points.

D-Bus has a number of routes across the city. Single journeys to any destination on its network cost a flat rate of €1.45. However, for residents staying for longer periods, they may wish to buy the 'Kutxa chip' card available from Kutxa Bank's main office at C/ Garibay 15, close to the Parte Vieja, for €5.50. After the initial purchase, the card can be topped up on ATM's all over the city and instead of paying the flat rate of €1.45, holders merely swipe their card and pay €0.73 for each journey. There is a local app for smartphones (both iPhone and Android) that tells you bus arrival time for each bus stop, selectable on a map.

It's also possible to buy and top up a tourist card, valid for 10 days, at some newsagents. The card costs €2.60 after which each journey is €0.75. The card can be used to pay for up to five people. Touch it against the electronic card reader as you get on the bus, once per passenger.

See

San Sebastián, Zurriola beach
San Sebastián Igeldo funicular historic postcard

Do

Buy

Clothes and shoes

San Sebastian is known as a stylish city and an image-conscious one, so it is stuffed with high-end shops. Peruse La Parte Vieja (the old part of town) for cool boutiques filled with quirky designer gear. There are fantastic shoe stores—I remember one in particular whose rainbow of amazing women's shoes in the window changed daily—and sources for that inimitable bold Spanish fashion. Designer clothes for men are much more difficult to find than for women.

Most shops are freestanding, but there is an enclosed shopping mall (La Brexta) that has the cineplex (as well as the city's lone McDonald's) as well as a collection of high street shops in the modern Nuevo Mercardo San Martin complex .

Some of the shops worthwhile visiting are:

Souvenirs

Surf

Eat

The Basque cuisine is famous within Spain and many believe it is the Basque Country where you can find the best food. Much of this fame comes from San Sebastian and its bars and restaurants. Although tapas were invented in Andalucia they became perfected in San Sebastian and a walk through the old town before lunch time with its many bars shows why. Each bar is bursting with tapas and they look very delicate. Tapas are generally enjoyed together with a glass of wine or a small beer, and the Spanish tradition suggests to have one tapa and a wine in one bar and move on to the next bar. Tapas can be used as a good substitute for a meal - you pay for each one you eat (about €2-4 each) so you can have as many as you want. If you want 'real' food then that is where San Sebastian can be very good. You can find several different cuisines such Chinese, German, Galician, Italian and of course the obvious Basque cuisine. In and around the harbour you can have the freshest seafood and if you don’t enjoy the simple harbour taverns go and enjoy San Sebastian restaurants with Michelin stars if you have some money to spare.

San Sebastian is not a place for vegetarians or vegans, unless you are able to catch the fresh produce markets in the morning and cook for yourself. Pescetarians can get along fine with the abundance of seafood offered on menus.

Lo Mejor de la Gastronomia holds annual conference and competition in November, including nominations for pintxos bars and for restaurants.

Breakfasts

Healthy breakfast (even omelet) is hard to find in cafes: typically sandwiches or breakfast variety of pintxos are offered.

Lunch and dining

Mid-range

San Sebastian, Puente del Kursaal

Along the waterfront one can find many cafes and bakeries.

Splurge

Pintxos

San Sebastian old town Pinchos

The way to eat pintxos, (tapas in the Basque Country whether speaking Spanish or Basque) in San Sebastian is quite different from other cities in Spain. There are two kinds of tapas: cold and hot ones.

Don't attempt to eat pintxos if you're starving, you'll treat it like a buffet and prices will easily rack up as everything seems more appealing. Only get a couple of pintxos at a time as sometimes what looks really appealing, has been sitting on the bar the whole day and is past it's use by date. Test the waters. Cold ones are displayed on the bar. Just ask the barman for your drink and pick the pintxos yourself. If you need a plate, just ask. Hot ones must be ordered from the barman and they take a short time to be cooked. There is always a hot tapas menu hanging from the wall.

When you are done eating your tapas and have finished your drink you ask the barman for the bill, and you have to tell him what you have eaten. It is very important to be honest, as it is a long tradition. Locals will be upset if they find people eating and not paying. Normally you don't eat many pintxos at one bar but move from bar to bar, drinking a beer (caña) or wine and eating one or two tapas. Then you move to another bar. Traditionally residents would have one or two pintxos in the early evening to stave off any hunger before a later sit-down meal, rather than making a meal out of a large number of pintxos.

Generally, if the barman asks you to show your plate to them before you start eating, you know the bar markets towards tourists and is sub par and more expensive that it should be. A good bar will ask you what you've eaten as you pay and you should see a chef working out the back.

Most pintxo bars are to be found in the old town, particularly on the streets running parallel to Boulevard. Generally a pintxo will cost €2-3. At some bars the pintxos are all priced the same, at others the price depends on the pintxo. Pintxos (tapas) bars are thick in the Parte Vieja (Old Town), but there are masses of other places nearby in the Gros and Centro areas. Most bars charge by the toothpick or plate from €1-5.

The Jamon Iberico (usually seen hanging from the ceiling in whole leg portions) is ubiquitous, and equally good virtually everywhere. The calamari seems to be the same at every bar, don't order it again at a different pintxo bar if you didn't like it the first time.

Old Town (Parte Vieja)

Gros

Centro

Cook-by-order pintxos

Some slightly pricier pintxo bars that don't have pre-cooked pintxos and only cook them on order (correspondingly, their pintxo are of higher quality) are:

Drink

Local specialties

Cafes

Coffee is espresso, not brewed, even in the on-the-beach cafes.

Cider and Sidreria

A purely Guipuzcoan experience, sidrerias dot the countryside and offer all you can drink sidra (a mildly alcoholic apple flavored cider) shooting straight from the barrel. Sidrerias usually offer a traditional set menu of cod omelette, cod with peppers, txuleta (really thick steak), and then for dessert: cheese, walnuts and membrillo (quince paste). The cider house season runs from the end of January to the end of May, but a couple of traditional sidrerias that are open all year (you'll need to get a car, bus or taxi from town) are:

Clubbing

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

A great Pension / Hostel in the center of San Sebastian. Close to the beaches and all the bars and restaurants.

Splurge


San Sebastian: La Concha bay

Connect

Internet

WiFi zones can be seen in a cafe on the Ondarreta beach; in many bars in the Old City. It's unclear whether they are paid or free of charge.

There are many WiFi points throughout the city and indicated by a white WiFi symbol on street-posts. These are free to access.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, March 25, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.