Travel Guide | Spain

A Day In San Sebastian, Spain

Exploring the hidden gem of Spain’s Basque Country.

Basque Country is home to an independent culture, history and language that remains separate from the rest of Spain. While often left unexplored, it boasts a collection of cities unique in their beauty and role in Spain’s industrial landscape. Most prominent is Bilbao, a center of commerce and creation, and home to the famous Guggenheim museum. While Bilbao is a key player in Spain’s economic standing and the Basque region, it is often dismissed due to its lack of color and vivacity. It’s not hard to dull in comparison to it’s neighbor, San Sebastian, which serves as an oasis and escape from the industrial grind of Bilbao and a popular vacation spot for Basque Country residents.

San Sebastian is located on the Northern coast of Spain bordering the Atlantic ocean. Your breath will first be taken away by the pristine beachfront that curves around blue ocean water dotted with lush, green islands. Bordered by mountains, San Sebastian offers nature in all forms. From swimming to sunbathing to hiking to shopping, there’s little you can’t do in this quaint city. While it historically served as a fishing town, San Sebastian has transformed in recent years to become one of the most desirable tourist and vacation destinations in Spain.

Most of San Sebastian is centered around “La Concha” beach, named for its curved shape that creates a quiet alcove of ocean for inhabitants to enjoy. Lying on the sand, you can gaze out across the bay at the islands that speckle the ocean surface, or the surrounding mountains where colorful buildings have been stacked high. Walk along the boardwalk to the left edge of the Concha’s curve, and you can visit the “Combs of the Wind”, a sculpture exhibit that emerges from the rocky waters.

Combs Sculpture San Sebastian Image

After you’ve had your time in the sun, you must meander through the winding streets of the “parte vieja”, or old part of the city. Visit the Iglesia de Santa Maria del Coro, a beautiful church unique in it’s bright exterior. Peruse the shops that line the cobblestone, narrow roads. There’s a generous variety of gelato shops within the old city, but no trip to San Sebastian is complete without a stop at Gelateria Boulevard. If you tire from walking, take a rest inside the gazebo that lies in the town square. Don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate the town hall building and walk through its surrounding gardens. If you feel like reconnecting with your youth, you can even take a spin on the old merry-go-round.

San Sebastian Image

While visiting the old city, duck inside any restaurant to try “pintxos”, Spain’s oldest form of tapas. Tapas actually originated in the Basque region, and in San Sebastian you can pile a plate high with the best tapas around. Pay by the toothpick for a quick and cheap lunch. I recommend Bar Zeruko, a modern establishment with more expensive tapas. For cheaper, more traditional pintxos, try Txepetxa.

If you’re looking to get active, a hike up Monte Urgull allows you to connect with nature in San Sebastian and catch a great view of the city from above. Take a peaceful hike to the top of the mountain, and you’ll be greeted by an ancient fort and castle, manned by a giant statue of Christ that is said to watch over the city and ward off evil. You’ll also be able to see spectacular views of the city and waterfront.

San Sebastian Beach Image


While often overlooked, San Sebastian is a destination that offers an assortment of activities and fun to be had. Nature and civilization come together to create a beautiful landscape that serves as a great introduction to the Basque Country, and important and somewhat mysterious part of Spain.

Find a hotel in San Sebastian here.

Zoe Radner

Vanderbilt University | 5 stories

Zoe is a senior at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. She loves travel, running, blogging, Tina Fey, guacamole, the beach and bulldog puppies.

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