48 Hours in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain (Basque Country)
Arriving midday to the Northern corner of Spain, tucked in between the Bay of Biscay and the border to France, this small Basque city is filled with life, deep rooted culture and amazing food. The culture resonates in their day to day and any visitor will be able to feel the life of the Basque region. So join us for two days you won’t forget! This is my insiders guide to eating well and exploring Donostia-San Sebastian (with some extra summer tips as well!)
First 24 Hours
Eat: Find your way to the heart of La Concha where you’ll find La Perla perched along the walkway linking the cities most famous beach with the rest of the city. Here you can enjoy your first sit down meal in the city while overlooking the beautiful shell shaped bay, the Santa Clara Island, and views of both Igueldo, Urgull and the Old Town. Sit back and relax, as a typical lunch can last a couple hours on Spanish (Basque) time. Buy a home made ice cream cookie sandwich from Marti´s The Cookie located just outside the doors of La Perla (during the summer season) for the walk along the beaches.
Explore: Walk along the El Paseo de La Concha away from the Old Town while admiring the famous railing designed by Juan Rafael Alday. Heading through a tunnel under the Miramar Palace, past Ondarreta Beach and ending at the Peine de Los Vientos (or the Wind Combs). Designed by Eduardo Chillida – these famous sculptures are a famous face of the city. Locals and visitors alike wander to this part of town to watch the waves crash over the wall creating a show for all ages.
Visit: On that side of town you’ll find some of the most amazing views of the city. Just before the Peine de los Vientos you’ll find the Wimbledon Tennis Club of Donostia-San Sebastian. Just behind the country club is a hidden gem of the city: The Funicular leading up to the top of Igueldo. Take in the postcard views of the city from the hotel / amusement park above. Then sip a cafe con leche after taking a ride on old fashioned wooden roller coaster passing over the cliffs and breaking waves below!
Shop: Coming back into the heart of the city you’ll pass through the centre, home to big name shops such as Lacoste, Zara, H&M, Nespresso, and FNAC – but also filled with small vintage shops and local names alike.
Visit: The centre of Donostia-San Sebastian is also home to Buen Pastor or the Good Shepherd Cathedral. A Roman Catholic inspired building filled with beautiful stained glass windows and design inside. Open to the public and free to enter, this beautiful building is open 8:30-12:30 and 17:00-20:00 Monday through Friday and Saturday and Sunday during hours of worship.
Relax: Take your late afternoon merienda – or snack / coffee – at the new local bar just around the corner from Buen Pastor: Botanika. Opening just under a year ago, this cafe / bar / restaurant has made a big name for itself in this Basque city. Offering the typical tortilla de patata on the bar to various menu options with hint of exotic flavors, this place is the perfect way to relax and enjoy talking about your favorite parts of the city thus far!
Explore: Walk back towards the Old Town along the river to visit various shops before starting your own pintxo tour. Depending on the time of year, the street lights may be flickering on or the sun may still be shining! In the winter and spring the street lights make the river feel like a mini Paris – adding a special romance to a walk along the river. The Kursaal will be lit up acting as a nightlight for the city. If you’re lucky to visit in the summer, the sun will be shining till 10pm and the riverwalk will feel more like a midday stroll – a beautiful midday stroll nonetheless. Observe the different architecture that the bridges add to the city, each with their own unique story.
Eat: As you’re walking through the Old Town take in the essence of the pintxo! A typical finger food found in every bar in Donostia-San Sebastian, they combine layers of ingredients placed on a small piece of bread and stuck with a toothpick. Pintxo’s can range in price from 1euro to 5 depending on the place. Places to check out: Borda Berri on Fermin Calbeton – try their pulpo (octopus), carrilera (beef cheek), and risotto de Idiazabal (Idiazabal cheese risotto); Mejillonera en el Puerto – known for cheap but delicious mussels. And for more experimental pintxos check out Fuego Negro or Zeruko. Then end the night with a slice of the cities best cheesecake at La Vina!
Sleep: Make a reservation at many of pensions or higher end hotels – depending on your budget! Or look into airbnb.com for apartment rentals if that´s more your style.
Day 2 | The Next 24 Hours!
Stroll: Wake up early just as the sun is rising and make your way towards La Zurriola beach in Donostia-San Sebastian´s neighborhood of Gros. You’ll catch glimpses of early morning surfers in the lineup if the waves are good and maybe another soul or two starting their day with a morning walk. Breath in the crisp morning salt air as you follow the paseo de la Zurriola to the end — sit, relax, and watch the waves.
Eat: Once ready for breakfast, head over to Dulce Hogar located in Gros just a block from the beach on Calle Zabaleta. A cozy cafe decorated with a fireplace, a couch, and a chalkboard wall – they offer an array of sweets to the more traditional eggs and toast. Or simply enjoy a morning coffee to your liking.
Hike: It´s worth the effort! This hike starts in the neighborhood of Gros and leads you to a town just 5km away. Walking back to the far end of Gros and the surfing beach, you´ll walk up Calle Zemoriya – following the road to the very end until it starts becoming a path. You’ll see stairs ahead and a large undeveloped land to your left – home to various ponies and chickens. Follow this path to the top (it´s the hardest part!) and take a left to continue along the coast. Stop to take in the views! It´s what makes this hike so beautiful. Follow signs to Pasaia San Pedro and in just under 3 hours you’ll arrive to the small fishing village. Don´t forget to bring your wallet for dining and the bus ride back!
Eat: Once you’ve successfully made it to Pasaia San Pedro you’ll take a taxi boat across the harbor to Pasaia San Juan – the more beautiful side of the fishing port. Here, any of the restaurants in this town offer a full menu del dia with fresh seafood and of course various types of meat.
Relax: Cross the harbor once again to walk into the small town of Pasaia San Pedro to catch a bus back into Donostia-San Sebastian. Once back in the city and rested after your morning hike, walk back to La Perla at the Concha – this time you’ll be visiting the spa for an afternoon of treatments with views of the famous bay.
Eat: Once ready for the evening meal, head to Oquendo for a taste of the Carrilera amongst other famous dishes. Located just behind the Maria Cristina Hotel, this restaurant is well known among the many stars who have visited Donostia-San Sebastian for the annual film festival in September. You’ll see photos lining the walls of all those who have passed through their doors before!
Drinks: Start in the Old Town at Atari for the cities specialty of Gin Tonics while chatting under the lit up Santa Maria Church. Follow the energy of the city as the Old Town is full of small bars filled with locals and visitors alike.
Music / Dance: Depending on the night you can either end it with live music at Altxerri Bar – an underground bar typically showing live jazz, blues or more latin inspired music. Drinks are well made and the atmosphere is classy yet laid back. The perfect place to go with friends to enjoy a drink and music.
If you’re more in the mood for a night out, head in the opposite direction after the Old Town and head to the cities most famous way to end the night at Bataplan. One of two nightclubs on La Concha beach, this bar is renown for it’s beautiful terrace overlooking the beach, to the mix of music played in the club below.