San Sebastian offers newlyweds one of the best city beaches in the world – the shell-shaped golden sands of Playa de la Concha – as well as an elegant resort town of wide tree-lined boulevards, belle époque architecture, fashionable shops, delicious tapas bars and fine dining restaurants serving unique Basque cuisine.
San Sebastian is also an ideal base for trips to explore some of the Basque country's most fascinating towns.
You can choose from three fine golden-sand beaches in the centre of San Sebastian…
Pick a spot to sunbathe on this 1.3km-long crescent of golden sand that edges a tree-fringed promenade lined with belle époque villas.
The 40m-wide beach faces the rocky Isle de Clara and the usually sheltered Concha Bay, with safe swimming year round.
Facilities include parasols and sun loungers for hire, showers, toilets, lockers, changing rooms and lifeguards. In summer, vendors cruise the beach selling freshly peeled prawns and cold drinks.
This golden-sand beach is separated from Playa de la Concha by a rocky outcrop but is easily reached along a narrow walkway or from the promenade above.
Ondarreta offers a quiet alternative when neighbouring La Concha gets too crowded.
Facilities include parasols, sun loungers and sea kayaks for hire, showers, toilets, lockers, changing rooms, lifeguards and a children’s club with two swimming pools during summer.
This 400m-long golden-sand beach faces open sea to the east of San Sebastian and offers good conditions for surfing, wind surfing and kite surfing.
Facilities include parasols, sun loungers and surfboards for hire (year round), a surfing school, showers, toilets, lockers, changing rooms, lifeguards and a children’s club during summer.
Playa Zurriola sits adjacent to the smaller Playa de Gros and in front of artist Rafael Moneo’s Kursaal – iconic glass blocks that house an art gallery and café-restaurant, with an outside terrace overlooking the beach.
Stroll along the Paseo de la Concha to the opposite side of the bay, then ride the cable car to the top of Monte Igueldo for stunning views of the city and coastline.
Or explore the narrow streets of the Old Quarter (or La Parte Vieja), which nestles beneath the wooded slopes of Monte Urgull, one of two mountains that frame the resort.
Wander around the main square, La Plaza de la Constitución (once used as a bullring), admire the elaborate Baroque facade of the 18th century Santa María church, visit the elegant 16th century Gothic church of San Vicente, then pop into the excellent Museo San Telmo on Plaza Zuloaga to see an impressive collection of Basque artifacts that date from prehistoric times.
Afterwards, wander along the wide promenade of Paseo Nuevo and perhaps hike up to Monte Urgull for panoramic views overlooking San Sebastian, the Bay of Biscay and across the still waters of La Concha Bay to the Isla Santa Clara and Monte Igueldo.
Elsewhere, explore the manicured gardens of the Palacio de Miramar, the former summer home of King Alfonso XIII, which sits between Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta.
Or wander the grounds of the Palacio de Ayete, built in 1878 and used by the military dictator Francisco Franco from 1940 until 1975.
Top attractions in San Sebastian, include…
Aste Nagusia – Plan to arrive in mid-August for San Sebastian’s annual party – a fabulous celebration of everything Basque, with traditional music and dance displayed alongside firework competitions, cooking competitions and sports events (above photo).
Museo San Telmo – Admire the impressive collection of Basque artefacts dating from prehistoric times, as well as artworks by Zuloaga, El Greco and Ribera and a large number of Basque painters.
The museum is housed in a 16th century Dominican monastery in La Parte Veija (Old Quarter) at the base of Monte Urgull.
Museo Chillida-Leku – Wander amid some 40 sculpted monoliths created by Eduardo Chillida, a legendary sculptor in the Basque world.
Set in a landscaped garden of magnolias, oak and beech trees in the small mountain town of Hernani, the museum is around 10 minutes drive from San Sebastian.
Isla de Santa Clara – Pack a picnic and take a day excursion out to this small rocky island in La Concha bay. Boats leave from the port every half hour in summer.
Stay at one of the finest belle époque hotels in Spain – the opulent Hotel Maria Cristina, located in the heart of the city.
Or try the stylish 19th century Hotel Londres y de Inglaterra, conveniently located on the northern edge of Playa de la Concha (and less expensive than the Hotel Maria Cristina).
San Sebastian offers an excellent choice of accommodation options to suit all budgets, including the following…
Maria Cristina, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Sebastian
Location: Paseo República Argentina, San Sebastian
Ave nightly price: AUD1,367 per room
Description: This 5-star hotel is located opposite San Sebastian’s Victoria Eugenia Theatre, with views over the Cantabrian Sea and Urumea River. Dating from 1912, María Cristina Hotel offers elegant rooms with free WiFi. The air-conditioned rooms include flat-screen satellite TV. Their marble bathroom comes with a separate bath and rain-effect shower, double sink, bathrobe and slippers. The Easo Restaurant serves a daily buffet breakfast. The DRY Martini Bar serves local pintxos tapas and a range of drinks. Michelin Star French Chef Hélène Darroze will run a pop-up restaurant in the hotel from June to October. She will offer lunch and dinner menus, her vision of Basque pintxos, and her signature dishes. Hotel Maria Cristina has hosted movie stars including Woody Allen and Elizabeth Taylor during the San Sebastián Film Festival, held every September. The Kursaal Convention Centre is around 300 metres away. San Sebastián’s Old Town is around 400 metres from María Cristina Hotel.
Hotel Londres y de Inglaterra
Location: Zubieta Kalea, San Sebastian
Ave nightly price: AUD487 per room
Description: Overlooking La Concha Bay, this grand 19th-century building is set next to the beach, on San Sebastián’s seafront promenade. It has discounted access to La Perla Spa and air-conditioned rooms with a private balcony. Rooms at the Hotel Londres y de Inglaterra feature classic décor with features dating from the Belle Époque era. They come equipped with flat-screen satellite TV, Wi-Fi connection and a private bathroom. Offering sea views, the hotel’s Mari Galant Brasserie serves traditional Basque food. The English-style Swing Bar serves cocktails and has a seafront terrace. The staff at the Londres Hotel’s 24-hour front desk can help to arrange guided tours, live shows and restaurant reservations. You can also rent a car from the front desk and the hotel has private parking. San Sebastián is famous for its food and the hotel is surrounded by good tapas restaurants. The Kursaal Convention Centre is around a 15-minute walk away, and you can walk to the historic quarter in 5 minutes.
Zenit San Sebastián
Location: Antonio Maria Labaien, San Sebastian
Ave nightly price: AUD280 per room
Description: Featuring a rooftop sun terrace with a seasonal hot tub, Zenit San Sebastián is a 4-star hotel located in the area of Morlans, within the neighbourhood of Amara in central San Sebastián. The hotel offers free WiFi. This modern hotel features a bar, and the onsite restaurant, Morlans, offers traditional Basque cuisine with a modern twist. Room service is available. Each air-conditioned room at the Zenit San Sebastián is soundproof and comes with a flat-screen satellite TV, a minibar a laptop safe. The private bathrooms include a hairdryer and free toiletries. Each has either a bath or an extra large rain shower with non-slip Krion porcelain floor. Extra-long beds for athletes are available. At Zenit San Sebastián you will find a 24-hour front desk where services like tourist information and luggage storage can be provided. The hotel 160 m from Amara Tram Station and 20 minutes' walk away from Kursaal Convention Centre. San Sebastián Airport is 20 minutes by car.
Location: Sagrada Familia, San Sebastian
Ave nightly price: AUD253 per room
Description: The Astoria7 is themed around cinema and the San Sebastian Film Festival. Each room offers free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TV’s and is dedicated to an actor or director who has visited the city. The stylish, sound-proofed rooms at the Astoria7 feature contemporary décor .Each air-conditioned room has satellite TV and a marble bathroom with a magnifying mirror. The Astoria’s restaurant is open for lunch and serves a range of Basque and Spanish cuisine. The café-bar offers a buffet breakfast and serves traditional Basque tapas, or pintxos. The lounge-library at Astoria7 has free internet terminals and a selection of books and films for guests. There is also a gym on site. The Astoria7 is set in the former Astoria Cinema, by the River Urumea. It features a secure, underground car park
Barceló Costa Vasca
Location: Avenida de Pío Baroja, San Sebastian
Ave nightly price: AUD225 per room
Description: This design hotel has a gym and a seasonal outdoor pool. Barceló Costa Vasca is 550 m from San Sebastián’s Ondarreta Beach, next to Miramar Palace and Gardens. Rooms at the Costa Vasca are bright and minimalist, with lots of natural light. All rooms include a minibar and a safe, while some rooms feature a private balcony. The outdoor swimming pool is open during the summer months. The hotel’s Ulia restaurant serves Basque and international cuisine. B-lounge café-bar offers a relaxed atmosphere. The historic centre of San Sebastián is just a 30-minute walk from the Hotel Costa Vasca. The city is surrounded by green hills, including Urgull and Ulia.
The best time to visit San Sebastian for a beach holiday is during the summer months of July and August.
However, anytime from late-June to mid-September is good for general outdoor activities.
San Sebastian has a temperate oceanic climate with warm summers and mild, wet winters.
Located on the northern coast of Spain, San Sebastian experiences cloudy and overcast conditions with rainfall throughout the year.
More climate information about San Sebastian weather…
San Sebastian is located 21km (31mi) from Irun (on the Spanish-French border), 100km (62mi) east of Bilbao and 483km (300mi) north of Madrid.
Within Europe, the most convenient route to San Sebastian is by air to either Bilbao Airport (BIO) or (the smaller) Biarritz Airport (BIQ), followed by bus or taxi to San Sebastian.
Bilbao Airport (BIO) is located 104km (64mi) west of San Sebastián, about 1 hour 20 minutes by bus, or less by taxi.
Biarritz Airport (BIQ) is located 47km (29mi) northeast of San Sebastian, about 45 minutes by bus and 30 minutes by taxi.
From some international destinations the most convenient route to San Sebastian is by air to Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD), followed by a connecting flight to San Sebastian Airport (AGP).
San Sebastian Airport receives daily flights from Madrid and Barcelona, and is located in the nearby harbour town of Hondarribia. Taxis are available at the airport terminal, and a frequent bus service operates to and from the center of San Sebastian.
By train, San Sebastian/Donostia is 5 hours 23 minutes from Madrid-Chamartin, and 5 hours 40 minutes from Barcelona-Sants, with connections to and from Bilbao and Irun.
By bus, San Sebastian is 6 hours from Madrid and 7 hours from Barcelona.
More information about how to get to San Sebastian…
Latest update: San Sebastian: 4 August, 2022