Visit Donostia, San Sebastian
In the Spanish Basque Country, San Sebastian, Donostia in Basque, is nestled at the mouth of the river Urumea, which flows into the protective bay of La Concha.
A bay framed by promontories formed by the Igeldo and Urgull mountains, contributes to the tourist fame of the city.
From these rocky promontories, in addition to the bay, the panorama overlooks the city, the hilly landscapes of the hinterland and the Cantabrian sea which baths the three beaches of the port city.
For a long time a holiday resort of the royal family, San Sebastian has always developed an intense tourist and commercial activity. The beach of Concha with its 1350 meters long is one of the most popular urban beaches in Spain.
One of the city’s main tourist activities besides beaches and gastronomy are the walks in the old town with narrow streets without sidewalks of the very attractive district’ Erdialdea’ or’ Centro’, the center, very commercial with its trendy shops, its cafés serving pitxos, the famous tapas, its restaurants, contrasting with the wide avenues of the modern city.
San Sebastian has many monuments, including the famous arena of Atocha, the Basilica of Santa Maria del Chorus, the Palace of Miramar or the bridge Maria Cristina.
Capital of the province of Guipúzcoa, one of the three provinces of the Autumn Community of the Basque Country, Euskadi, it was also promoted European Capital of Culture for the year 2016.
San Sebastian and its neighbourhoods
The city can be divided into four zones, all of which have their own peculiarities and three of which are certainly influenced by their beach or history.
Gros, the neighborhood of young people and surfers
To the east of the city on the right bank of the Urumea, the surfing vocation of Zurriola beach which borders it has made Gros a district as young and dynamic as cosmopolitan. Hiking area also with the proximity of the natural park of Mount Ulía, area where most of the hiking trails of the city are concentrated and through which passes the one of Compostela.
Cultural district still with the Kursaal Congress Palace, with Tabakalera, an old tobacco factory converted into an International Centre for Contemporary Culture and the many famous art galleries it houses.
The tapas bars and terraces of the beaches of Zurriola and Sagües, on Thursdays it’s pintxos-pote, offers at very low prices of a pintxo and a drink make it the rendez-vous of many donostiarras.
The Old City. Parte Vieja
At the foot of Mount Urgull, bordered by the Cabtaric Sea and the Urumea River, La Parte Vieja, with its narrow cobblestone streets and no sidewalk, is the historical and social centre of the city. It is also the district of tapas bars (pintxos), very numerous, where the best pintxosj of San Sebastian are served.
With also the ascent of Mount Urgull, walks on the harbour or the beach, soaking up the animation of the Constitutión Square, stroll through shopping boutiques, religious monuments, everything that makes it a very attractive neighborhood.
Between the Miramar Palace and Mount Igeldo, bordered by the beach, the Oderrata district is famous for its hotels, restaurants and numerous grills that stretch out along the path from the beach to Mount Igeldo.
The Igeldo Mountain, which can also be reached by an ancient rack and pinion train, with a splendid view of the bay of La Concha, has an old-fashioned amusement park. On the other side, to the east of the beach, the gardens of the Miramar Palace with its gravel paths that go down to the beach. In the streets surrounding the beach, there are many tapas bars, where pintxo-pote is also a must.
A gastronomic discovery and an ideal place for family walks.
It is often through this district that one discovers San Sebastian when arriving by road, because it is both close to the center and the external communication routes.
The city’s main residential area is also home to the bus station and the city’s sports complex, including the famous Anoeta Stadium, which houses a museum dedicated to the Real Sociedad, a first division team.
Situated on a meander of the Urumea river, you can take long walks on the shady paseos along the river and be a few minutes from the city centre.
The beaches of San Sebastian
During the summer season, the beaches are the most popular places in the city and each one has its own peculiarity.
With its 1350 meters of white sand, close to the old town, it has always been the most famous and visited.
More modest in size, 500 metres by 100 metres deep and more family-friendly, it is located to the west of Concha Bay, which it forms with its big sister, between the gardens of the Mirama Palace and Mount Igeldo. Beach games are in the spotlight, as well as surfing on stormy days.
It is the beach of surfing and youth, the most dynamic. Situated between Kursaal and Mount Ulia in the district of Gros, since its redevelopment in the 1990s, it has become an international meeting place for young people and surfers from all over the world.
Surf lessons, competitions and beach games.
The Island Beach
The beach of Santa Clara Island is the fourth beach in the city and is prone to the whims of the tides, which gives it a certain peculiarity. Nevertheless, it is equipped with all the services for an afternoon of idleness, bar, first aid station and natural seawater swimming pool.
In the summer, a shuttle service links the island’s landing stage with the port every half-hour.
San Sebastian is both an important university centre and a major economic hub for tourism and commercial activities. San Sebastian has inherited from its past an important architectural and cultural heritage through the city’s many monuments, museums and art galleries.
AN ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE
El Ayutamiento, the Town Hall
On the bay of La Concha, bordered by the garden Alberdi Eder, the Town Hall of San Sebastian was, from its inauguration in 1897 until 1924, the date of prohibition of gambling and its closure as such, the Casino de la ville.
It was the “Belle Époque”, artists, politicians and writers came to enjoy themselves in the Ballroom, where the municipal council meetings are now held.
The General Council Palace of Guipúzcoa
Designed by the municipal architect José de Goicoa in 1878, its construction was completed in 1885. Outside arches connect it to the rest of the lace buildings in Guipúzcoa. Busts of personalities decorate its facade. Above, the province’s weapons.
Maria Cristina Hotel
Architect Charles Mewes’ work, its location on the banks of the river Urumea, its views of the Cantabrian sea made it the meeting point of the aristocracy of the Belle Epoque.
Guest stars at the San Sebastian International Film Festival are now housed behind the beautiful facades of the Hotel Maria Cristina.
Victoria Eugénia Theatre
Typical of Belle Epoque architecture, the theatre is situated on the bank of the Urumea river, facing the Kursaal, which is contemporary. Inspired by the Spanish Renaissance, it was built in stoneware decorated with plaster motifs by the architect Francisco de Urcola in 1912.
Above the columns of its facade are four sculpted groups representing opera, tragedy, comedy and drama. The theatre has also long been the main stage of the city’s international film festival. Since 2007, spaces dedicated to new audiovisual technologies have been added to a varied theatre programme.
RELIGIOUS HERITAGE AND PALACES
Buen Pastor Cathedral
Inaugurated in 1897, the Good Shepherd’s Cathedral, with its large pointed arrowhead, is inspired by the style of the French and German medieval churches.
Arrow which, moreover, is worth to this monument to be the highest of the city, and the 1915 square meters of its surface also make it the largest one. Built with slate and stone from Mount Idelgo, its main facade features” The Cross of Peace”, a work of the sculptor.
Santa María Basilica
Built between 1743 and 1774, the Santa María Basilica is an impressive baroque work of art. Its facade is decorated with a sculpture of San Sebastian martyr and the main altarpiece is dedicated to Our Lady of Coro, the patron saint of the city. A sculpture by Eduardo Chillida in the shape of a cross next to the baptismal font.
The main gate of the Basilica faces the entrance to Buen Pastor Cathedral, in Ensanche.
The Church of San Vicente
Built during the first half of the 16th century, the church is the oldest sanctuary of the city. The Romanesque interior contains a magnificent altarpiece by Amrosio de Bengoechea and Juan de Iriarte, a French Cavaillé-Coll organ from 1868, completed by impressive stained-glass windows and “La Piété”, a work by sculptor Jorge Oteiza.
Created in 1893 to be the summer residence of the royal family, it was built under the direction of the English architect Seldon Wornum in a Queen Anne English cottage style in sandstone bricks with wooden half-timberings. His gardens are the work of master gardener Pierre Ducasse.
Facing the bay of La Concha, it has one of the most spectacular views of the city.
Duke of Mandas Palace
Dating from 1890, this palace, which now houses the Enea Foundation, which works to raise awareness of environmental problems, is located in the park of the same name.
A large wooden staircase leads to the first floor with two exhibition rooms and the former office of the Duke of Mandas. A gallery housing travelling exhibitions links the main body of the building to a training room in the former palace chapel.
Château de la Motte
The Château de la Motte, a vestige of a warlike past, is nestled among the paths and fortifications hidden on Mont Urgull, a veritable natural viewpoint and protector of the city.
The first defences of San Sebastian were built around 1150, at the time of the King of Navarre Sanche the Great. The primitive castle was classic, built right on the rock, square, with four corner towers and a dungeon.
Santa Catalina Bridge
It was the first bridge in the city to be built and remained made of wood for a very long time. Its strategic location earned it many reconstructions and transformations. His lampposts, the work of Juan Alday, date from 1926.
The Maria Cristina Bridge
It was originally a wooden footbridge built in 1893 to connect the town centre with Estación del Norte railway station, the arenas and the velodrome. The final bridge was inaugurated in January 1905 during the feasts of San Sebastian. At each end, two monumental obelisks 18 metres high and crowned with sculptures.
The Mundaiz Bridge
Inaugurated in 1999, it is the first unsupported bridge in the city crossing the Urumea River.
Mikel Laboa Gateway
This beautiful pedestrian footbridge, inaugurated in 2009, links the Riberas de Loyola district with the Cristina Enea Park, spanning the Urumea.
A true work of art created by the architect Rafael Moneo, whose two translucent glass cubes symbolize “two stranded rocks”, the Kursaal auditorium project was awarded the prestigious Mies Van Der Rohe Contemporary Architecture Prize for its conceptual, technical and aesthetic innovation.
It is in these places that congresses and cultural activities of great magnitude are organized.
The Centre Supérieur de Musique du Pays Basque Musikene in the Benta Berri district is located in this gilded and lacquered black building.
The Muikene is home to courses in music studies, offices, a media library and an auditorium.
The Church of Iesus
Rafael Moneo, one of the greatest contemporary Spanish architects, was chosen by the ecclesiastical authorities to create the church of the new district of Riberas de Loyola in San Sebastián.
Next door, a Memorial Park, a place to remember the victims of violence, terrorism and wars.
EL Palacio del Mar – Aquarium-Museum
Both aquarium and oceanographic museum, it is located at the end of the harbour on Paseo Nuevo.
It has a significant maritime historical collection, as well as a modern extension with giant aquariums and an underwater passage in which you can admire a large quantity of marine animals, sharks, rays… and touch live fish in a tactile basin.
Opening: Low season: 10.00 am -7.00 pm in weekdays. 10.00 am -8.00 pm on weekends and public holidays.
High season: 10.00 am -8.00 pm in weekdays. 10.00 am -9.00 pm on weekends and public holidays.
Prices: 13 €, children: 6,50 €.
Whaling Museum Museum
In the harbour near the aquarium Palacio del Mar, this small museum recalls the dangerousness of whaling as practiced by Basque fishermen in the town, a traditional activity that had disappeared and made the fortunes of many shipowners.
In an old market hall on the port, a discovery of the relations between donostiarras, the inhabitants of San Sebastian, and the Basques in general with the sea. The museum’s mission is to preserve, study and disseminate the maritime history of the city.
The House of History
Housed in the Château de la Motte, at the very top of Mount Urgull, the house of history makes, through an audiovisual and playful itinerary and scenographies, to discover 800 years of the history and life of the inhabitants of San Sebastian.
Parks and Gardens
Surrounded by the Igeldo and Urgull wooded mountains, San Sebastian has many natural green spaces, parks and gardens and beautiful beaches that have long made its reputation.
Starting from the English style palace of which it is the park, this immense garden, all in flowerbeds separated by gravelly alleys, descends gently down to the bay of La Concha on which it offers a magnificent panorama.
Cristina Elena Park
This huge park of 95,000 square meters, located in a meander from Urumea to the Estación del Norte, was designed by gardener Pierre Ducasse.
A gift from the Duke of Mandas to his wife, swans, peacocks and exotic trees recall all the affection he had for her. An ideal place to recharge your batteries without having to leave the city centre.
Gardens of Alberdi Eder
In front of the Town Hall facing the bay, Alberdi Eder’s gardens with their floral compositions in the shade of the tamarisk trees, symbol of the city, offer a very typical image of San Sebastian.
A huge merry-go-round and large palm trees give it a touch of Belle Époque.
The Aiete Park
Nestled on one of the hills surrounding the city, its palace and gardens have seen many crowned heads march by. Queen Isabel II, Queen Maria Cristina or Alfonso XIII who chose it as their summer residence.
The palace in the middle of the gardens, also designed by Pierre Ducasse, in which small ponds hide, has been converted into a multi-activity cultural centre.
The largest urban park in the city, 380,000 square meters. This haven of peace is situated on a hill overlooking the city between Otxoki Park and the Loiola district.
Playgrounds, deciduous trees, walks and vast meadows now decorate the remains of the former Carlist war fort that once dominated the city.
Coming to San Sebastian
Connected to Spain and Europe, the city is surrounded by three airports, two of which are international within a 100 km radius. One in Bilbao, 105 km away, this international airport has connections to all major European cities. Biarritz, which hosts international companies.
20 km away, San Sebastian airport is connected to Spanish cities.
Spain has an extensive motorway network and dual lanes. Autopistas (A) motorways are toll roads, while dual lanes (AP) are not.
Attention, if you are by car, the city has 6000 parking spaces, but parking in the city centre is limited to 2 hours per 24 hours.
One solution may be to leave your vehicle in Irún on the free parking lot of the Ficoba Fair in Irún, 20 km from Hendaye, and take the Eusko Tren, which serves San Sebastian or the’ Topo’ which links Hendaye to Lasarte by San Sebastian.
By the’ Topo’ which connects Hendaye to Lasarte by San Sebastian. Departure in the courtyard of the SNCF train station in Hendaye.
With the Eusko Tren, a narrow gauge regional train that links Irún to Bilbao, serving small towns. Stations in Amara, Plaza Easo in the district of Amara Zaharra, Añorga, Lugaritz, Anoeta, Loiola and Herrara.
Renfe, the national airline
San Sebastian’s train station, La Estación del Norte, is located in the heart of the city centre and is connected to many Spanish cities, including Barcelona and Madrid, as well as to Paris and Lisbon for the international market.
The bus station, Estación Donostia Geltokia, is located at 1 Paseo Federico García Lorca near the Estación del Norte train station.
The underground station has 21 platforms, a cafeteria, a newspaper kiosk, a deposit service and two levels of parking. It connects with many Spanish and European cities.
Getting around town
With its 185,000 inhabitants, San Sebastian remains a human-sized city where everything is done to limit car travel and where, thanks to a good network of urban transport, bicycle paths and numerous pedestrian areas, it is easy to get around.
La Compañia del Tranvia de San Sebastián, a municipal property, in place since 1886, was named the best urban transport company in 2005.
21 bus lines serve the city, four minibuses and a taxi-bus service for high-rise areas that buses cannot reach. Attention, if you are by car, the city has 6000 parking spaces and the city centre is limited to 2 hours per 24 hours.
One solution can be to leave your vehicle in Irún in the free car park of the Ficoba Fair in Irún, 20km from Hendaye, and take the Eusko tren, departure in the courtyard of the Hendaye railway station, which serves San Sebastian.
Schedules can vary depending on the route, generally from 7:30 am to 10:30 pm.
It operates from midnight to 4 a. m. only on Fridays, Saturdays and public holidays. The departure of the “Búhos” takes place on the Boulevard of San Sebastian which runs along the old town.
In addition to city buses, there is also a tourist bus and train. Both red in colour, the double-decker bus is open-air, while the small train has two wagons. They bring their passengers on board for an hour of discovery of the city’s most beautiful panoramas.
Train departure: 1 Paseo Salamanca. Left bank of the Urumea river, after the Kursaal bridge going towards the ocean.
Bus departure: 2 Republica Argentina Kalea. On the left bank of the Urumea river between the Kursaal and Santa Catalina bridges.
Igeldo’s rack and pinion train
Centenary this charming little train links in 3 minutes the beach of Ondarreta to Mount Idelgo. Departure 4 Plaza del Funicular.
Numerous and modern, they operate 24 hours a day and their fares are regulated, but they only pick up passengers at taxi stops or they have to be contacted by phone.
2 companies: Taxidonosti +34 943 46 46 46 46. Vallina Teletaxi: +34 943 40 40 40.
The 30 km of cycling paths,’ bidegorri’, red path in Basque, for an ecological visit of the city, maritime walks in the centre, at its own pace ensure fast movements. Several shops offer bicycle hire.
Catamaran Ciudad de San Sebastián Catamaran
A 40-minute sea walk to get another view of the city and admire the underwater seabed thanks to the transparent bottom of the catamaran. Departure every hour Paseo Muelle on the port.
From 1 June to 30 September, the Vedettes de l’ Ile provide a regular link with Santa Clara Island from the port of San Sebastian. Departure from Place La Lasta. Kiosk of the port.
San Sebastian – From 17 €
San Sebastian – From 37 €
San Sebastian – From 47 €
San Sebastian – From 50 €
San Sebastian – From 64 €
San Sebastian – From 65 €