A guide to San Sebastián, Spain

Glorious beaches and more Michelin stars than Europe make Spain's gourmet mecca a lesser known northern treasure.

by

Spain Editor

San Sebastián is a medium-sized city in the north of the Basque Country, facing the Cantabrian Sea. Its smart urban layout and short distances make it perfect for getting around on foot, with spacious pedestrian precincts, cycle paths and promenades running along the city's coastline from tip to tip. San Sebastián's picturesque shoreline also makes it a popular beach resort.

The streets in the town centre unfold with enchanting views over La Concha Bay, and its beach is considered one of the most beautiful in Spain. But above all, San Sebastián is famous for its culinary scene, and it is justifiably considered as one the most creative gourmet cities in the world. So if you are planning to come and visit, postpone your diet for a while!

Sights

San Sebastián brings together modern and traditional features. In the Old Town, while you are walking around its busy streets you will encounter the Gothic churches of San Vicente and Santa María del Coro, an old Dominican monastery that is now the San Telmo Museum. The porticoed Plaza de la Constitución is also a famous historical sight. The Peine del Viento (the Wind Comb) is a sculpture by famous Basque artist Eduardo Chillida set in the sea breakwater. The wind makes a whistling sound when it blows through the sculpture. The Kursaal is a congress centre and auditorium, and it is the most iconic building in town. Designed by architect Rafael Moneo, its two large prismatic volumes covered in translucent glass panels are very eye-catching. Mount Igeldo rises at one end of La Concha Bay. It is a wonderful vantage point for enjoying views over the city.

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Accommodation

The best hotel in town is the 5-star Maria Cristina, a luxurious establishment that was originally commissioned by Queen Maria Cristina in the 18th century as the location for Miramar Palace, her summer residence.

Hotel Maria Cristina, Paseo República Argentina, 4, San Sebastián, Tel. +34 943 437 600, hotel website

Events

San Sebastián hosts some of the most important cultural events in Spain. The San Sebastián Film Festival has over 50 years of history, and it is one of the most important film festivals in Europe, visited every year by many international stars. This year it runs from 19 to 27 September 2014. The San Sebastián International Jazz Festival has been held every third week of July since 1966; it hosts around a hundred concerts at twelve venues located in different parts of the city. It runs from 23 to 27 July 2014. Semana Grande is a week-long festival with a varied programme, comprising almost 280 events such as Marmitako (northern fish soup), games of pelota (the Basque ball sport), and demonstrations of regional folk dancing. It runs from 9 to 16 August 2014.

pintxos 

Michelin-starred dining

Three of the seven 3-Michelin-star restaurants in Spain are in San Sebastián. The whole city holds a total of 16 Michelin Stars. The top restaurants are Akelarre by Chef Pedro Subijana, Arzak by Chef Juan Mari Arzak, and Martín Berasategui, a restaurant whose name is that of its Chef: these are all 3-Michelin restaurants. Mugaritz by Chef Luis Aduriz has two Michelin stars.

Akelarre Restaurant, Pº Padre Orkolaga, 56 (Igeldo), San Sebastián, Tel. +34 943 311 209, website

Arzak Restaurant, Avda. del Alcalde José Elosegi, 273, San Sebastián, Tel. +34 943 285 593, website

Martin Berasategui Restaurant, Loidi Kalea, 4, Lasarte-Oria, San Sebastián, Tel. +34 943 366 471, website

Mugaritz Restaurant, Otzazulueta Baserria, Aldura Aldea, 20, Errenteria, San Sebastián, Tel. +34 943 522 455, website

Pintxos hopping

No other place in the world has developed the idea of 'miniature cuisine' better than San Sebastián. This is a world-famous culinary art. We reccommend that you try Goiz Argi with its two most iconic pintxos, the prawn brochette, and Mari Juli, a pintxo served cold and based on smoked salmon with anchovies and green pepper on toasted bread, covered with a rich vinagrette. Fuego Negro and La Cuchara de San Telmo are two other favourite pintxos venues. 

A Fuego Negro, Calle 31 de Agosto, 31, San Sebastián, Tel. +34 650 135 373, website

Goiz-Argi, Fermin Calbeton, 4 - Donostia, San Sebastián, Tel. +34 943 425 204

La Cuchara de San Telmo, Calle del Treinta y Uno de Agosto, San Sebastián, website

Activities

If you want to relax, you could go to La Perla Spa, a former royal bathing pavilion located on La Concha beach. But if, on the other hand, you are looking to do some sports, the Real Club de Golf, San Sebastián, is said to be one of the most beautiful golf courses in Spain, facing the sea.

La Perla Spa, Paseo de La Concha, s/n, Edificio La Perla, San Sebastián, Tel. +34 943 458 856, website

Real Club de Golf de San Sebastián, Chalet Borda-Gain, San Sebastián website

Visiting the province

The province of Guipúzcoa has a long coastline with excellent beaches and fishing villages. Going along the coast from France towards Vizcaya, you can visit the historic centre of Hondarribia/Fuenterrabia, declared a Historic-Artistic Monument, and to stay in its Parador de Turismo. You should have a pintxo at 'El Gran Sol,' a bar that has won awards over the last few years as the best pintxo of the Basque Country. Just a short distance away there is another beautiful village called Pasajes de San Juan that is well worth a visit. Other towns that combine interesting monuments with extensive beaches are Zarautz, Getaria, Deba and Mutriku.