San Sebastian, known by locals as Donostia, is one of the top destinations in Spain for its character as a city on the beach. One of the major cities in Basque country, it is a cultural capitol full of historic museums, excellent food, relaxing beaches, and city buzz. Here are some of the top spots to visit and things to do for those who want to get out and about.
La Concha Beach
La Concha beach is the main beach diving into the La Concha Bay, the spoon of San Sebastian. This is the main beach more relaxing and swimming, while on the other side of the bay, Zurriola Beach is best for surfing. La Concha beach extends all the way around the inside coast and is bordered by tall city buildings, making a contrasting, but complementary view. This city-beach line is part of what makes San Sebastian so unique. You can go shopping downtown, walk to the beach, lay down for a few hours, then be back at your apartment rental in five minutes.
Both ends of La Concha have sightseeing opportunities that both tourists and locals take advantage of. If you walk around to the west end of La Concha, you will get to the end of the bay where you can see the famous Combs of the Winds. The Combs of the Wind, sculptures by Eduardo Chillida, are stunning pieces of iron that jut out of the rock there. The most spectacular aspect of the sculptures are less the sculptures themselves, but the overall environment the sculptures form with the crashing waves, wind, and the blow holes where the waves shoot up and rain down on the sculptures… and you. The visit to the Combs is a full sense experience that involves nature’s overwhelming chaos and intense tranquility.
Pier and Marina
The Plaza Carlos Blasco de Imaz, is at the end of the pier on the east end of La Concha Bay. The pier is a short walk from the Parte Viejo and is a great place to get involved in the nautical scene in San Sebastian. Walking down the pier you are likely to run into several crates of fish, so if you like the smell of freshly caught seafood, this is the best place to hang. The Marina and Aquarium are both along the pier. The Marina has a bunch of different boats and is a great place to go to try and catch a boat ride out to Santa Clara Island. The aquarium is a great place to go on a rainy day (which do happen even in the summer). Newly, renovated and expanded, the aquarium starts with a museum section on Basque boats fishing, a ginormous part of Basque history. After you are acquainted with fishing techniques and ships through the ages, you will go through rooms of fish—first displayed together and then in separate tanks. It’s a great spot for families and for those who love marine life. Real Club Nautico de San Sebastian is located near the pier as are other places that offer kayaking and sailing classes. Look around and see what fun courses you can sign up for to take advantage of such a beautiful, sheltered bay.
Santa Clara Island
If you are up for some hiking, Santa Clara Island in La Concha Bay is a great spot to spend the day, or a half day. Kayak or take a ferry boat ride out to the center of the bay and get off on the island. The pool-like areas of ocean at the base are popular spots to swim and play water games. A bar at the bottom offers ice cream, sodas and beers for those who need refreshments. During the summer, this is such a top spot that there’s a lifeguard on duty. The trails to the top of the island have picnic benches ever so often for those who want to pack a lunch. Hike to the cool abandoned lighthouse and take a break on its steps. The best part about the hike is when you emerge through the trees every now and again and get a view of San Sebastian.
Monte Urgull and Monte Igueldo
In addition to Santa Clara, these two spots have the best views of the city. While in the 12th century, it was a place of defense, the walls of Mount Urgull are now crumbled and cannons rusted, making it a really cool site. Though it has a rich military history, now it is a tourist attraction hiked for the beautiful view, old battlements, and old cannons (which for some reason, are irresistible to climb on).
Mount Igueldo is on the opposite side of La Concha Bay, but offers an equally impressive view. But the scenery is only a half of the joy of Mount Igueldo. At the top is the Mount Igueldo Theme Park which dates back to 1912. Alongside the old lighthouse, this park offers classic, old fashioned fun including, but not limited to, bumper cars, small rollarcoasters, a fun house, and giant trampolines. So bring a sturdy camera that will let you take pics while you ride the many attractions found at this unexpected location.
There are many parts of San Sebastian, all with excellent shopping and food, but El Parte Vieja stands out among them. Often suggested as the best place to have pintxos (tapas), this neighborhood is full of bars and restaurants that are great to hop around and do some taste testing. The architecture of the area is something to marvel at, and whether you’re religious or not, the Basílica de Santa María del Coro and La Iglesia San Vicente are two churches that are impressive to check out. Shopping in this area ranges from boutiques to nick knack shops, but you definitely should check out the Kukuxumusu shop—hilarious Basque cartoon merchandise. Grab some gelato and peruse the streets, I promise you will find plenty to experience, eat and buy.