San Sebastian (or Donostia in Basque) is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. A favourite summer location of the bourgeoisie and aristocracy from all over Europe for much of the 20th century the Basque town has many attractions that are well worth discovering.
Its location in a beautiful natural environment, its elegant buildings, its rich history and its exquisite gastronomy are some of the reasons to take a trip to discover San Sebastian. If you’re planning a trip to the Basque Country and you don’t know what to see in San Sebastian, Civitatis makes it easy for you. Let’s get started!
Playa de la Concha
How can we talk about San Sebastian without starting with its beach? La Concha beach is considered by many to be the most beautiful urban beach in Europe and one of the best in the Basque Country. So of course this iconic bay is a must on any trip to San Sebastian.
Strolling along La Concha beach is a real delight, regardless of the time of year you travel to the capital of the Guipúzcoa province. Its elegant promenade, more than 1 kilometre long, is lined with Belle Époque buildings that take us back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when celebrities flocked to this beach to enjoy their luxurious summers.
At the end of La Concha Bay and at the beginning of Ondarreta beach we find the Miramar Palace, an elegant mansion located on a hill that looks out over the city.
The Miramar Palace was built in 1893 by order of Queen María Cristina of Hapsburg to create her summer residence in San Sebastián. The palace is home to one of the most beautiful gardens in the city, decorated with flowers and small trees. Many locals come here to enjoy a moment of relaxation overlooking the bay of San Sebastián. Although this English-style palace is not open to the public, it’s well worth a visit to admire the details of its architecture and enjoy the views.
The city’s centre
Without abandoning the romantic essence of San Sebastian, we head to the city’s centre. This area was designed after the demolition of the city walls at the end of the 19th century to expand the city and create the physiognomy it has today. Designed with elegant urban planning, it has different modern buildings that have marked a before and after in the history of Donostia.
A clear example of what can be found in this area is the Town Hall. Inaugurated as a casino in 1897, the building attracted numerous celebrities of the time such as the Shah of Persia, Mata Hari and the Rothschild family. Another essential spot to visit is the Plaza de Gipuzkoa or the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, created in the image and likeness of the medieval churches of Germany and France. Proof of this is the sharp spire that crowns the religious building.
To complete the tour of the city’s centre, we suggest a stroll through the Plaza de Bilbao, crossing the María Cristina Bridge and enjoying the Paseo de Francia, on the other bank of the Urumea River.
San Sebastian Old Town
To get to know any city, you should always set your sights on its Old Town, and San Sebastian is no exception! One of the must-sees in Donostia is the Old Town. You’ll love its cobbled streets and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the bars. In fact its the best place to try the famous pintxos – Basque tapas.
The gastronomy of the Basque Country is one of the main reasons that attract any visitor to the region. The bars filled with these delicious morsels are a treat for the tastebuds! So how about taking a pintxo tour of San Sebastian? With your appetites full, you can explore the Old Quarter of San Sebastian and admire the Plaza de la Constitución square or the oldest churches in the city, such as San Vicente or the Basilica of Santa María.
Another must in San Sebastian is to explore the New Promenade or the Paseo Nuevo. This street goes all the way around Mount Urgull, starting from the Zurriola Bridge to the port. While walking along the Paseo Nuevo you can enjoy some of the town’s great scenic attractions, such as the Conference Centre, the Kursaal Auditorium, the Castle of La Mota or the Zurriola Bridge. Keep an eye out for the iconic Art Deco-style lampposts!
However, you should bear in mind that, although it’s a very pleasant walk, when the sea is very rough, the waves can jump onto the promenade which can be a little dangerous – so be careful!
If you want to enjoy the best panoramic view of San Sebastian, you must go up to Monte Igueldo – the highest part of the city. The funicular railway will take you to the top in just a few minutes, at 180 metres above sea level. from here you can enjoy marvellous views of the whole city, as well as a large part of the coast of Gipuzkoa and the Cantabrian Sea.
At the top, you’ll also find the Monte Igueldo Amusement Park, which has beautifully preserved its 20th-century charm. The city owes much of its fame to this period, in fact that the funicular railway was opened in 1912. On the way up you’ll enjoy picturesque views and feel like you’re travelling back to another romantic era. A word of advice: leave your car in the city and don’t miss out on the funicular experience.
And from Mount Igueldo we head straight to Mount Urgull, the city’s most important historical heritage site. Urgull is a must-see in San Sebastian, as it offers a journey into the city’s military past. On the way up, you’ll be able to see the different fortifications and parts of the wall that protected San Sebastian from numerous attacks and sieges.
One of the most important moments that Mount Urgull witnessed was the fire that devastated the old quarter. The battle between Gallic troops and the Anglo-Portuguese army, caused the destruction of the city in 1813.
Nowadays, when you reach Mount Urgull and after becoming a public park in the 20th century, you can stroll through an enveloping natural landscape that hides viewpoints from where you’ll have fascinating views of the sea and the city. To complete our walk around Mount Urgull, we’ll approach the Sagrado Corazón, the guardian of the city that observes everything that happens in San Sebastian from the top of the mountain.
The Comb of the Wind
Our final stop on our tour of San Sebastian is a place where nature and art come together. This is the Comb of the Wind, a set of three steel sculptures created by Eduardo Chillida at the end of Ondarreta beach that resist the strong waves of the sea.
The sculpture is made up of terraces on the ground, which shoot water upwards through the holes when strong waves hit the pipes. It’s quite a sight to see!
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