San Sebastian, a cultural and gourmet walk in the heart of the Spanish Basque Country

Saint-Sébastien
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Want to discover the Spanish Basque Country? How about a visit to a lively and bustling city where yellow stone reflects the sun, where the sand is golden and where it is good to lean on a table and taste delicious tapas? This incredible city does indeed exist: it is San Sebastian. Escape and discover San Sebastian, this seaside town of Spanish Pais Vasco! 

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Getting to San Sebastian

All the roads lead to San Sebastian (Donostia in Basque), but the prettiest is, without a doubt, the Corniche road. It runs along the ocean, between Socoa and Hendaye, for 7 kilometers. And, to better appreciate this rocky landscape, do not hesitate to make a short stop by parking on the side. From there, take a good breath of sea air and enjoy, for a few moments, this unique and breathtaking panorama. Admire "the stack of plates" and, from here, appreciate the rhythm of the waves which come to throw themselves on the cliffs of this fragile coastline.


stack of plates

La Pile d'Assiettes, a surprising and unique geological feature of the Corniche


The Maria Cristina Bridge welcomes us with pomp and light. On each of the banks of the Urumea, two white columns adorned with golden sculptures rise up and dominate the landscape from their height of 18 meters. They were inspired by the 4 pillars of the Pont Alexandre III in Paris.


Maria Cristina bridge

Maria Cristina Bridge, welcomes us to San Sebastian

bridge

There are many bridges at the entrance to the city


Once there, storm the city. The old center is pedestrianized. It is therefore preferable to leave your vehicle parked in a car park. There is a charge for parking in the city center, but on the outskirts they are free...


san sebastian

On foot, by bike or even on a scooter, wander from street to street, from neighborhood to neighborhood

Stroll through the picturesque streets of the city center

The historic center was built according to a rectilinear architectural plan. He is of a grandiose beauty. Harmony and a certain form of warmth reign in her heart. This is explained in particular by the purity of the lines of the buildings and the street plan, but also by the use of this typical golden stone, used for the construction of the oldest buildings.


golden stone buildings
golden stone buildings

Golden stone buildings


Here are some must-see sites, not to be missed during your day of discovery in San Sebastian:  

  • The Place de la Constitution and its buildings with numbered windows

Formerly, there was in this place, an arena. Lift your head and observe the numbers visible above each window. These corresponded to the stands of these arenas.  

On the ground floor, a few traders have settled down, but there are mainly terraces of restaurants and cafes.


constitution square

The pretty facades of Place de la Constitution and the terraces welcoming regulars and visitors


  • St. Mary's Basilica

This building, typically Baroque and dating from the 18th century, was built on an old Romanesque church from the 12th and 13th centuries. Its tympanum is richly decorated with sculptures and statues.


holy mary basilica

The Basilica of Sainte-Marie, as if nestled in the rock


  • The Town Hall Square

This majestic building was, for forty years, a casino. During this period, the town hall was located Place de la Constitution. Following the ban on games in 1924, this grandiose building became the seat of the municipality of San Sebastian.


city Hall

The imposing Town Hall

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In the outskirts close to the heart of the city, architectural styles differ and intermingle, but nothing detracts from the charm of the city, quite the contrary.

  • The Port of San Sebastian

Both a fishing port and a marina, it is located a few steps from the current Town Hall. From here, you will discover the Statue of the Sacred Heart, positioned on the heights of Mont Urgull, as well as the aquarium, inaugurated in 1928.


port san sebastian
port san sebastian

The azure blue of the water at the fishing port

mount urgull

Mount Urgull and its statue of Christ

Bahia de la Concha: a bay with golden sand, in the city center

To appreciate the sweetness of Spanish life, what better than a break on La Concha beach? You can put your towel there while enjoying an ice cream, or quite simply to practice the national sport of the Spaniards: the nap! Nothing better to get you used to the local rhythm! And if you feel like it, plan your swimsuit and your surfboard.


surf session

Why not take advantage of the beach or dare to go surfing?


If, on the other hand, you are not fond of swimming, or if the water temperature seems too cold, you can always go for a walk, on the sand, or with your feet in the water, by taking the route pedestrian, from the old town, towards the second beach (Playa Ondarreta). You will be seduced by this sublime environment and by the nearby Santa Clara Island.


san sebastian
san sebastian   san sebastian

Walk along the bay...

san sebastian san sebastian   san sebastian

... and gain height for an exceptional panorama

Gourmet tapas

You will see that at the end of the day there are more and more people outside. The terraces fill up, the crowd thickens in the narrow streets of the old town, as if something is brewing. And that's the case! From 6 p.m., the local population, whatever their age, gather in the alleys and crowd in the pintxo bars. So many that it is sometimes difficult to find a place to enjoy them sitting down.


alleyways san sebastian

The narrow streets of pintxos bars


It is standing, at the entrance to the bar, or leaning against the side of the bar, that they are savored and appreciated the most. The pintxo is a real institution in San Sebastian. And this is how regulars meet around a sangria and an assortment of tapas including, for example: croquetas, squid, or tortilla.


bar san sebastian

Sangria, Spanish beer and tapas

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The recipes are varied, but the principle is always the same: eaten in one bite. Most pintxo bars offer tapas on a slice of bread that they then garnish with fish (crab, salmon, shrimp), meat or even cold meats.


pintxos
pintxos   ham

The hardest part is choosing!


What also makes pintxos special are their prices, between € 2 and € 3.50 on average. This allows you to taste several, but also, and above all, to go to other bars to taste the differences. This is done a lot by the way: we have a drink, take 2/3 tapas and go to the next bar!

As night falls, cocktail bars and other clubs open their doors, and the night owls have plenty to do to make the most of the nightlife. And for those who do not wish to prolong their Spanish immersion, it will be time to cross the border again and return to the French Basque Country.

We wish you a nice getaway to San Sebastian!


Did you like our article? Find others on the Guide du Pays Basque blog. We are also on social networks, come and consult the Facebook page of the Guide du Pays Basque, as well as our Instagram account @guidedupaysbasque


Article and photos prepared by Charline Prod'homme, La Plume Digitale


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