How to Spend a Weekend in San Sebastian, Spain

Steve Cummings

Situated on the beautiful shoreline of the Basque Country, San Sebastian is one of the most popular cities in Spain. Many love it for the thriving local food culture, the stunning scenery, the fantastic weather, and the fact that there are so many things to do in San Sebastian. 

The city has a deep and rich history. So, you're guaranteed to have a great experience whatever you end up doing while visiting San Sebastian. In the following post, to help you plan your trip there, we will look at some of the best things to do in San Sebastian, including many frugal options for travelers on a tight budget. 

1. Buen Pastor Cathedral

Buen Pastor Cathedral
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To start our guide, one of the best things to see in San Sebastian is the city's largest church, Buen Pastor Cathedral. With a tower that stands at an impressive 75 meters/246 feet, this is one of the most famous and iconic landmarks in San Sebastian. Built from sandstone from Monte Igueldo, it was designed by the prominent Basque architect Manuel de Echave and has stunning Gothic Revival-style architecture. 

On the interior, it is much simpler than other churches in the city but has remarkable stained-glass windows and one of the largest organs in Europe. 

2. Parte Vieja – Old Town

One of the cool things to do in San Sebastian to get a sense of the history and what life might have been like back in simpler times is to visit Parte Vieja – Old Town. This is found between the foot of Monte Urgull and Alameda del Boulevard. You will find a collection of ancient plazas and alleys to explore alongside many tasty Pintxos-serving restaurants and beautiful buildings with classic Basque architecture. 

The Old Town is perfect for strolling around if you plan to spend the day or a half-day on foot, as it is easier to get from one place to another without a car or another vehicle. On foot, you can live and breathe, which is what the average San Sebastian resident does. There are lots of little places of note and landmarks that you will only find by taking in the delights of this part of the city on foot. 

3. La Concha Beach

A trip to La Concha Beach, which many consider the Summer Capital of Europe, is one of the top things to do in San Sebastian. It has one of Spain’s and Europe's most dramatic and awe-inspiring coastlines. The name comes from its unique, eye-catching shell-shaped bay, which is popular with locals and tourists. Found between Mounts Urgull and Igueldo, despite its position close to the Atlantic Ocean, it is protected from the currents and harsh waves of the ocean.

This is a great place to chill out during the summer months. There are many great things to do there, such as swimming, kayaking, and visiting the abundant small eateries. 

4. Isla de Santa Clara

Isla de Santa Clara
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Among the best things to see in San Sebastian, Isla de Santa Clara is high on the list. While it may not look like much, it is a great place to get away for peace and quiet. The best way to get there is via a San Sebastian boat tour directly to Santa Clara. There is something special about the island; it is the perfect place to enjoy the stunning countryside. 

The island is so naturally beautiful that it has been officially classified as an Historical National Interest Site. Along with many lovely little picnic areas, restaurants, and cafes, there are many hidden pools where you can cool off during the day's heat. For a bit of an adventure, you can take a small walk to the island's iconic lighthouse. 

5. Museo de San Telmo

When you are looking for free things to do in San Sebastian, Museo de San Telmo should be high on the list, especially if you visit on a Tuesday or International Museum Day (May 18th). There are also allowances for free entry to teachers, journalists, the unemployed, the disabled, and those under 25. The museum has three floors and is housed within a former Dominican convent from the 16th century. 

More than 200,000 artifacts are on display across the three floors. So if you want to learn about San Sebastian's history, this is the place to go. 

6. Plaza de la Constitución

Located within the heart of the Old Town is Plaza de la Constitución, one of the most vibrant parts of the city and one of the fun things to do in San Sebastian. It is an especially great place to visit from around 5 pm in the evening. Considered the city's heart, most of the  celebrations, feast days, holidays, and other events are held or focused on there.

Among the most popular events is the famous flag-raising ceremony in the Plaza each January 21st, which attracts flocks of locals and tourists. Even if you go at any other point of the year when there are no events, it is still a great place to visit. Many bars serve delicious locally produced Basque wines and the local delicacy of pintxos. 

7. Miramar Royal Palace

Miramar Royal Palace
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Perhaps you are looking for exciting things around San Sebastian that don't immediately scream “Spanish.” If that's the case, Miramar Royal Palace stands out as unique and different from many buildings, thanks to the English Tudor-style architecture. Selden Wornum, the celebrated English architect, designed and built the structure. 

In the past, Miramar Royal Palace was the preferred summer residence for many members of the Spanish Royal Families, and it has always attracted interest. One thing you need to remember, though, is that it is closed to the public, and no guided tours are available that will take you inside its hallowed interior. You can still explore the grounds around it, where you will find beautiful gardens. You can stop for a picnic or relax in the sun. 

8. Ondarreta Beach (Playa de Ondarreta)

Ondarreta Beach
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On a weekend in San Sebastian, Ondarreta Beach is perfect for a pleasant and relaxed time. Monte Igueldo is the ideal border and backdrop of the beach. The great thing about Playa de Ondarreta is that even during the colder months of winter, it is a stunning place to spend an hour or so, even just for a little stroll along the sand, to take the salty air into your lungs.

9. Monte Urgull

The star of the San Sebastian skyline is, without question, Monte Urgull. If you spend a long weekend in San Sebastian, you should make sure you at least once take a hike to the top to visit Mota Castle. This is a 12th-century castle that houses a history museum and features a 39-foot-tall statue representing the Sacred Heart, which was only built in the 1950s but is impressive, to say the least.

10. Monte Igueldo

Monte Igueldo
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Another key location in the city that you should visit during a San Sebastian weekend trip is its other central and imposing mountain, Monte Igueldo. There are many reasons why this should be on the list of destinations on your itinerary, not least of which is the vintage era funicular, which provides the most interesting and exciting way to reach the top. It was first built back in 1912 and has been operating ever since. 

When you take the funicular to the top of Monte Igueldo, you can experience a full 360-degree view of San Sebastian, including the coastlines along the Basque Country. If more than this nostalgic trip to the top is needed, a vintage amusement park sits at the top and offers the chance to enjoy kitsch rides like a wooden roller coaster and carousels that look like something from a history book or old film. 

11. Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro

There are many places to eat and drink in and around the city on a romantic weekend in San Sebastian. Still, when you take time together to walk and explore, you must ensure you visit the incredible Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro. This is in the heart of the Old Town and boasts intricate 18th-century Baroque-style architecture. Many people are reminded of such work in Sicily. There is a definite and undeniable similarity.

The beauty of this building is not just on the exterior, though. When you enter, you will find a jaw-dropping, incredible Churrigueresco façade and imposing Gothic vaults.

12. Parque de Alderdi Eder

Another of the most romantic things to do around San Sebastian is to explore the Parque de Alderdi Eder, which once stood in front of the local and infamous casino. Nowadays, it forms part of San Sebastian's City Hall's exterior, given that it is a stone's throw from the beach. While you are there, especially if you have some time to spare and little ones to keep entertained, there is a vintage carousel. 

You will also find street performers, shaded benches with only the best views, and a diverse range of fauna and flora to sit and watch.

13. Tabakalera 

If you are an art lover, one of the cool things to do in San Sebastian is to visit the Tabakalera. This tobacco factory used to supply jobs to locals on the island before becoming an international cultural center. You will find impressive exhibition halls, a cinema theater, plazas, art spaces, a restaurant, and a library within this vast complex. That's only part of it, though, because, on the fifth floor of the structure, you will find an incredible terrace that is great for sitting or standing  and drinking in the astonishing views across the city. 

14. Parque de Cristina Enea

Are you looking for more activities to fill up the itinerary of your romantic weekend in San Sebastian? Make sure you include a visit to Parque de Cristina Enea. It takes its name from its one-time resident, the Duchess of Mandas, who lived there with her husband, Fermin. This is the biggest of the city parks in and around San Sebastian and stretches across 23 acres. You can take a 3km walk around it at your own pace, during which you can look out for the wildlife – including peacocks, swans, and ducks – that call it home. 

Built in the 1800s, a number of ancient buildings from that era can also be fully explored for free.

15. Pintxos Bar Hopping

Pintxos Bar Hopping
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Although San Sebastian is a Spanish city, tapas is not the number one quick snack delicacy there. Due to the Basque influence, locals and visitors love and return again and again to the pintxos. These are small snacks served at bars and tavernas. Though there are many variations, Pintxos typically include a slice of bread with toppings like ham and goat cheese, tortilla, or anchovies, then speared through with a cocktail stick to ensure it all stays together. 

Due to their size, they are great with a beer or wine before a main dinner. If you want to avoid a more formal dinner, you could do what so many visitors to San Sebastian do: bar hop, and try different drinks and pintxos in various establishments. 

Final Thoughts

There you have it. Whatever your budget, however long you intend to spend there, if you are looking for the best things to do in San Sebastian, we hope our guide will help you. We have included a diverse range of activities and places to visit. So, if you want a nice and relaxed break or fancy some adventure, we have included locations and sights around the city. As diligent as we are to include as many great places as possible, we are sure there are still some we need to include, and if you think that is the case, please let us know in the comments section below.

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