What to Do in San Sebastian for a Day and Night

What is San Sebastián famous for? Pintxos!
What is there to do in San Sebastián? San Sebastián has a reputation for being a lovely seaside town but what is San Sebastián famous for? San Sebastián is in the heart of Basque Country and has a great foodie culture plus gorgeous beaches and promenades. You can easily see the highlights of San Sebastián in a day but you'll be missing out if you don't spend the night too exploring Old Town San Sebastián and eating and drinking from place to place. Read on for more about what to see (and do and eat) in San Sebastián in one day and a night. 

Getting to San Sebastián

We've visited San Sebastián twice. The first time we visited San Sebastián was on a day trip from St. Jean de Luz on the French side of the border. St. Jean de Luz to San Sebastián is an ideal Basque Country day trip. We took French regional rail from St. Jean de Luz to the border (about a 20 minute ride), walked about 100 feet to a different station, and then hopped on the ultra-modern Euskadi rail to take us to San Sebastián (about 45 minutes from the French border) for a total of about an hour in transit.
What to do in San Sebastián in a day: walk Paseo de la Concha
On our second trip, we took the bus from Bilbao to San Sebastián. The duration of the bus journey between San Sebastián and Bilbao can vary between less than 90 minutes to over 2 hours depending on the number of stops. We accidentally ended up on the slow bus on the return trip from San Sebastián to Bilbao. Taking a glass is half full attitude, we did get to see some lovely scenery along the way.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Did you know that Basque Country cuts across both Spain and France? St. Jean de Luz is a lovely seaside town in Basque Country on the French side of the border. Learn all about things to do in St. Jean de Luz and why the town is worth visiting.

San Sebastián by Day

A Light Breakfast at Cafe Irubi

Breakfast is a no-fuss affair in San Sebastián. Enjoy toast with butter and jam and a coffee at a local cafe like Cafe IruBi. You'll also find a variety of cakes and pastries to satisfy even the sweetest of sweet tooths.

San Sebastián food: toast and coffee at Cafe IruBi

San Sebastián's Bright White Promenade

When we arrived on our first visit to San Sebastián, the sun was shining and the effect on the beachside promenade was stunning.  Whitewashed lampposts and railings dazzled with crystal clear water beyond. San Sebastián's seaside promenade is called Kontxa Pasealekua in Basque and Paseo de la Concha in Spanish. A walk along Kontxa Pasealekua showcases Instagrammable San Sebastián at its finest.
What to see in San Sebastián: Seaside Promenade with white lampposts

Dipping Toes in the Crystal Clear Water near San Sebastián

Take a detour off of Paseo de la Concha and onto Kontxako Hondartza (La Concha Beach).  The water was so inviting that we rolled up the legs of our trousers and dipped our feet in the water.  So idyllic.
What to do in San Sebastián: Visit Kontxako Hondartza (La Concha Beach)

Letting it All Hang Out on the Beach in San Sebastián

As we were walking along San Sebastián's Paseo de la Concha, we noticed that the locals are certainly not shy.  We saw at least two topless bathers and an older, heftier man who I thought was wearing a Speedo but then soon realized he was casually talking to someone on the beach in the buff.  Folks were also not shy about changing into and out of their bathing suits in public.  I saw countless women and a couple of guys wearing towels or a long t-shirt rip off their bottoms and replace them with fresh undies for the walk home. If you are feeling adventurous, why not join the locals of San Sebastián for a liberating day at the beach? 
What to do in San Sebastián: people watching at Kontxako Hondartza (La Concha Beach)

Seaside Works of Art in San Sebastián

If you follow Kontxa Pasealekua away from Old Town San Sebastián and trace the path along Bahía de La Concha, you'll be rewarded with fantastic works of art. Pass through a Tunel Del Antiguo, a tunnel painted to make you feel like you are inside an aquarium.
What to see in San Sebastián: Tunel Del Antiguo
Continue on until the path ends at The Wind Comb (Haizearen Orrazia in Basque, El Peine del Viento in Spanish). El Peine del Viento is the famous monumental work of Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida. Three steel sculptures weighing 10 tons each are embedded in natural rock at a point on the edge of the sea. Brace yourself for the brisk winds where the calm Bahía de La Concha meets the more open waters of the Bay of Biscay.
What to see in San Sebastián: Basque Country artist Eduardo Chillida's El Peine del Viento

Climb up to Miramar Palace in San Sebastián for Sweeping Views

On the way back from El Peine del Viento, take the spur along Paseo de la Concha that ascends toward Miramar Palace. The Spanish royal family were regular visitors to Miramar Palace during the cooler summers. Admire the large hill of rolling green grass leading toward a spectacular mansion. Miramar Palace is now used as a music school and we could hear strains of various individuals and groups practicing as we sat on a bench out back admiring both the views of San Sebastián and the Bahía de La Concha and lovely array of sound. Take a wander through the chestnut trees in the back of the property if you have the time. We learned from experience that these trees provide great shelter from the rain.
What to do in San Sebastián: Visit Miramar Palace

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Interested in experiencing more haunts of the Spanish royal family? Spend a day in Santander and check out Palacio de La Magdalena.

Old-Fashioned Food Halls in a Modern Setting in San Sebastián

We love visiting food markets when we travel. After an invigorating walk along the sea in San Sebastián, head inside to Mercado de San Martín. In San Sebastián, food markets are no longer housed in atmospheric halls but rather in the basement of modern malls.  Despite the utilitarian setting, we had fun exploring the produce, meat, and fish on offer. Grab a piece of fruit or a snack that catches your fancy but don't ruin your appetite, you've got a big midday meal in store.
San Sebastián food: Mercado de San Martín

A San Sebastián Menu del Dia at Anastasio Restaurante

A menu del dia is a great option for lunch to experience the best of San Sebastián food in an economical way. We got three courses with a bottle of wine and bread for less than 18 EUR at Anastasio Restaurante. We tried the red bean and blood sausage stew and meat and mushroom ravioli to start. For our mains we opted for the beef fillet and hake in green sauce. For dessert, we were intrigued by the Brazo de Gitano de Crema which translates as Gypsy's Arm. The Brazo de Gitano turned out to be a delicious roulade cake served with a custard sauce. Make sure to take some time for a siesta after lunch, you'll definitely be sleepy after such a hearty meal at a lovely San Sebastián restaurant!
San Sebastián food: Brazo de Gitano at Anastasio Restaurante

The Great Gazebos of San Sebastián

After your post menu del dia siesta, explore San Sebastián's fabulous atmosphere away from its sandy shores.  We discovered a variety of gazebos dotting squares and parks in the the center of town.  Fortunately, the rain had stopped at this point and we could admire them from afar rather than huddled under the protective roof.
What to see in San Sebastián in a day: gorgeous gazebos

San Sebastián - European Capital of Culture

San Sebastián is notable for being one of the 2016 European Capitals of Culture. This EU initiative is designed to show-off the richness and diversity of cultures in Europe, celebrate elements of shared culture, and foster development of culture to help develop cities. With this in mind, it was easy to see why San Sebastián was selected.  The culture we experienced during our visit to San Sebastián was definitely unique and lent a special atmosphere to the city.
Why visit San Sebastián? San Sebastián was a European Capital of Culture

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Have you visited Bilbao? Bilbao is a great home base for exploring Basque Country. Read about how we spent one week in Bilbao for Christmas.

San Sebastián at Night

Time for Pintxos in San Sebastián

No trip to Basque Country is complete without a pintxos crawl and we were definitely on the lookout for the best pintxos in San Sebastián!  Pintxos are elaborate tapas set-out on the bar every afternoon and evening.  We enjoyed bar hopping and trying the specialty of each place. San Sebastián is the undisputed capital of pintxos.  We stopped in three different bars all within easy walking distance of each other in Old Town San Sebastián. We could have easily stopped at ten more had our appetites allowed. Our strategy was to wander into the pintxos bars that had a good buzz and see what was on display that caught our fancy. If we saw something we liked, we'd buy it with a glass of wine. Typically, in Basque Country, you should limit yourself to one round of pintxos and drinks per bar. There are so many places to try, you don't want to spend the evening in one place. Pintxos were definitely the highlight of our San Sebastián food experiences.
What is San Sebastián famous for? Collage of pintxos

Pouring Wine with a Flourish in San Sebastián

San Sebastián's famous pintxos are even more fun when served with Txakoli, white wine aerated to give it a light fizz by pouring from above the bartender's head.  It was entertaining to watch and even more fun to drink. Txakoli paired perfectly with our selection of pintxos in Old Town San Sebastián.
What is San Sebastián famous for? Txakoli wine

Sample Basque Cider at Sidreria Beharri in San Sebastián

Tired of txakoli or red wine with your pintxos? Try Sampling cider from the barrel at Sidreria Beharri in Old Town San Sebastián. Of course, the Basque cider also pairs really well with pintxos; another fantastic San Sebastián food experience!
San Sebastián food and drink: Basque Cider from Sidreria Beharri

Winter Lights in San Sebastián

San Sebastián is a fantastic place to spend an evening at any time of year. We visited San Sebastián in the winter, a few days before Christmas, on one of our trips. Take a stroll around Old Town San Sebastián and also the more modern parts of the city and experience the festive lights of the holiday season. A nighttime photowalk is a great way to cap your trip to San Sebastián for a day and a night. 
What to see in San Sebastián in winter: Christmas lights at night

Map of San Sebastián Points of Interest

Check out this helpful map of San Sebastián points of interest highlighted in this post to help you orient yourself during your own travels, especially if you are only in San Sebastián for a day and a night like we were for a short trip.

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: What to Do in San Sebastian for a Day and Night
What to Do in San Sebastian for a Day and Night
Learn about things to do in San Sebastián. Spend one day in San Sebastián or visit San Sebastián for a day and a night. Plan a trip to San Sebastián in the winter. Experience San Sebastián food and San Sebastián Restaurants. Discover what San Sebastián is famous for: Pintxos, txakoli wine, and beautiful beaches like Paseo de la Concha.
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