As arguably the top destination in Spanish Basque Country, planning out a 2 or 3 days in San Sebastian itinerary can seem like a daunting task when you take into consideration all there is to do in this small city. Known for its culinary chops, beautiful seaside location and compact yet cosmopolitan feel, no trip to Spain is complete without venturing to this gorgeous city.
Though small in size, there is quite a lot to do in San Sebastian and its surrounding area that planning more than a day or two is never a bad idea. From eating your weight in pintxos to strolling along La Concha promenade to enjoying the views from Monte Igeldo, San Sebastian has so much to offer all who choose to visit.
So are you wondering how to plan a San Sebastian itinerary? This guide will help you figure out what to do with 2 or 3 days in San Sebastian and its surrounding area!
How Many Days in San Sebastian?
How many days should you spend in San Sebastian? At first glance, it can seem like this Basque city is quite small and wouldn’t have much to do, however, you would be mistaken in that assumption. Not only is San Sebastian absolutely gorgeous, but it has a lot of stuff to do so I would suggest planning more than a day trip to the city and mapping out at least 2 days in San Sebastian.
If you plan to spend two days in the city, you will definitely have enough time to see the majority of the central attractions while also giving you time to enjoy the countless pintxos bars both in the Old Town and further afield (that’s why you’re coming to San Sebastian, right?).
However, if you would like to explore a bit more of the Basque Country and the surrounding area, then consider planning to spend 3 days in San Sebastian. There are a lot of places where you could go on a day trip and see some areas of the region that you wouldn’t otherwise have time for. Also – more time to indulge in the sensational Basque cuisine!
Regardless if you have 2 or 3 days in San Sebastian to spend, you’re sure to have a fantastic time.
Getting To and Around San Sebastian
Now that you’ve determined how long to spend in San Sebastian, it’s essential that you figure out exactly how you plan to get to the city and how to get around once you’re there.
Unfortunately, despite its popularity, San Sebastian isn’t super conveniently located to the rest of Spain and it is kind of a journey to get there if you don’t already happen to be in Basque Country. If you are arriving by air, the closest international airport is located in Bilbao, about 100 kilometres west of San Sebastian.
Getting from Bilbao to San Sebastian is pretty easy and quick no matter what mode of transport you choose. There are frequent bus connections that will get you between the cities in about an hour and it takes roughly the same time to drive if you happen to have your own vehicle.
San Sebastian can also be reached by bus or train from elsewhere in Spain, but keep in mind that it will take some time from Barcelona or Madrid. That is not to say that there aren’t options and it is relatively easy to reach San Sebastian from other areas of Spain, it just might take a while! You can view schedules here.
Once you’re in San Sebastian proper, you will find that the city is immensely walkable and you can get most everywhere that you’d like to go while relying on your own two feet.
However, especially if you’re planning 3 days in the city or want to go on some day trips, it can be very helpful to rent a car. While there are ways that you can visit some places by public transit or via organised tour, you will have a lot more flexibility to visit where you want for the amount of time that you’d like.
If you want to hire a car in San Sebastian, I suggest browsing through Rentalcars.com to find great deals across a number of major and local car hire companies.
2 to 3 Days in San Sebastian Itinerary
Without further ado, here is how to spend 2 to 3 days in San Sebastian. If you only have 2 days in San Sebastion, simply plan to stay in the city itself and follow the first two days of this itinerary.
Day 1 – Explore the Old Town
Day one of this San Sebastian itinerary will see you exploring all of the highlights of the old town before taking a stroll along La Concha Beach and seeing some beautiful views of the city.
Begin your first day in San Sebastian in the beautiful and historic Old Town, taking in all of the interesting sites of the city. You can opt to wander around independently, but it can be very worthwhile to go on a walking tour to give you more historical context.
The majority of San Sebastian’s old town was actually completely burned to the ground in 1813 by occupying British and Portuguese troops, so the “old” town really isn’t all that old. There are, however, some buildings that did survive the fire and are still standing today.
There is a lot to see in the old town and it is very much worth taking the time to wander through and explore at a leisurely pace. Make sure to take in the two major churches – the Church of St Vincent and the Basilica of St Mary of Coro.
Historically, the former church served residents of the city that were lower-income and the latter was considered something of the upper-class church. Both churches are some of the few buildings that survived the 1813 fire.
The Church of St Vincent was originally constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries and is notable for its Gothic style, distinct lack of windows and unfinished walls.
The Basilica of St Mary was once poised to be the main cathedral of San Sebastian, however, it did not meet certain criteria to consecrate it as such. The main cathedral — the Good Shepherd of San Sebastian — is located one kilometre away and was only consecrated in 1897.
Other major sites to take in while in the old town include the lovely Plaza de la Constitución. Traditionally used as a bull-fighting venue in days past, this main square of old San Sebastian is now lined with inviting bars and restaurants.
Another beautiful place in the old town to take in is the Alderdi Eder Park. These lovely gardens are situated at the beginning of the seaside promenade and are filled with gorgeous flowers, inviting benches and even a classic carousel. The park is also located in front of the beautiful San Sebastian City Hall building.
Old Town Pintxos Crawl
After spending your first few hours wandering the old town and taking in all of the sites, it’s likely that you’ve worked up quite the appetite. Well, fortunately, you are visiting one of the top gastronomic cities in the world!
Though San Sebastian is known to have the highest concentration of Michelin stars per capita (a whopping 19 stars awarded across 11 different restaurants), you do not need to shell out €250/person to enjoy the high-quality and flavourful cuisine that the Basque Country, and San Sebastian in particular, is known for. Just head out for some pintxos!
Pintxos are the Basque version of tapas and they got their start right here in San Sebastian with the briny and savoury Gilda – a skewer of pickled peppers, green olives and anchovies so named after the 1946 Rita Hayworth film.
These days, pintxos come in all shapes and sizes and you will see some bars with lavish displays of cold pintxos behind each bar. The key to eating like a local, however, is to order “hot pintxos” off the menu.
If you’re looking for some great old town recommendations for pintxos, there are a number that are worth stopping at in the old town.
Bar Txepetxa is an excellent stop for the region’s famous anchovies. They have countless options that go down great with a traditional Basque cider or txakoli (an effervescent white wine). Bar Nestor is famous for its limited menu, which includes an excellent tomato salad, blistered padrón peppers and the famous T-bone steak known as txuleta.
Bodra Berri is well-known for its creamy orzo risotto but has plenty of other delicious dishes to sample, as well. And the inventive pulpo Gallego (Galician style octopus) at La Cuchara de San Telmo was absolutely incredible.
Keep in mind that the pintxos culture in San Sebastian sees you ordering a drink and only one or two dishes per person before moving on to the next place. It is not commonplace to order a lot of dishes at one place. Also, don’t be concerned if there is standing room only – the best pintxos bars have few (or no) tables.
If you’re intimidated by tackling pintxos bars on your own or simply would like a local guide to take you through all the customs, consider going on a guided pintxos tour of San Sebastian!
La Concha Promenade & Beach
After getting your fill of pintxos, it can be a good idea to go for a nice, long walk to help aid in your digestion and there is no better place to do that than along La Concha Beach. There is a vast promenade that stretches from the Alderdi Eder Park all the way to Monte Igeldo which goes along La Concha and Ondarreta beaches.
The pathway is roughly 2.5 kilometres long and it is flat, so you can easily walk its entirety in about thirty minutes. There are some places to stop and take in along the way, for instance, the old bathing houses that were once used for Queen Isabel II to splash in the salty waters without being exposed to the sun.
If it is low tide when you are on your walk, you may even be able to cross from La Concha beach to the smaller Ondarreta beach, something you cannot do if the tide has come too far in.
If you want to make a detour, consider exploring the Antiguo neighbourhood near Ondarreta beach for a more local and off the beaten path vibe. If you want to grab a bite to eat while there, we recommend the Sukalde Kultura bar for some great pintxos or raciones.
Right before reaching Ondarreta beach and crossing over into the Antiguo neighbourhood, you will see the Miramar Palace. Originally built to be the royal summer residence in the late 19th century, the palace today is used for cultural events and lectures and it isn’t open to the general public, today. Its gardens, however, are.
The gardens of Miramar Palace are vast and free to enter and have gorgeous views over La Concha Bay and Santa Clara Island. This is a wonderful place to break up your wander along the promenade, especially if you’re a fan of parks and gardens.
Peine del Viento Sculpture
At the end of the promenade, you will find yourself at the Peine del Viento, or Comb of the Wind, sculpture. Designed by famous Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida, the Peine del Viento consists of three metal sculptures anchored to the rocks over the sea. They are meant to symbolise how the wind combed La Concha bay.
If you walk back and a bit inland from the Peine del Viento sculpture, you will find the Monte Igeldo funicular, a cable car that was first built in 1912. This funicular is a lot more “old timey” than others in Europe (even in nearby Bilbao), but it just adds to its charm.
It is worth paying the €4 per person return fee for the funicular as you still need to pay a €2.30 entry fee into Monte Igeldo park if you choose to walk up instead. A one-way fee for the funicular is €2.50. It is also worth noting that there is nowhere to purchase a ticket for the funicular at the top so if you walk up, you must walk down.
Not only does Monte Igeldo have fantastic views over the entirety of San Sebastian, La Concha Bay and Santa Clara Island, but there is also a small amusement park atop the hill.
There are classic games that are present everywhere and there is also an old wooden roller coaster that presides over the cliff edges. For the more daring among us, it is sure to provide excellent views along with a good dose of adrenaline!
Day 2 – San Sebastian’s Neighbourhoods
The second day of this San Sebastian itinerary is dedicated to exploring a bit beyond the old town and taking the time to get to know some other neighbourhoods of this lovely city.
La Bretxa and San Martín Markets
Begin your day by browsing one or two of San Sebastian’s market halls. There are two major food markets located in central San Sebastian that you can visit (so long as it’s not a Sunday!). Market culture is incredibly important in all of Spain, however, it is especially important in the Basque Country where the local cuisine relies heavily on fresh, local ingredients.
If you want to see all of the local, freshly caught seafood, browse through seasonal vegetables, sample some traditional Basque pastries or pick up some aperitivos like olives and anchovies, the market is a great place to do this.
La Bretxa Market is located in the old town beneath a shopping centre. They are actually in the process of renovating the old fish hall to move this particular market above ground and to make it a more modern and gastronomical experience.
San Martín Market is another great marketplace to visit in the city centre. It is also located on the bottom two basement floors of a shopping centre and is slightly larger than La Bretxa Market.
San Telmo Museum
After exploring the markets, take the time to head over to the San Telmo Museum, located in the Old Town. This museum is excellent to visit if you want to understand more about the culture of San Sebastian and the Basque Country, in general. This includes exhibitions about Basque history and language and also other interesting cultural exhibits.
Tickets for the museum a €6 for an adult entry and €3 for students (over age 25) and senior citizens. If you are under the age of 25, general entry into the San Telmo museum is free of charge.
Pasealeku Berria Promenade & Zurriola Beach
From the museum, take a stroll along the pathway and make your way toward the San Sebastian Aquarium. While you’re perfectly welcome to include the aquarium on your San Sebastian itinerary, we actually recommend taking a leisurely walk along the path that winds around the will directly above it.
From here, you will get a different perspective of La Concha Bay and the beaches. Though the view isn’t as nice as from Monte Igeldo, it can be worth it to climb up to the Jesus statue if that suits your fancy.
Wandering down from the path, it’s time to walk in the opposite direction of the La Concha promenade along the Pasealeku Berria Promenade toward Gros and Zurriola Beach. This pathway is set directly on the wild Bay of Biscay and is a lot more dramatic than the route you would have walked yesterday.
It will take around 30 minutes to reach Zurriola Beach, which is the main surfing beach in San Sebastian. This beach is beautiful and it can be wonderful to sit on a bench and watch the surfers catch those waves.
After your walk, it’s time to explore the hip and happening neighbourhood of Gros! This area isn’t nearly as popular with tourists as the Old Town or central area, however, there are some great bars and restaurants to check out if you’re hungry. It can be a great idea to have another lunchtime pintxos crawl here!
If you want some recommendations on where to eat in Gros, consider heading to Bodega Donastiarra for a great place for some classic dishes in a lovely setting. We had some delicious griddled octopus and morcilla (blood sausage) with a pepper sauce here.
Another great place for a more rustic vibe is La Kaba which is known for their anchovy dishes. Anchovies are a local speciality in the Basque Country as a whole and they are particularly good to eat here.
Central San Sebastian
End your day exploring the lovely central area of San Sebastian. There is a lot to see and do here, including visiting Gipuzkoa Plaza and enjoying the lovely gardens here or taking in the elegant architecture of Hotel Maria Christina.
There are also some incredible places to eat in central San Sebastian that are more frequented by locals rather than tourists. If you want to continue your pintxos crawl, we recommend heading to Bar Antonio if you’re after some more modern dishes that are absolutely amazing. This is another place that is known for their anchovies and they even cure their own in-house.
If you’re looking for a more down-home vibe, then consider heading to Bar Ciaboga. This is a bar that only has a handful of things on the menu. They’re known for their garlic potatoes, but their mushroom caps with shrimp are also absolutely delicious.
Day 3 – Explore the Surrounding Area
Day three of this San Sebastian itinerary is dedicated to heading out of the city and exploring a bit of the Basque Country in the surrounding area. Having your own car would be the ideal way to do this, but there are options if you don’t want to drive.
Any one of these options make for a great single day trip and unfortunately, it’s not possible to visit them all in one day! However, you can obviously add a day or two to your San Sebastian itinerary if you want to explore more!
Hondarribia, San Pedro (Pasaia) & San Juan (Pasai Donibane)
A great day trip option is to head to the towns of Hondarribia, San Pedro and San Juan. Hondarribia is a good choice if you want to get as close to France as possible without actually crossing the border as it is the closest coastal town to France. You can even take a ferry across the harbour to visit the French side if you don’t want to drive.
San Pedro and San Juan are two small towns that are located right across from each other, situated only about 7 kilometres from the city centre of San Sebastian. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even opt to do a coastal hike from San Sebastian to San Pedro.
San Pedro (known as Pasaia in Basque) is also the main fishing port of the area, with all commercial fishing vessels having been moved from San Sebastian. As such, you can find great seafood here. If you’re looking for a good, affordable recommendation, we suggest getting a bite to eat at La Lonja.
If you wish to visit little San Juan (Pasai Donibane), there is a small ferry that can take you from San Pedro. This boat costs €0.90 per crossing and doesn’t leave on any particular schedule, just when it is needed. The crossing only takes a minute or two.
San Sebastian is located only a stone’s throw from the French border and if you are interested in seeing how the culture is different (or similar) in French Basque Country, you can opt to visit some towns there for a day.
The towns of Biarritz, Bayonne and St Jean de Luz are all located within easy reach of San Sebastian and can be a great option for a day trip from the Spanish Basque city. You can book a guided tour here if you don’t have a car.
If you don’t have the time in your trip to visit bother cities and can’t make the decision between visiting San Sebastion or Bilbao, then you can always opt to visit Bilbao as a day trip. Though we do recommend spending at least a couple of days in this city, it is incredibly doable as a day trip.
Visiting Bilbao is a good option if you want more city vibes and also if you don’t want to hire a car but still care to travel independently. There are frequent bus connections between the two cities and the journey only takes about an hour.
If you don’t mind venturing outside of Basque Country, Pamplona makes for another great day trip from San Sebastian. Located just south of the city, Pamplona is most famous for its Running of the Bulls. However, it is a lovely city and the regional capital of Navarre and very much worth visiting in its own right.
You can easily reach Pamplona via public transit, making it another great option if you haven’t hired a car. There are frequent bus and train connections and the journey time will take a bit over an hour each way.
Where to Stay in San Sebastian
When spending a few days in San Sebastian, you’re going to need to find a great place to stay in this gorgeous Basque city. Whether you’re looking for a luxurious experience or would be happy in a hostel dorm, there are plenty of options to choose from. If you’re looking for accommodation in San Sebastian, have a browse through these suggestions:
Hotel Boutique Villa Favorita – If you’re after a luxury getaway in San Sebastian, then this swanky hotel is an excellent choice for you. With a location overlooking La Concha Bay and Promenade, this hotel is perfectly situated for exploring San Sebastian. They have a number of lovely rooms to choose from, a restaurant and bar on-site and there is even free parking! Click here to see their availability
Hotel Villa Katalina – A great mid-range option, this hotel is an excellent choice in San Sebastian. They have a number of lovely rooms available, an excellent location within easy walking distance of all of the city’s top attractions and plenty of amenities to ensure you have a great stay. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If you’d like to experience San Sebastian like a local, then a private rental is an excellent choice for you. Places like this sunny apartment near La Concha beach can give you a great idea of what it might be like to live in this beautiful Basque city. Click here to browse more San Sebastian rentals
Surfing Etxea -If you’re travelling solo or on a budget, then this highly-rated hostel is a great option for you! Located in the trendy Gros neighbourhood just a stone’s throw from La Zurriola Beach, this hostel is great for those who want to try their hand at surfing or simply want an affordable and amicable place to meet other travellers! They have both dorm and private room options available. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more San Sebastian hotels!
With so much to see, do and eat, planning the perfect San Sebastian itinerary is an absolutely delightful task. No matter how long you have to spend in this beautiful Basque city, you’re sure to leave with great memories (and a full belly!).
Are you planning to visit San Sebastian? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!