Here are some interesting day trip ideas from San Sebastian.
Day trip from San Sebastian to Navarre
Navarra (Navarre) has many wineries and wine routes, but they are not comparable to wines of the La Rioja Alta or Alavesa region (Laguardia, Haro, Logrono). So I don’t recommend going to Navarre only for wine. From San Sebastian, if it is wine and wineries you are after, read this post about wine regions from San Sebastian.
But there are other things worth seeing in Navarre that should have higher priority than wine!
Day trip to Getaria
Getaria is a great day trip town just 30 minutes away from San Sebastian. It is also a popular destination for wine enthusiasts who are looking to visit Txakoli wineries around San Sebastian.
There are many reasons to choose Getaria but for me, the top attractions are Txakoli, Balenciaga, and grilled fish!
The local Basque grill fish - not whales anymore for which Getaria was historically famous - is everywhere and you can have it on the street or in upmarket restaurants. I prefer streetside vendors all along the beaches. If you like to sit and eat go to Elkano or Kaia-Kaipe.
Day trip to Guernica from San Sebastian
The area around San Sebastian has many towns to visit and certainly, Gernika (Guernica) is a great choice if you are interested in Basque culture. It is closer to Bilbao but in a small region it does not matter; you will be in Guernica in an hour from San Sebastian.
Guernica was made famous by the Spanish Civil war bombings of 1937 that inspired Picasso’s masterpiece by the same name. The original is now in the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid but you must see the ceramic replica of the Guernica on Pedro de Elejalde Street.
As you walk through Guernica, you will realize that there is very little historical architecture in the city; almost all of it was destroyed in the bombings from Italy and Germany in support of Franco.
Visit the Basque History Museum to get an insight into Basque culture, and the Peace museum dedicated to the 1937 bombings. Also, visit the Guernica assembly and see the tree which marks the spot where Basque autonomy was granted in the middle ages.
Guernica is famous around the region for its Monday market where farmers bring their produce to sell from all over the Basque country. If you are in town on a Monday you can see the local culture on full display but also remember that the museums are closed.
From San Sebastian you must go on trips to the French side as well, in addition to trips on the Spanish side.
It is obvious that you cannot miss a visit to these 3 parts of Basque country
- Bilbao and its Guggenheim Museu
- La Rioja (Alavesa) wine country
- The Guipuzcoan mountains with the Sierra de Aralar, the natural park of Pagoeta, Leitzaran with its ancient beaches. They are very beautiful places, ideal for hiking.
Travel the route of the three temples
Visit San Ignacio de Loyola in Azpeitia, the Sanctuary of Arantzazu in Onati, and the Hermitage of La Antigua in Zumarraga. Start at Azpeitia the birthplace of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and take the route followed by Saint Loyola to Zumarraga and Onati, on his way to Manresa and intended destination of Jerusalem.
You can easily do this in a day, Onati is the furthest from San Sebastian and only an hour away. With more time on the Spanish side, visit Vitoria for its cathedral and old town. But only if you have the time.
Visit the French coast: Hendaye, with its famous beach and its summer houses. A few kilometers to the north we find San Juan de Luz which has a beautiful historic center, in which stands the church of San Juan Bautista. Its streets are very lively, especially in the summer months, but also in winter. Continuing along the coast, we reach Biarritz, a place historically visited by high society. We can also consider Ascain and Ezpeleta, located in the interior.
Finally, if you have even more time to explore the French side, there is a motorway that continues to the north, to Bassin d'Arcachon and the city of Bordeaux. This trip will take you 3 hours each way by road.
Day trip transport
To go from San Sebastian to Bilbao, we have a very efficient bus transport and it takes only an hour. Also the same to go from San Sebastian to Vitoria. For the trip to the French coast, it is also possible to use the bus; a 30 minute ride gets us to Hendaye in France.
Many people make the mistake of visiting Pamplona as day trip from San Sebastian.
In my opinion, Pamplona does not have much to offer for a day trip unless you are going for the San Fermin festival and running of the bulls that takes place only for a week in the first half of July. In that case you have to spend the entire day (at least) in Pamplona. At other times during the year Pamplona can be skipped.