Three days is a great amount of time for Donostia San Sebastian. It’s a small city and you can easily see it all very quickly. But with this itinerary you’ll also have a chance to get away from the main drag a bit.
What you can do in 3 days in San Sebastian
The San Sebastian Beaches
La Concha beach
La Concha beach is the biggest and most famous of the San Sebastian beaches and it should be visited. Since its protected in a cove the water is lovely and calm, easy for lesser swimmers. Le Concha alone is nearly a kilometer and a half in length.
Ondaretta beach is almost connected to La Concha. Wander all the way to the westernmost part and if the tide is low enough you can slip through pico de loro (the parrots beak) to get onto the even calmer Ondretta beach. There’s a chiringuito (beach bar) as well as kayak rentals here. And while you’re there take a swim or a boat out to Isla Santa Clara where you can enjoy a drink at the bar. This is the closest mainland beach to the island, which is only 30 meters in length but delightfully adorable. It even has a natural, sea water swimming pool.
Zurriola Beach is outside of the cove meaning the waves are much stronger which in turn means this is the surfers beach of the city. You’ll find a younger crowd and more bars out here.
San Sebastian's old town is it’s beating heart. The area is absolutely overflowing with eye catching pintxos covered bar tops. It’s rumored to have the highest concentration of bars anywhere in the world. The tiny streets are beautiful and it’s worth getting a little lost amongst them.
But look out for a few highlights The Basilica of St. Mary of the Chorus is a Roman Catholic Baroque church from the 1700’s. It appears at the end of a narrow-pedestrianized alleyway in all its splendor. Admire it both from inside and out, it is covered in a plethora of sculptures.
A second church in old town worth spotting is Saint Vicente Church the interior displays a beautiful Romanesque altarpiece as well as a grand French organ.
And when you’re ready for a break during your journey through old town just sit down and grab a pintxo, just about anywhere won’t disappoint. The Plaza de la Constitución is a good area for entertaining people watching.
San Sebastian sits directly on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage trail leading from the French border all the way to Fisterra (the end of the earth) on the north west Atlantic coast of Spain. This means there are plentiful trails for walking or hiking at your doorstep.
An excellent choice is to start in San Sebastia and walk along the coast to the nearby fishing village of Pasajes de San Juan where you can grab lunch before heading back, which you can do by bus. This path is part of the Camino but is just one of many of the options for hiking in the area.
Day trips from San Sebastian
A 3 day trip is perfect to explore the nearby countryside by car or on foot. Take a hike along the coast or go farther afield if you’ve got the energy. 3 days is a great amount of time but it’s also a good idea to keep San Sebastian as your base while you continue to explore the nearby Basque region.
San Sebastian has it all. A stunning, clean, pedestrianized old town. Beautiful, long, sandy urban beaches. Calm, protected waters. Mountains that overlook it all. Nature only moments from the city center.
3 days is good time for a tour or activity
If you’re lucky enough you’ll be in town during a Herri Kirolak competition. Herri Kirolak is a Basque sport that holds as much prestige for its superstars as football does in the rest of the country. The sport is a compilation of various strength tasks including wood chopping and stone lifting. Your best chance of catching a viewing is during the summer months at one of the many festivals in town.
Film and theater
If your interests lean more towards the traditional then head to Victoria Eugenia theatre in the center of town. It has been recently remodeled and rumor has it the improvements are terrific. You can catch the film festival in September and other productions throughout the year.
Ready to get a little wet? And really tired? Head to Zurriola beach to test your abilities atop a board. Try Zurriola Surf Escola where the certified instructors are happy to take on surfers of any age at any ability level.
Go on a PIntxo tasting tour. It’s easy to quickly become overwhelmed by the sheer number of options when you walk into a pintxo bar. There’s no shame in getting a little help from the experts. You certainly don’t want to leave Donostia feeling disappointed in what you’ve had to eat. The experts at Mimo San Sebastian will take you on a two and a half hour lunch time pintxo tour for €95 per person.
Wine lovers are in the perfect spot, Rioja, one of Spain’s most famous and delectable types of vino come from grapes in the Basque region. You can go out of the city for vineyard tours and tasting or stay in and just do the tastings. Basque Tours offers both.
Go souvenir shopping
Txakoli is a wine from the region, between it and the Rioja wines you should certainly be packing a few bottles out. Look for a great selection at Vinos Ezeiza.
Don Serapio is for the food market lovers. Fill your bag with different types of Spanish meats including Txistorra, a Basque sausage.
Kukuxumusu is a company which creates whimsical designs. The company is not from the area but has become very popular amongst the Basques. Their designs include things like bulls chasing surfers across the sea. The main shop is on Calle Mayor.
Food and nightlife suggestions for San Sebastian
- Pintxos. PIntxos. Pintxos.
- You’ll be surrounded by pintxos in San Sebastian so it’s good to go in with a clear head and a little guidance as to what you’re getting yourself into.
- Meat eaters order txistorra a pork and beef Basque sausage that’s flavored with garlic, salt and paprika and served quite simply with bread. It’s about a million times better than that sounds. It’s offered in many of the bars, just ask for it.
- Idiazabal cheese and membrillo. Often served for desert is a Basque favorite as well.
- A few great paces to find a few preat pintxos are Ganbara, known for its fish, it’s so popular local chefs hang out here. La Cuchara de San Telmo is a bit less ostentatious but just as high in quality, go there for the slow cooked pig.
Nightlife is simple.
Once you’ve pintxoed your way through all the pintxos you can handle it’s time to start crawling bar to bar. Stick to old town and if you’re looking to know where to go, just ask a local.
Stay options and getting around San Sebastian
Stay in Gros
Gros, in the east of the city has been described as young and cosmopolitan in the same breath. Beach and mountains are at your fingertips and you’ll be surrounded by locals. And you are still not far from the old town area.
Check out Hotel Arrizul Congress. For a more upscale vibe you’ll want to be staying closer to Ondaretta beach, check out Hotel Villa Soro.
Public transport is easy
Actually you can easily walk around San Sebastian but if you plan to take any sort of public transport you should invest in the 6 journey San Sebastian card; it costs just €9 and can be used by anyone. Meaning one will cover the whole group. The same card also gets you some discounts at attractions and restaurants throughout the city.
There is not much to pre book in San Sebastian unless you have a tour or restaurant you’d like to go to. The fans places definitely need reservations well in advance (we are talking weeks or months at some starred restaurants)
Here are some apps that you might find handy for a longer stay in San Sebastian
- San Sebastian City Guide - maps, transport, recommendations
- Be your guide - San Sebastian-access information about landmarks and attractions (free)
- San Sebastian travel guide and offline map-tours, tickets and activities
Suggestions for families and couples
Beaches, boats, swimming, hiking, biking. San Sebastian couldn’t be more kid friendly if it tried. There’s also an aquarium in town with a 360° fish tunnel. And the Eureka! Science museum where kids can learn about everything from electricity to turtles.
If you are going as a couple, San Sebastian is a romantic city without having to try. Watch the sunset over the beach. Stroll through the parks. Sip wine on the sidewalk. La Perla at La Concha can really up the ante on romance with spas, hot tubs, and pools overlooking the sea.