Read more about my Self Care Sabbatical and the other places I’ve visited!
San Sebastian has been near the top of my travel list for a very long time. It was one of the first places I thought to visit when I started thinking about my self-care sabbatical. It’s actually so much bigger of a city than I expected. I really enjoyed it and wished I could have had another day to spend there. I am so fascinated by the Basque culture, the people, the food, all of it.
Getting There: Easy to get to by train from Madrid (though it takes about 6 hours). I took a train from Valladolid which was nearly 5 hours. Within the Basque region, the cities seem best accessed via bus rather than train. San Sebastian is about an hour from Bilbao and Biarritz via bus.
The train and bus station are next to each other, about 10-15 minutes walking toward the main parts of town depending on where you are staying.
Where to Stay: I found the options pretty expensive in San Sebastian and so I opted to stay in a hostel here which was also much more expensive than the hostels in other cities. I stayed at Koba Hostel which was pretty nice, definitely one of the best hostels I have seen (would definitely recommend). It’s located in the Gros neighborhood near Zurriola Beach (across the bridge from the old town and La Concha Beach). I think i preferred staying in this area vs the old town. It was a bit quieter and more relaxed, as was the beach nearby (it’s the surfer beach). Much more of a chill, surfer vibe on this side and much less touristy.
The old town area is very crowded and very touristy though it’s much closer to La Concha Beach and a lot of the popular restaurants. I would suggest staying in Gros though – you are closer to the train/bus station and it’s a nicer vibe.
What to do:
- Go to the beach! Zurriola Beach is for surfers, lots of people laying out here. When I went, it was not possible to swim, only to surf, due to the currents. But it was pretty quiet. La Concha is the main beach and it’s very crowded with people. This is the swimming beach, there are not many waves due to its location
- Hike up to Monte Urguell for incredible views of the city. The walk is a bit steep but not that bad, totally worth it for the view. On your way back down, stop at the bar on the side of the hill called Urguello Podoriña. Incredible views here. I was lucky to time my visit about an hour before sunset so watched the sun go down while I listened to live music and drank some beer. It was really cool. When you finish at the bar, walk down across the harbor at La Concha
- Take the boat to Santa Clara island – costs 4 euro for the round trip ticket. The island is very small, it took me about 15 minutes to walk around the whole thing. But it’s nice to chill out here on the hill, have a picnic, or just hang out at the beach at the bottom (there’s also a bar). The boats go back and forth every 30 minutes.
Eating Well & Drinking Too Much WIne:
Pintxos – That is all you want to eat here! Like tapas, but I think better. The pintxos bars are everywhere! At most of the bars, the process is the same: walk in, ask for a plate, select some pintxos from the bar (there may be more hot offerings not present but listed on a menu somewhere on the wall, you will have to ask), then pay for what you select. The portions are heartier than tapas typically, usually a piece of bread topped with a few things all skewered by a large toothpick.
In the Old Town –
- Beta Jai (a bit more modern of a place but some great food here (16 euro for wine and 4 pintxos)
- Bizigerri – very good, 13 euros for 4 pintxos plus beer.
- Gandarias, Atari Gastroteka, Borda BErri, TTVN-TTVN, Bar txepetxa, La Vina,
- La Fabrica – not for pinxtos but Basque food
- BE club for live music
In Gros –
- Bergata Bar – this was 100% my favorite pintxos bar. It’s so good, definitely a more crowded spot. I went at night and it was packed but looked more empty earlier in the evening. Got 2 wines and 6 pintxos here (I am telling you, they were so so good). Spent 22 euro
- Other places for pintxos: Bodega Donastiarra, Topo Sukalderia
- There are a lot of non-pintxos places, especially near Zurriola beach. I was able to find a good smoothie/salad spot called Uh-Mami where I picked up a good salad and juice for 10 euro. It’s only takeaway there, but there are places to sit nearby or you can take to the beach.
- Try the Idiazabel cheese, offered typically as a dessert with quince jam and nuts. I had it as a pintxo and it was fantastic.
I only did a day trip to Bilbao, and once I got there I was glad I didn’t stay overnight. I think I would have been bored. Not as much of a cool vibe here as in San Sebastian.
The bus ride from San Sebastian took about 1 hour, super easy. The bus station is not far from town; it took about 20 minutes to get to the Guggenheim from there. And you pass through a lovely park which is nice.
Things to do:
Guggenheim Bilbao – I spent about 3 hours here, I don’t think you would need much more (unless you really spend a lot of time listening to the free audio guide). It’s a nice museum with a few permanent exhibits and other traveling exhibitions.
Walk to the old town for lunch – Many pintxos bars here, the ones in Plaza Nueva seemed pretty touristy and more expensive. I preferred the places I saw further into the old town or those that were in the Abando area as I walked back to the bus station (closer to the museums).
Museum of Fine Arts – near the nice park in town, not far from the Guggenheim
Eating & Drinking:
- Irrintzi – really liked this spot, wasn’t too busy but had some creative pintxo and was not expensive (3 pintxos plus wine for 8 euro)
- Arriaga Sagardotegia – more expensive option for sit down meal (44 euro for the meal of the day)
- Victor Montes – a nicer (and more expensive) place for pintxos near Plaza Nueva
- Abando – had pintxos here on the way to the bus station and it was another good spot. Spent about 7 euro for two pintxos and wine. They also looked like they had nice dishes for a sit-down meal
- Guria – recommended for a nice sit-down meal
- La Vina del Ensanche
- Cafe Iruna
- Casa Rufo