San Sebastian, Spain: A Basque Seaside Jewel


(photos by Pete and Libby)

There's Spanish culture, there's French culture, and then there's Basque culture. Pete and Libby (whom you may remember from their photos of the Winter Olympics and Lindsey Vonn) decided to explore the Basque region in early May. They flew into Toulouse, France, and then drove to San Sebastian, Spain, where they spent two nights. Then, they went on to Biarritz, France, (only a 30-minute drive away!) for a few more days. They concluded their fabulous vacation by taking the TGV to Paris, to savor the City of Light before they returned to New York. Here, they share their photos and their experience in San Sebastian.


Where They Stayed: We stayed at Hotel Maria Christina, which is probably the nicest hotel that's centrally located in San Sebastian. It's a luxury Starwood property, and our room was very well appointed.


We would have preferred a younger crowd — it felt like all of the guests were 60-year-old American tourists. We weren't in love with the hotel, but we still felt like it was a good choice and we'd definitely recommend it.

What They Did: We mostly just walked around the town and enjoyed the gorgeous views. In the two days we were there, we felt like we had plenty of time to see everything. We climbed to the statue at the top of the hill, and rode the funicular to the top of Mt. Igueldo.


It wasn't truly beach weather yet, but we liked watching the surfers. And of course, it was great to just soak up the Spanish Basque culture.

An Amazing Dining Experience: We were so excited to get a reservation at Arzak, and the restaurant definitely lived up to its three Michelin stars. We opted for the tasting menu, but because of the language barrier we're still not 100% sure what we actually we ate. Every dish was a work of art, and we enjoyed it all.

The service was impeccable — they were willing to accommodate any dietary issues and you could substitute out any part of the tasting menu if you didn't like it. It was probably the best dining experience we've ever had!

…And Some Not-So-Amazing Dining Experiences: Don't even bother having dinner at a run-of-the-mill "sit-down" restaurant — the ones we went to were awful. The place to go is a pintxo, a tapas place where they put the food out on the bar and you're supposed to eat and drink while standing up there. Pinxtos don't even get started till after 9pm, and you'll see people of all ages crowding at the bar and getting drunk.

Tip: Check out the New York Times' 36 Hours in San Sebastian article for good advice on what to see and where to eat.


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6 Responses to San Sebastian, Spain: A Basque Seaside Jewel

  1. Abi June 7, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

    I loved San Seb when I stayed there on a similar drive between Toulouse and Biarritz. Having since travelled through much of Spain, I’d have no qualms in naming the tapas I found in San Seb as the best on offer…Mmmmm…

  2. Natalia June 8, 2010 at 1:49 am #

    We loved Donostia-San Sebastian, though last time we were there it was as budget backpackers so a little different than your experience! But we had a great time sampling tapas, checking out the amazing architecture, marvelling at the melding of the three cultures (French, Spanish and Basque), and shopping at the fantastic Emmaus store (Emmaus is a charity that has amazing second-hand stores: this one was more like a clothing boutique than a charity shop!)
    We have always planned on going back, so you may have just kickstarted some new plans … thanks!

  3. jessiev
    Twitter: WanderingEds
    June 12, 2010 at 4:33 pm #

    gorgeous place!! we need to visit!

  4. darngooddigs August 2, 2010 at 8:26 pm #

    We spent three days in San Sebastian-Donostia last summer with our four year old boy. The beach was a bit crowded for our taste (I think the more rugged beaches in Asturias were more our speed), but the city was beautiful and we had an amazing time. I agree that the pintxo spots were the way to go – and we would time our son’s naps just right so he would sleep in the stroller while we devoured tapas.
    You can see where we stayed on Darn Good Digs, our guide to the best places to stay for budget-minded travelers. Our small hotel in San Sebastian cost around 80 Euros in the high season – which we thought was very reasonable – especially considering how friendly and immaculate it was. Here’s our review:

  5. Vviadana December 9, 2010 at 12:10 am #

    I agree with you regarding on where to go in San Sebastian to eat. The best dining evening out is actually “pinxtos hoping”. You go from bar to bar eating tapas and drinking wine.

  6. Sofie
    Twitter: wondwand
    November 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    I stayed in San Sebastian for six days with my boyfriend in June. We quite liked it. One day we did a little road trip to Tolosa, Hondarribia, Zumaia…
    Sofie recently posted..Does this traveler need a smartphone?

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