San Sebastian City Guide (+ Our Favorite Pintxos Spots)

San Sebastian in Spain's Basque Region

San Sebastian City Guide (+ Our Favorite Pintxos Spots)

Looking for a unique place to visit in Spain or want to enjoy some of the best food in the world? San Sebastian in Spain is one of my new favorite cities. Explore my full San Sebastian city guide to learn more about my favorite destinations.

If you haven’t been following along on social media, then you may not know that I got married earlier this month (May 2024)! It was such an amazing day that I’m not sure I’ll ever stop thinking about. 

After the wedding, we wanted to go on a short trip to celebrate and relax and we decided to head to San Sebastian. It was just a 2 hours drive from the wedding venue but it felt like a totally different world to be exploring the Basque region of Spain!

Molly Wilkinson and husband in San Sebastian, Spain

We absolutely loved the city, so today I want to share some of my favorite places we visited and favorite restaurants in San Sebastian with all of you!

All About San Sebastian, Spain

San Sebastian, also known as Donostia, is a gorgeous coastal city in Spain’s Basque Country. This region on the northern coast of Spain is very unique – it even has its own government and distinct language!

It’s famous for its beautiful beaches, great shopping and – perhaps most famous – its amazing culinary scene.

In fact, San Sebastian has the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants per square meter in the whole world! In other words, we were in heaven.

Is San Sebastian worth visiting?

Absolutely! While San Sebastian may not have the same fame as major global cities like Paris or Rome, it’s a beautiful, unique place to visit. This is especially true if you love food! I will absolutely be back again someday.

How many days in San Sebastian is enough?

We stayed in San Sebastian for four days and I thought that was the perfect amount of time. It gave us time to relax with a massage on our first day but also still left us plenty of time to explore, visit lots of bars and restaurants and see all the sights.

Is San Sebastian a walkable city?

Yes! This was one of my favorite things about San Sebastian. I highly recommend staying in the Old Town neighborhood of the city. Once you’re there, everything you’ll want to see is within walking distance.

San Sebastian city center

Best Place to Stay in San Sebastian

We stayed at Plaza Lasala and absolutely loved it! It was clean, upscale and nice but not so fancy that we didn’t feel like we could walk around in jeans.

From this location, it was a short walk to a large park, a short walk to the water and a short walk to some of the best restaurants in the world!

What Food is San Sebastian Known For?

While San Sebastian is definitely known for its high-quality restaurants, Basque food, and most famously: pintxos. 

What Are Pinxtos?

Pintxos are a specialty of the area and have only been around since 1947! Pintxos means “stick” in Basque and are different from tapas because they’re mostly served on a stick or a piece of baguette. They’re also different because of the culture around how you eat them. 

Example of pintxos in San Sebastian

At pintxos bars you’re only supposed to stay for about 15 minutes or so – the time to eat a round of pintxos. Then it’s on to the next place. There’s a huge variety of choices, too, which is part of the fun. Essentially you’re food bar hopping and trying lots of 2-3 bite dishes!

So, how do pintxos work? Essentially you order at the bar, eat them standing and then go back for another round or head to the next place. The first time we tried to get pintxos, we had no idea what to do. Thankfully, I had booked a pintxos tour for our first night in San Sebastian and it was wonderful!

Example of pintxos in San Sebastian, Spain

San Sebastian Pintxos Guide

I knew we would be pretty exhausted after the wedding, so on the first day of our San Sebastian trip I wanted to keep things pretty low-key. I booked a massage followed by a food tour in the evening with Gregory of Basque Bites

Gregory, of Basque Bites food tours in San Sebastian, Spain

I knew immediately from his profile that it would be fantastic (I seriously went through all the listings for food tours). Him being a chef, I knew he’d have really good taste in the places he’d bring us to… and it didn’t disappoint! 

I booked the tour for a Monday evening and was super worried that we’d be missing out on some of the culture because Mondays are so slow in France. But we totally didn’t!

The tour started at 6pm and included a look at the city as well as different facts about it – like how the main language is Basque and it has its own parliament and city system apart from the rest of Spain! We saw the indoor food market and then headed to all the pintxos restaurants in Old Town.

indoor food market in san sebastian spain

Best Pintxos Bars in San Sebastian

Here are some of our favorite places, recommended by Gregory of Basque Bites Tours:

GORRITI TABERNA

Gorriti is the name of a local village, a woman’s name and this awesome greasy spoon. In many ways, it is the ‘unofficial’ bar of La Bretxa—the central market. You are likely to see butchers and fishmongers having a quick bite and a splash of wine on their smoke break!  

One of the last of the classics, this bar has been in San Sebastian since before the pintxo was invented in 1947. When we visited, it felt like nothing had changed. The friendly staff served up simple but amazing dishes to locals who flooded in for simple pleasures like wild boar head cheese, blood sausage, fried bites, tortillas, etc. 

This place got extra points for the incredible high pours at the bar and all the grandparents enjoying the place, who obviously know where to eat!  

Visit Gorriti Taberna.

CASA UROLA

This next pintxos bar was simply amazing. It featured high-quality, farm-to-table, seasonal pintxos options. 

A husband and wife team runs this more elegant bar with a Michelin-recommended and two-time Repsol-winning dining room on the second floor. Downstairs, locals are rewarded with a small selection of cold pintxos on the bar and outstanding small plates cooked a la minute on the chalkboards! The scallops and artichokes were some of our favorites. This place had a great wine list too!

Visit Casa Urola.

TXEPETXA

This San Sebastian staple is a famous anchovy bar! Ask for a menu and then order a TOAST with anchovy, or ‘boqueron,’ (white ones served ceviche style) and a crazy topping.  

I was not a fan of anchovies before this tour and boy, am I now! Our tour guide Gregory recommended the unique blueberry jam anchovy toast and it was fabulous! We also tried one with olive tapenade and it was really good.

Visit Txepetxa.

Other Things to Do in San Sebastian

I’ll admit that enjoying the food of San Sebastian was a big focus of our time in the city, but there is plenty to do in between pintxos hopping too. Here’s what I’d recommend if you have a few days to spend in the city:

Walk Around Old Town

San Sebastian’s historical quarter, also called “Old Town,” is one of the best places to get pintxos. While you’re there, you can also enjoy the beautiful pedestrian streets and see some really beautiful architecture. The Santa Maria del Coro Basilica and the San Vicente Church are both really gorgeous buildings.

Go Shopping

While you’re exploring the city’s historic center, don’t forget to step into some of the shops. Old town is home to beautiful pedestrian streets lined with unique shops and boutiques. It would not be hard to spend a few hours here!

Enjoy the Beaches

San Sebastian’s beaches are one of their top tourist attractions, and each one really has its own personality. Along the Concha Bay, you can visit the city’s most famous beach, the Concha, or hang out at the family-friendly Ondarreta. If surfing and swimming are more your speed, then you can explore the Zurriola or the beach on Santa Clara Island.

A scene of coastline in San Sebastian spain

Go for a Hike

San Sebastian is also home to some really lovely hiking trails if you want to spend time outdoors or want to get a different view of the city. The hills surrounding San Sebastian shelter and embrace the city and historically were used by the military to protect the area.

Today, they’re home to beautiful parks. Ulía, for example, is a natural park in the heart of the city. It was constituted for recreational use only by the aristocracy in the early 20th century and today it’s the city’s biggest hillwalking area.

Try a Great Restaurant

As I’ve already mentioned in this post, San Sebastian is world-renowned for its many Michelin-recommended restaurants. There are so many to choose from and they can get very busy, so be sure to make reservations in advance. We reserved at Narru for dinner one night and it was fantastic!

A bowl of soup in San sebastian, Spain

Visit San Sebastian

Ready to plan your own vacation to Spain’s Basque country? I hope this San Sebastian city guide helped you figure out exactly what you want to do while you’re there (and what you want to eat!

And if you want to explore some of my other favorite destinations, be sure to read some of these other travel posts:

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San Sebastian in Spain's Basque Region
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A wow city indeed. I was there in 2023 November. I Planned staying for 7 days… however, I end up staying for almost 3 months. I never wanted to leave.

Words and images cannot capture the beauty, hospitality and cleanliness of the city.

I love Donostia.

Thank you so much Molly for providing this valuable information! ❤️

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