Stylish San Sebastián (Donostia in Basque) has the air of an upscale resort, complete with an idyllic location on the shell-shaped Bahía de la Concha. The natural setting – crystalline waters, a flawless beach, green hills on all sides – is captivating, but the city itself has plenty to offer. Head to the buzzing Parte Vieja (Old Quarter) for tempting tapas bars and gourmet restaurants.
Centro de Atracción y Turismo (Tel 943 48 11 66; http://www.sansebastianturismo.com/taxo.nsf/fwHomeCanal?ReadForm&idioma=ing&id=T&doc=Canal; Calle Reina Regente 3; h8.30am-8pm Mon-Sat, 10am-7pm Sun Jun-Sep, 9am- 2pm & 3.30-7pm Mon-Sat, 10am-2pm Sun Oct-May) Donosti-Net (Tel 943 42 94 97; Calle de Narrica 3; per 10min/1hr €0.90/3.30; h9am-11pm) A one-stop travellers’ service, with email, travel info and left luggage.
San Sebastián’s beautiful city beaches, Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta, are popular spots year-round. East of the Urumea River is the somewhat less crowded Playa de la Zurriola, popular with surfers. To escape the crowds, take the small boat (h10am-8pm Jun-Sep) to the Isla de Santa Clara, an island in the middle of the bay. From here you can enjoy pretty views of the seafront.
For more good views, take the 30-minute walk up to Monte Urgull, a hill topped by low castle walls and a statue of Christ. The walk begins at a stairway in Plaza de Zuloaga.
The best vista in San Sebastián is from Monte Igueldo. Drive up or catch the funicular (return trip €2.30; h10am-10pm Jul & Aug, 10/11am- 6/9pm, depending on month through rest of year) from the western end of the seafront paseo.
San Sebastián’s best museum is the Museo Chillida Leku (Tel 943 33 60 06; http://www.museochillidaleku.com/; adult/student €8.50/6.50; h10.30am-3pm Wed-Mon Sep-Jun, 10.30am-8pm Mon-Sat, 10.30am-3pm Sun Jul & Aug), 10km outside the city centre. An outdoor sculpture garden featuring 40 large-scale works by the famed Basque artist Eduardo Chillida, this peaceful place is ideal for picnics. To get here, take the G2 bus (€1.25) for Hernani from Calle de Okendo in San Sebastián and get off at Zabalaga.
San Sebastián’s aquarium (Tel 943 44 00 99; http://www.aquariumss.com/en/home/; Paseo del Muelle 34; adult/student €10/8; h10am-9pm Jul & Aug, 10am-8pm Apr-Jun & Sep, 10am-7pm Mon-Fri & 10am-8pm Sat & Sun Oct- Mar) is home to more than 5000 tropical fish, morays, sharks and a variety of other finned creatures.
Considered the birthplace of nueva cocina española, this area is home to some of the country’s top chefs. Yet not all the good food is pricey. Head to the Parte Vieja for San Sebastián’s pintxos, Basque-style tapas.
Pintxo etiquette is simple. Ask for a plate and point out what pintxos (bar snacks) you want. Accompany with txakoli, a cloudy white wine poured like cider to create a little fizz. When you’re ready to pay, hand over your plate with all the pintxo toothpicks and tell bar staff how many drinks you’ve had. It’s an honour system that has stood the test of time. Expect to pay €2.50 to €3.50 for a pintxo and txakoli.
Bar La Cepa (Calle de 31 de Agosto 7) The best jamón jabugo does not disappoint here and you eat beneath the blank eyes of a very large bull’s head.
La Mejillonera (Calle del Puerto; mussels from €3) If you thought mussels came only with garlic sauce, come here and discover mussels by the thousand in all their glorious forms.
Astelena (Plaza de la Constitución Calle Iñigo 1) The pintxos draped across the counter in this bar, tucked into the corner of the plaza, stand out as some of the best in the city. Many are a fusion of Basque and Asian inspirations.
Restaurante Alberto (Tel 943 42 88 84; Calle de 31 de Agosto 19; mains from €15; hclosed Tue) A charming old seafood restaurant with a fishmongersstyle window display of the day’s catch.
Arzak (Tel 943 27 84 65; Avenida Alcalde Jose Elosegui 273; meals €150-160) Three-Michelin-star chef Juan Mari Arzak is a national institution. Arzak is now assisted by his daughter Elena and they never cease to innovate. The restaurant is about 1.5km east of San Sebastián. Reservations are obligatory.
The Parte Vieja is a fun place any night of the week. Around 8pm the tapas bars start hopping as people enjoy a pre-dinner round of pintxos. The revelry lasts until midnight midweek, and until the cock crows on weekends. Another hot spot is the area around Calle de los Reyes Católicos, behind the Catedral del Buen Pastor.