A guide to San Sebastián and its hidden gems
Together with the local community, we've shone a light on the spots that you might otherwise overlook. Each selected for their unique charm and individual character, these are the hidden gems you won't find in other city guides.
Nestled between white beaches and a blue expanse of sea and rolling hills on the other side, you can find Donostia also known as San Sebastián. A culinary marvel of not just Basque country but the world, this city is known by chefs and food lovers across continents with the small town hosting the second most Michelin starred restaurants per capita. Its finesse goes beyond food – from architecture, to shops and boutiques, and carefully manicured green spaces – the San Sebastián spirit is one that values quality.
Though geographically in Spain, its culture is something else entirely. Let go of any expectations you have and immerse yourself in the unique concoction this beach town has brewed up over centuries. The spots in this city guide are places that particularly highlight the character of San Sebastián and have visitors coming from all over the world to experience this remarkable lifestyle.
Music & Entertainment
A quirky and diverse landscape to get your fun fix
A day-into-night of “potear” in the Old Town continues into the early hours with a diversity of quirky spots to let loose. For example, the Museo del Whisky is decked out in Scottish decor and a live pianist playing classic tunes. For a more rocker vibe, shake it out at Txiki. And if you’re a jazz lover, then try out the legendary EtxeKalte or Altxerri Bar. Explore Calle Reyes Católicos area for an alternative night out with a bunch of low-key music spots. You’ll find a good crowd at Udaberri and El Nido.
If you really want to get to know the Basque cultural scene, a night at Doka should be on your agenda. From live music, to theatrical performances, and live talks with people in the industry, you can learn a whole new side of the Basque people. On the topic of locals, try breaking the ice by learning a few words in Euskera (Basque language) and they’ll take you under their wing in no time.
Food & Drinks
Culinary marvels in both unassuming places and standout spots
San Sebastián's food scene is its Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, or Big Ben. It’s the reason locals are proud of their town and why anyone you know who has been there speaks with giddy delight and encourages you to go as soon as possible. The outstanding quality of food comes from the abundance of fresh produce to play around with and the locals have made cooking their sport, exercising creativity in every corner of the city - from Gros (The Loaf) to Antiguo (Damadá Gastroteka) to Riberas de Loiola (Elizalde Taberna Jatetxea).
Pintxos are what you’ll be feasting on morning, noon and night, with even the most ordinary spots serving up combinations you’ll be dreaming about long after you’ve gone. Particularly in the Old Town (Parte Vieja) there are unmissable spots to eat. For example, a local’s favourite for 70 years, Bar Juantxo. Or Ganbara where any of the mushroom dishes will have you longing for more, or raise a glass of cider ('sagardo' in Basque) at Bar Manojo. Oh, and don't leave without a slice of the famous Basque cheesecake passing your lips - Bar Viña is your go-to spot.
Art & Culture
An ecclectic mix of creative expression in every corner of the city
Donostia is a gem when it comes to art and culture and each neighbourhood brings its own unique vibe to the creative scene. The laid-back and hipster galleries (Cibrián) and cafes (Alabama Cafe) are all in Gros. For a more intellectual charm, Anriguo has a range of book shops (La Informacion) and parks for quiet artistic contemplation. And to embrace a boho soul, Amara is slightly off the radar but therefore even more authentic.
The most well-known local artist is Eduardo Chillida, his “The Comb of the Wind” being an iconic landmark of the town, as well as his open air museum Chillidaleku. The best example of nature’s influence on the arts scene is the Kursaal building. Designed by Rafael Meneo, this striking building draws inspiration from the red rocks of the coastline. Their dynamic lineup of temporary exhibitions focuses on the visual arts, spanning from the early 20th century to today. It's a cultural compass, a gathering place for artists, experts, critics, and anyone with an eye for creativity.
Shops & Boutiques
Discover a range of local gems offering things you won't find elsewhere
Since San Sebastián is quite a small town, you can easily walk your way through the neighbourhoods, picking up treats for yourself or loved ones all over. The range of boutiques and independent small shops are charming and plentiful, especially in Gros and the Old Town.Gros is a great area for local surf brands that you won’t find elsewhere and Koloreka is a cute spot to pick up a print of the town.
Conscious clothing is also a big part of the shopping landscape, with small local brands doing their bit to promote a sustainable wardrobe. Check out the offer at Ulhas, Labui or Berriz. In between pintxos bites, why not pick up a musical souvenir at the legendary Beltza Records. Open since 1990, this record store has a great selection of vinyls and a mega enthusiastic owner who can fish out almost any record you request from his huge offering.
Naturally any sort of food from San Sebastián makes for a perfect gift. Bouiboui Shop is an especially cool hidden gem, a deli that offers a curated selection of various delicacies but is also a creative space for locals to meet and share ideas.
Parks & Nature
Enjoy the diversity of natural beauty this town has to offer
Nature and its beauty are inescapable in this town, with the sandy coastline greeting the magnificent waves, unique cliff formations towering high and a lush, green expanse of hills on the other side.
Surfers paradise is also known as Zurriola beach, a stretch of white sand that has a lively atmosphere with all its youngsters enjoying the waves, surfing championships and volleyball games. Not a fan of crowds? Explore Isla Santa Clara, the smallest beach of the town which occasionally isn’t accessible because of the tide. Come here for a peaceful morning dip and coffee at the small terrace to start your day.
Stretch your legs and take on the majestic Mount Urgull, a 12th century fortress that has historical significance to the town and in its modern state offers a bounty of tranquillity. There’s also a secret bar (El Polvorin) where you can quench your thirst. For a less intensive interaction with nature, stroll through the Cristina Enea and greet the wandering peacocks. Or be impressed with the English manor house inspired Miramar Gardens at La Concha bay.
Want to know all the secret hotspots?
In the meantime, dive even deeper into the hidden gems of San Sebastián with our downloadable guide. Enjoy the personalised recommendations from The Social Hub community who have lived and learned the unconventional beauty of the city.
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