San Sebastian, Spain, located in the Basque Country is a really beautiful city on the coast of Spain. My expectation was of a touristy, overrun city on the sea that would be overcrowded and not as interesting as other cities we had seen in Spain. I was wrong, on every single account.
We were staying in Orio and took the train into San Sebastian, about an hour and a half journey. Immediately leaving the train station you understand there is so much history and elegance in this city. As with other cities in Spain like Malaga and Granada there is a main area with streets of shops, large and small for fashion, toys and decor. The streets are wide and beautiful surrounded by historic buildings.
We made our way around the shopping area on the way to the La Concha beach. As we walked onto the promenade we were greeted with a colorful and lively beach overlooking the sea. The wide promenade is lined with beautiful white iron fencing dating back over 200 years and is surrounded by hills with beautiful homes and buildings. I felt this strong sense of community and family along the beach. Everyone was so relaxed, not hurried, or stressed, just enjoying their beautiful city and the salty sea air. I understood why one of Queen Maria Cristina’s doctors recommended she spend time on the sea in Spain every year.
There are three beaches in San Sebastian, each with its own feel. The La Concha is the most famous and definitely my favorite. The Ondoretta Beach is to the west of La Concha. It is the smallest beach so definitely hang there if you want a bit more privacy. Then there is the Zurriola beach or Gros beach which lies to the east of La Concha. The waves are bigger here since it is not protected by little islands, so the crowd tends to be younger adults and teenagers, or locals who enjoy the waves.
The thing that surprised me most about San Sebastian was how much it didn’t feel like a tourist destination, despite the tourist train and hop on hop off buses, it still felt like it had not compromised itself at all. This was abundantly clear as we turned a corner and ended up by the river. The wide stone bridges, beautiful buildings, the beautiful green trees, all leading to the sea were like a step back in time. There are huge buildings (The Hotel Maria Critina & the theatre Victoria Eugenia) all built over one hundred years ago which line one side of the river then the other side is lined with restaurants, shops and apartments, which definitely feel less crowded.
Tucked in between the shopping area, the river and the sea is the Parte Vieja, Old Town. This is definitely the most tourist filled spot in town, the large tour groups made it a bit difficult to walk through some of the areas, but the small shops and incredible ancient architecture make it worth the journey. There is the largest concentration of bars in the world in Parte Vieja, so it is worth the journey for a bit of Spanish wine as you take in the old buildings, old stone streets and crazy crowds. There is an old bull fighting arena in the Parte Vieja. Now it houses restaurants, cafes and apartments. However, the numbers from the box seats are still painted over each window which really help to visualize what it used to be like to attend a bull fight here.
We found it so easy to walk this city, and take in all of the atmosphere, the people and the great food (for J. it was good he was finally able to find some pintxos he liked, I on the other hand found a great market with some fresh fruit and nuts to tide me over).
Getting anywhere from San Sebastian is really easy either by train, bus or rental car. It is definitely worth the visit to this unique and beautiful city. I regret that we didn’t book time here as I think the atmosphere is amazing, and the beaches are better than we have seen in the rest of Spain.