With pristine beaches, a fascinating local culture and the best gastronomic scene in the world, San Sebastian is one of the chicest cities in Spain–make that Europe.
And despite its smaller size, it packs a big punch. You could spend a week or more here and still not scratch the surface of this one-of-a-kind gem of a city in Spain’s most unique region. Still, its relaxed local atmosphere makes it the perfect destination for a weekend getaway or quick overnight. Sound good? Here’s how to spend 36 hours in San Sebastian like a local.
Afternoon & evening, Day 1
Even though you only have 36 hours in San Sebastian, don’t rush your time here. This is a city meant to be savored slowly, so let yourself settle in at your own pace. Take a walk around your neighborhood to get the lay of the land before expanding your horizons further afield and starting sightseeing.
When it comes time to start exploring, a small group tour—like our Ultimate Pintxos & Wine Tour—can be a great way to get to know the city through the eyes of a local. (And if we say so ourselves, our exclusive small-group experiences are a step above the rest—they come with food!)
No matter if you decide to join a group experience or would rather go it alone, be sure to eat like a local during your first evening in San Sebastian. For most, that usually refers to hitting the streets on a pintxos bar crawl, devouring a tasty bite or two along with your drink at one place before moving on to the next. Don’t be intimidated by the crowded bars—the social atmosphere is all part of the experience, and soon you’ll be ordering pintxos like a pro.
Morning, Day 2
Continue your 36 hours in San Sebastian by starting off your second day with a laid-back visit to the San Telmo Museum. As the most iconic of the region’s myriad fascinating museums, the San Telmo is a must when it comes to understanding the local culture. You’ll get a crash course in Basque history and identity, and come out of the museum with a deeper appreciation for San Sebastian and the people who call it home.
At this point, a post-museum coffee break is definitely in order. Do as the locals do and head to a cozy cafe for a midmorning pick-me-up. Get lost in a good book or grab a table by the window and watch the world go by—there’s nothing like people-watching to get a feel for daily life in a new city.
Once you’ve gotten your caffeine fix, let your Old Town wanderings take you to San Sebastian’s most emblematic square: Plaza de la Constitución. The gleaming yellow and white buildings surrounding the plaza feature a tiny detail related to its former use as a bullring—see if you can spot it!
(Give up? Keep an eye out for the numbers above each window facing the square. These marked the different spectators’ boxes in the old bullring, and remain today to remind visitors of the picturesque plaza’s controversial history.)
Afternoon, Day 2
Enjoy a late lunch and some gourmet food shopping at one of San Sebastian’s vibrant and colorful local markets. As the city’s oldest market of its kind, Mercado La Bretxa retains an old-world, traditional feel, while the trendy new Mercado San Martín offers contemporary foodie fun for a new generation. Both offer an excellent variety of market bars and restaurants for a casual afternoon meal during your 36 hours in San Sebastian.
Walk off your lunch by heading down to the most emblematic of San Sebastian’s gorgeous beaches for an afternoon stroll. With its sophisticated whitewashed promenade and fine white sand, La Concha Beach is one of Europe’s best urban beaches for good reason. Head out for a swim if the weather permits, but even if not, the beach is a great place to get some seriously unbelievable photos of the stunning surroundings.
Evening, Day 3
Make your way back to the heart of the city and stop for an evening drink out on one of San Sebastian’s many gorgeous terraces before continuing east into the laid-back surfers’ paradise that is the Gros neighborhood. Brimming with a vibrant youthful energy that’s harder to come by in the historic Old Town, Gros provides the perfect atmosphere for one last pintxos crawl during your 36 hours in San Sebastian.
Don’t head back to the hotel just yet after dinner—you’re in Spain, after all, and the night is just getting started. While in Gros, check out what’s on at the Tabakalera—this onetime tobacco factory is now a haven of arts and culture, with excellent live music, film screenings, or performances taking place most nights throughout the week.Want our insider’s guide to eating in San Sebastian? Just add your email address in the form below!
Life is too short to speak one language and stay in one place. In 2015, this philosophy took her from familiar Ohio to sunny southern Spain. Usually drinking tinto de verano, reading Lorca, or attempting to dance flamenco (not all at once). Follow her blog, Viatic Couture, for more.