7 Key Things to Know Before Visiting San Sebastian

With its stunning landscapes and world-class cuisine, San Sebastian is a must on any traveler’s itinerary when visiting Spain.

However, as with any new place, there are a few things to keep in mind before you go. San Sebastian is full of pleasant surprises, and a brief introduction to the local culture will help your trip go much more smoothly. Here are 7 things you need to know before visiting San Sebastian. Keep these in mind and you’ll be prepared for any situation that comes your way!

Make the most of your trip! Here are 7 important things to know before visiting San Sebastian.

1. Forget everything you thought you knew about Spain

You won’t find much flamenco here, and ordering tapas is a sure sign that you’re a tourist. One key thing to know before visiting San Sebastian is that the Basque Country has a totally unique culture that might make you feel at times like you’re not in Spain at all! However, this is part of the charm. Let go of your expectations and enjoy your time in this one-of-a-kind city!

The first thing you must know before visiting San Sebastian is that the culture is extremely different from other parts of Spain!
San Sebastian’s proximity to the sea plays an important role in local culture.

2. The Basque Country’s unique history has shaped its culture

The Basque Country is one of the very few regions of Spain that the Romans and the Moors never conquered. As a result, the people in this area developed their own unique culture without the influences of the conquerors. You won’t find Roman ruins or Moorish architecture in San Sebastian. This also means that Latin and Arabic had no influence on the Basque language, which is definitely not the case with Spanish!

3. Many locals speak Basque

That reminds us—one key thing to know before visiting San Sebastian is that the local language may surprise you! Even if you’ve studied Spanish for years, you might feel overwhelmed and confused upon arriving and realizing you can’t understand the majority of what you hear. That’s because many locals speak Basque rather than Spanish in their daily lives. Basque is its own root language, with no known connection to any other language on earth, which makes it both fascinating and extremely difficult to learn. If you’d like a challenge, you can certainly teach yourself the basics, but you won’t have any problem communicating in Spanish.

One important thing to know before visiting San Sebastian is that the common local language ISN'T Spanish!
If you’re lucky, you might even find menus in English! Photo credit: Shane Fallon

4. The region has a tumultuous recent history

As you’ve probably figured out, many locals identify as Basque rather than Spanish. In the past, this strong identity led to the formation of an extremist terrorist group who used scare tactics and dangerous attacks to advance their separatist agenda. The good news is that the group, ETA, disarmed itself in recent years and has held true to its vow not to carry out any further attacks. However, just a few decades ago, their presence meant that the now peaceful streets of San Sebastian were filled with riot police and locals constantly on edge. Being aware and respectful of the region’s dramatic recent past is incredibly important when visiting San Sebastian in a responsible way.

One important thing to know before visiting San Sebastian is that the region's dramatic recent past has shaped the culture in the city today.
Today, the charming streets of San Sebastian are peaceful and safe.

5. Close relationships are important

The north of Spain, including the Basque Country, often gets a bad rap as being more “closed off” and “cold” than the warmer, more open south. This common misconception might be one of the things you think you know before visiting San Sebastian. It comes from the fact that many locals have extremely close-knit circles with their friends and family. Despite this, once you get to know them, they are some of the friendliest people in a country known for its friendly locals! Don’t be afraid to go up to a group in a bar and introduce yourself. Soon enough, they’ll welcome you like an old friend.

One thing to know before visiting San Sebastian: locals have close relationships with their friends and family, but they also love welcoming new people into their circle!
Don’t be afraid to join the locals for pintxos!

6. Get out and about

The lush greenery and beautiful coastline of San Sebastian make it the perfect place to stay active! Locals tend to be very active and healthy, and when you consider the stunning corner of the world they call home, it’s easy to see why. Go for a run or a bike ride through the countryside outside the city, or try your hand at rowing. The picturesque scenery will almost make you forget you’re working out!

You have to know before visiting San Sebastian that the stunning natural beauty in the region will make you want to embrace the locals' active lifestyle!
How could you not want to take some time exploring this region’s natural beauty?

7. Food—especially pintxos—is king

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the food in San Sebastian is second to none! An integral part of your experience should definitely be an authentic pintxos crawl. Knowing your way around a pintxos bar is one of the most important things to know before visiting San Sebastian. Find a bar, settle in with a glass of cider or txakoli, and get ready to enjoy some of the best food in the world!

The foodie scene is one of the most important things to know before visiting San Sebastian. Devour it with us on our Ultimate Pintxos & Wine Tour! You’ll learn how to order and eat pintxos like a local while exploring the hidden backstreets of the old town. We can’t wait to have you!

Leave a Reply