From cozy comfort food to fun-filled Basque holiday traditions, a visit to San Sebastian in winter is full of pleasant surprises.
While many residents of southern and central Spain flock to San Sebastian in the summer to escape the infernal heat, we here at Devour San Sebastian think it’s the perfect place to spend the winter holidays! From familiar festivals like Christmas to unique Basque celebrations, the festive atmosphere is almost tangible throughout the city streets. Here’s exactly what to expect on your visit to San Sebastian in winter so you can make the absolute most of your trip!
Located where the majestic Pyrenees meet the Atlantic Ocean, San Sebastian’s stunning geography provides a unique climate. Temperatures in San Sebastian in winter tend to hover around 9 degrees Celsius and can even get up to a pleasant 12 degrees during the day. At night, expect lows around 4 or 5 degrees, so bundle up before heading out for pintxos!
San Sebastian’s coastal location doesn’t allow for much (if any) snow. If you want to experience a white Christmas, a day or weekend trip to the Pyrenees is a quick and easy way to make that happen. However, rainfall is quite high during the winter months. Be sure to pack an umbrella!
Enjoy the festivities
San Sebastian in winter is full of magic and unique traditions. The festivities begin on December 21, also known as the winter solstice or St. Thomas’ Day. On this day, the whole city transforms into a beautiful market, with stalls selling fresh food and beautifully handcrafted gifts. Be sure to try some delicious local txistorra sausage!
While children still wake up on Christmas morning to beautifully wrapped presents, Santa Claus takes a backseat to Olentzero, a jolly Christmas character typically depicted as a Basque peasant. Each year on December 24, children in San Sebastian visit Olentzero and his wife Mari Domingi in the city center and tell them what they want for Christmas. That night, they try to sleep through their excitement while Olentzero visits their houses and leaves gifts.
About a month later, the entire city enters into celebration mode once again for San Sebastian’s Day on January 20. This massive festival kicks off at midnight, with the raising of the city flag in Plaza de la Constitución. Throughout the day, be prepared to encounter tamborradas (drum parades) marching through the city. More than 125 marching bands take to the streets as a part of this favorite tradition! If you happen to be in town on this special day, you’ll experience one of the most important traditions in San Sebastian in winter.
Eat, drink and be merry
San Sebastian is one of the best cities in the world for foodies. Winter is one of the best times of the year to enjoy the city’s best flavors along with yummy seasonal products like artichokes and baby eels.
Locals in San Sebastian in winter will crowd into cider houses to escape the cold and enjoy delicious pintxos in good company. Straight-from-the-barrel cider pairs wonderfully with delicious Basque specialties like tortilla de bacalao (salt cod omelette) and txuleta steak. The bar may be full, but brave the crowds and feel like a local!
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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.