Many visitors come to San Sebastian for one thing: the food.
While you could happily spend days doing nothing more than eating the best pintxos in the world, it’s also one of the best places to dive into the unique Basque culture. And nowhere better to do that than the San Telmo Museum. Located in a former monastery on the side of Mount Urgull in the city center, its buildings alone are worth the price of entry. Reopened in 2011 after years of renovation, the collection of over 35,000 pieces has never looked better.
The San Telmo Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m.–8 p.m. with free entry every Tuesday. Unlike some of the larger museums in Spain, queues aren’t generally a problem here, so it’s a perfect place to drop in whenever you need to give your stomach a break! In the heart of the city center, it’s easily walkable from all over town, and just a few steps away from La Cuchara de San Telmo, one of the most legendary pintxos bars in the city.
What to see: from archaeology to photography
The museum’s collection ranges from ethnography to fine arts, alongside a range of generally excellent visiting exhibitions. It’s organized thematically, with areas dedicated to the history of Basque culture alongside the challenges of present day society. One of our favorite things in the San Telmo Museum is its photography collection, where you can see San Sebastian’s development through the early 20th century. The art collection includes a walk through Basque and Spanish art from the 15th century to the present day.
For many visitors, though, the highlight of the museum is the Sert Canvasses. Housed in the former San Telmo church, this series of eleven paintings by José Maria Sert depict important Basque symbols and historical moments.
If you need to take a break, the museum’s terrace café is an oasis of calm in the city center, offering traditional local bites at reasonable prices. As well as its own collection, the San Telmo Museum is also responsible for the Sculpture Atlas of San Sebastian, an invaluable guide to the city’s outstanding public artworks by sculptors like Eduardo Chillida and Jorge Oteiza.
If the San Telmo museum leaves you hungry for more, you’re in luck: San Sebastian has established itself as something of a museum hotspot in the past few years. For more history, head up Mount Urgull to the Casa de la Historia. As well as spectacular views over the city, it houses a collection exploring the military and mercantile history of San Sebastian through the centuries.
If contemporary art is more your thing, the Kubo exhibition space within the Kursaal center (home to the San Sebastian Film Festival!) is just minutes away, hosting regular temporary exhibitions. Slightly further afield is the Tabakalera in the Egia district. A converted tobacco factory, it now houses the International Centre for Contemporary Culture, with cutting-edge exhibitions of contemporary art. Finally, for a cultural day trip, you can head to the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum in nearby Getaria, showing permanent and temporary exhibitions of the work of the legendary Spanish fashion designer.
That’s not all—learn more about the culture of San Sebastian (and more delicious destinations) when you subscribe to our monthly newsletter!
Ewan loves to share his passion for Spain’s food and culture as a tour guide and writer. A perpetual student, when not catching the latest exhibition or showing guests around the city, he can be found brushing up on anything from nineteenth-century Spanish politics to medieval architecture.