The Complete Guide to Semana Grande in San Sebastian

It’s called the “Great Week” for a reason—Semana Grande in San Sebastian is unlike any other festival you’ll ever experience.

In fact, it’s more than just a summer festival. It’s a full weeklong citywide street party celebrating Basque culture and heritage, complete with fireworks, live music, and plenty of good food. We look forward to celebrating Semana Grande in San Sebastian all year long, and after learning what it’s all about, we’re sure you will, too!

The Basque Country's biggest party of the year would probably be Semana Grande in San Sebastian! This exciting cultural event takes place for a full week in one of Spain's most beautiful destinations. Here's what you need to know! #SanSebastian #Donosti #SemanaGrande #festivals #party #culture

Photo Credit: Donostiako Festak, Text Overlay: Devour San Sebastian Food Tours

Practical information

“Semana Grande” literally means “Great Week” in Spanish, and what a week it is! (You may also see the festival referred to by its Basque name, Aste Nagusia.) It takes place every year in mid-August, during the week of the Feast of the Assumption on August 15. That means that 2019’s edition of the weeklong party will take place from August 10-17. As you might imagine, scores of visitors from all over the world pour into the city during Semana Grande in San Sebastian, so you’ll want to make travel plans ASAP if you think you’ll want to go.

The festival officially starts with the ceremonial firing of the cannon in Alderdi Eder gardens on the evening of the first night of the event, usually around 7 p.m. However, even if you can’t make it to the kickoff, there’s still plenty of fun to be had all week long!

Semana Grande in San Sebastian officially kicks off with the firing of the cannon in the Alderdi Eder gardens on the first evening of the week.
The cannon has been fired, which means that Semana Grande has officially begun! Photo credit: Donostiako Festak

International Fireworks Competition

Without a doubt, one of the most awe-inspiring moments of Semana Grande in San Sebastian takes place every night as dazzling fireworks light up the sky. The International Fireworks Competition draws participants from all over the world, all eager to show off their best and most brilliant pyrotechnical displays. Each night throughout the week, a different competitor takes their artwork to the skies, and the winner is announced on the last night of the week to the tune of a special musical fireworks display.

You can see the fireworks from many areas throughout the city, but in our humble opinion, the most magical spot is right along Paseo de la Concha. Watching the most stunning fireworks displays you’ll ever see light up the sky from the promenade lining one of Europe’s most gorgeous beaches (preferably with an ice cream in hand!) will easily be one of your favorite memories of Semana Grande in San Sebastian.

Without a doubt, one of the can't-miss parts of Semana Grande in San Sebastian is the International Fireworks Competition!
The stunning fireworks displays throughout the week will take your breath away! Photo credit: Donostiako Festak

Live music

If there’s nothing you love more than a great concert, you’re in luck. Every night during Semana Grande in San Sebastian, a different international artist takes the stage in Plaza Tomás Alba just east of Zurriola Beach. Previous year’s acts have included the stars behind some of the biggest current hits topping the Spanish and Latin American charts, and seeing them all perform over the course of a week is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity no music fan should miss.

Basque sporting events

More of a sports fan? We promise you’ve never seen anything like the intense displays of athleticism that take place during Semana Grande in San Sebastian. The week is full of traditional Basque sporting events that you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the world, as well as a handful of more universal athletic events, like a beach volleyball tournament and horse races.

Sports and athletic events, like this beach volleyball tournament, is an important part of the festivities during Semana Grande in San Sebastian.
Beach volleyball is a classic summertime sport that gets taken to the next level at the annual tournament during Semana Grande! Photo credit: Donostiako Festak

Can’t decide what you want to see? There’s plenty going on, but if you have limited time, definitely consider watching one of the spectacles unique to the Basque Country. Some of the region’s most intrepid swimmers will make their way through the 16 km (9 nautical miles) of sea in a race from the coastal village of Getaria to San Sebastian itself. If that’s not impressive enough, check out the herri-kirolak (Basque rural sports) competitions taking place throughout the week. No matter which events you choose, you’ll be blown away by the strength and athleticism of the incredibly talented local athletes.

If you'll be celebrating Semana Grande in San Sebastian, you definitely can't miss the incredible traditional Basque athletic events taking place throughout the week.
You won’t see anything like this at the Olympics. Basque rural sports are a time-honored local tradition! Photo credit: Donostiako Festak

Fun for all ages

Little ones will have plenty to enjoy during Semana Grande in San Sebastian as well! There are plenty of fun children’s workshops and games taking place throughout the week, in addition to fun traditional activities waiting to be discovered. We particularly get a kick out of the gigantes y cabezudos (giants and fat-heads) parade that takes to the streets every day of the festival!

One of our favorite parts of Semana Grande in San Sebastian is the parade of giants and fat-heads. Kids love it, too!
Keep an eye out for the cabezudos! These big-headed characters are an integral part of Semana Grande. Photo credit: Kent Wang

Another fun family event you won’t want to miss is the Abordaje Pirata (Pirate Boarding) at La Concha Beach. Thousands of participants dressed up as pirates “sail” from the harbor to the beach in their homemade rafts. The creativity and friendly competition as they race to the shore is one of the most unique parts of Semana Grande in San Sebastian!

We hope to see you at the next edition of Semana Grande in San Sebastian! In the meantime, brush up on insider cultural knowledge and foodie tips by subscribing to our monthly newsletter. You’ll get all the info you need to know in order to make this Spain trip the vacation of a lifetime!

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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.