This blog post was originally posted on November 21, 2017, and was updated on November 28, 2019.
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that “everything is closed” on major holidays in San Sebastian—it’s still possible to have fun on Christmas and New Year’s Day!
Yes, it’s true that major public holidays take on a special meaning here. More often than not, locals will go home to spend time with their loved ones, a time-honored ritual that means the world to many people here in family-oriented Spain.
However, while the streets of San Sebastian may be a bit quieter than usual, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to explore and make the most of these magical days. If you’re spending the holidays in San Sebastian, here’s how to make the most of Christmas and New Year’s Day!
Buy a beautiful handcrafted souvenir
One of the best things you can do over the holidays in San Sebastian is treat yourself to a beautiful, one-of-a-kind souvenir. There’s no better place to pick one up than at the annual LurKolektiboa Craft Fair.
The local organization of craftsmen organizes events all year long, but their special Christmas craft fair takes on a special kind of magic. From December 18 until January 5, Calle Urdaneta will fill up with dozens of stalls manned by artisans from all over the Basque Country, showing off and selling their beautiful handcrafted goods.
Take a peaceful walk
You’ll probably notice right off the bat that the streets seem emptier than usual on Christmas, New Year’s Day, and other holidays in San Sebastian. As we mentioned, that’s totally normal. In fact, it gives you the perfect opportunity to explore without dodging nearly as many crowds!
Take advantage of the peaceful atmosphere to get those iconic pictures of the Old Town without nearly as many people in the way, or get off the beaten path in the Gros neighborhood. Here, you can take in nature without leaving the confines of the city by watching the waves crash on the shore at Zurriola Beach, or by exploring the haven of tranquility that is Parque Cristina Enea.
Enjoy a home-cooked meal
It’s time to eat! But if everything closes up shop for the day, where are you going to find a decent meal?
Contrary to popular belief, not everything is completely shut down on Christmas and New Year’s Day here in San Sebastian. In fact, there are plenty of excellent restaurants in and near the city offering special holiday meals, including the iconic Hotel de Londres.
Keep in mind that there’s usually a set menu for these special meals, and spaces can fill up quickly, so be sure to call ahead to reserve your spot if you know you plan on spending the holidays in San Sebastian.
Marvel at a stunning nativity scene
Everyone is familiar with nativity scenes, but you haven’t seen anything yet. Spain’s take on the classic depiction often consists of elaborate setups showing off the entire town of Bethlehem rather than your typical Mary and Joseph in the stable.
San Sebastian’s elaborate belén (the Spanish word for “nativity scene” literally means “Bethlehem”) consists of more than 150 one-meter-tall figures that take over Plaza de Gipuzkoa from early December until around January 6. It’s truly a sight to behold during the winter holidays in San Sebastian.
Go ice skating
Here in the Basque Country, the locals love staying active even in the chilly winter months. Luckily, it’s easy to get out and about with plenty of fun seasonal activities taking place all over the city, including the annual pop-up ice rink in Plaza de Cataluña! The rink usually opens to the public in mid-December and the fun lasts until after Reyes on January 6, so you have plenty of time to lace up your skates and take part in this favorite winter tradition.
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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.