Hola and welcome to Spain! Less than one hour drive south from Biarritz and we found ourselves in a new country and fabulous beach city. San Sebastian was our first destination in Spain on our European van life adventure and it certainly did not disappoint. It lies on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and has plenty to offer with several beaches, a long strip of beach promenade, mountains, an old town, rich Basque culture and plenty of bars and restaurants to explore! We spent four days here and had more than enough to keep ourselves occupied. Here’s a peek into what we did.
THINGS TO DO:
- Walk the beach promenade passing Ondaretta and La Concha beaches. Take your pick (which is more likely dictated by wherever you can squeeze in!) of places to swim and sunbake along the way.
- Bar hop around the old town and taste all of the speciality pintxos on offer. There’s no shortage of bars and restaurants so take your pick. Stop in at the Plaza de la Constitución which sits in the heart of the old town. It was once used as a bullring and the balconies of the fringing apartments were rented to spectators. Today it is filled with locals and tourists eating and drinking at the many restaurants and bars.
- Mount Igueldo. Getting to the top of this mountain is made incredibly easy by the funicular. A return trip costs approximately E 3 per person, runs frequently and takes less than 15 minutes each way. The top has several vantage points that look down over San Sebastian and Mount Urgull. We grabbed an over priced rose (for a whole E 2.50) from the bar/restaurant area and sat down to soak up the view. Afterwards we hit the amusement park to ride the roller coaster (E 2.50 per person). We definitely laughed more than we screamed and decided that one ride would be enough for the day!
- Mount Urgull. This mountain is situated at the other end of San Sebastian in reference to Mount Igueldo and can be recognised by the large Jesus statue atop. There’s many different walking paths that you can take to get to the top of the mountain. We started near the aquarium, at the far end of the fishing port and walked around the headland to the car park on the right hand side to start our climb. It was a beautiful windy path around the back of the mountain with views out to sea. Once you are at the top you are rewarded with spectacular views over San Sebastian. There are also several restaurants and bars at the top if you want to be rewarded with food or alcohol instead. We realised once we were at the top that there is actually a much quicker route (with mostly stairs) to the top which starts from just behind the church in the old town. Personally I’d recommend doing both routes (a different route for the way up and down) as they both had something different to offer.
- Explore the fishing port. This tiny little fishing port is filled with a line of restaurants offering fresh seafood. I didn’t personally get to try any but I stared and hovered at peoples plates longingly like a seagull as I walked past. I’m still regretting not pinching a prawn off someones plate. There’s always next time…
- San Telmo Museum. The museum is situated in the old town and with an entry fee of just E 6 per person I was incredibly keen to visit the museum to learn more about Basque history and culture. The museum is three floors and showcases both permanent and temporary exhibitions. The building itself is quite impressive but unfortunately despite my enthusiasm at the end of the English audio tour I left without a complete understanding and still plenty of questions about the origins and history of the Basque people. Maybe the goblet size gin and tonics from the night before impeded my ability to retain new information so don’t let this deter you from going. Fortunately Google provided all of the answers at a later stage. Thank goodness for the internet huh!
- Pintxos – quintessential Basque food, they are what we call “tapas”. Small bite sized finger foods served atop bars and restaurants (in some cases you can also order off a menu). They are usually bread based and topped with seafood, cured meats or cheeses. Personally I think pintxos are over rated and I’m rather concerned about the lack of food health and safety regulations. Haha. Being the hygienic freak that I am I couldn’t quite get over how long the pintxos sat on the bar benches without refrigeration and out in the open air for people to cough and splutter over. This being said I consumed my fair share and left without food poisoning.
- Alcohol. Here it appears any time of the day on any day of the week is ok to sit back and have an alcoholic beverage. Plus with a glass of rose averaging E 1 it’d almost be rude not to, right!? The gin and tonics that are served in ridiculously large goblet glasses are also not to be missed.
- Atari. Again this is one of those places where everything on the menu is a winner. The bar can get incredibly busy at popular times so you may need to hustle your way to the front of the bar to order drinks and ask for a plate. Once you have a plate you can go and pick your pintxos and place them on your plate (sometimes easier said than done when the bar is jam packed with people and you really want the pintxos located at the other end of the bar! Don’t be shy, squirm your way through with confidence.). Once you’ve filled your plate you show the bar staff so they can calculate your bill. If it’s not so busy and you’re able to grab a seat you can order off the menu. Seafood fans you absolutely can not go past the place de pulpo “octopus” (it’s enough to share between two). For meat lovers the beef cheek and mash will not disappoint. Potato braves (roasted potatoes with accompanying sauces) are ALWAYS a good idea.
- And of course a stop at McDonalds for the pure novelty of being able to buy a beer with your Big Mac meal!
- We parked our van in a camper van car park which was about 20 minutes away from Ondaretta beach and much further away from the old town. Consequently we did A LOT of walking (as per usual). I’d recommend staying near the old town as most of the attractions are in that area and easily accessible by walking. There are also electronic bikes throughout the city that you can rent which would make it easy to cover longer distances if time is limited. There are several depot stations dotted across the city so you don’t have to return the bikes to the same place as where you started.