The most popular local festivals
La Semana Grande
The Big Week takes place annually in the week of August 15, when the entire city puts on its party clothes to enjoy hundreds of activities all around town. To really blend with the locals, tie a kerchief round your neck. One of the most-anticipated events is the fireworks competition, now in its 50th edition. The best place to take it in is La Concha beach.
The Basque Festival is held in many towns in the region around these dates at the end of summer. Numerous activities relating to Basque culture take place, out come the Basque costumes, and everyone eats talo and drinks txakoli or cider and dances to the rhythm of the trikitixa (a button accordion).
La Bandera de La Concha
On the first two Sundays in September, Donostia/San Sebastián gets the bunting out to celebrate the Bandera de la Concha boat race, which is the most coveted trophy on the Cantabrian circuit. The streets are filled with colour, spectators and an unbeatable atmosphere. The trainera boats are a sporting adaptation of a traditional fishing vessel.
Celebrated on 21 December, Saint Thomas’ Day is one of the city’s best-loved annual events. The celebration is in honour of the city’s old market, where the farmers of the region used to bring their wares. An ideal day to discover and taste typical Basque products.
Everything you need to know to live like a local in Donostia/San Sebastián
La Bretxa This shopping centre, located in the centre of the city, receives a whopping seven million visitors a year, with almost 13,000 m2 given over to restaurants, fashion, cosmetics, newsagents, fresh produce and a cinema. It is also home to the best-known market in the region, whose produce later appears on dishes in its top-flight restaurants.Opening hours: Supermarket: Mon-Fri 9am-9pm; market: Mon-Sat 8am-9pm; shops: Mon-Sat 9.30am-9.30pm; food hall: Mon-Sat 9am-midnight; Sun and bank holidays 10am-midnight.www.cclabretxa.com Beltza Records For 20 years, Luis Beltza’s little shop has been helping music lovers to acquire the objects of their desire. Here you can find vinyl records, CDs, T-shirts, comics and film posters. The stock ranges from 1960s to contemporary, with a special focus on the likes of soul, jazz, reggae, Latin rhythms and Brazilian beats, but there is also a good range of psychedelic, rock, punk and new wave. Luis would probably rather practise ritual self-immolation than let a CD by cheesy local popsters La Oreja de Van Gogh into his shop.www.beltzarecords.com Cállate la Boca Images of fried eggs, robots, washing machines, wasps and chicks all feature at Cállate la Boca, another example of the passion the locals (or at least local designers) have for printed sweatshirts and T-shirts. With its origins in Donostia/San Sebastián, the company now has outlets across Spain and as far away as Singapore. The designs may be child-like, but the company has no feRead more
Guided tours ESSENTIAL SAN SEBASTIÁN Duration: approx 2hrs. Price: €10, under-12s free.Walking tours of the city’s most emblematic sights and monuments, accompanied by a professional guide. Some of the places visited include the Boulevard, Plaza de la Constitucíon, San Vicente Church, the Basilica of Santa María, the port, the town hall, Plaza Gipuzkoa and Teatro Victoria Eugenia. A TASTE OF SAN SEBASTIÁNStarts: 11.30am. Duration: approx 2hrs. Price: €18, under-12s free. A professional guide takes you on a walking tour of the most important sights of Donostia/San Sebastián, uncovering some of its best-kept secrets and little-known anecdotes. A pinxto and a drink in three of the old town’s bars is included, along with information about the rich gastronomic heritage of the city. SAN SEBASTIÁN AND THE CINEMAStarts: 11.30am Duration: approx 2hrs. Price: €14, under-12s free. A guided walking tour inspired by the stars of the silver screen, most specifically those who have visited and fallen in love with the city. See it as Woody Allen, Pedro Almodóvar, Bette Davis, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver or Alfred Hitchcock did in their day. Donostia/San Sebastián becomes the world capital of cinema every year during the International Film Festival, which has a knock-on effect well beyond the festival dates, and has provided a rich tapestry of stories. The tour includes entry into the Hotel María Cristina (where the stars normally stay) and Teatro Victoria Eugenia, as well aRead more
Geoparque de la Costa Vasca The towns of Mutriku, Deba and Zumaia, located a few kilometres from Donostia/San Sebastián, are home to some of Europe’s most important geological sites. Their geopark, the first one on the Cantabrian coast, is working to connect the local population and visitors to the natural and cultural heritage of the area. Visitors to the park can learn all about the ancestral beliefs and myths of the region, along with its traditions and religious and civil architectural heritage. However, perhaps the most striking thing here are the flysch, strange formations that reveal the rock strata created by centuries of tidal friction, providing an insight on how our world has been shaped. This part of the coast has been declared a protected biotype because of its geological value, but small sightseeing boats will give you a look. You can walk the coast from Mutriku to Zumaia, a trip that takes you through 50 million years of history. There are two ways to get back to Donostia/San Sebastián by public transport: by bus to the Amara neighbourhood, or by train, which makes various stops and takes only 40 minutes.www.geoparkea.com Artikutza The rural estate of Artikutza in Goizueta, the wettest area of the Basque Country, is owned by the city council (you have to ask permission to get in by car, but not if you go on foot). This is a special landscape, one on which humans have left their mark since prehistoric times (there are prehistoric remains), and it’s easy to underRead more
San Telmo Museum Symbolising the city’s desire to combine tradition and modernity, the Museo San Telmo is one of the must-sees in Donostia/San Sebastián. Following three years of renovation and expansion, it reopened in 2011 to showcase the successful integration of the original building (a 16th-century Dominican convent) with the new part. The latter is made up of a facade that combines a wall of vegetation with holes that play with both interior and exterior light. Inside the museum, in addition to taking a virtual stroll through Basque history, you can gawk at the vast, breathtaking frescoes by Catalan painter and decorator Josep Maria Sert. Note that, although the museum is closed on Mondays, it does make an exception and opens its doors on bank holiday Mondays.www.santelmomuseoa.com Casa de la cultura de Okendo Donostia/San Sebastián enjoys an especially rich and lively cultural life for such a small city. Apart from the international festivals and large arena events that take place, there is a whole network of cultural institutes that aim to transmit different types of artistic expression on a local level. If you want insight into this side of the city’s culture then Okendo is a must-see. It’s made up of a superbly preserved 16th-century caserío and an additional modern construction built into the Ulia hill.www.donostiakultura.com/gros En el Estudio After six years in Orio and five in Zarautz, Helena Hernandez and Iñigo Manterol moved to the capital of Gipuzcoa in 2009Read more
Calle 31 de Agosto During the Napoleonic invasion, Donostia/San Sebastián was under French rule from 1808 until to June 1813, when the Anglo-Portuguese troops laid siege to the city in order to liberate it. The siege lasted two months and ended on 31 August when the allied soldiers marched into the city and, for the next six and a half days, ransacked and burnt all its buildings. Only 35 houses were left standing. These were in Calle Trinidad and were subsequently used to house the English and Portuguese officers. The street was renamed Calle 31 de Agosto in remembrance of these events. This tiny corner of the original city is one of Donostia/San Sebastián’s loveliest areas. It’s a nice place for a stroll, especially during lunchtime at the weekend when it’s buzzing with the locals who assemble to ‘hacer el vermut’ (originally referring to the drink vermouth, but evolving into a social tradition involving some light bites too). This street is also home to the Pensión Amaiur, an attractive, affordable and relaxed accommodation option, which has the added bonus of being located in the oldest house in the city.31 de Agosto (Parte Vieja) The Wind Comb Donostia/San Sebastián has a weakness for sculptures; and they are artistically dotted all over the city. The most well known of these is Eduardo Chillida’s El Peine del Viento (The Wind Comb), three spectacular steel pieces with which the artist wished to ‘caress’ the indomitable Cantabrian wind. It’s located near where he lived, aRead more
Surfing in Donostia / San Sebastián Zurriola is widely regarded as the best urban surfing beach in all of Europe, and the sport dominates the neighbourhood of Gros, as well as much of the entire city of Donostia/San Sebastián, where there are more than 100 companies dedicated to the industry in all its aspects.As the popularity of surfing grows, more and more visitors sign up for courses or choose to experience their surfing initiation here. Opportunities are both wide-ranging and varied. Until only a short while ago, surfing was limited to the summer season, but now surfing schools are open all year round, as are the shops that hire out the relevant materials.Wherever you go in the city, and especially in the Gros neighbourhood, you can get into contact with experienced surfers who understand surfing as both a sport and a way of life, and you’ll come across plenty of local brands dedicated to the cause. The birthplace of European surfing, after all, is very near here, in Biarritz, and it immediately spread all along the coast of the Basque Country. La Perla Spa La Perla, Talaso Sport CentreRelax while overlooking the sea in this impressive thalassotherapy centre set in a building that turned 100 years old in 2012. It offers a therapy circuit with seawater as the main feature, as well as body and beauty treatments, and there’s also a gym. Its excellent restaurant serves healthy food.Price: spa circuit €26.50 for two hours; massages start from €34.20www.la-perla.net Basque PeRead more
Surfilm Festibal Donostia This is the 11th edition of one of the world’s most important surf-film festivals. This celebration of all things related to surfing and waves screens films exploring the surfing way of life, with a section dedicated to local production, and includes a short-film competition. This is a lively youth-oriented festival, and consequently the party is often extended to include parallel events attracting thousands of people.www.surfilmfestibal.com San Miguel Donostikluba After six months of concerts performed in different venues, the 2013 edition of this festival comes to an end on 22 June, the day of music, with free concerts from Los Coronas, Airbag and Código Bushido where Loiola and Arrasate streets meet. www.sanmIgeldonostikluba.com Donostia Jazz Festival The other shining star in San Sebastián’s festival galaxy.Donostia Kultura and the Organising Committee are going for a new and more ambitious version of the San Sebastián Jazz Festival, and this year it will feature stages scattered throughout the city, with performances by dozens of different groups.The San Sebastián Jazz Festival was first held in 1966 and from 24 to 28 July 2013 it will celebrate its 48th edition. It is the oldest and most prestigious of all of Spain’s jazz festivals, and throughout its history, more than 1,400 musicians have taken part, making it a faithful reflection of jazz creativity over the years.It takes place on 11 stages peppered throughout the city. Since the early yeaRead more
El Muro and a taste at Campero's At the end of the pretty surfer beach of Zurriola is the area known as El Muro (the Wall), a remnant of a construction that ran along the whole beach in the days before urbanisation. It’s now a favourite meeting place for the locals, especially on sunny weekends. The time-honoured spot to stop for lunch is the Campero bar, with its celebrated baguettes. These mighty affairs have boiled ham, cheese, lettuce, onion, and garlic mayonnaise as a base, to which you can add chicken, bacon or beef.Paseo José Miguel Barandiaran, 8 (Sagüés)94 327 14 95 Mugaritz At the helm is Andoni Luis Aduriz. The season begins on 10 April and, following tradition, no hint is given as to what will be on the menu. The carefully selected ingredients vary according to what nature has to offer, taking advantage of the caprices of each season. The result is a personalised menu of 20 dishes, the fruit of years of research.Otzazulueta baserria Aldura-aldea, 20 (Rentería)94 352 24 55www.mugaritz.comClosed: Sunday night and Monday.Price: approx €150 Café Oquendo This simply decorated spot has played host to many a cinematic film legend, thanks to its position right in front of the Teatro Victoria Eugenia, one of the venues of the San Sebastián film festival, and the Hotel María Cristina, which accommodates many of the celebrities that take part each year. Glenn Close, Robert De Niro, Michael Caine and Martin Scorsese are just a few of the big names who have rested their elbowsRead more
Be Bop Set near the banks of the River Urumea and the old town. Open until 4am, which means many people come here after the bars have closed with a desire to keep the party going. Entrance is free and this results in lengthy queues. The music of choice is jazz and blues, though they are open to requests. When the city’s jazz festival is on, Be Bop is converted into one of its main venues.Paseo Salamanca, 5 (Parte Vieja) Ondarra 16 Bis Two distinct environments in one place: upstairs you can eat pintxos to boost your energy levels before going down to the basement and hitting a dancefloor reverberating with quality pop. It’s open from 8am, and at weekends it doesn’t shut its doors until 2.30am.Av. de la Zurriola, 16 (Gros)94 332 60 33 Le Bukowski A beacon symbol of Donostia/San Sebastián nightlife, and known for quality music and a buzzing atmosphere, Le Bukowski is a nightclub that has been going strong for more than two decades. Have a look on their website to find out what’s on their eclectic programme of DJs – from electronica, soul, funk and boogaloo to rock – along with live gigs from emerging bands as well as small-scale theatre. Drinks are affordable, and dancing and good company are guaranteed from 3.30am until dawn. Unmissable.Egia, 18 (Egia)www.lebukowski.com Club Komplot Located near the drinking area of the Reyes Católicos district, this club is, with its 17 years of history, an emblematic Donostia/San Sebastián nightlife venue. They put on live concerts and DJ sRead more
Igeldo The top of this hill is crowned with a peculiar fairground, which celebrates its centenary on 25 August, and which still has a large number of original rides. It’s like a retro, small-scale Disneyland. As an added bonus, it’s also a great vantage point from which to admire Donostia/San Sebastián while riding a belle-époque rollercoaster. To complete the experience, travel up the hill in the funicular train.94 321 35 25www.monteIgeldo.es Urgull Hill An excellent idea to sweat off some of the cured meats and kokotxes is to take a hike up this hill, which is situated at the edge of Parte Vieja, the old part of town. There are different ways to get there, but a good option is to climb the steps near the Basílica of Santa María, which file up relentlessly toward the peak. It’s worth the effort – the path is surrounded by a lush woodland, that makes it feel very remote. At the top is Castillo de Mota, a well-preserved 12th-century fort. The castle is home to a small but interesting museum that reviews the city’s history, and has a terrace with a spectacular view over of Donostia/San Sebastián and the bay. An unexpected feature is the English cemetery, which has a romantic (if slightly sinister) atmosphere. La Concha As well as being the most classic, most photographed and most visited, La Concha is also the most central of the city’s beaches. Its white sands extend for a kilometre and a half, with an elegant backdrop and refined air, and form one of the prettiest city beacheRead more