Basque, San Sebastian & Bilbao
3 days in San Sebastian, Bilbao, Spain
In the Northern Spain lies the beautiful region of Basque. A costal area with sunny swimming beaches, great surf spots, fresh seafood and tasty pintxos - larger size tapas, famous amongst the Basque people. Enjoy sun, sand, shopping, drinks and food along your journey through San Sebastian and nearby Bilbao!
San Sebastian Airport (EAS) is the airport serving San Sebastian in Basque Country, Spain. Despite its name, the facilities are located in the municipality of Hondarribia (right next to the French border).
Taxi into San Sebastian takes about 25 minutes.
San Sebastian (aka Donostia in the Basque Country) is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Spain. A small cosy coastal city just close to the French border, it is here that you can sunbathe and swim right next to major historical buildings and churches.
Surfers are in abundance here. There are plenty of seafood restaurants, several beaches, plenty of pintxos (larger gourmet style tapas) bars and a choice of designer clothes shops.
San Sebastian is the culinary capital of the Basque Country. The delights of the many Michelin-rated fine dining establishments here await you!
Lunch at Zazpi.
A comfortable place for a drink and some finger-size bites. Reasonable prices, great ambience. Very recommended.
Try their sea urchin, stewed pig ear and creamy rice with mushrooms.
A clean, nice, modern and affordable apartment style accomodation, great for 2 persons.
This is one of the most famous urban beaches in Europe. No need to mention what you should be doing here .. Not in your swimwear yet? What are you waiting for?? :-)
Note: Here's a shallow beach. It might help to check out the best tide times for this place.
If you are a not-too-much beach type of person, and the weather is good, consider a walk to the other end of the beach and a ride up the funicular for hill top views!
If shopping is more your thing, there is plenty of choice in this area.
An evening stroll by the beach is good idea. There is a nice park here and if you are lucky, the ferris wheel will be lit up and kids will be having themselves a great time too.
This is absolutely the place to be when you are in San Sebastian.
Explore the area and enjoy bar hopping for pintxos - this is what people do when they are in San Sebastian.
Most of the pintxo bar action is here in the old town. A pintxo will generally cost €2-3. At some bars the pintxo are all priced the same, at others the price depends on the pintxo.
The Jamon Iberico (usually seen hanging from the ceiling in whole leg portions) is ubiquitous, and equally good virtually everywhere. The calamari seems to be the same at every bar, don't order it again at a different pintxo bar if you didn't like it the first time.
Wow, this place has one of the *BEST* pintxos bar in town. The food here all look so amazing.
This place fills up real quick. Get in real early for some very delicious bites.
House speciality: smoked (smoking?) cod pintxo.
This place is a massive local favourite. It is named after the boxer owner. In a more uniquely traditional style, the welcoming atmosphere here is really the star of this place. Oh yes, you'll definitely need to try the battered prawns here.
House specialities include:
1. Battered prawns - this is a local all time favourite!
3. Txakoli - dry baseque wine
A most popular attraction in the Basque region. This Aquarium stands in one of San Sebastián’s most picturesque spots, the harbour, right next to the Old Town.
Set in building dating to 1928, it has two floors of marine life and heritage of Gipuzkoa province.
Whilst not as big as the more international aquariums, this little gem of a place makes for an interesting time out, especially on a wet day with the family.
Pictured here is a view right outside the aquarium. overlooking part of the San Sebastian docks.
(Optional: Even if you will not be entering the aquarium, the walk along the dockside promenade is an enjoyable experience.)
Continue an easy walk along the Pasealeku Berria (Paseo Nuevo) promenade and pedestrian walkway. Enjoy the views of the Bay of Biscay and the slopes of Mount Urgull.
If you are feeling very energetic and looking for better views, consider a climb up Monte Ugull. The path leading up the hill starts from next to the San Telmo museum.
After all that walking, you should be ready to chow down on some delicious pinchos. It time to practice more bar hopping. Here's four of the nicest to choose from!
A small modern bar for pintxos and drinks which is always packed out.
See if there's any foie cannelloni with applesauce.
This place and pintxos can be found on Lonely Planet's hardcover Ultimate Eatlist!
Gandarias is a very nice, traditional and popular place in Old Town. Be in early to even get any standing room for simple but well prepared pintxos.
1. Seared sirloin on baguette
2. Trio of braised beef cheeks
3. Skewer of baby squid with ink
Looking for a slightly more upmarket and trendy modern bar? Try this place for nice kebabs.
Basilica of Santa Maria (San Sebastián)
Visit this impressive baroque Roman Catholic church and minor basilica (completed 1774).
With a main entrance is located between the two towers and looks as an altarpiece, see the tortured figure of Saint Sebastian, the papal symbols and the shield of the city crowns as you approach this building.
This is an ethnographic museum with historical paintings of Basque society. Learn about the people of the Basque Country, their history and what makes they different to the other large regions of Spain.
A surf beach if you want waves or beach sports. Rent a surfboard/bodyboard and even a wetsuit.
Situated on the banks of the Nervión, Bilbao is the largest city in Spain's Basque Country. Milder and rainier than most other parts of Spain.
Bilbao is perhaps the premier venue in the world to experience the ancient culture and language of the Basque people, which has stubbornly held its own over thousands of years and is now completely unlike any modern-day culture in Europe.
After its foundation in the early 14th century, Bilbao was a commercial hub of the Basque Country that enjoyed significant importance in Green Spain. It had and active port based on the export of iron extracted from the Biscayan quarries. Throughout the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, Bilbao experienced heavy industrialisation, making it the centre of the second-most industrialised region of Spain, behind Barcelona.
These days, Bilbao is a vigorous service city that is experiencing an ongoing social, economic, and aesthetic revitalisation process, started by the iconic Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, and continued by infrastructure investments, such as the airport terminal, the rapid transit system, the tram line, the Alhóndiga, and the currently under development Abandoibarra and Zorrozaurre renewal projects.
Bilbao is a very walkable city. Wear good walking shoes.
Head down into this underground bus station, where you can buy tickets and catch a bus to Bilbao. There are two bus operators which run the route to Bilbao.
The Pesa bus service has better buses (12 EURO each way). Alternatively, use the ALSA bus service from here which may be cheaper.
The bus ride is about 1hr 15mins each way.
Terminal bus station.
Welcome to Bilbao. It's time to get off the bus.
We'll be walking between all places in Bilbao. If such is not for you, you should skip Azukana Zentroa and take a taxi straight to Plaza Nueva in Casco Viejo.
Originally a corn exchange/warehouse (Spanish: alhóndiga), it was designed by Basque architect Ricardo Bastida and inaugurated in 1909. Previously known as Alhóndiga Bilbao, its name was officially changed in 2015 (to Azkuna Zentroa) in tribute to the late mayor of Bilbao Iñaki Azkuna.
Today this place is multi-purpose "Culture and Leisure Centre" which includes a cinema multiplex, a fitness centre, a library, showrooms, an auditorium, shops, and a restaurant.
Continue your walk in this direction towards the old town of Bilbao.
Here is a beautiful monumental square (aka Plaza Barria) of Neoclassical style built in 1821. The square is enclosed by arcaded buildings and accessed by arches known as cuevas (caves). The main building was the site of the Biscay government, until a new palace was built in 1890.
Around the square are many traditional taverns, restaurants (some of the most ancient and typical of the city) and gift shops. There are many locals here (speak Spanish) and prices are very affordable (compared to more touristy cities).
On Sundays, your might find a traditional flea market here. At other times, you might find folk demonstrations, festival, concerts and perhaps even a (chess) Grand Slam Masters Final being played here (in 2008 and 2009).
The City Council provides free Wi-Fi Internet in the square.
Casco Viejo is the medieval neighbourhood of Bilbao city. This name means Old Town (or Seven Streets) and it used to be in the walled part of the town until the end of the 19th century.
Miguel Unamuno Plaza is a nice spot for an affordable meal and some people watching.
Catedral de Santiago (St. James' Cathedral）
This is a Roman Catholic church in the city of Bilbao.
Its temple was originally built during the 14th-15th centuries as Bilbao's main parish church, and was only declared cathedral in 1950 when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bilbao was officially created.
Its origins probably date to well before the foundation of the city in 1300, when Bilbao was little more than a small enclave of fishermen.
The temple is consecrated in honor of the apostle Saint James the Great (Santiago in Spanish), by virtue of being a point of transit for the pilgrims that followed the Northern branch of the Way of Saint James.
Architecturally, the present building is a mixture of styles: from the 15th century Gothic of the cloister and the main vault, where of special interest are the cloister and the beautiful portal that gives access Correo street (Puerta del Angel), to the ostentatious Gothic Revival façade and spire.
The Mercado de la Ribera (Ribera Market) is a market square by the Nervion River. There are many stalls inside, selling various food products and mostly fresh produce - fish, meats and greens.
Cooked food (mostly pintxos) are also available here on the lower level, however prices can be quite touristy.
walk by the Nervion river
Now either backtrack through Casco Viejo or enjoy a stroll along the river to the Guggenheim museum.
Get a photo with the world famous resident spider of the Guggenheim museum.
This museum is absolutely the highlight of Bilbao.
Not just one of the largest museums in Spain, this museum's building is one of the most important and admired works of contemporary architecture - a "signal moment in the architectural culture" in a rare moment when critics, academics, and the general public were all completely united about something.
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a museum of modern and contemporary art designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, and located in Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain. It was inaugurated on 18 October 1997 by King Juan Carlos I of Spain. Built alongside the Nervion River, which runs through the city of Bilbao to the Cantabrian Sea, it is one of several museums belonging to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and features permanent and visiting exhibits of works by Spanish and international artists.
(Optional: If you are less inclined towards modern art and do not want shell out the entry fee, a walk around the museum is a great to enjoy the mind boggling architecture of this place.)
Get your tickets and its time for a bus ride back to San Sebastian ..
If you have been saving up for that Michelin-star dinner, this would the time to do it. There are relatively plenty of Michelin restaurants in San Sebastian to choose from.
To dine in such style, you would have pre-booked your dinner reservation weeks (possibly months) in advance by now. So, there's nothing else to do but to have a good wash, dress nice and boogey on down for a meal out in pure luxury.
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