Last week, I wrote about my time in Barcelona and this week I'll share with you my journey to the coastal city of San Sebastian. Located a few hours train ride north of Barcelona, San Sebastian is small, chill and absolutely beautiful. It's a coastal city renowned for its flat sand beaches and for having the most Michelin star restaurants per capita of anywhere in the world - even my favourite food critic, Anthony Bourdain was blown away by San Sebastian cuisine!
To get to San Sebastian, we opted to take the train. You could fly, drive or bus there as well, but we thought the train would be more relaxing and scenic. You can purchase tickets in advance online through Renfre, which is Spain's main train carrier and the train station is easily accessible via the metro. One thing to note is that it's kinda confusing which gate to go to once you get to the train station as the number on our ticket didn't actually correspond to the gate. Pay attention to the train dashboards and don't be afraid to ask for help from station staff!
|A cool pedestrian tunnel along the walk to downtown - it's meant to model being within an ocean wave!|
We opted to stay in an AirBnb while in San Sebastian. The city is very walkable, so you don't have to worry too much about being too far away from everything, but it would help if you bike or bus. We stayed just west of the main beach, La Concha in a new residential/commercial area. Our AirBnb was definitely cozy as it was a loft and had a crazy slanted roof, but it was close to a bunch of restaurants, shops, transit and was a half hour walk to the city center.
Attraction-wise, you only need a couple days to see all there is in San Sebastian. There's a really nice half-hour walk up a "mountain" to an old military fort with excellent views of the city and ocean. As well, there are other hikes along the coastline that offer stunning views and interesting sculptures. My favourite thing though was to walk along San Sebastian's beautiful beaches. There's La Concha which is the main one - it's super flat with soft white sand and aquamarine waters. Oddly enough, it's never crowded and those who do sunbathe there are all of the over 60 set. To find younger people, you'll have to wander over La Zurriola beach, which is more known for its surfing, but it's also a nice sandy beach to relax on.
San Sebastian also has a decent downtown shopping area with lots of little shops and cafes, but beware that they really do all close mid-afternoon!
|Waiting hungrily for dinner!|
|Look at that stunning beach... full of retirees!|
The biggest attraction for ourselves and everyone else who comes to San Sebastian though, is its renowned food scene. I was tempted to book us at one of the many Michelin stars, but the wait list I heard was usually months, so I figured hey, if the competition is this stiff, then even cheap places must be decent? Well, I was right! The food here was a highlight of our trip. Think super fresh seafood and classic Spanish tapas.
|Clockwise from top left: Stuffed red peppers with spicy eggs and topped with a padron pepper all on a baguette with ham; mussels with salsa; smoked salmon topped with fresh anchovie and salsa on baguette|
|3 types of fish on baguette, warmed brie with pine nuts and sweet balsamic vinegar|
I loved the tapas scene in San Sebastian's old historical district. Consisting of a few blocks of tightly woven lanes and alleys, the area is full of cafes and tapas bars, and extends outwards along the pier with restaurants selling the daily catch.
|Clockwise from left: Blood sausage with ham croquette; smoked fish with brie, jam and tomatoe on baguette; fried cod, cod with anchovie and salsa on bread|
Eating tapas here is not for the shy. You must find the busiest bar on the block, wade in and look at the spread of tapas along the counter. Ask for a plate and pile food on just like a buffet. Then get the attention of a server behind the counter, show them your plate and ask for drinks to match. Any beer and wine we chose was excellent and the sangria here was mind blowing - so fresh and sweet and just a hint of sparkle thanks to the lemon Fanta. I have no idea how the servers keep tabs on all their customers as you don't even need to pay upfront!
|Grilled monkfish with garlic chips and potatoes - AMAAAZING. This was the meatiest fish ever, with a texture unlike any I've had before|
|A unintentionally Japanese-style cheesecake in Spain at La Vina|
We spent our time in the city taking it easy, strolling bar to bar and eating and drinking our way. Each bar had similar, yet different twists on dishes and by the end of our 2 day trip in San Sebastian we were actually growing tired of seafood and craving meat! Who would have ever thought that could happen!
|Shrimp with mayo coleslaw on top of smoked salmon and baguette|
- Don't over order at any given tapa bar. Just get a couple with 1 drink then move on so you'll still have room to try more bars!
- Although I think most places take card, it's better to pay in cash since tapas bars are busy
- Take the bus. It's cheap and will save your feet from walking! There's only a couple of lines in the city so it's not too hard to navigate
I absolutely loved the easygoing vibe of San Sebastian. It's a super safe, charming city that's a great mix of traditional elements with modern amenities. I wish we'd stayed just 1 more day so I could have spent more time on the stunning beach!
Join me next week as my trip heads south to the province of Andalucia and its capital, Seville!