City Guide, Travel tips

San Sebastian – A Curated City Guide

My husband and I first visited San Sebastian in 2015, and it quickly became our favourite European travel destination. After C was born, we were excited to give it another go with a baby in tow! We’ve now returned twice, bringing more and more of the extended family with us….We love it, and everyone is so friendly and child-orientated that it’s hard to go wrong.

IMG_6093Our last trip was just over a week, but depending on your mix of beach, sightseeing and eating time, you could do a LOT in 3-4 days. There is so much more to see and do – next time we’ll tick off even more!

Food 

Where to start… San Sebastian and surrounds is rightfully known as a foodie paradise. The unique range of amazing pintxos and a number of Michelin-starred restaurants combine for a uniquely delicious food experience.  We’ve been fortunate enough to try the full range of options  and I’ve included some of our favourites below. All are child-firendly, but don’t expect high chairs or changing tables – just great service and smiles for the kids.

If you’re eating at a pintxos place, be sure to try a combination of pintxos from the counter, and hot pintxos made to order. The counter ones can get a bit same-same in my opinion, but the hot dishes are where a number of places really shine.  Beer and wine are very affordable, and it’s worth checking out the txakoli (local white wine from Getaria) and cider which both have a really unique flavour.

One way to get a quick and delicious introduction to pintxos culture is to take a guided tour. We’ve now taken two ‘Pintxos Hunting Tours’ with experienced local guides from Mimo San Sebastian – no tour is the same as the guides choose their own favourite places, and you are guaranteed a delicious time.

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Zumeltegi – txakoli, monkfish, padron peppers

Sirimiri Gastroleku – mushroom risotto, octopus, lamb, viñestral rioja crianza

Gandarias – (great both at the bar and for lunch or dinner in the restaurant) – prawns brochette, piparrak (green peppers), black pudding, trus ribera del duero

Urola – cider, scallop in coffee vinegar, gilda, salmon

Atari – torrija (bread pudding), pedro ximenez sherry

Bar Nestor  – steak, tomato salad, pimientos de padron, tortilla de patata (you need to book your slice when they open otherwise they sell out!)

La Cuchara de San Telmo – Foie gras membrillo, Cochinillo (suckling pig)

La Vina – Cheesecake (it is worth just sticking your nose into this one to see all of the cheesecake tins on the wall…we shared a slice between 3 of us and it was huge!)

If you are in the mood for more Michelin-starred/potentially not kid-friendly or only for lunch, consider a booking Etxebarri (everything on the menu is cooked on the asador flames), Restaurante Arzak (Michelin-starred but weirdly kid-friendly – they made some kids butter pasta when we were there!) or Mugaritz (possibly the best meal I’ve ever had). These are all a bit of a hike or a cab-ride away from the centre of the city.

There is also decent gelato and pastries at Pastelaria Oiartzun (you can’t miss it as you’re heading into Old town) and at Loaf (directly across from the water at Playa Zurriola). Otherwise San Sebastian struggles with breakfast at ‘toddler o’clock’ (being anything earlier than 9am!). We bought a bunch of stuff from the supermarket for breakfast (yoghurt/cereal/milk/fruit etc) and mostly had a beach breakfast picnic with C.

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Shopping and Sights 

The San Telmo Museum is a great introduction to the area and Basque history (so it’s a shame I only sought it out on our third visit…). The exhibits are partially set in a gorgeously renovated former monastery. Worth a look for the building alone, next to a huge playground, and free entry on Tuesdays. Definitely worth a look.

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The Aquarium is well worth a visit too – small enough to get through without your toddler losing their mind, big enough to fill in a morning if the weather is rubbish and you need an indoors activity…. A nice mix of San Sebastian maritime history and the full range of fishy options for the little ones to enjoy!

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Shopping

Old Town is a good place to pick up some traditional foods (meats, olive oils, artisan products), while the Centre combines the usual Spanish high street brands (Zara/Mango/Pull & Bear) and some small cute local stores.  Gros rounds out the shopping offerings with surfwear, art galleries and antique shops.

Most shops close for a siesta, so do check opening hours as you walk around the city to avoid being disappointed!

Beaches – there are three main beach areas, and a coastal walkway/promenade takes you from one to the other (about 6.6km so perfect for a morning jog – which you’ll find a LOT of locals are doing!). All of them are great. We stayed on the Playa de la Concha which is glorious and perfect for sandcastles, swimming and lazing… The other beaches trend to more ‘beach club/sports’ at Playa Ondaretta or surfing at Playa Zurriola. All interesting in their own way. Great facilities at each though note you have to pay for the toilets everywhere…..

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Playgrounds – plentiful and well maintained. Almost literally around every corner. C was beside herself.

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Accommodation

We’ve thrown money at accommodation and stayed at the Hotel Londres on the Playa de la Concha – a beautiful hotel which is super convenient to the beach, and a 10 minute walk to Old Town.  It’s pricey, but we felt it was worth it for a short trip where you just want to make it easy, especially with a baby or toddler.  Spain is also generally quite affordable so it felt like accommodation versus food and activities balanced out for us.

We’ve also stayed in an Air BnB in the Gros district of the city (across the river from Old Town).  The particular Air BnB we stayed in was a great location, and they provided really good baby amenities (high chair, pretty comfortable travel cot, baby monitor etc on request).  Unfortunately we struggled a bit with noise – weirdly not people outside so much but just in the building residents were operating on Spanish time (which makes sense!) so a lot of loud family life and stereos playing at midnight, followed by the streets being deathly quiet until 10am. Fine before we had a C who goes to bed at 8 and gets up at 6, more of a challenge these days! Noise aside though San Sebastian has a big range of Air BnB properties in all price ranges and locations – so a good option for those traveling with more than one child or keen to have the flexibility for cooking and so on.

If you wanted to really glam it up, the Hotel Maria Cristina is the place to be seen for the annual Film Festival…and priced accordingly.

Have you been to San Sebastian and loved it? Or not so much?

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