Looking for the top things to do in San Sebastian? From cooking classes to food tours, this is how to have the best 3 days in San Sebastian!
San Sebastian has been at the top of our bucket list for years. As foodies, how could it not be?
When Chloe and I first started dating, we used to go out for dinner all the time, and that started our long love affair with food and fine dining. Every meal was an array of decadent dishes, and we’d travel around the world jumping from one restaurant to the next.
As our chats centered around food, it wasn’t long before we were mentally planning 3 days in San Sebastian in Spain. For us, this was our foodie Mecca, but we wanted to do it right. That meant eating everything from pinchos all the way through to Michelin-starred food.
As this trip is something we’ve been planning for years, we teamed up with Original Travel to bring it to life.
These guys create luxurious itineraries – you give them a theme, and they run with it. For our trip to San Sebastian, naturally we wanted to focus on food. All the food.
So on this trip we went on not one, not two, but three different food tours all arranged by Original Travel. We also ate at a Michelin starred restaurants with one of the best views I’ve ever seen (more on that later!)
I know this is going to sound cliched, but the food really is on another level here. Each bite is to be savoured; each meal is a joyous celebration you don’t want to stop.
If you’re looking at spending 3 days in San Sebastian, then this is my San Sebastian itinerary for you. I really hope you find this useful when planning your trip here.
Just remember to bring those extra loose trousers; you’re going to need them!
Where is San Sebastian?
Located in northern Spain, San Sebastian is a smallish town in the Basque Country very close to the French border. Either side of it are the cities of Bilbao (where most tourists fly into) and Santander.
San Sebastian is also one of the stops on the Camino de Santiago. This is one of the world’s best known hiking trails from Saint Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain over 800 kms away.
Getting to San Sebastian is fairly straight forward, but it does take a bit of time.
We flew from London Gatwick to Bilbao airport (flight time 1h:30m). From there, we were picked up with a driver organised by Original Travel who drove us to our hotel 1h:20m away.
There are buses and trains from Bilbao airport, but as we only had 3 days in San Sebastian we wanted to maximise our time in the town. Anything to squeeze in one more meal!
3 days in San Sebastian itinerary
Day 1 in San Sebastian
We arrived in San Sebastian around 2pm in the afternoon, so we dumped our bags at Hotel Villa Soro and walked into town to explore the place.
Lunch at Bodega Donostiarra Gros
I was absolutely starving as I stepped off the plane, so the first thing I wanted to do in San Sebastian was kick off our food Odyssey.
Bodega Donostiarra Gros was recommended to us by a few people, so we wanted to check out this restaurant first.
As we arrived, the first thing I noticed was it was packed full of locals – always a very good sign!
The food was even better. We picked up a few pinchos of smoked salmon on bread, an unctuous pig’s cheek in a tomato sauce that simply melted in the mouth, and the grilled octopus on a bed of smoky sweet potato mash. This was the just the start of great things to come in San Sebastian.
However, the winning dish for me was the grilled peppers drowning in local olive oil and a lashing of salt across the top. It was such a simple dish, but so delicious. This was actually one of my favourite dishes in San Sebastian, so it’s worth coming here for this dish alone!
You can check out some of the top dishes in the country in this guide all about food in Spain.
Walk along Playa de la Concha
If you didn’t know already, San Sebastian is one of those towns with an absolutely stunning beach a short walk from the Old Town.
It is this perfect crescent shaped beach with a little island right in the middle of it. For me, this really is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The aerials of the beach are drool-worthy.
Playa de la Concha is 1.4 km in length, so it takes a good 20 minutes to walk along the promenade overlooking the beach to the very end.
On a hot and sunny day, the beach is the place to be. A part of me wished I brought a towel so I could laze away the afternoon – there were so many people doing the same while we were there.
Even though the water is cold, we saw plenty of swimmers, paddleboarders and kayakers out in the water.
It’s very poplar hiring a kayak and paddling out to Santa Clara, the little island just off the beach, so you can potentially add that into your 3 days in San Sebastian. It’s definitely one for the adventurers in you!
Eat your way through the Old Town on a Pinchos Food & Wine tour
If you’re looking at getting an authentic pinchos experience while learning all about the food from San Sebastian, then I’d really recommend a pinchos food and wine tour.
We went on a tour with Mimo Bite the Experience and it was just brilliant. I can honestly say is one of the best food tours I’ve ever been on – it’s no wonder this tour is ranked in the top 10 food tours in the world on TripAdvisor. It really is that good!
So why should you go on a food tour?
Obviously you can just walk into any pinchos bar and start ordering, but it’s actually surprisingly daunting walking into a place packed full of locals and tourists when you don’t know what you’re doing or what to order.
What I loved about this tour was it made everything easy. Not only did our guide Veronica go through the process of how to order, but she also gave us loads of advice and information on what to do and what not to do.
For example, you’ll see locals just chuck used napkins on the floor like they’re trashing the place. Actually, they do this because it’s much more hygienic to throw a used napkin on the floor and kick it under the counter than to leave it on the bar where anyone else might come into contact with it.
I would’ve never have known that if I just walked into a bar and saw people throwing their napkins on the floor!
Our tour started at 6:30pm and went on till well after 9:30pm. In that time we went to 5 of the best pinchos bars in Old Town. At each bar we had one or two pinchos, always washed down with a local wine from the region. This is where we tried txakoli for the first time, the slightly sparkling white wine from the Basque Country (more on that later though).
I always recommend people do a food tour at the start of their trip. I genuinely think it’s the best way of getting to know a place, and often you get loads of tips on where to eat too.
As I said, this is one of the best food tours I’ve ever been on, so I can’t recommend it enough. There’s no better overview of the city’s food scene.
Day 2 in San Sebastian
For our second day in San Sebastian, we delved deeper into the Basque cuisine and why this is one of the best places in the world for food.
Learn Basque cuisine on a cooking course
Chloe & I absolutely love cooking, so we were really excited that Original Travel booked us onto a cooking course. This is an activity they thought we’d really enjoy, so it was nice having a recommendation personalised just to us.
On the morning of our second day in San Sebastian, we met our guide and chef Patricio Fuentes at Mimo cooking school. Now Patricio is genuinely one of the most passionate foodies I’ve ever come across. His enthusiasm is infectious and he is so proud of Basque and Spanish cuisine. He’s also worked in a fair few Michelin starred restaurants, so he really knows his stuff.
Out tour was all about fish and seafood, so our day started off at Sagastume, a local fish market. Here they were selling everything from fresh oysters to lobster to cod cheeks for the famous kokotxas dish.
I’ve always been intimidated by the fish mongers as I don’t know what to look for when buying fish. Well, Patricio dispelled a lot of the fear. He showed me exactly what to look for in a fresh fish, and it was nice having someone holding my hand and walking me through the basics.
One of the other things I learned from Patricio was to always use fresh and seasonal ingredients.
From the fish market, we went to buy some vegetables from a few stalls dotted around the central market. It was here that I discovered green tears. I’d never come across this ingredient before, but they are tiny oval peas that pop in your mouth and have the freshest taste. They were going in our cod dish, so we picked up a bag of these as they were in season.
Once we had all our ingredients, we went back to the cooking school. From that point onwards it was a culinary masterclass in Basque cuisine. I learned so much in just a few hours.
In our cooking classed we made a prawn tartar garnished with the green tears, a version of kokotxas where we cooked with cod jowl, a red mullet dish with a subtle dashi, and we even cooked the very rare gooseneck barnacles which I’ve wanted to try for years.
To be honest with you, I could talk about this course for hours. I think my biggest take away was how emotional food can be. You should be cooking because it makes you enjoy it and it makes you happy. If you can do that, you can create something truly remarkable.
Once again, I can’t recommend this tour enough, and it’s perfect for your 3 days in San Sebastian itinerary. This one if definitely for all you foodies out there.
Climb to the top of Monte Urgull
We left our cooking class more than a little tipsy and very full, so we decided some fresh air would do us the world of good.
Just a short walk from the beach is Monte Urgull. You can see the statue of Jesus Christ overlooking the beach – that’s where you’re aiming for.
Even though this “mountain” looks pretty steep, its only 123 metres tall, so it only takes around 20 minutes walking to the top. Here you’ll find Mota Castle, a 16th century defensive fortification at the top of San Sebastian.
There are a number of different pathways taking you up to the top. All of them and signposted, so it doesn’t really matter which one you take.
Once you make it to the top you have one of the best views overlooking Playa de la Concha. We also found this amazing bar Urgulleko Polborina inside the old fortification walls. This is the perfect spot for a refreshing drink after a lovely walk to the mirador.
The drinks are cheap and the views are even better. This is an amazing sunset spot too for those of you who want to bed in for the afternoon!
Bar hop around Gros
After another long day of eating and drinking, we headed back to our hotel to rest and relax for a bit.
Thankfully, San Sebastian being very Spanish, the bars and restaurants are open very late, so we headed out for dinner at about 9pm once we could stomach a few more pinchos.
Instead of going back to Old Town, we went bar hopping around the Gros neighbourhood. From our tours, our guides all said that the Old Town was for tourists, and Gros was for locals, so we wanted to see what the local vibe was like.
Armed with our knowledge from the pinchos food tour, we went to three different pinchos bars in Gros. Bergara, Ricardo and Pagadi which were all recommend to us, and it was great eating outside long into the night.
Day 3 in San Sebastian
For our last day in San Sebastian, we learned all about txakoli wine from a local vineyard. We also finished our 3 days in San Sebastian on a high by going to one of the many Michelin starred restaurants in the area.
Go on a txakoli wine tour at Hiruzta Bodega
As I’ve already mentioned, txakoli is a slightly sparkling white wine produced in the Basque country. It is the wine most people drink at all the pinchos bars in town. It is super cheap and surprisingly refreshing.
We learned all about txakoli at a vineyard just 20 minutes outside of San Sebastian. It’s amazing that you can go from the beach to the mountains and vineyards in just 20 minutes.
Hiruzta Bodega is in such a stunning location overlooking the vineyards. They also produce a damn fine txakoli which has even picked up a platinum award at the Decanter Awards, the first txakoli wine in the region to do so.
Here we had a lovely tour where we worked our way through a few txakoli wines while having a fair few pinchos too (because it’s impossible to have a glass of wine without a pinchos in San Sebastian!)
Saying that, the whole point of these pinchos were to see how they paired with food and how the acidic notes can cut through the fatty foods.
I knew absolutely nothing about txakoli wine before coming to San Sebastian, so it was great going on a tour and discovering more about the wine that everyone drinks in the region.
Catch the funicular to Monte Igueldo
Once we got back into San Sebastian, we headed back to Playa de la Concha and walked towards Monte Igueldo.
From here we caught the funicular to the top of the mountain for one of the best viewpoints overlooking the beach and the town.
There’s a café at the top, so we grabbed a coffee and drunk in the beautiful views. This was definitely one of my favourite spots in San Sebastian.
On the weekend and during the summer season, there’s also a mini-theme park at the top of Monte Igueldo too. I’m not going to lie, I was absolutely gutted this was closed when we visited as it looks brilliant.
There’s this old fashioned mine train ride that looks 100 years old that takes you around the theme park, and the views just look spectacular.
I’d definitely recommend visiting when the theme part is open, especially if you’re travelling with little ones.
Dine at Mirador de Ulia
Did you know San Sebastian has the highest concentration of Michelin starred restaurants in the world? 11 different restaurants have 24 stars between them, and Arzak is regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world.
Because we couldn’t afford the 250 euro per person menus at the 3* restaurants, we opted to dine at Mirador de Ulia, a 1* restaurant overlooking San Sebastian. This easily has one of the best viewpoints I’ve ever seen from a restaurant – I actually wish we came for lunch instead of dinner so we could’ve enjoyed the view for longer.
We had the 11-course tasting menu at Mirador de Ulia and it was fantastic. I always think fine dining should be about the experience as much as the food. Well, at Mirador de Ulia they really deliver on the experience too with dishes such as live clams being cooked in fire beside the table.
This menu is very much in keeping with the Basque cuisine, so expect some thought-provoking dishes such as pork tartar and the deep-fried pig’s ear. Chloe & I discussed that one long into the night!
The food was world-class though, and it was amazing going from the pinchos from Old Town to fine-dining overlooking the town below. It really completed our culinary Odyssey in San Sebastian.
Where to stay in San Sebastian
Hotel Villa Soro
We stayed in a lovely 4* hotel just on the outskirts of San Sebastian called Hotel Villa Soro.
To be honest with you, this felt like a 5* hotel masquerading as a 4*. The building is an opulent 19th country chateau with a stunning carved wooden staircase, high vaulted ceilings and large lounges dotted around the ground floor. There’s even a diminutive chapel with stained-glass windows at the top of the staircase as you walk up to your rooms.
Hotel Villa Soro was like a refuge from all the eating in San Sebastian, a place where we could lounge and relaxing before mustering up the energy for another meal.
Our room was huge with a king-sized double bed and smartly decorated bathroom with a lovely deep bath. With the mahogany desk and porcelain vase, it really did feel in keeping with the 19th century mansion.
The nearest beach is an 11-minute walk away, and it took us about 20 minutes walking into the centre of Old Town. Even though this is a little further out than other accommodation options in San Sebastian, it did give us plenty of opportunity to burn off a fair few of those calories!
Travelling with Original Travel
Our trip was organised by Original Travel, the luxury tailor-made holiday specialists. With their team of travel consultants and experts, these guys put together the most incredible itineraries perfect catered towards your needs and desires for that ultimate trip of a lifetime. Their team took care of all the hard work planning our trip to San Sebastian, so all we had to do was just enjoy ourselves. They do the hard be, we did the easy bit!
One of my favourite things about using a company like Original Travel was using their ‘meet & assist’ concierge service at Gatwick Airport. When we arrived at the airport, Paul from the concierge team who took us straight to the front of the premier check in desk. From there, he whisked us through fast-track security to one of the Gatwick lounges to relax before our flight.
Now I travel a lot, and I didn’t think this ‘meet & assist’ service would be very useful for a frequent traveller, but it took out all the stress and importantly queuing time while at the airport. I think this service would be particularly good for anxious or elderly travellers who don’t fly a lot.
There was even an app and a personal concierge service, meaning we could call or text someone on the ground in Spain, who would help sort any queries during the holiday.
If you’re the type of person short on time, or you’re looking for someone to come up with an itinerary that’s personalised to you, then I can’t recommend Original Travel enough. They really do deliver stress-free luxury holidays – all you need to do is enjoy every moment of it!
This post was in association with Original Travel promoting some of their luxury itineraries around the world. As always, all views are entirely my own and without bias.
Are you planning a weekend in San Sebastian? What are you looking to do? You can let me know in the comments below!
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