San Sebastion or Donostia has it is known locally is a lovely place around a small bay and river. San Sebastion is served by the narrow gauge Euskotren railway along the north coast of Spain. and there is the RENFE main line trains to places like Madrid and Segovia. Their stations are in seperate parts of town.
The Santa Clara island sitting in the middle of the bay has a beach that can be reached by a small ferry. At the equinox tides in March and September it can even be reached on foot. It was also used by the city in the 16th century for victims of the plague that was ravaging the population. Other views are over the sea and around the bay of La Concha and the Miramar "palacio".
Fortified from the 12th century to protect its trade and fishing industry Mont Urgull, the original small castle built by Sancho of Navarre, was further strengthened in 1530 and more walls added. The castle was taken in the early 1700's by the British but surrendered in 1794 to the French, who stayed there right through the Napoleonic wars until 1813 when they were finally evicted by the British/Portuguese allies. The castle is topped out with three chapels with one supporting the statue of Christ and the "Sagrado Corazon", 12 metres high. It is a fair walk up to the top with a choice of routes. Behind the Santa Maria church is a cobbled path leading up and you just follow the signs, but this is very steep and hard. The other way is round the other side of the Mont close to the modern statue "Construccion Vacia - Empty Construction" which takes you up a ramp then through an outdoor bar and past the English cemetery. This way is longer but far easier.
The gates for the access paths normally close at 18h30.
I haven't mentioned the Museum of History as quite frankly, I didn't see it nor any signs to present it. There is also an aquarium and Naval museum situated at the bottom of the hill in front of the port.
Nestled beneath the Mont Urgull lies the Santa Maria del Coro church originally a Romanesque structure. Refurbished and extended in the 1500's it was actually blown up in the late 1600's and rebuilt around 1740 in a superb baroque style, witness the wonderful entrance into the church. Right next to the church is Plaza Trinidad where you might be lucky enough to catch a concert during the summer.
For a city that has such an attraction for tourists, the centre of the old town doesn't really show this. Much attached to its Basque traditions the city has managed to retain much of the old gothic and baroque styles in its churches and buildings. Constitution square is also typical Basque but very Spanish in its styling. This is the place where most of the citys fiestas are held, namely 20th January, day of Saint Sebastian and St Thomas's day the 21st December. The windows are adorned with numbers that date from the years when the square was a bullring and spectators rented out the balconies. Of course San Sebastian is very much still a fishing port with its own fleet and auction hall for the fish, to be found in the corner between La Concha beach and the old town.
The crescent-shaped beach La Conche is the most popular beach in San Sebastian. Located directly in the city centre, one can hardly think of a more beautiful place for a beach. In summer, it is always crowded despite the fact that the water didn't look too appealing with many algae drifting in it. However, you can also just lie down in the fine sand and get a tan while watching the other people and enjoying the superb panoramic view over the harbour, the buildings of the old town and the local mountain, Monte Urgull. There are a few places to buy refreshments and food, and you can also hire beach chairs and beach tents and screens against the sun.
Charming museum in the old town. The former Dominican convent of San Telmo, the museum was moved there in 1932. It had also been used as an artillery barracks. The museum exhibits fine arts, archeology, ethnography and history. Of particular interest is the replica of a Basque farmhouse complete with cows in the kitchen. In the fine art section there were paintings of El Greco and Rubens. There is also a section of local artists from different time periods. And it is free.
After lots of controversy, San Sebastian finally completed their new auditorium and congress hall in 1999. Designed by Pritzker award winner Rafael Moneo, the Kursaal Center is one of the current cornerstones of the city cultural scene. The center is shaped out of sea-green glass in curved panels that appear to float above the Bay of Biscay. It has two auditoriums, a gargantuan banquet hall, meeting rooms, exhibition space, and a sibling set of terraces across the estuary. Martín Berasategui, chef at the Guggenheim Bilbao and director of his own restaurant in nearby Lasarte, oversees the dining room. Guided tours daily at 11:30, 12:30, and 1:30.
La Bretxa is the main market in the centre of Donostia. It actually consists of two separate shopping areas: one, towards La Concha, that contains what you would traditionally expect from a market in a Spanish or Basque city; and another one, closer to the Teatro Victoria Eugenia, that is essentially a shopping mall. The market building and structure is all quite interesting, as it is fairly odd and well preserved, but, given that it is still a functioning commercial venue, don’t expect it to be too touristy or filled with various unique Basque traditions. The shopping mall side of La Bretxa holds absolutely no surprises, but it is a good place to go if there is something that you desperately need and don’t want to waste hours and hours looking for the right shop.
The Ensanche Cortazar is one of the two extensions that San Sebastian underwent in the latter part of the 19th century. The other one is now called Gros, after the architect who designed it, and is located on the opposite side of the Urumea. It was intended to incorporate many of the same sorts of Modernist characteristics that have made Barcelona so famous, and are also found in the Ensanche in Bilbao. Today, the Ensanche is a chic shopping and residential area with a good number of pensions and hotels, as well as more modern stores. Indeed, it is likely in this area, rather than in the older areas, that you are to feel truly immersed in the Belle Époque splendor for which San Sebastian is so famous.
In some pictures, especially those destined for tourist consumption, the Plaza de Guipuzcoa is made to look airy and larger than it actually is – as if it were not smack in the middle of the orderly Ensanche. It is bordered by Martzial and Arrasate in the part of the Ensanche closest to the Avenida de la Libertad, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for anyone to find if they are walking through this area (it is about a block east of Urbieta). It has a bit of a Plaza Mayor feel to it, but it is not the city’s Plaza Mayor (that function is fulfilled, rather, by the Plaza de la Constitución in the Parte Vieja). One reason why it is not the Plaza Mayor is that there is a pretty little garden in the centre of the square, replete with fountain and gazebo. This is frequented largely by children with their parents and the noise from the surrounding pedestrian mall makes it even harder to pretend as if this were a place were you could sit and relax away from the hustle of the urban setting. That, of course, you can do at one of the many cafés that ring the square. Although three sides of the Plaza have various shops and cafés, the fourth side is an official building housing the province’s Diputación, or governing council. Again, this isn’t an official tourist site, just another place where you can enjoy the city’s leisurely attitude.
The Naval Museum is probably not high on your list of potential attractions, unless of course you are particularly keen on maritime history and the great navies. I am not, and so I didn’t visit the museum. After all, I’ve spent limited time on ships, and most of that time has been spent on canoes, which I don’t think would be represented in a Naval Museum in Donostia. That’s, in part, why this tip is so short: I don’t know what the Museum contains or whether it is any good, but it’s definitely something you should consider visiting if you’re really into this topic. Otherwise it might be better to just admire the Port.
To be truthful, this park is a bit odd. It’s not that it is filled with exotic flora or that it has a number of weird and wonderful sculptures, but rather its positioning is rather odd. It is located at the eastern edge of the Calle de Zubieta, right before you get to the Udaletxe (Town Hall), and there isn’t a whole lot of transition from the paved Belle Époque promenade into the greenery and gardens of the park. In fact, it almost seems as if the trees and greenery are springing from the pavements themselves, rather than from planned and maintained flowerbeds. The park has a playground, so it’s a favourite of families that come to promenade along the bay, and there are also a number of benches, so it attracts the elderly looking to sit, chat and relax in true Iberian style. In all, it isn’t a very large park, and it sort of inconveniently masks your view of the beautiful neo-Renaissance town hall. I guess you could say that, in a way, I’m not much a fan of the park, but it’s more that I’m convinced that it might have been better placed elsewhere.
The Calle de Zubieta is the pretty walkway along the upper rim of the beach and the bay. It is done entirely in the sort of Belle Époque neo-Renaissance style for which San Sebastian is so famous, and promenading up and down the Calle is one of the favourite passtimes of both tourists and locals alike. It's true that after a while you begin to regard it as nothing more than a continuous stretch of walkway that makes your life easier (since you don't have to navigate the way the rest of the city curls around the bay), but it's hard not to be taken in by the beauty of the bay every time you pass by.
The Iglesia San Vicente, like the Basílica Santa María, is one of the stone churches that services the city’s Parte Vieja. The original church on this spot was built in the 1300s; it was destroyed by fire. In fact, most of the city (which consisted mainly of Antiguo and Parte Vieja) was reduced to cinders in the fire of 1489, which led to the reconstruction of the entire town with stone in the following centuries. The Iglesia de San Vicente was completed in its current form in the 1500s. The church is rather interesting because of its clean simple lines. It is obviously too late to have been Romanesque, but it doesn’t show the obvious signs of being Gothic or Baroque. Although the 1500s would technically belong to the renaissance period, it is also largely devoid of the Classical elements typically associated with renaissance architecture. This was, of course, constructed during the Siglo de Oro, but I doubt that that was the motivation behind the style employed in this project. Rather, I like to think that the design was preempted by the general need to rebuild the city (and a church would have been absolutely essential) and also the concentration on fortifying San Sebastian rather than making it beautiful. In any case, it blends quite well with the general architectural traits of the Parte Vieja.