I hadn’t really thought about visiting San Sebastian, Spain, until I went to the NY Times Travel Show. If you remember it didn’t even make my 2016 Travel Wish List, but San Sebastian has the most Michelin starred restaurants per capita in the world and it is the European Capital of Culture for 2016. So I thought it would be nice to do a food and wine (I love Spanish Rioja wine!) trip for my birthday. After my trip, I now know San Sebastian has lots more to offer than just food and wine, there really are so many things to do in San Sebastian. I wanted to share some tips for getting to San Sebastian and how we spent our first day in Basque Country.
Getting to San Sebastian
San Sebastian may seem like a remote place, but it is actually pretty easy to get to. I think the best airport for San Sebastian is actually Bilbao (BIO), then you can take a short bus ride. You can also look into flying directly to the San Sebastian airport, but you probably won’t have as many options. You can also take the train from other major Spanish cities.
From Barcelona, we flew to Bilbao on Vueling Airlines, a low-cost carrier. In Europe, most low-cost carriers charge an arm and a leg to check a bag unless you have something like an economy plus ticket. I wasn’t sure what type of ticket I had, so I tried to call Iberia (the airline I had booked with) to find out. The Iberia agent I spoke to didn’t speak good English so I wasn’t sure if she understood my question or gave me the right answer. Since I booked my entire itinerary through Iberia, I still got one free checked bag. Lucky for me, since I had bought some wine and liqueur from my Montserrat tour.
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Bus from Bilbao to San Sebastian
Once we landed, we barely had to wait for the bag (which is nice for a change). We followed the signs with the picture of the bus which led us to the exit on the far right and the bus was right outside. From the airport, it is just an hour bus ride to San Sebastian. Although the bus is run by the company PESA, it had the name “Lurraldebus” written in big letters. Also, San Sebastian in Basque is called Donastia, so that was the city name on the bus. When traveling from Bilbao airport, you cannot buy tickets in advance, so you need 17.10 Euro cash for your one-way ticket, but the driver will make change.
The bus runs hourly, scheduled to leave at 45 minutes after the hour. We were lucky and got to the bus stop about 11:30. The bus was already there, but it was about five minutes before the bus driver let people on. It was interesting that about half of the people on the bus spoke English and seemed to be tourists. The bus left a few minutes late and the drive was pretty scenic through Basque Country. I loved seeing the sheep and cows grazing on the side of the mountains.
Some buses may make other quick stops before arriving at the San Sebastian bus station. Many passengers got confused at the first stop and the driver did not speak English. In the Basque Country people speak Basque and Spanish mostly, but there are many people that also speak English. Some people got off and then realized it wasn’t San Sebastian and got back on the bus. The final stop is at the San Sebastian bus terminal (the bus parks underground) which is in a pretty central location in the middle of the old town.
Our Hotel in San Sebastian
Since we had a lot of bags, we decided to get a taxi to the Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra where we were staying. It The hotel is in the best area to stay in San Sebastian, right on the famous La Concha beach and a short walk from the San Sebastian old town. You get the best of both worlds.
The building has been here for over a century but it has been very well maintained. It is a beautiful hotel with very classic design and each room is decorated differently. You quickly understand why the Hotel Londres is a very popular wedding venue and one of the top luxury hotels in San Sebastian, Spain.
We got a petit classic room with a sea view, and let me tell you the view did not disappoint. We had a small balcony with a glass door, and I loved keeping it open, so that I could hear the waves – so relaxing. The room had a double bed, desk, and also a nice armchair. I was impressed to see that the bathroom had two sinks and also a bidet!
Of course, the hotel does also have suites (which would be great for families) and rooms with even bigger terraces (attic rooms). One of the attic rooms even has its own jacuzzi! The hotel also offers discounts to the nearby La Perla Spa and Hegalak Gym. You will also enjoy the breakfast buffet at the hotel because it has so many delicious options including eggs, sausages, cheeses, breads, fruits and even cava. Click here to check price and availability at the Hotel Londres.
Once we got settled, we headed out for a walk along La Concha Beach towards Monte Igueldo and the funicular. Hard to believe but the San Sebastian funicular is over 100 years old! It is only 3.15 euros for a round-trip ticket and the views from the top are priceless. The entrance to the funicular is behind the tennis center which is on the west side of the bay. At the top, you will see the amusement park, restaurant, and hotel. We stopped in the cafe for some tea. You should also walk around and take in the views from the different angles. There are also plenty of benches to sit and relax. There weren’t very many people there when we went and it was just so peaceful and beautiful.
I knew San Sebastian was going to have good food and wine, but I didn’t expect to find all the natural beauty. There really is so much to do. We hiked the St. James Way and Mount Urgull, visited a Cider House, and took a pintxos cooking class. We stayed for three days and we weren’t ready to leave. I definitely could have spent more time in San Sebastian.
Have you visited San Sebastian? Did you do any San Sebastian tours? I would love to hear more about your experience.
Expert Tips for San Sebastian
- It is easy to get from the Bilbao airport to San Sebastian by bus.
- Expect crowds in the summer in San Sebastian. The best time to visit San Sebastian is probably October when the weather is still nice and the crowds are not as big.
- We really enjoyed our stay at the Hotel Londres, a lovely boutique hotel in San Sebastion. Check price and availability here.
- Make sure you take the funicular up for the amazing views!
- Not too far from San Sebastian, you can find Lekeitio, which has a lovely lesser-known beach.
Disclosure: No financial compensation was received, but the Hotel Londres did offer us a discount on our stay. As always, opinions are my own.
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