One of San Sebastian’s most famous landmarks is the statue of Christ on top of Monte Urgull that looks over the city. We had a lovely view of it from our hotel room at the Hotel Londres. I had heard that you could walk up to see it and I thought that would be fun to do. I had no idea that Monte Urgull has more to offer than just the statue of Christ and a great view. So if you get a chance to visit San Sebastian, set aside an afternoon to explore Monte Urgull.
I would classify the trek up Monte Urgull as an easy hike or moderate walk. While the paths are nicely paved, some parts are steep. You will also find stairs in some places. If you walked up without stopping to explore, it would probably only take 30-45 minutes depending on your speed. You can reach the trail from Mari Street in San Sebastian’s (aka Donostia’s) Old Town Port Area.
We didn’t do much research beforehand, we had just heard that you could walk up. We figured it would be a good way to burn off some of the calories from our cooking class. While walking up the steep path that zig-zagged up the hill, we couldn’t help but stop and admire the view of the city and La Concha beach.
San Sebastian’s Castillo de la Mota
The first point of interest you will reach is the castle which is also where you will find the statue of Christ. Looking up at San Sebastian’s Christ statue from below you don’t even realize there is a castle! The Mota Castle, or Castillo de la Mota, has historical significance, some parts date back to the 12th century and it was conquered by Napoleon’s French Army.
The San Sebastian castle is definitely worth exploring, there were many nooks and crannies to peek into. Of course, kids would love this. There are several cannons too. Also, I can’t say enough about the amazing views!
On top of Monte Urgull, there were several areas with old abandoned buildings in addition to Castillo de la Mota. It was fun to explore and peek inside. There were also plenty of benches where you could take a break and enjoy the view. You have a fabulous view of La Concha Beach and also the island in the middle of the bay. We were lucky to visit on an absolutely perfect afternoon. If you happen to visit in the summer, there is a place that sells ice cream.
San Sebastian’s British Cemetery
You can easily walk past the British Cemetery, also known as El Cementerio de los Ingleses. Keep an eye out for it because it is located on the back side of Monte Urgull. Dating back to 1836, the graves are aged and blend it a bit with the other rocks and ruins. The Auxiliary British Legion Officers who were killed in the area during the First Carlist War are buried here. You can find a plaque that lists the names of those buried, although one is a mass grave. I am always moved by military cemeteries (like the one I visited in Cambridge) because I am thankful for those that risk their lives for liberty and freedom.
We walked down the backside of Monte Urgull and ended up at the far end of the marina close to the Aquarium. As you leave you can’t help but notice the sculpture at the foot of Monte Urgull, called Empty Construction by Jorge Oteiza. It is made with two pieces of steel which make a gate that opens to the sea.
Visually, it is supposed to connect with Eduardo Chillada’s Comb of the Wind sculpture on the other end of the San Sebastian’s bay. Unfortunately, that piece was under renovation during our visit.
I would definitely recommend taking a few hours to explore Monte Urgull. There is no entrance fee, so it is free to explore. We expected nice views of the city, the San Sebastian beach, and the Christ statue, but we stumbled upon some interesting history too. Have you stumbled upon any history on your travels? I would love to hear about it in the comments.
Expert Tips for visiting Monte Urgull San Sebastian
- Begin your trip up Monte Urgull from Mari Street in the Old Town Port Area
- In addition to seeing the famous San Sebastian statue, take time to explore the Mota castle and other abandoned buildings on Monte Urgull.
- Don’t miss the British Cemetery (Cementerio de los Ingleses) on the back side of the mountain.
- Be sure to check out Jorge Oteiza’s sculpture Open Construction.
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