Discover unique points of interest in San Sebastian. Learn how San Sebastian earned its nickname as the “Pearl of the Cantabrian.”
City Hall Donostia San Sebastian
Originally built in 1887 and located in Alderdi Eder park, San Sebastian’s city hall was originally built as a casino. When gambling was banned in 1924 the building became a popular meeting place for politicians, writers and artists of the Belle Epoque era. In 1947 the building became the city hall and headquarters for the municipal government.
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd
The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is the largest church in San Sebastian. Located in the center of town, next to the Koldo Mitxelena cultural center and Post Office.
The cathedral features a needle shaped tower, 75 meters high which is visible from almost all parts of the capital. Opened in 1897 and designed by architect Manuel Echave Gipuzkoa, the neo-Gothic church is lavishly decorated with stained glass windows, gargoyles and pinnacles.
Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus
A Baroque Roman Catholic parish church and basilica completed in 1774. The building sits in the shadow of Mount Urgull in the Casco Viejo.
The beautiful portico, leads into the main church with a high nave, vaulted ceiling and images of the Virgen del Coro, and the patron saint San Sebastian. Every 14th of August, the church hosts performances by the Donostiarra Choir, one of the most established concert choirs in Europe started in 1897, singing songs in celebration of traditional religious ceremony. The streets next to the church are filled with excellent restaurants and bars.
Alderdi Eder Gardens
Located in front of the city hall are the Alderdi Eder gardens. Filled with flowers, tamarind, palm trees and a pond this is a popular place to stroll along the boulevard. For children there is a popular carousel. You will also find a sculpture of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
La Bretxa Market
La Bretxa market is an institution in San Sebastián. Located on the Boulevard, the name goes back to the eighteenth century, when British troops stormed the city creating two gaps (Bretxas) in the wall.
Between these gaps is where the market was built in 1870. The market is built in stone with a neoclassical style, iron covers and a facade decorated with doors and windows shaped into arches. A few years ago city officials renovated the building to connect it with a nearby shopping mall. Inside the market, you will find a dazzling array of local products from seasonal mushrooms and freshly caught seafood to regional wines and cheeses. It is common to spy some of the well known chefs of the city wandering through their favorite stalls.
One of our favorite urban hikes in San Sebastian is Monte Urgull, 123m at its highest point. You can start the hike in the Casco Viejo, climbing the stairs by the Basilica of Saint Mary, or choose a trail from the Paseo Nuevo and wind your way up the backside. This area is steeped in medieval history from when the city served as a military fortress that endured countless attacks and sieges over centuries. Besides having an amazing view of the city and the bay, Mount Urgull visitors can enter the Castillo de la Mota, a twelfth century military fort complete with guns and defensive loopholes. The small museum in the fort offers insight into the history of San Sebastian from the British Cemetery, to the Siege of San Sebastian and Carlist Wars. During the warm months there is a small bar on the mountain, hidden in the fort walls. The locale is tiny but offers breathtaking views and cold beverages for a nice reward after the hike up.
Kursaal Congress Palace
The modern cube located next to Zurriola beach is the Palacio Kursaal designed by Rafael Moneo. It sits on the river, where the Urumea river meets the incoming waves. The two glass cubes changed the face of the city when they were built in 1999. The auditorium and conference center is home to the San Sebastian International Film Festival.
Accustomed to classic French style architecture, the audacity of these glass buildings with their straight lines and geometric shapes struck Donostia society like a pile of unwelcomed bricks. However, overtime, locals began to appreciate the modernity of the building as a stark contrast to its Belle Epoque era, and today they represent the arrival of modern times in San Sebastian. At night the buildings light up and locals have recognized the positive cultural, social and economic impact the building has brought to the city.
Peine del Viento
No one should leave San Sebastian without visiting this magical place. To get to the Wind Combs walk from Ondarreta beach west towards the end of the pedestrian walkway. At the foot of Mount Igeldo, you will find Chillida’s Wind Combs, set on the rough rocky coastline, the combs represent the sculptor’s favorite piece of work. They represent a homage to natural phenomena, movement and the sea.
This sculpture, considered the epitome of Eduardo Chillida (San Sebastian, 1924-2002), consists of three pieces of pink granite and steel clinging to the rocks, which resist the constant attacks from the sea. Installed in 1977, the sculptures represent the unique harmony and contrasts that exist between land, sea and air.
Constitution Plaza, “La Consti” to locals is one of the most popular areas in the city. Located in the center of the Casco Viejo it was for centuries the most important point of the city and where the city hall once stood. The colorful balconies of the surrounding buildings are numbered because the square was once used for bullfighting and the numbers represent spectator seats.
This beautiful enclave-full of lively bars and outdoor terraces remains the historic headquarters and a central area for many of the cities cultural activities and events. Each year from the balcony of the old city hall, now a library, a flag is raised to mark the feast of San Sebastian. A few days before Christmas the plaza hosts the popular crowded market of Santo Tomas, where local farmers bring fresh produce, cheese and wine to sell in preparation for holidays feasts.
Victoria Eugenia Theater
The historic Victoria Eugenia Theatre built in 1912 was home to all the great cultural events in the life of San Sebastian until the construction of the Kursaal Convention Center in 1999. This theatre used to be the headquarters of the San Sebastian International Film Festival. It was designed by Francisco Urcola, who also built the Hotel Maria Cristina and Okendo gardens. He crafted this monumental public space using plateresque decorative motifs together with shapes from the Spanish Renaissance carved into the sandstone walls. The façade, over the Doric columns, is carved with four groups of sculptures representing opera, tragedy, comedy and drama. The theatre was reopened in 2007 with new facilities and the latest audio-visual equipment.
Spa La Perla
Built in 1912, this Belle Époque era spa was once one of the most acclaimed establishments of its kind in Europe. Therapeutic waters were popular with the well-to-do from around the world including the Queen Maria Cristina. Today you can still enjoy its therapeutic waters and idyllic location along one of the prettiest beaches in Spain. The spa offers a complete circuit for relaxation, spa treatments and modern facilities with views of the ocean.
Learn about San Sebastian’s Museum’s next.