Urbanized in Nature: A Walking Tour of San Sebastian, Spain

Streets of San Sebastian
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Walking Tour of San Sebastian, Spain

My tours in Spain were, although each unique and beautiful in their own ways, all had something in common: concrete buildings, tree-shaded calles and paseos, and bustling streets. My recent trip to San Sebastian, a city, and municipality in Spain, however, was one of a kind.

Breakfast at Hotel Pamplona Cathedral
Breakfast at Hotel Pamplona Cathedral

Before traveling to San Sebastian, I remember waking up at around 8 in the morning in our hotel. After freshening up, my feet took me to the restaurant for breakfast, which had a good range of food choices and freshly cooked dishes. The interior of the restaurant looked like a chapel because in fact, it was a chapel that was rebuilt as a restaurant a long time ago. While I ate my breakfast, I realized that this Spain trip was the only overseas trip that I didn’t miss eating rice—we had some really satiating paella last time in Barcelona, too!

This cathedral looking restaurant is, in fact, an old cathedral
This cathedral looking restaurant is, in fact, an old cathedral

After having breakfast, I headed back to my hotel room to get my bags and check out from the hotel. Afterwards, our group left Hotel Pamplona Cathedral and set out on an hour’s worth of drive time to the City of San Sebastian.

Mount Igeldo Lighthouse
Mount Igeldo Lighthouse
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We reached San Sebastian faster than we expected, so we got to Hotel Zenit, our official accommodation in the city, a little too early for our check in. Our rooms were not available until 2 PM, so we just deposited our luggage and waited for our tour guide to arrive. It was a good thing that our English-speaking tour guide, Eskerne Falcon, who heard the news of our early arrival, immediately came by the hotel. After greetings and a short introduction, we started our tour in the city of San Sebastian.

Mount Igeldo
View from Mount Igeldo

Our first destination for the day was the summit of Mount Igeldo (or Monte Igueldo), the highest of San Sebastian’s three coastal mountains. It was quite far and uphill so we took a cab to reach the peak. When we got there, we were welcomed by a chilly breeze and we could not help but point our cameras to almost anything we saw on the mountain. The peak gave us a breathtaking view of the Concha Bay, one of Europe’s most famous urban beach.

Fantastic View from Mt Igeldo
Fantastic View from Mt Igeldo
Funicular de Igueldo
Funicular de Igueldo

Eskerne also brought us to the Funicular de Igueldo, which gave us a scenic ride to Monte Igueldo Amusement Park. Both the park and the railway had been operating since 1912.

La Concha Bay in San Sebastian Spain
La Concha Bay in San Sebastian Spain
La Concha Bay from Mt Igeldo Veiw deck
La Concha Bay from Mt Igeldo Veiw deck
GoPro Selfie at Mt Igeldo
GoPro Selfie at Mt Igeldo

From afar, the contrast between the white coastline of Beach of La Concha and the blueness of the Bay were so picturesque, and the buildings by the beach all looked like neatly aligned white blocks. We were just at our first stop for the day yet I already saw how much different San Sebastian is from all the other places we visited in Spain. I looked as far as my eyes could see, and mixed in with the typical beige-colored Spanish buildings were very green trees, white-colored sands, and the blue waters of Concha Bay.

La Zurriola Beach
La Zurriola Beach

After Mount Igeldo, we went to La Zurriola Beach, which was already getting busy. Our tour guide explained that the beach is the favorite gathering place of the younger crowd, as well as beach sports enthusiasts like surfers, beach volleyball players, and even football players… nevertheless, she said that even people who did not have a beach body to boast (ahem, me) were always welcome in La Zurriola.

Zurriola Bridge
Zurriola Bridge
Zurriola Bridge in San Sebastian
Zurriola Bridge in San Sebastian

We left La Zurriola Beach and had a short walk at the beautiful Zurriola Bridge. The bridge was designed with a series of lamps that resembled miniature modern lighthouses. It was constructed in 1921 and is also alternatively called the Kursaal Bridge.
The Urumea River intersects the bridge and runs through five other bridges in the city that are each uniquely designed as well. Our guide informed us that if we wanted to jog, going around to cross all six bridges in the city was a fun activity that we could try.

Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium
Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium By generalpoteito – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5

Before completely crossing the bridge, Eskerne toured us to the Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium, a huge glass building that housed several exhibition- and multipurpose halls. It is also where the biggest film festival in Spain, the San Sebastian International Film Festival, is being held annually.

Park beside Hotel Maria Cristina
Park beside Hotel Maria Cristina
Statue of the Antonio Oquendo
Statue of the Antonio Oquendo

Our next destination for the day was The Hotel Maria Cristina, which was opened in 1912. It is known for being one of the most luxurious hotel in San Sebastian because of its legacy and location. Luckily for us, we were allowed to go inside the hotel premises. It was mostly beige, and its entrance was so grandiose it made us feel like royals.

Hotel Maria Cristina
Hotel Maria Cristina


Victoria Eugenia Theatre photo by Mark Angelo Acosta
Victoria Eugenia Theatre photo by Mark Angelo Acosta

Right next to the landmark hotel is The Victoria Eugenia Theatre, one of the most active cultural centers in the city. It had an imposing façade with three sets of doors as an entrance. Its main theatre has a capacity of more than 900 people, and where dramatic arts and plays have been held since its establishment in 1912 as well. Our guide told us that some events of the San Sebastian International Film Festival are also held in the theater as well.

Plaza de Gipuzkoa
Plaza de Gipuzkoa
plaza de gipuzkoa San Sebastian
plaza de gipuzkoa San Sebastian
Flower Clock-Table at Plaza de gipuzkoa
Flower Clock-Table at Plaza de gipuzkoa

The Plaza de Gipuzkoa was our next destination for the day. It had a pleasant atmosphere that made us appreciate the city more. The park was well-maintained and was covered with grass, some flowers, and trees. In the park was a sculpture of a local pianist, but what grabbed my attention more was the huge clock-table near the center of the park. Overlooking the park like a wall was the Headquarters of the Regional Council of Gipuzkoa, whose beige façade greatly stood out amongst the green trees of the plaza.

Benegas Perfume Shop in San Sebastian Spain
Benegas Perfume Shop in San Sebastian Spain

We walked further and reached the Gardens of Alderdi Eder, a huge, open garden that overlooked the Concha Bay. I remembered that just a little bit earlier, we were on a mountain peak overlooking the Concha Bay. We had already explored so much of San Sebastian but we still marveled at the sight of its very blue waters. I imagined hanging out in the park on any day and still enjoy the looking at the bay, feeling the wind, and observing the locals. Scattered about the area are trees and neatly arranged flowerbeds. Nearby was the City Hall, which we were going to visit in a bit.

Gardens of Alderdi Eder
Gardens of Alderdi Eder

From our location, Eskerne pointed to a large building on the other side of the coastline. It was the Palace of Miramar, a 19th-century building commissioned by the Spanish Royal Family. Even from a distance, it appeared very elegant and well-maintained. It was built under the direction of an English architect, which is perhaps the reason why it stood out amongst the other buildings from afar.

Miramar Palace's location between the Beach of La Concha and the Beach of Ondarreta
Miramar Palace’s location between the Beach of La Concha and the Beach of Ondarreta By Euskalduna – My own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

We proceeded to our next destination, the Real Club Nautico de San Sebastián, which is an exclusive sailing club in the city. From afar, the headquarters of the club looked like a ship anchored by a harbor, and its pure-white exterior added to that effect.

Real Club Nautico de San Sebastián
Real Club Nautico de San Sebastián

We slowly headed back to the city center. On our way, Eskerne showed us the building of the City Council of San Sebastian that used to be a casino—a very interesting twist of fate, if I may say so. The City Hall is visible form the Gardens of Alderdi Eder. The building was originally built in 1887 and was fully functional until gambling was banned in the city in 1924. In 1945, more than twenty years later, the Council took the building at its headquarters.

Mercado de La Bretxa
Mercado de La Bretxa

Our last stop for the day was the Mercado de La Bretxa, the source of all of San Sebastian’s gastronomic goodness. Eskerne guided us to the basement of the shopping center, where we saw stall after stall of colorful vegetables, fruits in baskets, and deep-colored wine. Aside from those, uncooked food like meat and fish were on display. One side sold flowers, canned goods, and local delicacies.

Mercado de La Bretxa Building
Mercado de La Bretxa Building

We stopped by a stall named Myriam Carniceria Charcuteria, one of the most popular shops for Iberico ham, cheese, and meat products. The owner, Myriam, was present and warmly welcomed us. He even prepared us slices of nearly each type of ham that they sold, and let us sample each one. They were really smoking delicious!

Ham Tasting at Myriam Carniceria Charcuteria photo by Mark Angelo Acosta
Ham Tasting at Myriam Carniceria Charcuteria photo by Mark Angelo Acosta

Sadly, after enjoying the various flavors of ham, our tour officially ended in the market. It was our last stop… for the first part of our tour. We had to cut our walking tour for Pintxos Crawl… a story which I am to share to you in a separate post.

Streets of San Sebastian
Streets of San Sebastian

My walking tour in San Sebastian gave me a whole new perspective on Spain. Barcelona and Madrid were beautiful, artistically, culturally, and historically, but San Sebastian steps up its game and offers a very elegant combination of being close to nature, yet without losing the brilliant urban feels of Spain. Concrete buildings overlook the waters of Concha Bay, and the city’s parks are dotted with trees and flowerbeds. Coastal mountains, centuries-old buildings, modern bridges, cultural centers, and busy beaches blend together in perfect harmony here in San Sebastian.

San Telmo Museum
San Telmo Museum

I have more travel stories to share here in San Sebastian. Stay tuned, because more posts are coming up!

If you are planning to visit San Sebastian and you need help from an expert, you can contact Eskerne Falcón of Discover San Sebastian. You may reach her via email eskerne@discoversansebastian.com, mobile +34 635 759 961 or visit their website www.discoversansebastian.com.

Smart Travel WiFi in Spain
Smart Travel WiFi in Spain

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This Spain Street Photography and Food Tour was made possible by Spain Tourism Board, Turkish Airlines, Madrid Tourism, Visit Barcelona, La Rioja Tourism, Donostia San Sebastian Tourism and Convention Bureau and Turismo Bilbao.

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