A City Guide to San Sebastián, Spain

San Sebastián may be Spain’s unofficial culinary capital, but its kitchen kudos is matched by a design-hooked hotel offering, a city-wide appreciation of art and an unexpected wild side that plays out on its surf-ready beaches

Whether it's your first sip of fizzy txakoli wine or a fifth helping of stuffed piquillo peppers in a pintxos bar, San Sebastián never falters when it comes to food and drink. Located on the coast of the Basque Country region of Spain, this sea-facing city has long been considered the country's unofficial culinary capital. Little wonder, then, that travellers touching down here head straight for the standing-room-only bars to try the signature, tapas-style plates.

Bouncing from bar to bar, pairing small bites with local wines, ciders and digestifs, is a surefire way to explore the soul of this city, but we'd recommend venturing beyond the kitchens if you're wanting to get under its skin. The city has a deeply independent spirit, and thinks of itself as Basque first, Spanish second. Art galleries and outdoor sculpture parks offer a taste of this, while an alluring coastline offers a bounty of beaches that - even in colder months - welcome the wetsuit-clad surfing community of Spain's northern reaches.

Inevitably, though, you're here for the food. Restaurants (many Michelin-nodded, still more claiming the higher accolade of being locally loved) are the ideal spots to eavesdrop on conversations in the ancient Basque language, which is still spoken in the city. They say an easy way to understand a place is by flicking through its cookbook, and for the residents of San Sebastián, that couldn't be more true.

Pintxos, please: where to stay, eat, drink and shop in San Sebastián

A bed and bedside table in front of a green wall


Hotel Arbaso

Arbaso has everything you want in a city-centre hotel - a heart-stopping location, a great bar and a design-forward sensibility. Combining its "haute Basque" vibe (see its Marquina marble details) with luxury touches including Marshall Bluetooth speakers, Dyson hairdryers and solid-wood mid-century furnishings, it's a stylish, seductive stay.


Hondarribia Kalea 24, 20005

A white bedroom looking out over beach


Villa Favorita

Villa Favorita is where you stay when you want the total San Sebastián experience: glitz, glamour, good food and views of one of Europe's most beautiful beaches, La Concha. This former villa dates to 1866 and houses 23 luxurious rooms, many of which have floor-to-ceiling windows (splurge on one of these). The hotel bar, with its plush velvet details, is a magnificent place to start your evening. A perfect bellini with sunset views, anyone?


Zubieta Kalea 26, 20007


Hotel María Cristina

Since the eponymous Queen María Cristina was first to cross its threshold when it opened in 1912, this belle-époque hotel has emoted a distinctly palatial vibe. Original stained-glass windows and wrought-iron balustrades provide a perfect foil to contemporary touches. Modern-day monarchs (read: A-list celebrities) come in the summer months to stay in one of the hotel's beautifully renovated rooms. Regardless of the season, a pre-pintxos drink in the hotel's Dry Bar is a must.


República Argentina Kalea 4, 20004


One Shot Tabakalera House

One Shot Tabakalera House is the only hotel in San Sebastián's for-locals-only neighbourhood of Egia. Integrated into the Tabakalera - an impressive former cigarette factory-turned-cultural centre - the hotel is right next to the city's bus and train stations. Rooms are well appointed, with cement floors and metal complements. High ceilings make them feel spacious, while beds are a dreamy level of comfortable.


Paseo Duque de Mandas 52, 20012

This article was updated 15 November 2022. It contains affiliate links, which means SUITCASE may earn a small commission if you click through and book.

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