Nestled in the Bay of Biscay is the remarkable Basque city of San Sebastián (known as Donostia in the local Basque language). The Basque Country is an autonomous community in the north of Spain which hugs the coast of France and boasts miles of beautiful Atlantic coastline.
San Sebastian is full of vibrant neighborhoods, innovative restaurants, and cozy Spanish hotels. Busy during the hot summer months, planning ahead is crucial to guarantee a comfortable room in a central part of the city.
Read this guide to get the inside scoop on what to do in each San Sebastian neighborhood, where you should stay, and what each hotel has to offer.
Parte Vieja (Old Town)
Visitors spend a lot of their time in Parte Vieja, which is overflowing with sights, monuments, and history. Here travelers can see Plaza de la Constitución, the intricately decorated Baroque style Santa Maria Basilica del Coro, and the San Vicente Church, completed in the 16th century.
San Sebastian’s world-class aquarium lets visitors walk under a glass tunnel, surrounded by sharks, rays, fish, and other marine life. The interesting San Telmo Museum is another must-see in Parte Vieja.
Stop at the port to watch the ships come in while you take a break from sightseeing. Sign up for a boat tour here and get a view of the city from a new perspective.
The bars and restaurants here can get crowded but they have some of the tastiest menus in the city. Once the sun starts to set, the nightlife begins in Parte Vieja and it continues until morning.
Where to stay in Parte Vieja?
Parte Vieja is a very small neighborhood within the city center. The hotels and apartments here are usually historic buildings. Although they are beautiful, this area isn’t great for travelers on a budget.
If you can splurge on a nice room, look no further than Hotel Maria Cristina. This stunning Belle Epoque era building is perfect for a romantic escape or anyone who wants to be right in the center of the action. Its two restaurants serve mouth watering gourmet food and its balconies and terraces offer peaceful views of the Urumea River and surrounding old town.
Centro & Área Romántica
The center of San Sebastian, or El Centro, is the gastronomic heart of San Sebastian. Here you will find authentic bars serving amazing food, deliciously tart cider, and a welcoming atmosphere.
Dining in the Basque country is all about the pintxo. Named for the toothpick that holds everything together, pintxos are bite sized morsels of meat, cheese, or vegetable staked to a piece of bread. Usually dripping in sauces and crafted with innovative flavor combinations, many make a meal of several delicious pintxos in different bars in El Centro.
The curving La Concha Beach spans the western edge of El Centro. Stop here to sunbathe, try your hand at water sports, or enjoy a cocktail at a beachside bar. Other sites include the striking Neo-Gothic Buen Pastor Cathedral, the peaceful Plaza Gipuzkoa, the traditional San Martin Market, and cosmopolitan streets full of high-class shopping.
The Área Romántica surrounds and merges with the center and contains the beautiful Donostia Town Hall and lush Alderdi Eder Gardens.
Where to Stay in Centro?
With wide avenues and boardwalks, the center of San Sebastian is made for walking. This makes it an ideal spot for hotels, so travelers have their pick of wonderful places to stay in San Sebastian if they book early.
If you want a unique stay, we recommend the Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra. At the Londres, guests enjoy a beachside hotel with easy access to the rest of the neighborhood. This boutique hotel boasts luxurious rooms with seaside views and a gourmet restaurant. With excellent service and an unbeatable location in a historic building, this is one of the top hotels in the city.
Gros is the trendiest neighborhood in San Sebastian, with a younger crowd that frequents its pintxo bars, numerous pedestrian only streets, and sunny terraces. The food scene is up-and-coming here and hopping from bar to bar to try their pintxos is a must. Artisan crafts are sold at hip boutiques and intimate cafes and bakeries offer a sweet bite and a hot cup of coffee.
Surfers flock to Zurriola Beach, which makes up the Northern edge of Gros.This is an active part of the city with locals playing sports, jogging, and enjoying the fresh air. Rent a bike and ride along the promenade to fit in. Walk along the Sagüés Wall to enjoy a beautiful sunset.
Sightseers should make the trek up Monte Ulia to get the best views of the beach. The Kursaal Palace, Kursaal Bridge, and Plaza Cataluña are beautiful locations for sight-seers.
Where to stay in Gros?
Gros is just a short walk from the city center, making it the perfect place for travelers to stay. As a popular part of the city for young travelers, this area is full of lively youth hostels, pensioners, apartment shares, and other great budget options. Stay in Gros to become a part of the laid-back vibe that defines it.
Hotel Arrizul Congress is one of the very few traditional full-service hotels in Gros. Located in a beautiful classic building with intricate decorative motifs, this luxury hotel has everything a tired traveller needs. Modern and updated rooms, free breakfast, and a gym make this a home away from home. Plus, it’s just a short walk from the beach and everything else Gros has to offer.
The Antiguo neighborhood is bordered by the sandy Ondarreta Beach. This is the oldest neighborhood in the city and is full of charming streets, intriguing history, and traditional restaurants. The exquisite 19th century Miramar Palace and its sprawling gardens watch over Antiguo.
The waters at Ondarreta Beach are sheltered and calm. Follow the seaside path through the gardens and peaceful plazas to El Peine del Viento.This is a great place to relax and enjoy the views of the sea.
Calle Matia is known for its lively bars and vibrant restaurant scene. Live music, tasty seafood, and flowing wine make this area the place to go out in Antiguo. Plaza Sert is home to relaxing terraces where you can sip some vermouth and enjoy Basque cuisine.
Hop on the funicular to reach the peak at Mount Igeldo Amusement Park. The views of the beach and Santa Clara Island in the bay are magnificent from this spot. Visit this vintage amusement park for attractions from another era, like a funhouse complete with trick mirrors. The wooden roller coaster follows a track perched above the Cantabrian Sea.
Where to stay in Antiguo?
Antiguo is full of wonderful 4 star hotels, small boutiques, and guesthouses. One of the best options is the Hotel NH San Sebastián Aránzazu. This clean and modern hotel is well connected to the beach and the lively bar scene of Antiguo. With big comfy rooms, a great breakfast, an elegant restaurant, and welcoming open areas, it has everything a traveler needs.
These four neighborhoods in San Sebastian contain all of the city’s most popular beaches and iconic monuments. With so many historic hotels with a wide range of budgets, there is a place for everyone to stay in San Sebastian.