What to see in San Sebastian
When you’ve been your whole life waking up in the same city you think that nothing new is upon you. But, when you live in the same city your whole life, few times you stop to think in the beauty and details that you find around you. Be a tourist for one day in your city, and the next morning, when you wake up, you’ll believe to have woke up in another place.
What to see in San Sebastian. How do you choose the most beautiful places? It is relatively easy to choose 10 places in San Sebastian, all it takes is picking ten postal cards from the souvenir store; or reading any blog.
I want to present to you my San Sebastian, my city, lived and felt with my eyes, lips, hands and ears.
I invite you to travel with me, it will be a pleasure to guide you through the senses on this city that today is still shining.
La Concha, Mount Igeldo, the old town, the Good Shepherd Cathedral, surf, pintxos… yes, that is our San Sebastian, the postal card photo that we like so much and enjoy. The postal card, never disappoints, true. But we’ll make a small exercise: change the focus of buildings, to people. Look at their inhabitants, that make San Sebastian to be the city that it is. This city of the Basque Country with delicate French details, clear connotations of the Belle Epoque, Queen Maria Cristina, Basque Danborrada and the beauty of its surroundings. Place your focus on people. You’ll see how this city comes alive.
People of cities, basque culture and everyday life.
One tip: wake up early, when the first sunrays begin to loom through your bedroom window. It’s hard, I know, but it’s worth it. Get a good breakfast so you can have enough energy to enjoy the unforgettable day that awaits you after the main hotel door. Put yourself comfortable shoes, grab water, but don’t pick up any lunch, if you have a little bit of patience I will bring you to a place that will fascinate you. Get out of the hotel and begin to walk. The city wakes up with you. Neighbors begin to purchase the newspaper and bread, others go to work, dressed up or not, others run and others go for a stroll. Each one submerged in their morning routines. We’ll go to the Old Town, to make a route of the place to the entire city.
If the hotel is not very far from the city center, go and walk. There’s nothing like a good stroll looking at every corner. Be careful, don’t trip over! From the Antiguo, Amara, Gros and center hotels, you can easily get there on foot. If you are on Igeldo, or neighboring towns, pick the bus that gets you close to any of the mentioned districts, try not to arrive to the center. So you are able to know what otherwise you’ll never get to see. Another option is picking from the different spots of the city the rental bikes that you can pick and leave in different places.
Each place has its peculiarities, aside of the beauty of its buildings, gardens, beaches and nature; they are the people, their culture, history and way of life, the everyday, what makes it an unique place. Look at the people, how they relate, talk, live, smile, dress, eat and drink. Enjoy how life creates itself in the city and how it goes.
Have you arrived yet to the gates of the Old Town? I’ll be waiting for you at the Boulevard Kiosk, just in the center. The Grand Town Hall, a masterpiece of the Belle Epoque and old casino, awaits to visitors that desire to cross the border to reach the old town and its cramped streets. Cramped, but organized, as in every city. Businesses, slowly, open their gates and clean up. A new day comes at the City of San Sebastian. Enjoy it.
I know that at this time of the morning trucks and cars invade this foot stroll. Deliverers fulfill all of the old town. The bread man delivers the bread and the newspaper man begins offering his news. We’ll pick the major street, you see the Oiartzun bakery? It’s been there since the 70s sweetening the life of the inhabitants. You have a great variety of sweets to save them in your bag for later when we hunger. From the major street we see at the bottom, majestic, like sculpted in the mountain, the Church of Saint Mary and its portal. We have to reach its stairs and when you reached the last turn back.
Through the Major Street you can see different businesses and all the perpendicular streets that cross them. If you have time, don’t mind losing yourself in them, each small store, each bar, each stone, tells a story… Have you reached the last stair step? Yes, the look into the horizon, far through house roofs. If you trace a line from the door opening and extend the arm you’ll see the belltower of the Good Shepherd Cathedral. Yes, if we had the mechanical legs of Inspector Gadget and were able to build brown bricks with Minecraft, we’d reach it in a snap. If you still want to visit it, I’ve already shown you the way. Do you know the way?
One of the peculiarities of the old town is the amount of bars that it has; but for us Basques they are as important as the Gastronomic Societies. One of the oldest is to your left (if you’re looking at the church portal), going upstairs. But if you look closer, there are many around the old town. They are characterized by their “coat of arms”, or by the names that can be known such as: Gaztelubide, Urki, Artisan Union… the known societies of the San Sebastian Danborrada (January 20th, San Sebastian day).
Now, we can go on through the August 31st Street, the only in which in the year 1813 hasn’t been burned down with the entry of the British, and to the left we’ll find the Trinity Plaza. It is here where children of the old town play, it is the small plaza of neighbors of the Old Town. If you go up the hill that it has, you’ll enjoy a very interesting panoramic of the city: roofs, inside terraces, back terraces… the other San Sebastian that in any other way wouldn’t be known for. For me it reminds me of the Mary Poppins chimney cleaner scene. At the end of this street we have the Saint Vincent Church, and also the Zuloaga Plaza, in front of the Saint Telmo Museum. If you want to visit it and know more about our culture and history, I invite you to enjoy the section dedicated to the History of our land, houses, and traditional dressing. It doesn’t take too long in seeing it but it can be a very productive experience. Behind the museum there i sour Urgull, the fortress that has served for many of the San Sebastian citizens through centuries. It is that one of the creators of the Concha, symbol with which we can identify San Sebastian. You can access it through different spots, and I advice you to do so. Our Ikurriña waves in this part of the mountain in which you can see the Victoria Eugenia Theatre, the Zurriola Beach and the Kursaal cubes and all the walkway to Sagues, in which rests since years ago the Peace Dove. On the other side, if the fog and land haven’t joined, you can see the Basque coast, the cantabric sea and the Biscay Gulf. It is a majestic panoramic. And lastly, on to the west there’s the Concha bay, the Bella Easo, old name of the city. If you made your way through the mountain, or if you’ve done it through the New Walk, we’ll get close to the sea. Feel the air and smell, the freshness of coastal towns always brings me good memories, those afternoons in the water, when you’ve been a kid that never gets cold. The water is life, they say, and when it makes such a spectacle for the eyes, you can activate all your senses, to enjoy the moment like no one.
We’ll go down the stairs that carry us to the Aquarium doors. It’s been a while since I’ve not been in, but when I was little I think I did a visit every year. Now it’s been rebuilt and it’s now more accessible and experiential, a wonder, like no other, for all our senses. Even if the main attraction is the submarine tunnel, I’ll never stop being scared and surprised by the sharks outside the submarine tunnel. The whale hunting was known here, in our waters, until 1901, when the last was hunted down in the Orio waters.
And here we are, at the San Sebastian Harbor, the small Kaia, in euskera, San Sebastian managed to be one of the most important capitals for merchants (I’ll tell you this story in another post, “Donostia, capital of cyder and merchantship”). Galleons didn’t get out of here, but the dock was here, where today there’s the lion plaza, near the wall entrance to the Old Town from the harbor.
You can go for a stroll on the harbor, and see in summer the swimmers still swimming in these waters, and play to find coins thrown to visitors. At the side of the church of Carmen, patron of sailors and fishers, there is a small lobster shop. I used to love shrimp put into paper cones, for you to eat while going on with the walk.
And we return to the starting point. The Town Hall, casino in the Belle Epoque and the Alderdi Eder gardens. We’ll take the Concha walk to the first ramp, and go down to the beach. Get off your shoes and enjoy the sand, sometimes wet, other times dry. Sea levels sometimes leave us with no beach. If it rains, however, we can continue through the walk to the Golden Peak and Miramar Palace, summer home for Queen Maria Cristina, which hotel has been named after.
Get close to the shore and you’ll see the amount of people strolling through it. If it is winter, you’ll see the owners and their dogs enjoying the tranquility that the Concha coast offers.
I want you to stop for a momento here, take out your sweets from the Oiartzun bakery or what you enjoy of shrimp from the shrimp shop. But more even, touch the sand with your feet and make them relax. The Santa Clara Island poses in front of you, small, but always marvelous. And Mount Igueldo to its right, the important point for the panoramic of the city, that postal photo that you can see with your own eyes on birdsight. Yes, friends. When you’ve been waking up in the same city all your life you think nothing new is before you. But, when you live in the same city all your life you can smile to know that your city is real, created and given life by its people and culture, their language, their way of being and their identity. Yes, San Sebastian is real, and it is a pleasure waking up in it.