Located in Spain’s Basque Country and known to locals as Donostia, San Sebastian will officially become European Capital of Culture 2016 as of January 18, a date the city is set to celebrate in a big way. There’s never been a better time to discover or rediscover this seaside city with one of the most stunning bays in the Iberian Peninsula.
>> Getting to San Sebastian
There are three airports in the region of San Sebastian. The closest is located 20km from the city center with fights to Madrid and Barcelona. Other options include Biarritz airport over the border in France, which is 40km away, or Bilbao at around 100km away. San Sebastian has a train station in the city center with direct connections to Paris, Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona.
Travel by car is an option too, as there are plenty of parking spaces in and around the city. San Sebastian is connected to the rest of Spain and France via the N-1 national road, the A8 and A63 highways, and the A15 two-lane highway.
>> What to see & do
1 Santa Clara Island
A unique feature of this bay is its small island (around 30m long), located close to the beach. The island is easy to reach for an afternoon escapade in peace and quiet. Visitors can stretch out a towel on the island’s small beach, walk up to the lighthouse or find a quiet spot to picnic. Swimmers can even take a dip in its natural saltwater pool. In autumn, the island is accessible by foot at low tide. A boat service runs to and from the island from June 1 to September 30.
2 The old town
The historical center of San Sebastian is ideal for scenic strolls. Sights include the gothic-style San Vicente church and the Santa Maria basilica, both of which can be discovered inside and out. Don’t miss the city center either, where the main square -- Plaza de la Constitucion -- is usually the focal point of any festivities.
3 The Monte Igeldo funicular railway
Running since 1912, this is the oldest funicular railway in the Spanish Basque Country, taking passengers to the top of Mount Igeldo for spectacular views of the bay. There’s also an amusement park up there, which still has many old-fashioned rides and attractions, including a roller coaster and trampolines.
4 San Telmo Museum
As well as the special events held to celebrate the city’s 2016 status, culture-hungry visitors shouldn’t miss the San Telmo museum. Housed in an old Dominican convent dating back to the 16th century, it’s home to paintings and historical artefacts.
5 The Bay of La Concha
The Bay of La Concha has been a popular site for visitors since the 19th century. Shaped like a shell, the bay is home to a fine sandy beach that stretches 1.5 km and to stunning Belle Epoque buildings.
>> What to eat
Eating in San Sebastian is all about pintxos -- or tapas in Spanish -- a culinary art that you’ll need to get stuck into to get a real taste of this city. Make sure you take a trip around the tapas bars in the old town. Travelers with bigger budgets can head to the Arzak family’s Michelin-starred restaurant, considered one of the best in the world. With his three Michelin stars, Chef Juan Mari Arzak combines traditional Basque cuisine with modern techniques, working alongside his daughter Elena, considered one of the most talented new female chefs of the moment.
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