Bilbao or San Sebastian?

Old Oct 16th, 2022, 05:20 PM
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Bilbao or San Sebastian?

My friend and I are looking to stay in either Bilbao or San Sebastian in May 2023.

While there, we intend to take a day trip to Pamplona (non-negotiable for my friend) as well as a day trip to whichever of the cities we are not staying in (i.e. if we stay in San Sebastian, we will spend a day in Bilbao and vice versa).

From what I have researched, San Sebastian seemed to edge out Bilbao just slightly but we will be flying to either Bilbao or San Sebastian from Barcelona and thereafter will be flying to Madrid, and it appears that there are significantly more connections if we flew into Bilbao.

I get the impression that Bilbao is better in terms of more flights in/out but San Sebastian appears to be much closer/easier for the purposes of visiting Pamplona for the day.

Based on the above, would anyone recommend one over the other for what we need/want?
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Old Oct 16th, 2022, 05:29 PM
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Our Bilbao native, mikelg, will surely be along soon to respond to your question. He's our own Bilbao tour guide extraordinaire. I love both cities.

Advantage to Bilbao---more flights, far better connections, more reasonable hotel rates, in general
Advantage to San Sebastián---just an hour bus ride to Pamplona via Autobuses Conda

Disadvantage to San Sebastián these days---sky high hotel prices.
In high season the city's hotel prices are the second highest in Spain, after Barcelona's.
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Old Oct 16th, 2022, 07:00 PM
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Between San Sebastián and Bilbao we use the Pesa bus, a 1 hour, 20 minute ride.
https://www.pesa.net/pesa/en/horarios
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Old Oct 16th, 2022, 07:54 PM
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I wonder if May would be considered high season in San Sebastián. How long do you have to stay in both places? Depending on flights, I would probably consider flying into San Sebastián, doing a day trip to Pamplona, and then transferring from San Sebastián to Balboa and flying out of there.
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Old Oct 16th, 2022, 08:49 PM
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Originally Posted by KTtravel View Post
I wonder if May would be considered high season in San Sebastián. How long do you have to stay in both places? Depending on flights, I would probably consider flying into San Sebastián, doing a day trip to Pamplona, and then transferring from San Sebastián to Balboa and flying out of there.
We will only be in the region for a total of 4 full days (3 nights) so I think it would be easier to base ourselves in one location. I am thinking maybe to just stick with our original plan for San Sebastian as the flights are still suitable, it is just that we would need to get up a bit early.
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Old Oct 16th, 2022, 09:02 PM
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Since you only have 3 nights it makes very good sense to choose just 1 base.
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Old Oct 17th, 2022, 04:44 AM
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It really depends on your preferences. Flying into Bilbao is much easier as it´s the most important airport in northern Spain (and even so, it´s quite small but with connections to dozens of destinations in Europe), while Donostia-San Sebastian airport is really, really small and with very few daily flights. The bus from Bilbao to Pamplona takes two hours, while it´s one hour and fifteen minutes from D-SS. If you want to see more things in a bigger city (350.000h vs 185.000h), I´d choose Bilbao. Food is very similar in both places, with local differences, and D-SS has the advantage of being by the seafront (but this is a very rainy area -except this year, as it seems to be the driest since 1947- and beach weather is not always an option). Both are walkable cities, clean and very safe. And they are linked by our excellent mass transit system in just a bit over one hour, so whatever option you choose, the other city is very easy to visit.

And of course, in Bilbao we have the magnificent Guggenheim Museum...but I´m biased on this!! (by the way, Iruña-Pamplona is one of my dear friend Maribel´s preferred cities in the world...but not much to see, it can be done in just a few hours).
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Old Oct 17th, 2022, 11:01 AM
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victoriawanderland,
Although we have friends and family who live in Pamplona and my husband and I chose to be married there, I certainly agree with mikel that Pamplona can be easily seen on a day visit.
But don't forget to sample a few of Pamplona's award-winning pintxos at its lively pintxos bars!

Yesterday several Pamplona pintxos bars won awards in Bilbao at the annual Basque Country/Navarra pintxos competition, the "Campeonato de Pintxos de Euskadi y Navarra".
El Merca'o (off the beaten track) won first prize. Other winners in the Old Quarter were Bodegón de Sarría and Iruñazarra. We also love Bar Gaucho on the Plaza del Castillo and Baserriberri on bar-lined Calle de San Nicolás.
(Kovac in Bilbao won the popular award for best traditional pintxo, but I haven't tried it)


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Old Oct 17th, 2022, 11:52 AM
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I enjoyed Bilbao more than San Sebastian BUT San Sebastian is stunning so you may want to choose based on logistics.
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Old Oct 17th, 2022, 01:11 PM
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Both are amazing but I will go with San Sebastián since my favorite restaurant is nearby. Hard choice really.
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Old Oct 17th, 2022, 08:37 PM
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We were in both San Sebastián and Bilbao in June 2021. Loved the Maria Christina hotel in San Sebastián. Parking underneath and great location. Prices did go up a lot July 1. Stayed at 2 hotels in Bilbao. The best was the Catalonia Gran Via which has a pleasant junior suite which was quite inexpensive for the quality.
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Old Oct 18th, 2022, 10:04 AM
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mjs,
You were very fortunate to stay at the María Cristina in 2021! I'm envious

This summer the rates did increase dramatically there and at other hotels, even at the Pension Casa Nicolasa (but it's a very nice pensión). It's great if Bonvoy members are able to use their points at the MC. Next summer the member rate at the MC will start at €653/night.

In high season (early-mid June for us) we often stay at the 4-star NH Collection Aránzazu or the Hotel Codina in the pretty Antiguo neighborhood, near Ondarreta beach, both which are more reasonably priced. It's a good 25-minute walk to the Old Quarter, but one of Spain's most beautiful, relaxing walks along the La Concha promenade. And the Dbus network of city buses is excellent.

In Bilbao the Catalonia Gran Vía does indeed have very good rates for this May and June.
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Old Oct 18th, 2022, 11:28 AM
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Paid less than $300 US for Maria Christina
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Old Oct 20th, 2022, 12:04 PM
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Bilbao ...of course

I spent a week in Bilbao and did some day trips from there, that included San Sebastian and Rioja Region. I found Bilbao perfect for me...emphasis "me." There was enough for me to experience in Bilbao, including the Guggenheim Museum. I enjoyed the bus ride to Rioja region ... totally enjoyed the scenery and enjoyed the wine tours all in a day. I also did a day trip to San Sebastian. Something to consider, I did a trip to Salamanca and spent the night there. Nice train ride. Salamanca is a beautiful city in Spain.


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Old Oct 20th, 2022, 02:14 PM
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A quick correction as I just happened to come across my hotel receipt during one of my clean up my office binges. Was less than 350 Euros a night.
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Old Oct 20th, 2022, 02:43 PM
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Still, mjs, you got a bargain for this luxury hotel!
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Old Oct 20th, 2022, 05:22 PM
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We really enjoyed our time at the Maria Christina and thought it was well worth the cost. GPS had us going around circles on our trip from Bilbao before we finally figured out how to get to the hotel. Once we figured out the parking underground it was easy to leave and return. Bikendi Arbaizagoita at the front desk was very helpful during our stay. Lovely gourmet Food/wine shop called something like Lukas in the hotel was terrific for snacks and nice wine. A woman who I believe was the manager, named Nagore? was very knowledgable about the foods of the region and the wines. We used her as a resource for our Pintxo and restaurant explorations. Although we enjoyed our meal at Arzak, Nagore sent us to Gastroteka Danontzat in Hondarribia and Gorka the chef who made a delicious dinner for us. We also found the Pintxos bars in Hondarribia under her direction as well a nice lunch spot in Getaria. Would definitely stay there again, possibly in the off season for better rates if necessary.
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Old Oct 20th, 2022, 05:30 PM
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This year the María Cristina is celebrating its 110th birthday.
Kudos to Nagore for sending you to the utterly delightful Gastroteka Danontzat in Hondarribia. We had a wonderful lunch there in early July with our San Sebastián friends, who own the original food-wine touring company in SS. Gorka is a very lovable, absolutely charming chef.
I'm curious---Where did Nagore send you in Getaria? Getaria has so many great seafood restaurants now.

Last edited by Maribel; Oct 20th, 2022 at 05:33 PM.
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Old Oct 20th, 2022, 10:23 PM
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Just returned from a lovely seafood meal (clams, grilled monkfish, large white asparagus, green peppers (sweet, not hot)...) at Mayflower, on the outdoor terrace with views to the port. A classic in Getaria, one of my favorites together with Astillero and of course, Kaia Kaipe.
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Old Oct 21st, 2022, 12:31 PM
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Lucky you, Mikel! We had a wonderful time during our 5 nights in Getaria last July---great seafood to be had, and nice pintxos as well.
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