Bilbao - San Sebastian - Spain

Sep 17th, 2012, 01:04 PM
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Bilbao - San Sebastian - Spain

Hello MyTravel Friends –

I am embarking on travel from October 25 to November 3rd. From October 25th to October 31st, I will be in Bilbao and using Bilbao as home-base. I plan on taking a couple of day trips and that is where I need your assistance. I would like to visit San Sebastian for a day, and possibly tour a winery in the La Rioja region on another day. I’ve read that I can get to and from San Sebastian in one day and preferably by bus. However, any suggestions for a one-day visit to San Sebastian? What is there to see besides the tapas bars? I suspect that going late in October might be a bit cold so, I have no plans on hanging out at the beach ( I live in Long Beach, CA). Is there a suggested one day tour of San Sebastian?

Also, any recommendation(s) as to visiting a winery in the La Rioja region? I will be without car and dependent on public transportation. I’ve seen some very expensive wine tours…but, can I visit a winery on my own using public transportation?

Lastly, any recommendations on a decent and non-expensive hotel? I prefer to stay in an area that has a decent night life. I am an avid walker so being close to the Guggenheim is not that important for me. I am thinking of paying up to $75.00 a night for a decent hotel room.

I truly appreciate all of your responses and have every intentions of paying it forward.

Peace and everything good to each of you !
Sturion is offline  
Sep 17th, 2012, 02:07 PM
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Try this for a hotel in Bilbao.

San Sebastian (Donastia) is worth more than a day trip. It has some amzing restaurants and a beautiful horseshoe shaped beach. Also, the old town is great to explore.
Rastaguytoday is offline  
Sep 17th, 2012, 02:34 PM
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To me, there isn't much to do in San Sebastian if it is raining except eat tapas, and it rains a lot in San Sebastian, so check the weather before you head out. Also, tapas eating doesn't really get going until the evening, so it's not ideal for a day trip (and presumably you'd like some wine with those tapas?) As for Michelin-star dining, it's not something I like to do by myself or when I'm on a budget.

Since Bilbao has an equally delicious tapas scene, I would suggest, if you have a sunny day, to make a drive along the stunning Basque coast, and swing by SS if you really want to see that beach -- or just gaze upon it from Monte Igueldo because it is a bear to park in SS. If you have time, take the cable car down from Monte Igueldo to see the waterside promenade in SS, but it hard to recommend hanging out for the tapas scene when you could be heading back to Bilbao in time to enjoy it there with some alcohol.

But I agree with the advice to get yourself a comfortable perch in Bilbao and enjoy the scene there, plus visit the wine country.
pizzocchieri is offline  
Sep 17th, 2012, 02:38 PM
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Ooops -- see now that you aren't renting a car. I'd opt for maybe a public bus into SS but only if it isn't raining, and see if you can find a great vinoteca in Bilboa for sampling wines, and then a cheapo tour just to see some of the Rioja countryside.
pizzocchieri is offline  
Sep 17th, 2012, 03:56 PM
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I agree with pizzocchieri re SS. Great food and a lovely town, but really not much there. The coast is nice as is the inland mountain roads. We had a car so cant help you with the transportation. I loved Bilbao. We stayed at the Hotel Miro and got a special deal, but I think we paid more than $75, closer to $100.
yestravel is offline  
Sep 17th, 2012, 05:27 PM
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I don't know of anywhere in Bilbao that has a rate that low except for a few Pensions and 2-star hotels. Try Pensiones Mendez I y II ( to see what they have available, besides an excellent location.

Buses run almost hourly between Bilbao and Donostia, so this shouldn't be an issue. And San Sebastian, despite the rain, is one of the most beautiful resorts cities in all of Spain, but it's in the Basque country, which makes it exceptional.

If you want to head south to the Rioja, you will find it difficult to visit a bodega without having a reservation, but if you got to Vitoria-Gastize, you can do take the Enóbus (, at least in the Rioja Alavesa.
Robert2533 is offline  
Sep 17th, 2012, 09:26 PM
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San Sebastián is of course excellent for a lunch visit. You probably know all about it being the food capital of Spain, and a pintxos hopping tour at lunch time is great fun every day of the week. (just bull that the pintxos frenzy only starts at night). The city is beautiful and very walkable, and you might look into two of the finest food markets in this absolutely food crazy place (San Martín in the center and La Bretxa in the Parte vieja/Old town).

When in San Sebastián, I recommend a visit to the newly renovated San Telmo Museum from 1900. At at the outskirts of the Parte vieja/Old town, dealing with Basque history and culture.

You should also take the funicular ride up to the old fashioned fun fair at Monte Igueldo which towers at the western end of town. Spectacular views of the city and the coast from up here:

Of course a pity to stay for such a short time in such a jewel of a city, but hopefully it will give you a taste that urge you to come back for more. San Sebastián is much more than than beach and food to say the least, but the food is of course a major reason for going here.

New York Times 2011:
"Is San Sebastián the best place to eat in Europe?":

San Sebastián European Capital of Culture video. I especially like the end, captures much of the San Sebastián feel:
kimhe is offline  
Sep 18th, 2012, 01:29 AM
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Do you work for the San Sebastian tourist board?

I really like San Sebastian a lot as a destination, but the "old-fashioned fun fair" on Monte Igueldo is a kiddie park. It is cute to see, but not an international tourist destination.

I think it is more fun to go bar hopping in the evening than in the middle of the day, but that's just me. The real question is: Why go all the way to San Sebastian for pintxos when you are staying in Bilbao?

The OP was looking for a one-day tour. Are there any?
pizzocchieri is offline  
Sep 18th, 2012, 01:59 AM
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Have lived and studied in San Sebastián and visited almost every year since the late 80's, so yes I'm a bit biased. I like Bilbao very much as well (Café Boulevard is one of my absolute favourites in all of Spain), but the two cities are as different as oil and water. This is obvious to everyone local and gives much of the energy to the age old rivalry between the two, so it's by no means just a question where to have your pintxos.

The Sunday lunch time pintxos bar hopping is a highlight of the week both in Bilbao and San Sebstián.
kimhe is offline  
Sep 18th, 2012, 02:15 AM
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A couple of recent articles about my favourite city on the planet:

"John Inverdale's San Sebastián":

"San Sebastian, Spain: a cultural city guide"

"San Sebastián: A right royal playground"
kimhe is offline  
Sep 18th, 2012, 02:28 AM
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No one day tours to San Sebastian you can recommend? I spent a lot of time there and never found much to do other than eat and relax, but maybe someone who spent more time there than I did could have shown me something more.
pizzocchieri is offline  
Sep 18th, 2012, 03:51 AM
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You have of course the food, the beaches, the parks, the museums, the aquarium etc, but Donostia/San Sebastián is perhaps first and foremost a city celebrating the fascinating Basque culture with much intensity, all kinds of festivals and events in and around the city all the time.

The city is also very much influenced by hosting one of the best jazz festivals in Europe (since 1966) and one of the oldest and most prestigious film festivals in the world (since 1953). San Sebastián thus is a jazz and cinema city, many of the traditional bars originated as "cinema-bars" early in the 20th century, and there are several excellent jazz clubs here attracting top artists. Three great thetaers/concert venues in town, Old world Victoria Eugenia, charming Teatro Principal in the Parte vieja and the huge and modern Kursaal by the Zurriola beach across the city river Urumea.

I love the churches in San Sebastián, especially the Basílica de Santa María del Coro at the end of Calle 31 de Agosto in the upper part of the Parte vieja (the only street of the Old town that was intact after the storming and burning of the city by British troops on August 31, 1813). In here there are often musical events, and if you're really lucky you can hear the plain fantastic city choir Orfeón Donostiarra here.

San Sebastián is a city built on all kinds of societies and clubs. The traditionally men only gastronomical clubs are the most famous. Here men from all levels of society have met on equal footing in the kitchen and around the table for a couple of centuries.

The city pride Real Sociedad play in the same league as FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. That means that every second week most of the year, some of the best football teams on the planet visit the city.

San Sebastián is in general a very "sporty" city: Football, tennis, cycling (Clásica de San Sebastián is one of the major one day rides of the year for the professionals), horseraces and lots of traditional Basque sports such as pelota/jai-alai and fierce rowing comeptitions.

San Sebastián is also a "walking city", everybody seems to be walking all the time, either along the beautiful La Concha beach promenade or on the beach itself, along Paseo Nuevo (stunning if the weather is a bit rough) or up at Monte Urgull towering over the Parte vieja (Old town). Several beautiful parks such as Miramar (used to be the kings summer residennce, know the seat for The Society for Basque Studies and the Basque Academy of Science), Aiete, Cristina Enea, Urgull etc. etc.

Every year the Universidad del Pais Vasco and The Society for Basque Studies arrange high quality summer courses, seminars and conferences in a very wide range of topics. Goes on from mid June to mid September. Have atttended several times, and I can reccomend it very much. The courses attract top quality academic and business expertise.

Last, a vivid expression of the San Sebastián spirit is the annual Tamborrada (drum festival) celebration in mid winter. Here is the city choir Orfeón Donostiarra leading the crowds on the main square in San Sebastián's Old town singing on the occation of the 75th anniversary of one of the city's most famous gastronomic societies (Gaztelubide) during the Tamborrada in 2008:
kimhe is offline  
Sep 18th, 2012, 06:00 AM
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...and a suggested one day tour to San Sebastián in late October:

Go early and start with a walk throgh the Parte vieja/Old town and up on Monte Urgull for a great view of the city and the bay. Up here you can also visit the San Sebastián history museum in 12th century La Mota castle.
Monte Urgull:

When down again, take the walk along the wonderful Paseo Nuevo on the outside of Monte Urgull (let's hope for rough weather!) and end up in the Aquarium in the small port.

Then perhaps a sit down lunch at excellent value in traditional, family owned and very friendly La Cueva in Plaza de la Trinidad in the Parte vieja/Old town. Three minutes from the port.

The wonderful Basílica de Santa María del Coro is almost next door to La Cueva.

A glass or cup of something in one of the terraces in central Plaza de la Constitución can be highly recommended. Two minutes from the Basilica.

If the weather is nice, take a stroll along the famous La Concha each promenade. In aboout 30 minutes you reach the funicular who take you up to Monte Igueldo for stunning views of the city and the coast and a bumper car ride

On the way back to town, make a stop at Palacio Miramar, used to be the Royal summer residence. No summer courses at this time of year, but a fine little cafeteria in the basement.

On your way into the center and Old Town, make a stop at Café de la Concha for a glass and great views of the beach and bay. This is also a perfect place for watching thunder storms and lightning at night.

The San Telmo museum at the outskirts of the Old town museum is a must:

Close by the museum you find the fabulous Bretxa (from the breach made here by the Anglo-Portuguese troops during the 1813 siege) food market. Will get you ready for the evenings culinary feast.

Either you decide to do the pintxos hopping as a lunch or in the evvening, you can't do much wrong on your own. Half the fun is just going where the night takes you. I nevertheless have to make some recommendations:

In the Parte vieja:
Cutting edge Zeruko:
Next door Txepetxa, anchovy heaven and an institution in town:
Gourmet pintxos at La Cuchara de San Telmo:
The best Jamón Ibérico in the world (from Jabugo) and wonderful Pimientos de Padrón at traditional La Cepa:

Many of the best places are in the Gros district across the city river Urumea. Try the shark pintxo at Garbola:
Patxi Bergara was among those who together with Juan Mari Arzak started the Basque food revolution back in the 80's. His bar (here you can easily stay all night):

Traditional Casa Vallés just behind the cathedral is one of my absolute favourites when you get a bit tired of the gourmet hype:

All about going for pintxos in San Sebastián, suggested routes etc:

If you want to be guided by professionals, "San Sebastián food" is an ecxcellent option, and you might also have great company who knows much of the city history etc:

Many great bars with live music later in the night. I like jazz/blues clubs such as Be Bop Bar or Etxekalte, both are on the edges of the Parte vieja.

A taxi home to Bilbao late at night, the last bus leaves at 10pm, far to early. Perhaps crash in an affordable place in the Parte vieja. Choose among dozens of places. Pension Larrea is extremely affordable and run by a very nice couple, shared bathroom:
Pension Edorta is more expensive, but private bathroo:

The cultural agenda for October will eventually follow this September agenda:

Check the program at the Kursaal concert hall.

Fantastic Orfeón Donostiarra sings here on October 24th.
kimhe is offline  
Sep 18th, 2012, 08:07 AM
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I was there this March. I visited Bilbao and San Sebastian one after another. For Tapas, uh actually Pinxhos, I thought San Sebastian Pinxhos bars offered better and more choices. Not to mention that in the old town, practically every other store on Fermin Cabelton seemed be Pinxhos bars. I climbed both Mt Igueldo and Urgull. The former has an old fashioned funicular to the top. While the view from the top is splendid, the grotesquely commercialized amusement park might turn off people. Mt Urgull requires hiking up. I thought in the morning, Mt. Urgull offered better camera angle while Mt Igueldo was better in the afternoon. While you might be used to beaches in S. California, people walking the San Sebastian boardwalk and the beaches are very different. The people walk the beach with the kind of clothes people wear to the high end restaurants in big cities minus stilettos.
An easy day trip from Bilbao is Gernika. You can get there by bus from San Mames (about every 2 hrs) or train from Atxuri (every hour). It is the scene of Picasso's masterpiece Guernica.
greg is offline  
Sep 18th, 2012, 08:30 AM
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The word is "pintxos", and if you know your way around either city, you'll find the pintxos comparable in quality, but the offerings can be somewhat different. The third point in the pintxos triangle is Pamplona, on a par with both Bilbao and Donostia.
Robert2533 is offline  
Sep 19th, 2012, 08:11 AM
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Bilbao is a working city, San Sebastian is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Both have great food. San Sebastian is definitely worth a daytrip (if it is a nice day).
Egbert is offline  
Sep 19th, 2012, 09:46 AM
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Thanks, kimhe, for all the great info. We've been down to San Sebastián on four short breaks and will go back again before Christmas, you have a wealth of good info.

OP, this pension is in an excellent location in SS in case you decide to stay over. Basic but very, very clean, private bath. Be sure to get a room in the front, back rooms have tiny airshaft windows, front rooms French doors.

Was 30€ for a double in May.
Cathinjoetown is offline  
Sep 21st, 2012, 07:34 PM
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I do not have nearly as much as experience as the other folks here but on my first trip to San Sebastian this summer I fell in love. The food, of course, but also the architecture, the water, the bicycle path, the tiny little parks, the size and charm of the city. I would definitely suggest at least a day trip there.
lynnalan is offline  
Sep 22nd, 2012, 06:57 AM
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a day trip from Bilbao could be to Santander
a lovely town with fantastic beaches ( and good food ) often overlooked because
of SS's. reputation.
danon is offline  
Oct 11th, 2012, 12:05 PM
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To all -- an appreciative THANK YOU for your awesome suggestions ! I've made my bookings - Leave LAX on OCT 25th and arrive in Bilbao on the 26th. Staying at the Silken for 5 nights. NOW, I have 3 open days (October 31st to November 2nd) -- I fly out of Bilbao on the 3rd of November back to Los Angeles. Any suggestions what or where to go that is distant but near and that will allow me to catch a 7am flight on November 3rd in Bilbao? I was thinking of Lourdes, France - or taking a train/bus to somewhere close to Bilbao, Spain. You thoughts?
Sturion is offline  

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