San Sebastián {BCN & MAD too}

Jan 17th, 2015, 11:16 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2014
Posts: 161
San Sebastián {BCN & MAD too}

Finally going to España!

I have a few questions and would appreciate some advice.

We booked direct flights to Barcelona but have not booked train tickets to San Sebastián & Madrid yet. Can you please direct me to the CORRECT website to buy them, seeing a bunch and now I'm confused to which one is the right one. Also, how likely is it that train tix sell out on the day of if we decide to extend, etc? Any tips & tricks to get the best seats? Is the ride scenic?

Pinxtos etiquette? We've had tapas before but the sit-down-and-order-from-a-menu-type-style not so much the honor system that I've read about as the norm in Spain? Any favorites? So excited about this...and Arzak!

Trip starts beg of April and I didn't realize it's Semana Santa! How much of this will we experience or is it more prevalent in the southern/western parts?

Barcelona 6 days
SS 10 days
Madrid 3-4 {mostly for work but will make time for museums, etc}
From there we fly to Paris.

Looking forward to any advice from your own experience in Spain! Thank you.
tessietoes is offline  
Jan 17th, 2015, 12:10 PM
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 13,822
SS is small ( very lovely) and it rains a lot.
I assume you plan on some day trips from SS!
We decided against taking the train from Barcelona ( almost 6 hours)
We flew Vueling to Bilbao and took a bus from the airport to SS...easy.
RENFE is tickets in Spain...English is available.
The train from SS to Madrid is also about six hours.
danon is online now  
Jan 17th, 2015, 12:13 PM
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 13,822

Take a look , but some traines are not posted until later.
danon is online now  
Jan 17th, 2015, 12:15 PM
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 13,822
Ps Vueling also flys to an airport about 1/2 hour from SS.
danon is online now  
Jan 17th, 2015, 12:49 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 8,827
Flying from BCN to San Sebastián-Donostia makes more sense unless you want to spend some time in Pamplona before heading over to an Sebastián, which is only 80 kms away on the coast.

As far as taking the train from Sebastián to Madrid, you may want to conside taking the Alvia train from Pamplona to Madrid (3hr 10min), which is faster than taking the Alvia from Sebastián to Madrid (5hr 18min).

There is excellent bus service between San Sebastián and Pamplona.

If you have trouble buying your train tickets at, then you can buy them at
Robert2533 is offline  
Jan 17th, 2015, 01:14 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2014
Posts: 161
Lots to digest...thought the train system was faster and simpler. I just want the fastest most efficient way to get from A to B to C. Only thing booked is the flight to BCN.

Ideal would be direct flights from BCN to SS to MAD or
BCN, MAD to SS - meaning no bus, no Bilbao or Pamplona.

I don't think we're doing day trips from SS but I am always open to hearing your experience and what you enjoyed. Thank you so much!
tessietoes is offline  
Jan 17th, 2015, 01:46 PM
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 6,482
Do not be concerned about the honor system at tascas. Whomever is at the counter will take care of it. You may even encounter that dying breed where the fellow, will mark the bar with chalk. Feel free to throw the napkin on the ground and do not be surprised to find families in these bars.

If you are not doing day trips 10 days in San Sebastian/Donostia is a lot for a first trip. As someone noted check out Vueling.
IMDonehere is offline  
Jan 17th, 2015, 04:35 PM
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 13,822
Three full days in SS was more than enough for us is a small town !
We were lucky to have three sunny days in mid May.
You could visit Bilbao , Pamplona , Vitoria, or cross to France.

Vulenig flights BCN to SS are usually early in the morning or at night.
From SS to Madrid , check Iberia.
danon is online now  
Jan 18th, 2015, 12:40 AM
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 5,934
Very frequent low cost flights between Barcelona and Bilbao (Vueling), and direct bus (PESA) from the airport to San Sebastian in 75 minutes. San Sebastian airport is much smaller, very few and more expensive flights, and still 20 minutes with bus/taxi.

You'll have a fabulous time in San Sebastian, my favourite city on the planet. Have lived and studied here, and visited almost every year since 1987.

Up here it's not tapas, but the Basque version called pintxos. Has developed into a "miniature high cuisine" culture. Everything is built on trust, except in the most touristy places. Order a drink, and just pick a pintxo from the huge variety displayed on the bar or order one of the freshly prepared warm house specialities. In some (and more and more) places there are a few tables, but the tradition is just standing at the bar, drinking, eating and talking. At the end you just tell how many drinks and how many pintxos you and your group have had and you pay. People use to go pintxos bar hopping (el txikiteo/poteo (from the small glasses)) often in large groups of friends/family, and the norm is to have one glass and one pintxo in one place before moving on, but you should of course feel free to stay longer in your favourite bars.

Each place have their own specialities, and even though you can't do much wrong here - any bar serving less than great pintxos would be out of business within a few weeks - you could always do with a little info to go on. In the Parte vieja/Old town these are some of my favourites:

The legendary prawn skewer at Goiz-Argi, anchovies heaven at Txepetxa, the best jamon iberico (cured ham) in the world at La Cepa, the risotto pintxo at La Cuchara de San Telmo and the mushrooms at Ganbara. And remember, many of the best bars are in the Gros District, just across the city river Urumea.

Here are almost all you need to know about going for pintxos in San Sebastian, with suggested routes etc:

Plenty of possibilities for great daytrips, both inland and along the beautiful and rugged coast. I often go for lunch-trips to either Getaria or Donibane/Paisajes San Juan, both very close.

In tiny Getaria, you can expect something like this in one of the brilliant seafood restaurants down in the harbour:

I use to take first time visitors to the area to lunch in beautiful Donibane/Pasajes San Juan just east of San Sebastián (taxi in ten minutes, bus in 30 mins or walk here along the coast over Monte Ulia in a couple of hours). Several excellent waterfront seafood restaurants:

A couple of the restaurants in Donibane:
Txulotxo with great value three course lunch Menú del día with wine included for 20€:
Casa Cámara from 1884:

And Arzak is of course an adventure, conisitently ranked as one of the ten best restaurants in the world for some 25 years for very good reasons. Have been here twice, first time in 1996 and second time in 2006, and both were evenings never to forget. Elena Arzak vas voted the world's best female chef in 2012, daughter of Juan Mari Arzak who started the Basque food revolution back in the early 80's:

Also had the lunch of my life so far in three star Akelarre a little over a year ago (plain fantastic views as well, therefore I recommend going for lunch here).

AND Urola has been my favourite "normal" restaurant in San Sebastián for nearly some 30 years. A true San Sebastián classic, and this is the first place many locals will take a visitor to experience what the traditional food culture in San Sebastián is all about. Same waitress last October as the first time I visited in 1987. I go here every first night in San Sebastian.

Casa Urola was recently voted best restaurant in San Sebastián in the category of vegetables:

Pablo Loureiro in Urola is considered among the three best grill chefs in all of Euskadi/The Basque Country.

Inland, you should visit Tolosa. Here they do the best steaks in the world, and you should also try the famous Alubias de Tolosa/Tolosa beans:

General info about this fascinating region:
kimhe is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 01:12 AM
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 22,131
@ tessietoes -- forgive me for jumping in here..

@ kimhe -- you rock! Thank you SO much!
kja is offline  
Jan 18th, 2015, 07:13 AM
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 13,822
Many pixtos bars are standing room only ..we liked La Cuchara de San Telmo very much,
it was always packed.
The city itself is lovely and upscale, but except for a few museums there is not much to do
at that time of the year. The average temp in April/ May is 55- 60 F and it rains often.
It is your holiday, but I would seriously consider some adjustment.
danon is online now  
Jan 18th, 2015, 08:38 AM
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 5,934
And Semana Santa is pretty low scale in San Sebastian, very much more solemn Catholisism up here than in the South where Semana Santa is almost 24/7 fiesta and devotion hand in hand and the major celebration of the year. When I lived in San Sebastian, I didn't notice any Semana Santa at all.

And I find April/May a wonderful time in San Sebastian, spring is coming and the tourist hordes are far away. Of course it rains quite a bit, but usually short and heavy showers and then back to sun again. San Sebastian is then at its freshest and prettiest. And San Sebastian is serious jazz and cinema city, with two of the oldest and major jazz and film festivals in Europe. It reflects in the city life. And the city is full of a local culture that people take great pride in. Some kind of Basque culture festival going on in the city or close by almost all the time. And of course, San Sebastian is European Capital of culture 2016.

Regarding weather: Statistics for mid April in San Sebastian says average 5 hours sun pr day and rainfall every second day.
kimhe is offline  
Jan 21st, 2015, 12:23 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2014
Posts: 161
Omg kimhe, what an amazing list! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your secrets, will be referring to this often. Love all your food suggestions & tips. Still a toss up between Mugaritz, Akelarre or Arzak for that splurge meal but looks like we can't go wrong with any of those. Thanks again. Btw, we saw an apt across from Old Town in Gros just across the bridge. Any thoughts on that area?

danon, I love that there's not much to do but eat, go to museums, look out at La Concha, and eat some more as this will be the much needed vegetative part of the trip {though we might cut it down to 6 days}. Also considering a day visit to Bilbao or do you suggest an overnight? Anyone been to the Guggenheim?

Robert, looking into the faster Alvia train, thank you.

IMDonehere, always a first time for some napkin throwing, sounds fun.

kya, jump in any time!
tessietoes is offline  
Jan 21st, 2015, 12:59 PM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 3,036
I love the idea of an apartment--in particular because I am a breakfast eater, though in Spain it is usually better because of totillas. The Gros area is just fine--not too far for walking over to old town, and it has plenty of restaurants too, just more of a neighborhood feel. See
I stayed three days and could have tripled that, but I do agree you will want to explore the region some, whether by car (better for interior) or train/bus (fine for along the coast).
yorkshire is offline  
Jan 21st, 2015, 01:31 PM
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 27,866
We loved Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid. We stopped in there 3 times!
So fun to mingle with folks, share tables and wander from one amazing tapas spot to another.
DebitNM is offline  
Jan 21st, 2015, 01:45 PM
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 13,822
If you get bored in SS( or if the weather is bad) , you might t consider Bilbao overnight
We made a day trip ( from Santander) and liked the city...could have stayed a bit longer.
The Gg museum is spectacular...( more outside than inside).
danon is online now  
Jan 21st, 2015, 01:49 PM
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 78,322
It's Called Donostia in Basque and San Sebastian in Spanish - I noted many times the s Sebastian had been blacked out by locals on many signs leaving only Donostia - seems to be a sensitive topic given Spain's terrible treatment of Basques under the Franco fascist regime and on.
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 21st, 2015, 03:13 PM
Join Date: Jan 2011
Posts: 122
We spent a week in San Sebastián mid-May 2014 and I keep wanting to juggle future vacation plans for another visit! From Barcelona I'd be tempted to rent a car, spend 2-3 of the days you have slotted for San Sebastián to drive a northern route through France to SS. I haven't done this drive but it is on my "list". At any rate, with a car in SS you have more freedom on day trips such as Bilbao for the Guggenheim and Belles Artes Museum and also scenic drives. Parking in SS is VERY expensive unless you go to Parking Txofre in Gros where for multiple days you can park for €10 per day - pay in advance, you get an access card and come and go as you like. We love staying at apartments for stays longer than 2 days and highly recommend the one we stayed at through Airbnb, which was right in the heart of the old town.
RebeccahS is offline  
Jan 21st, 2015, 07:23 PM
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 22,131
@ tessietoes -- I am following along and taking copious notes -- such wonderful info from so many wonderfully generous and knowledgeable Fodorites!

@ RebeccahS -- that tip about parking in San Sebastian is a gem!
kja is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2015, 04:02 AM
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 5,934

Gros, just across the city river Urumea, is just excellent, and as yorkshire says, a more neighbourhood feel. I lived in an apt in Gros/Egia for six months and loved it here. Many of the best pintxos bars are in this area, and it's just a couple of minutes walking to the centre/Ensanche and the hustle and bustle in the Parte vieja/Old town. The Zurriola beach in the Gros district is also my clear favourite of the three beaches in San Sebastian.

Pintxos route in Gros (but there are lots of other great places in the district as well):
kimhe is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 10:27 AM.