My husband, a self-proclaimed foodie, calls San Sebastian his favorite European city. Situated at the northeast edge of the Basque region in Spain, the Basque influence on the city makes San Sebastian a unique gem in Europe. The culture has an interesting mix of both Spanish and Basque traditions.
The appeal of the city is expansive, but it may be most well-known for its food. Below are five reasons why San Sebastian is a food lover’s paradise.
When most people think of Spanish food, they think of tapas. The Basque region of Northern Spain boasts its own claim to fame: pintxos (pronounced peen-chos). Think of pintxos as the younger and more sophisticated cousin to tapas. Pintxos are delicious bite-sized works of art that will leave your taste buds wanting more. Pintxos bars line the streets of San Sebastian and you can hop from one to another, sampling everything from squid ink risotto to veal cheek. Pintxos are cheap and numerous, allowing you to make a meal out of dozens of dishes.
The pintxos etiquette takes some getting used to. Most pintxos are laid out on the bar top. You walk up, place what you want on your plate, and pay. Some bars have honor systems where you pay later. At some of the popular spots like Zeruko, it can be very crowded, making it difficult to place your order. However, the hectic nature and packed bars are part of the pintxos experience.
Some of our favorite pintxos bars were Borda Berri and Bar Nestor (Bar Nestor is not quite a pintxos bar as the plates are huge, but it is very casual and nestled among the pintxos bars. We ordered the steak and tomatoes and both were the best we had ever had!)
San Sebastian is also famous for having more Michelin-starred restaurants per square meter than any place in the world. If you want a change of scenery from the busy pintxos streets, make a reservation at one of the many five-star restaurants scattered throughout town. We loved Agorregi, which was a bit outside the city center but an incredible value for a Michelin restaurant. If you want an amazing meal and view, head to Mirador de Ulia. One of the most famous of the restaurants is Arzak, which has been featured many times by world press and on popular shows such as Anthony Bourdain.
A CHANGE IN FOOD CULTURE IS JUST 30 MINUTES AWAY
San Sebastian is just beyond the border with France, so you can hop on over to France for a lunch or dinner. The famous coastal town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz is only a 30-minute drive away. Crossing the border is as easy as going through a toll plaza. There is a stark cultural contrast when you enter France, allowing you to experience French, Spanish, and Basque traditions all in one day. There are no pintxos, but you can enjoy excellent beef tartare alongside a glass of Bordeaux. Don’t forget to stop by a French pastry shop on your way out!
With good food comes good wine. San Sebastian is no exception. Whether you dine at a pintxos bar or a Michelin-starred restaurant, you’ll have an outstanding selection of Spanish wines to choose from. Due to the proximity to the La Rioja wine region, Rioja wines are most common on the menus, though you can find wines from all across Spain. Whether you choose a Gran Reserva or a Garnacha, at three euros a glass you can’t go wrong!
While the main appeal of San Sebastian to my husband and me was the food scene, you can’t talk about the city without mentioning the natural beauty. As much of your day and night will be spent eating and drinking, walking down the charming and colorful streets and strolling on one of the pristine beaches is a great break between bites. After all, you have to burn off those calories! A long walk along the beach during sunset hours is the perfect ending to any day.
There are also some great hikes with unbeatable views of the city and the ocean below. We loved hiking to the top of Mount Urgull and exploring the old castle on top. If you’re adventurous, hike to the top of Mount Igueldo to the famous amusement park where you can ride a roller coaster along the cliff – it’s an experience not to be missed!
If you love food, wine, gorgeous scenery, and a diverse culture, San Sebastian is hard to beat. Make sure to add this European culinary hot spot to your bucket list.