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San Sebastian, on Spain’s northern coast near the French border, is perhaps most famous for its beautiful beaches, located right in the heart of its historic downtown. Food-lovers from around the world also flock to San Sebastian for its spectacular food scene, which boasts more Michelin stars per capita than any other city, as well as some of the world’s best bar food — pintxos, the Basque version of tapas, are said to have been perfected here.
But there’s much more to San Sebastian than food and sunshine (though if that was all there was, it’d still be worth a visit). While you’re in town, consider getting a deeper sense of the area by taking one of the many excellent tours on offer. A variety of touring options are available, from traditional sightseeing buses to in-town foodie pub crawls to trips out into the country for an in-depth look into Basque culture, wine, and more. Have a look at these fantastic San Sebastian tours we recommend — odds are good that one or more of them will enhance your trip immensely.
Best Hop-On/Hop-Off Tour: San Sebastian Hop-On/Hop-Off Sightseeing Tour
This double-decker bus tour offers an easy, affordable way to get the lay of the land in San Sebastian and see all of the city’s major attractions in comfort. Stake out a seat and ride the full one-hour loop while listening to recorded commentary in eight languages or hop off (and back on) at any one of the 29 stops throughout the city. Or use the tour service creatively: ride the loop while you get ideas for places you’d like to stop and then ride it again and make the actual stops — you have full access, so make it work the way you’d like. Stops include Paseo Salamanca, the Maria Cristina Bridge, the Miramar Palace, La Concha Beach, and Paseo de los Fueros.
Best Bicycle Tour: San Sebastian Electric Bike Tour
If you’re looking to get an in-depth understanding of San Sebastian’s history and culture, as well as some of its best views, consider this locally-led small-group bike tour. You’ll start your journey from a location in Old Town San Sebastian, where you’ll get fitted for an e-bike and a helmet. From there, you’ll cruise along the coast and past all of the city’s major attractions (including the Town Hall and the Miramar Palace), stopping for photos at particularly picturesque locations and hearing live commentary from your knowledgeable guide.
Then you’ll put your electric bike’s hill-climbing capability to good use, climbing Mount Igeldo with ease to visit the beautiful but seldom-touristed area around the local university, as well as the city’s sports complexes (and a beautiful view along the way). Finally, you’ll loop through the south side of town and head back to the Old Town to say goodbye. The small group ensures that you’ll have plenty of time to ask all the questions you’d like to ask and the small but fast-moving bikes mean you can cover far more ground than almost any other transportation option.
Best Walking Tour: Royals, Stars & Surfers San Sebastian City Walking Tour
As a legendary resort town, San Sebastian has been a getaway spot for generations of the rich and famous. Led by a local history expert, this in-depth, technology-assisted two-hour tour gives you an insider’s look at the city throughout its transformation from bustling Basque fishing port to international beach hotspot, all on a gorgeous evening stroll through the old and new areas of the town’s center. Your guide will punctuate certain points of interest using vintage photographs (via tablet) of celebrities and royalty snapped throughout the city, and will even help you recreate your own vintage-style shot for your own Instagram account.
Between the more beautiful sights, you’ll learn about ancient and contemporary history, architecture, Basque language and culture, and even get some tips for where to eat and shop on the rest of your trip, making it an ideal first-day-of-vacay venture.
Best Food Tour: San Sebastian Evening Pintxo Tour with Wine
Pintxos — pronounced “PEEN-cho,” and known elsewhere in Spain as pinchos or just tapas — are tasty little one-or-two-bite snacks that are traditionally served as bar food. They’re one of the great delights of Basque country, but ordering them doesn’t follow quite the same procedure as ordering off a menu, and there are unfamiliar ingredients at play. Consider making your first pintxo crawl easy on yourself and heading out with an expert, who’ll introduce you to the best places to eat, the best things to order (and how to do it), and the best wine to pair with each.
Your guide will lead your small group through a series of six different bars throughout the Old Town, explaining the history of the region through the lens of its food. You’ll eat one or two pintxos at each stop, paired with a beverage. On your likely menu: fat ocean-fresh shrimp, crispy calamari, and salty Iberico ham. If you have likes or dislikes, just tell your guide, who will be happy to order to your preferences. Note that while the tour can work for vegetarians and anyone with food allergies, it may not fully adaptable for vegans.
Best Hiking Tour: Half-Day Way of St. James Hiking Tour from San Sebastian
The Camino de Santiago — Way of St. James — is one of the most famous pilgrimage routes in the world, trekked by those seeking to visit the final resting place of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain since the ninth century. There are a number of specific pathways that comprise this pilgrimage, one of the most popular being the Camino del Norte, which passes along the Basque Coast past San Sebastian. This hiking tour gives you just a taste of this legendary journey, offering a gentle and exquisitely scenic hike from San Sebastian up the Ulia Mountain and along the pilgrimage route just east of the city.
You’ll stop for a jaunt around the small town of Pasaia San Pedro and then take a short sightseeing cruise on the bay, followed by a pintxo-and-wine break and a bit of further strolling. You’ll head back to San Sebastian via public transportation at the end of the day with a tired body and a rejuvenated soul. Note that this is a somewhat physically challenging day (around 5.25 miles of hiking, with a significant hill on the front end) and participants should have both moderate levels of fitness and appropriate clothes and shoes in order to partake.
Best Wine Tour: Rioja Wineries Tour from San Sebastian with Lunch
Oenophiles from abroad shouldn’t miss their chance to do a wine tour in Rioja, Spain’s most famous wine region, while in nearby San Sebastian, and this tour makes it easy. Your small group will depart San Sebastian in the morning (hotel pick-up is available) and then motor inland toward some of Rioja’s most renowned wineries. You’ll stop for tastings and vineyard tours at two separate wineries, one designed by noted American architect Frank Gehry (who also designed the Guggenheim museum in nearby Bilbao) and one by Spain’s own Santiago Calatrava. The tour includes a gourmet three-course lunch with wine pairings at one of the wineries, as well as some time to explore the medieval walled city of Laguardia, founded in the 10th century, where ancient defensive underground tunnels were long-ago repurposed as wine storage cellars. Because this is a small-group tour, the itinerary is somewhat customizable, and you’ll have plenty of access to your guide for any questions you might have about the region and its viticulture.
Best Basque Culture Tour: French Basque Countryside Tour from San Sebastian
San Sebastian is a fundamentally Basque city, but with such a consistently-present population of folks from elsewhere, it is also global and cosmopolitan in its own way. To really get an immersive Basque experience, you’ll want to get out into the country a bit, to some of the less-touristed towns nearby. This small-group day trip takes you into the Basque French countryside from San Sebastian, which sits just 20 minutes by vehicle from the French border.
Your day will begin with a pickup at your San Sebastian hotel, from which you’ll head for the foothills of the ancient Pyrenees for the tiny thousand-year-old town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, famous as the starting point for the French Way route on the Camino de Santiago. Next, you’ll visit the charming villages of Saint-Etienne-de-Baigorry and Espelette, the latter of which is famous for its spicy red peppers, which you can buy dried.
Finally, you’ll stop in the beautiful town of Ainhoa, a super-traditional Basque town with a fronton (a single-walled court where Basque pelota, a variety of court games including relatives of handball, racquetball, and jai alai are played), as well as a traditional church and cemetery boasting traditional Basque-style discoidal tombstones. Food and drink are not included in the price of the tour, but there will be ample time to nosh and nibble throughout the day’s many stops. The tour returns to San Sebastian in the early evening, with plenty of time for a nap before dinner in the city.
Best Private Tour: San Sebastian and Biarritz Private Day Tour
If you can swing it, there’s really no better way to get an in-depth look at the Basque coast of Spain and France than with this private luxury tour of the cities of San Sebastian and Biarritz. Your day will begin with a hotel pickup in a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle with your driver-guide, who will first introduce you to the history and culture of San Sebastian, with a tour catered to your interests, be they architecture and art, celebrity history, food, or some combination. Then you’ll enjoy the beautiful coastal drive across the French border to the sun-drenched city of Biarritz, where you’ll enjoy a tour as well as ample time to lounge on the world-class beach.
Your guide is a local who knows the ins and outs of both cities and everywhere in between, so don’t be afraid to ask all of your questions about history and culture, as well as practical queries like restaurant recommendations or “how do I rent a surfboard?” Note that the cost of this tour, while steep, is the price of the guide and vehicle, not a per-person fee, and the vehicle can fit up to four, so if you have a group, it can actually be a pretty sweet deal, and even if you’re a duo (or solo), the ease and comfort of having a guide to yourself is pretty wonderful.