Travelers in Spain who start in Barcelona often continue their journeys south, onto major cities like Madrid, Valencia, or Seville, completely passing over the less-explored north. Northern Spain is known for its verdant landscapes, Atlantic beaches, and excellent cuisine, with San Sebastian being one of the most popular getaway spots for tourists from within Spain and abroad. This photogenic city, with its surfer beaches and renowned gastronomy, has something for everyone to enjoy.
The quickest way to get from Barcelona to San Sebastian is by plane, which takes a little over an hour and can be very affordable. The train takes a bit longer, but avoids all the hassles of airports and supplies all kinds of luscious scenery. If you're renting a car and road-tripping through the country, San Sebastian is a great place to start exploring the rest of Northern Spain. Buses, on the other hand, are not only the slowest option but sometimes the most expensive.
How to Get from Barcelona to San Sebastian
- Train: 5 hours, 33 minutes, from $29
- Flight: 1 hour, 15 minutes, from $26
- Bus: 7 hours, from $42
- Car: 5 hours, 352 miles (567 kilometers)
Even though the train from Barcelona to San Sebastian takes a few more hours than a flight, the efficiency of boarding a train and moving directly from city center to city center nearly evens out the travel times. Plus, the route is one of Europe's most beautiful, taking passengers through the spectacular forests and mountains of Spain's north.
Train tickets can be purchased directly from Spain's national rail service, Renfe. The Alvia train is a high-speed train with direct service to San Sebastian, and one-way tickets start at $29 when booked in advance. Although tickets do rise in price as the travel date gets closer, if you're flexible with your departure date, it's often possible to find tickets for under $40 even with only a few days' notice.
You'll board the train at Barcelona-Sants station and arrive about five and a half hours later to the San Sebastian station. Both stations are centrally located in their respective cities, and San Sebastian is small enough that it's possible to walk from the train to most areas of the city.
For travelers with no time to waste, daily direct flights from Barcelona get passengers to San Sebastian in just a little over an hour. However, in addition to the time it takes to check-in, pass through security, and wait at your gate, don't forget to factor in the time it takes to get to and from each airport. Barcelona's El Prat Airport is about 30 minutes outside of the city center by train, while San Sebastian's airport is located in the nearby town of Irun, about a 40-minute bus ride to the city center.
Travel by plane is potentially the cheapest method of transport as well, with flights by low-cost airline Vueling starting as low as $26 for a one-way ticket. However, San Sebastian is a town with a defined high season and low season, and flights get much more expensive in the summer months when tourists flock to its popular beaches. If you're traveling from June to August, it's especially important to book tickets as far in advance as possible to get the best deals.
The only direct bus option from Barcelona to San Sebastian is available from Omio and takes about seven hours. Starting at $42, it's often the same price or even more expensive than taking the train or a plane. If buying last-minute tickets during the high season of summer, when trains and flights may be sold out or exorbitantly priced, the bus may end up being your most viable option. Cheaper buses start at $28 and are available through FlixBus, but the journey takes twice as long and requires that passengers travel all the way to Toulouse, France, to transfer buses.
If you've rented a car in Barcelona and want to drive to San Sebastian, the trip takes about just as much time as taking the train. You get the same scenic route as you do on the train, but with the freedom to stop and explore in the towns you pass through. The two biggest cities along the way are Zaragoza and Pamplona, and each one of them is worth a visit if you have time to stop. Once you've explored San Sebastian, use your vehicle to explore the rest of the Basque Country, such as nearby Bilbao or Vitoria.
What to See in San Sebastian
San Sebastian is one of Spain's most popular cities to visit, and it's easy to see why. The mountainous forests surrounding the city arrive nearly to the shores of the beach, and there are countless hiking routes with spectacular views. La Concha Beach and Zurriola Beach are both within the city proper, and the latter is especially famous as a prime surfing spot. Once you've finished laying out in the sun, take a stroll through the lively Historical Quarter, where locals and visitors frequent the many bars to enjoy afternoon drinks and pintxos, the local version of Spanish tapas. If you save room for dinner, experience the best of Basque gastronomy in one of the city's Michelin-star restaurants; San Sebastian has more of them per square meter than any other city in the world.
San Sebastian vs. Donostia
When traveling to San Sebastian, you might see the name "San Sebastian–Donostia" on trains or road signs or even just "Donostia." San Sebastian is located in the Basque Country of Spain, and Basque people are a unique culture with their own language. San Sebastian is the name of the city in Spanish, but the local Basque name is Donostia. Both names refer to the same place, so don't be alarmed if you get off the train and see signs for Donostia. Almost everyone in San Sebastian also speaks Spanish, and because there are so many international visitors many locals also speak English.