Biarritz and San Sebastián are two of the most popular cities to visit in the Basque Country, the former on the French side and the latter on the Spanish side. These two cities share a common culture and language despite crossing an international border, both of which are totally unique from the countries they reside in. The local language is Basque and even the name of San Sebastián gets translated (it's called Donostia by the locals).
Separated by roughly 30 miles and the French–Spanish border, travel between the two cities is fast, easy, and affordable. The bus is the cheapest way and also one of the fastest, although driving yourself will get you to your final destination just a tad faster. The train costs a bit more and requires a transfer, but it's the most scenic route and offers breathtaking views.
|Train||1 hour, 7 minutes (with transfer)||from $10||Enjoying the scenery|
|Bus||50 minutes||from $4||Arriving quick and cheap|
|Car||50 minutes||32 miles (52 kilometers)||Exploring the area|
What Is the Cheapest Way to Get From Biarritz to San Sebastián?
With buses starting at just $4 for a one-way journey, it's the cheapest way you can get to San Sebastián from Biarritz. And with the fastest routes taking just 50 minutes, it's also one of the quickest ways to get there. Companies such as Flixbus, Conda, and Eurolines all make the journey, but you can compare schedules and prices between all of them through Omio.
The bus terminal in San Sebastián is directly across from the main train station, which is centrally located and within walking distance to most parts of the city. If you're staying farther out, a taxi ride to the other side of town should take about 10 minutes, at most.
What Is the Fastest Way to Get From Biarritz to San Sebastián?
Buses and driving yourself take the same amount of time, but having your own vehicle brings you door to door and without relying on bus schedules. It's a short drive through the mountains and on curvy highways, so the 32-mile drive takes about 50 minutes in total.
Parking in San Sebastián can be complicated, especially in the summer when the city swells with visitors. Street parking is almost always by meter and with a time limit, but there are parking garages all around the city where you can pay to leave your car.
If you're looking to go by car but don't have a vehicle yourself, try looking up a ride on Blablacar. This popular ride-sharing service shows drivers who are already heading to San Sebastián and seeking passengers. You'll chip in a set amount of money for gas, but that's it. Plus, it's a great way to meet some locals and immerse yourself in the Basque culture.
How Long Is the Train Ride?
There is no direct train connecting Biarritz with San Sebastián, but two short train rides of roughly 30 minutes each will get you there quickly. First, you need to book a train from Biarritz to Hendaye—or Hendaia in Basque—through the French railway system, which is the last town in France before crossing the border. Once you arrive there, you'll need to exit the station and walk to the adjacent Euskotren stop, which is the regional train system for the entire Basque Country. Hop on the train (it's the terminus stop, so you can't board the wrong train) and head to San Sebastián. The city has several stops, but the most centrally-located one is called Amara-Donostia.
You should reserve a seat for the first leg of the trip, as ticket prices start at about $7 but can get more expensive or even sell out. From Hendaye, trains leave every 30 minutes for San Sebastián and you just show up and buy your ticket at the station, which is just a couple of dollars.
When Is the Best Time to Travel to San Sebastián?
San Sebastián is one of the prime beach destinations in Spain and, not surprisingly, receives the vast majority of its visitors in the summer. If you're visiting in the high season of June, July, or August, book your transportation and accommodations as early as possible. If you're driving yourself, parking near the city center will be exceptionally difficult.
The shoulder season of late spring and early fall are ideal times to visit for good weather and fewer crowds—apart from the end of September when the international San Sebastián Film Festival takes over the city. As with the rest of northern Spain, winter is very cold and very wet. However, you'll get a more local experience during the low season and, if you're lucky, the possibility of seeing snowfall on the beach.
What's the Most Scenic Route to San Sebastián?
The Basque Country is one of the most picturesque areas in Spain, but to fully enjoy the scenery you should use the train. Drivers have to wind through the mountains and pay attention to the road, but train passengers can take it all in safely from their seat. Plus, the train route passes through the wooded mountains and along the Atlantic coastline, so travelers can enjoy the best of both landscapes.
Do I Need a Visa to Travel to San Sebastián?
Even though you are crossing an international border, Spain and France are both in the Schengen Zone, which allows for border-free crossings. Whether you go by train, bus, or car, you'll just cruise right through the border as soon as you cross the Bidasoa River. Even though you aren't likely to be checked, you are still required to carry your passport on you, so don't forget it in Biarritz.
What Is There to Do in San Sebastián?
The beaches in San Sebastián are one of the primary draws to the city. La Concha Beach is the larger of the two and has plenty of space to lay out and enjoy the water, while nearby Zurriola Beach is especially popular with surfers. The other biggest draw to the city is its culinary scene. San Sebastián has more Michelin-star restaurants per capita than any other city in the world, which has turned the city into a sort of gastronomical Mecca. If elegant restaurants aren't your style, you'll feel right at home in the Old Neighborhood and its endless pintxo bars. Pintxos—pronounced peen-chos—are a Basque version of Spanish tapas, but they're bigger, more elaborate, and debatably more delicious. Hop around the bars and try something new in each locale, mingling with other travelers and locals while you do it.