Travel From Madrid to San Sebastian by Train, Car, and Plane

La Concha bay, San Sebastian, Spain
© Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images

When visiting Madrid, many travelers also want to experience San Sebastian in Spain's Basque region, which is located on the northern coast of Spain, close to the French border and 288 miles (464 kilometers) from Madrid. In San Sebastian, there are beautiful beaches such as the Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta, which has a lovely bayfront promenade. When strolling along the quaint cobblestone streets of the old town, you'll not only enjoy the quaint, historic architecture, but you can also indulge yourself at some of the highest-rated restaurants in Spain.

It's possible to get to San Sebastian by train or plane, but there is no direct way to get there by bus. If you're interested in taking a road trip, you can also rent a car in Madrid and drive all the way to San Sebastian. It's a long journey but it's doable in a day, even if you make a few stops. Flying would be the quickest way to get there, but direct flights between Madrid and San Sebastian can get pricey because it's not a well-frequented route. The train is the most affordable option, but it does take longer than driving.

  Time Cost Best For
Train 5 hours, 20 minutes from $18 Convenience
Flight 1 hour, 20 minutes from $108 Quickest route
Car 4 hours, 30 minutes 281 miles (452 kilometers) An adventurous road trip

By Train

On non-stop routes, the train from San Sebastian to Madrid takes over five hours and can be pretty affordable, with fares sometimes available for less than $22 if you book early enough. The train departs from Madrid Chamartin Station, which is not quite in the city center and is seven miles (12 kilometers) away from the city's other main station, Atocha Renfe. When you arrive, you'll pull into Donostia San Sebastian Adif, which is a short walk to the city center and both Zurriola and La Concha Beach.

This route is not extremely well-traveled, so from Madrid, there are only two departures a day on weekdays and three departures on weekends.

By Plane

There are a few flights from Madrid-Barajas International Airport (MAD) to San Sebastian Airport (EAS), but these can get expensive with the cheapest one-way tickets starting at $108. Iberia Airlines is the only carrier to operate this route, so you're limited to their schedule. The San Sebastian Airport is just 14 miles (22 kilometers) from the city center and it takes about a half-hour to get there by cab or bus.

Another option is to fly to nearby Bilbao, which is 64 miles (103 kilometers) from San Sebastian, and then take a one-hour bus ride to San Sebastian. Both Iberia and Air Europa offer direct service on this route and the flight is about an hour long.

By Car

Driving to San Sebastian allows you to stop along the way to take in the views, but before you consider renting a car to drive in Spain, make sure you first read up on the rules of the road and familiarize yourself with Spain's driving laws.

To get to San Sebastian from Madrid, take the A-1 to Burgos and then follow the AP-1 to San Sebastian. If you're looking for a side-trip, a detour through the region of Castile and Leon might be a good idea. It will add about an hour to your trip, but you'll get to see historic cities like León, Salamanca, and Santo Domingo. Landmarks worth checking off your list are the Cathedral in Burgos, the Aqueduct in Segovia, and the Gaudi Museum in León.

If you're a book lover, you might consider going extra out of the way (adding about two hours to your trip) to make a rare visit to the unique town of Ureña, a "book village" where the main street is made up of bookshops and where you can take calligraphy or bookbinding classes. Logroño, the capital of the Rioja wine region, is also on the way and is one of the best cities for tapas in Spain. It’s also a stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and has a lovely cathedral.

What to See in San Sebastian

People flock from all over the world to taste the cuisine in San Sebastian. The city is renowned worldwide for its gastronomy, especially for its pintxos bars. Pintxos, the Basque word for "tapas," can be found all over the city and you may even want to take a guided tour that includes wine pairings. After pintxos, the next thing you'll want to explore in the Basque Country culinary experience is Basque Cider. There are many cider houses in the city where you'll be able to taste the characteristically tangy alcoholic beverage straight from the wooden barrel. If that's not enough drink-tasting for you, try to carve out some time to explore the Rioja wine region. If you're driving to San Sebastian, you can do this on your way in!

If you've come all the way to San Sebastian for the food, you can't leave without trying at least one of the city's 11 Michelin-starred restaurants:

When you're ready to walk off all that food, pay a visit to the Cathedral del Buen Pastor and the Miramar Palace. If you're looking to learn a bit more about the region's history, the Museo de San Telmo tells the story of the Basque Country from prehistory to the modern era. Of course, if you're visiting San Sebastian you can't miss the beaches in town. You might find fewer crowds if you venture outside the city to nearby beaches like Antilla, Zarautz, and Itzurun.

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