WAVES, SURF and youngsters. These are the main features of the Zurriola Beach, San Sebastián’s liveliest and vibiest stretch of sand. Located in the district of Gros, between the Kursaal and Monte Ulía, ever since it was remodelled 15 years ago the Zurriola Beach has become a favourite with surfers and youngsters who come from all over the world in search of fun and new acquaintances.
The main reason for visiting the “Zurri”, as the local youths like to call it, is to move your body. This lively aspect is precisely its greatest attraction. Surf championships and daily surf classes, volleyball, football and beach-tennis... The hub of beach activity is to be found here, on the 800 metres of sand occupied by the Zurriola.
Crowning the easternmost end of the promenade is the Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium, a symbol of new modern architecture designed by Rafael Moneo. The building forms the backbone of local cultural and congress activity and is the hub of San Sebastián's major festivals.
The promenade running round the beach from Sagüés to the Kursaal ‘cubes’ continues on its way round Monte Urgull and along the Paseo Nuevo to end at the Peine del Viento sculpture on the Concha Bay. This spectacular city walk covers around 6 kilometres and offers spectacular sea views and delightful resting spots along the way.
From the Zurriola, you can also make your way up to Monte Ulía, a green area only a moment's walk from the city centre. A former look-out point for whales, Monte Ulía is the city's best hillwalking option and follows part of the coastal route on the Way of Saint James
To the far west of the beach, at the end of the promenade, is the Wind Comb, work of the sculptor Eduardo Chillida and the architect Luis Peña Ganchegui, a perfect example of beauty in its purest state. The fusion between the fierceness of the sea and the strength of the iron structures has elevated the natural character of this contemporary artwork to a place of meeting and leisure for locals and tourists.
At the other end of Ondarreta beach, on the rocky outcrop known as the “Parrot’s Beak”, you’ll come to the Miramar Gardens with their privileged views of the Concha Bay, a stop not to be missed when taking a stroll along the coast in San Sebastián. Dominated by a spectacular Palace, formerly the royal summer home, and taking their inspiration from English country houses, the Miramar gardens tumble down gently towards the sea between gravel paths and flower beds.
The district of Antiguo, surrounding Ondarreta Beach, has several areas with pintxo bars where you’ll also find the pintxo-pote combo on certain days. There are number of restaurants in the medium-high tier in the hotel area and a number of grill houses on the way up to Igeldo, certain to delight all diners.
On this hill standing in the heart of the city, in addition to privileged views, you will find the ‘History House’ Casa de la Historia, and remains of the walls and canons, witness to the city’s military past.
The city’s abrupt military history is still alive on Monte Urgull. The setting and terrain of the hill led to its use in the 12th century as a military fortress, sole witness to the numerous attacks and sieges suffered by the walls of San Sebastián down through the years. Part of these walls can still be seen in the Boulevard underground car park. In 1794, Monte Urgull witnessed the first capitulation of the city into French hands and looked on, powerless, as fire caused by the battle between French troops and the Anglo-Portuguese army razed the city to the ground in 1813.
The 12th century Castillo de la Mota standing at the top of the hill was key in defending the city, and around it we can still see the canons and arrow slits used to defend it. It is also home to the Casa de la Historia museum which will take you on a tour through audio-visuals, models, objects and scenographies describing the features that defined the lives of people in San Sebastián thanks to a narration covering the more than 800 years of a young and lively city. The English Cemetery, on the north side of the hill, testifies to the time spent by the English in San Sebastián.
Guarding the city from the top of Monte Urgull, the Sacred Heart statue (Cristo de la Mota) blends with the landscape of San Sebastián. The work, sculpted by the artist Federico Coullaut in 1950, measures over 12 metres in height and can be seen from 4 miles out to sea.
Monte Igeldo offers the best known and most iconic views of the Concha Bay, a fact that makes them no less impressive. Monte Igeldo stands at the extreme western end of the bay; although it can be accessed by private transport, we recommend that you take the funicular railway, the oldest in the Basque Country, running since 1912, for spectacular hilltop views and photographs.
The funicular railway takes you right up into the Monte Igeldo amusement park. Children and adults will just love the olde worlde feel of the park and its charming old-fashioned attractions, like the Roller Coaster and Trampolines.
In the centre of the park is the 18th century Torreón de Igeldo, converted from its initial function as a lighthouse to become a scenic viewpoint towering high above Monte Igeldo. To the west of the hill you will see the lighthouse built in 1855 by the civil engineer, Manuel Pieroncely. This is the perfect spot to enjoy the beauty of the sea and the cliffs of Mount Igeldo.
Once the walls had been demolished in the late 19th century, successive work carried out on the new part of San Sebastián gradually gave the city its layout as we know it today.
The new town was very carefully planned, with an extremely elegant 19th century design and eclectic style.
The most remarkable aspect of the new town is the feeling of unity barely interrupted by a handful of modern buildings. Outstanding among these are the San Sebastián City Hall, opened as a casino in 1897 which attracted important personalities such as Mata Hari, Rothschild, the King of Belgium and the Shah of Iran to its fiestas, until 1924, when gambling was forbidden. On 20th January 1947 the building became the city’s Casa Consistorial, another name for the city hall, when its headquarters were moved from the Plaza de la Constitución. Standing right on the Concha Bay, with the non-stop hustle and bustle of the Old Town behind it and facing the quiet Alderdi Eder gardens, the City Hall is well worth a look.
The Plaza de Gipuzkoa is a real oasis in the city centre, with its duck pond and imposing Neo-classical building, home to the Provincial Government of Gipuzkoa.
The Old Town, as its name suggests, is the embryo of today’s city. It is bordered by three natural elements: Monte Urgull, the Rio Urumea and the The Concha Bay. It was also surrounded by a city wall until 1863, when it was demolished to make way for the new town. Previously, almost the entire area within the walls had been pillaged and destroyed by Anglo-Portuguese soldiers on 31st August 1813, during the War of Independence against Napoleon’s troops.
The Plaza de la Constitutión lies at the heart of the Old Town. The main building in the square served as San Sebastián’s City Hall until the 40s. The balconies on the colourful buildings that line the square display numbers dating back to the time when it was used as a bullring. Today, however, the Plaza de la Constitución is the scene of busy comings and goings and the setting for major local festivities: January 20th San Sebastián Day, with raising and lowering of the flag at the start and end of the celebrations; 21st December, Saint Thomas’s Day, etc.
One of the activities enjoyed most by locals and tourists is taking a wander round the Old Town, stopping to get their strength back at one of the numerous bars and restaurants with a txikito, little glass of Txakolí wine and the odd ubiquitous pintxo… the Old Town is a foodie hotspot!
The other major feature of the bay is the Isla Santa Clara. Few cities can lay claim to an island smack bang in the centre of their bays and San Sebastián is one of them. The island has a small beach, walks to its unusual lighthouse, paths with picnic tables and a bar on the seaside terrace. Being so close to the bay means that you can swim out to the island all year round. Santa Clara’s little beach is proficient in the art of disappearing tricks. Being no more than 30 metres in length leaves this tiny beach at the mercy of the tide, but it also makes it delightfully charming. Just because it’s tiny doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer, quite the opposite. The island beach offers all kinds of services, from a bar and terrace to a first aid post, and even its own natural swimming pool with sea water. Rumour has it that you can walk out to the island from the Peine del Viento when the autumn spring tides are at their lowest.
The Concha Bay is the image par excellence of San Sebastián: it is the most classic, the most photographed, the most visited of them all... The Concha Beach stands right in the centre of the city and stretches from the City Hall to the Pico del Loro (Parrot’s Beak). Its 1,500 metres of white sand are elegant and cosmopolitan (it will come as no surprise that the Concha is considered to be one of the best city beaches in Europe). The Concha promenade is punctuated with several elements famous in their own right and well known beyond the city: the Concha railing (one of the most universal icons of the city, unmistakable for its design), the lamp posts (replicated in the Film Festival awards, “los relojes” (“the clocks”, main access to the beach), the area around La Perla (with its variety of spa options, bars & restaurants, sports clubs, etc.). All of these elements make a stroll round the Concha (whether by the beach or the promenade) an essential activity for locals and tourists alike. You can continue your walk round the bay by taking the Paseo Nuevo promenade round the bottom of Monte Urgull and heading along the Zurriola Beach until coming to Sagüés in a spectacular city stroll covering around 6 kilometres.