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Top 5 neighbourhoods to stay in San Sebastian

Enjoy the local vibes!

 

Coming to San Sebastian for a visit?

If that’s the case: two things.

First – we can’t wait to have you here!

Second – we know it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information available on Internet on places to stay in San Sebastian. And that’s why we’ve decided to help you out by narrowing down your choices.

How?

By creating this helpful list that includes our Top 5 neighbourhoods to stay in San Sebastian. Each of them has its pecualiarities, history, local vibes, special places to stay or attractions to visit and we will walk you through them.

Where do we start?

Right at the beginning.

 

San Sebastian’s “barrios” – Understanding the city.

In your search for accommodation in San Sebastian you would have probably seen images of the oldest part of the city, the Old Town or, as well call it: “Parte Vieja”.

Located at the feet of “Mount Urgull” is where the city was born and developed back in the 12th century. Surrounded by a medieval wall and protected by the Castle on the top of the Urgull hill, the city became a strong european maritime port for centuries.

Medieval San Sebastian.                                                         Photo: Model© Gorka Agirre

It wasn’t until 1864 that it was decided to demolish the walls and start the expansion of the city, starting to build new neighbourhoods or “barrios” of San Sebastian. This expansion took place mainly during the late XIXth century and the beginning of the XXth century while the so called Belle Epoque was happening in Europe.  It was one of the most significant historic period for the city as it defined not only the arquitecture but also the character of San Sebastian till the modern days.

Today, the city has 17 neighbourhoods. Some of them are close to the original Old Town (“Parte Zaharra” in Basque), others mark the outskirts of San Sebastian but all of them have a special vibe or places of interest for the visitor.

San Sebastian neighbourhoods

The 17 neighbourhoods of Saint Sebastian                Photo: donostia,eus

 

With the aim of making the planning of your visit a little more manageable, we will be focusing on our favourite top 5 areas of the city to stay and their highlights.

Here they are.

 

Top 5 neighbourhoods to stay in San Sebastian

 

  1. ATEGORRIETA-ULIA: The residential hill on the city East. 

Truly blessed by its geographical position, Ategorrieta has been the favourite spot of wealthy San Sebastian families since the 60’s.

Ategorrieta was developed at the foot of Mount Ulia – the tallest above sea level (235m) peak of the three mounts in the city of San Sebastian – as a residential area privileged by its tranquil surroundings and proximity to more bustling neighbourhoods like Gros (10 minutes’ walk) and the Old Town and beaches (20-30 minutes’ walk).

Today, locals and tourists visit Ategorrieta to enjoy the splendour of the gorgeous villas in its main avenue, reminder of the glory the city once enjoyed. Splendour you can also rejoice in by staying in one of them – The Hotel Villa Soro, a gorgeous Boutique Hotel that will make you feel special.

VILLA SORO

The Boutique Hotel Villa Soro in Ategorrieta-Ulia                                     Photo: www.villasoro.es

What else is there for you to do in Ategorrieta-Ulia?

  • Mount Ulia Park: visit the old military watchtower facilities, whale watching posts, an old mill and the park’s recreation and picnic area.
  • Viveros de Ulia: visit the old water tanks of the city located in a stunning park currently protected by residents against housing development.
  • Camino de Santiago (The way of Saint James): trek along the Way’s San Sebastian leg crossing Mount Ulia to Pasajes and enjoy some of the most impressive views of the city and surrounding areas. You can find more information here.
  • Gastronomic delights in Arzak: Enjoy the exquisite Basque influences in the food of this renowned Three Michelin star restaurant.

Feel and character of this neighbourhood:

  • Quiet
  • Residential
  • Perfect for families

 

  1. ANTIGUO: The original settlement in the city.

As its name indicates, the “barrio” of Antiguo or “Old One” – located to the West of the city – was one of the earliest local settlements which flourished by the bay before the foundation of the city of San Sebastian in 1180.

Back in the Xth century a monastery dedicated to Saint Sebastian was built right in the middle of the Bay. This Monastery would later give the city its name. While the actual monastery construction has now disappeared we can find at the same location the Royal Palce of Miramar built in 1893.

Fuente: Flickr Juan Lupión, 2011

The Miramar Palace in Antiguo-San Sebastian                                                                      Photo: Juan Lupión

 

Antiguo sits at the feet of Mount Igueldo and it features one of the most frequented beaches of San Sebastian, Ondarreta. Antiguo grew in the 19th century with a marked industrial and worker personality but the area closer to the beach also attracted wealthier families eager to build their mansions in this privileged geographical position.

And talking about privileged positions! None like the location of one of our favourite hotels, Hotel Ezeiza – a cute two-star hotel perfectly located in first-line from the beach. Highly recommended if you are a sea lover and want to enjoy the tranquillity of this old neighbourhood.

Antiguo is only 10 minutes away from the old town by bus, 30min walking. You can even cycle to the city centre along a very safe bike path that borders the Concha walk.

What else is there for you to do in Antiguo?

  • Monte Igueldo’s amusement park: Young and young at heart will love this retro park with stunning views to the Cantabrian Sea and San Sebastian. Unmissable!
  • Peine del Viento de Chillida: 3 sculptures that represent the present, past and future work of one of the most important contemporary sculptors from San Sebastian – Eduardo Chillida.
  • Miramar Palace’s Gardens: Located right in the heart of the bay, the Palace’s gardens are the ideal picnic spot for a lovely summer day.
  • José María Sert’s Square: Enjoy the vibrant life along the terraces, bars and restaurants in this famous square! Perfect for a night out to enjoy the good food of the Basque country with family and friends.
  • Ondarreta Beach: a spacious beach where you’ll be able to rent a parasol and spend the entire day frolicking at the beach, rent canoes or swim to Santa Clara Island!

Feel and character of this neighbourhood:

  • Lively
  • Young
  • Familiar
  • Bars, shops…
  • Beach

 

  1. CENTRO: The elegant city center.

The centre of the city – also known as the San Martin district – encompasses the old narrow alleys around the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd (Catedral del Buen Pastor).

During centuries, most of the old artisans gathered in San Martin outside of the original city walls but after these were demolished and the city broadened from 1864 onwards, San Martin underwent a complete transformation.

The result of this evolution today is a stunning city centre featuring high quality, architecturally homogenous buildings result of a carefully planned and executed construction process.

Buen Pastor SS-OMW

City center of San Sebastian-“Reyes Católicos street”

Only five to ten-minute walk to the beach, today’s San Martin houses a vibrant shopping and commercial district.

Our favourite and highly recommended accommodation in the area is Pensión Urkia – a cute and very clean family pension hotel perfect for those of you who travel on a shoestring and want a central location.

What else is there for you to do in San Sebastian’s Centro?

  • La Concha beach and walk: nothing like a stroll along this famous beach to enjoy the idyllic natural setting and the charming architectural remnants of the Belle Epoque’s love affair with San Sebastian.
  • Cathedral of the Good Shepherd (Catedral del Buen Pastor): the most outstanding religious building in the city and the largest in Gipuzkoa region, the cathedral was built in the last years of the 19th century in a Historicist Neo-Gothic style with strong emphasis on verticality.
  • San Martin Market: visit the market nice and early and you will probably spot some of the city’s most famous chefs’ selecting their produce for the day.
  • Calle Reyes Católicos (Catholic Kings’ Street): enjoy the vibrant scene created by the many hip bars and cafes along this lovely street.

Feel and character of this neighbourhood:

  • Commercial
  • Vibrant
  • Safe
  • Full of life!

 

  1. GROS: The lively neighbourhood.

We travel to the East of the city to find the neighbourhood known as Gros, at the foot of Mount Ulia an sourrounding the beach of La Zurriola.

Being originally a sand bank area, it wasn’t until the city expansion in the XIXth century that this area started to grow as a neighbourhood. Gros has undergone multiple urban changes over the years that translated into a unique and varied architecture – you will find both stately homes near the Santa Catalina bridge as well as more simple workers’ houses as you get dipper into the neighbourhood after crossing the bridge.

Gros -San Sebastian OMW

The elegance of the houses in Gros-San Sebastian

 

Gros will entice you with its many restaurants, bars, shops. It has certainly stolen a lot of the spotlight of the Old Town, being only a short 5-minute walk to Centro and to Zurriola Beach.

Two bridges separate Gros from the city centre – two symbols of both its closeness to the rest of the city and its own differentiation and identity.

The best way to dive in this identity of the neigbourhood is to stay in one of the multiple pension hotels that flourish in this city area. Our recommendation is the perfectly located Pensión Altair. Their freshness and attention to detail will not let you down!

What else is there for you to do in Gros?

  • Visit the exhibitions at Kubo Kutxa: The Kursaal Congress Palace was designed as two sets of cubes that house different exhibitions. The small cube in particular, regularly showcases interesting temporary exhibitions that are highly recommended.
  • Stroll along Zurriola beach: or go for a swim, surf or if you prefer it, watch the intrepid surfers catch the raging waves of the Cantabrian Sea.
  • Sagües: If you walk towards the end of Zurriola beach – right by the foot of Mount Ulia – you’ll find Sagües, a charming little surfer microuniverse perfect for a drink or two in one of its bubbling terraces.
  • Go crazy on pintxos! If you are totally in love with this Basque specialty, leave the more touristy options in the centre of town behind and try them in some of the bars in Gros. You’re guaranteed to love them!

Feel and character of this neighbourhood:

  • Surfer
  • Young and cheerful
  • Vibrant
  • Commercial
  • Gastronomy

 

  1. EGIA-Local vibes.

One of the oldest neighbourhoods in Donostia, Egia, is located on the hill where the old farms first supplied food to the city. Given its location slightly distant from the city centre at the time, it was here that San Sebastian decided to build its largest cemetery in 1877, Polloe. Interestingly, the names of some of the streets you see today correspond to the names of the old farmhouses.

But today Egia is located only a short 20 minutes’ walk from the city centre or the beaches, and it has been revitalised by young families looking for affordable housing not to far from the center.

This neighbourhood has been the core of many cultural activities that were carried out during 2016 when San Sebastian became the European Capital of Culture. Among them, we love the refurbishment of the 1913 old tobacco factory and the space they’ve created to house the very original Hotel One Shot Tabakalera House  where you can stay.

 

OMW-Lluvia tabakalera

The main entrance of Tabakalera Egia-San Sebastian

 

What other activities can you do in Egia?

  • Cultural Tabakalera Centre: visit its exhibitions and/or its bar to enjoy a good coffee and a delicious snack.
  • Cristina Enea Park: visit one of the most beautiful parks in San Sebastian, a gift from the Duke of Mandas – a wealthy local aristocrat without descendants – to the city to be looked after and kept as it was in its glory days.
  • A little Necrotourism? visit the Polloe cemetery, its artistic chapels and pantheons and architectural peculiarities, being designed as a walkable city for the dead. And if you’d rather visit the cemetery accompanied (highly recommended!), join us in our Pop Up Walking Tour “The Secrets of Polloe” More info here!
  • Northern Train Station: visit this architectural wonder built in the purest Eiffel style, stroll along the river and the bridge of Maria Cristina – similarly built in the same style as the Alexander III bridge in Paris. After this walk you’ll have no doubt in your mind why San Sebastian is known as Little Paris. And of course if you want to learn more about San Sebastian’s architectural love affair with Paris, we invite you to join us on our Belle Epoque Walking Tours. Travel in time with us and accompany us on this cultural walk through the best and worst aspects of the San Sebastian of the turn of the twentieth century.

Feel and character of this neighbourhood:

  • Families
  • Young
  • Cultural
  • Alternative

 

Now, it’s time to plan your visit to San Sebastian!

Hopefully, we’ve helped you narrow your choices and simplify your selection of places or neighbourhoods to stay in San Sebastian.

We have, as well, give you some of our best recommendations of what to do in these areas of the city.

We hope that all these “barrios” with their different personalities might suit your preferences and choice of activities.

But if you are one of those who loves to discover the city and its curiosities from a local point of view, you shouldn’t miss our cultural Walking Tours in San Sebastian.

Book your San Sebastian walking tour today

We look forward to seeing you soon!

Promenades OMW

Walking Tours in San Sebastian with OMW!

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