San Sebastian Introduction Walking Tour, San Sebastian

San Sebastian Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), San Sebastian

San Sebastian has long been well-known as a popular tourist destination thanks to its beautiful crescent-shaped urban beach, delicious Basque cuisine, and lively nightlife. The scenic La Concha Bay is like a perfectly shaped spa sitting beside the city.

Named after the monastery of San Sebastian, the city traces its history back to 1181, when the King of Navarre, Sancho VI Garces, granted the town city status. San Sebastian witnessed several sieges and wars, particularly during the 15th and 16th centuries. Still, the turning event came after the city was conquered by Napoleonic forces in the Peninsular War of the early 1800s.

British and Portuguese troops ejected the French in 1813 and subsequently burned the city to the ground. To this day, the event is remembered every August 31st in San Sebastian with parades and prayers.

Reconstruction started in 1817. The Old Town was built in a neoclassical, austere, and systematic style.

Constitution Square is the 2,000 square meter heart of the Old Town. It is a former bull ring lined with restaurants, tapas bars, tables, and terraces. La Concha Beach, next to the Old Town, is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. Miramar Palace, on the shores of La Concha Bay, is a former Royal Country House.

Cultural festivals, music, theatre, and cinemas take place year-round. The drum parades of San Sebastian Day in January resound in the Old Town for 24 hours. The Big Week Festival is in August. Fireworks, marching bands, and giants on stilts make the scene.

San Sebastian is famous for its food and boasts the world's second most Michelin-starred restaurants per capita, while churches, museums, and parks offer a retreat from food, parties, and fiestas. Beaches, festivals, delicious Basque cuisine, water sports, and insular serenity. What spa on earth offers more?
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San Sebastian Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: San Sebastian Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Spain » San Sebastian (See other walking tours in San Sebastian)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square)
  • Iglesia de San Vicente Martir (Church of Saint Vicente Martir)
  • Museo San Telmo (San Telmo Museum)
  • Calle 31 de Agosto (August 31st Street)
  • Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Coro (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus)
  • Ayuntamiento de San Sebastian (San Sebastian Town Hall)
  • Catedral del Buen Pastor de San Sebastian (San Sebastián Cathedral)
  • Paseo de la Concha (Concha Promenade)
  • Playa de La Concha (La Concha Beach)
  • Palacio de Miramar (Miramar Palace)
Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square)

1) Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square) (must see)

By September 1813, the French Commander, Louis Emmanuel Rey, was forced to surrender San Sebastian to British and Portuguese forces commanded by Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. Rey and his troops were allowed to leave with honors. The town was ravaged and burned for seven days. The town reconstruction was well underway by 1817.

Architect Pedro Manuel de Ugartemendía, one of the people most involved in the renaissance of San Sebastian, built the new Constitution Square (Plaza de la Constitucion) on the site, previously occupied by a square constructed by architect Hercules Torrelli in 1723.

The buildings surrounding the square have arched arcades of equal height on the ground floors. On the long sides of the square, there are 20 arches. Nine arches line the shorter sides. The arcaded buildings have three floors with balconies. Louvered double doors with numbers above each one of the windows line the balconies.

Once, Constitution Square was used for bullfights, and the numbered doors served as boxes for passionate fans. At the end of the square is the Neoclassical style former City Hall, now the Municipal Library. The new City Hall (Ayuntamiento) is housed in the old Gran Casino building constructed in 1887.

Nowadays, Constitution Square is home to terraced bars, cafes, and flower vendors. The most significant events and celebrations are hosted here. Tamborrada is a celebratory drum festival held every year on January 20. On Saint Thomas Day, there are stalls selling chistorra (a sort of cooked sausage) throughout the square.
Iglesia de San Vicente Martir (Church of Saint Vicente Martir)

2) Iglesia de San Vicente Martir (Church of Saint Vicente Martir)

The oldest monument in San Sebastian is at the end of Narrica Street. The 16th-century Gothic Church of Saint Vincent, 4th-century deacon and martyr. Built on the site of an earlier temple, it has the inscription on its walls: "He who swears and in his house will not lack evil or sore." The Pieta (Compassion), which represents the Virgin Mary with open arms and the body of Christ she holds on her lap, a sculpture by Jorge Oteiza, adorns the facade.

Construction of Saint Vicente Martir Church began in 1507. The project was directed by master stonemasons Miguel de Santa Celay and Juan de Urrutia. The church has a rectangular floor plan. It has three naves. Following ogival styles, the center nave is taller. The four rose windows are paired equally. The portico is Baroque style.

On the south exterior, there is a sentry box with firing loopholes. There are more loopholes in the sea-facing facade, giving a defensive, fortified look to the structure. Inside, cylindrical pillars with plant decorations adorn the capitals, pointed arches, and ribbed vaults.

The 16th-century Romanesque altarpiece, one of the highlights inside the church, was made by sculptor Ambrosio de Bengoechea in collaboration with Juanes de Iriarte. Two 18th-century works of San Sebastian sculptor Filipe de Arizmendi, "Medallion of Souls" and "Ecce Homo" ("Behold the Man"), are at the back of the church.
Museo San Telmo (San Telmo Museum)

3) Museo San Telmo (San Telmo Museum) (must see)

The Royal Basque Society of Friends of the Country was founded in 1765 by the Knights of Azcoitia. It serves the interests of the arts, culture, and the Basque territory. In the late 19th century, the society addressed a request to the Municipal Council to found a Municipal Museum.

The San Telmo Museum was established in 1932 at its present location at the San Telmo Monastery, erected as a Dominican convent in 1562. The convent held a church, cloister, and a tower. The building complex was shaped in a transitional style between Gothic and Renaissance, known as the "Elizabethan" style. The property was purchased by the City in 1929.

In 2011 the museum was refurbished and enlarged. Architects Fuensanta Nieto and Enrique Sobejano designed an extension of two new pavilions. The new areas include cloakrooms, shops, events rooms, and a cafeteria. The facade features holes with vegetation bored into 3,000 molten aluminum panels.

The museum's permanent collections are housed in the church and refurbished original rooms. The collection has 200 artworks on show. They include masterpieces by notable artists El Greco, Joaquín Sorolla, Ignacio Zuloaga, and others. There are also items in the "Signs of Spirituality" section, modern bicycles and cars, and football jerseys of Club Bilbao.

Temporary exhibits are in the new sections. There have been showings of the films of Federico Fellini and Paolo Pasolini. The works of Modern artists Jorge Oteiza, Jose Luis Zumeta, Eduardo Chillida, Antonio Sistiaga, and Nestor Basterretxea are also on display.
Calle 31 de Agosto (August 31st Street)

4) Calle 31 de Agosto (August 31st Street)

Every August 31st, the people of San Sebastian remember the horrors of war, pillage, and fire endured by the city in 1813. The allied forces of British and Portuguese troops, commanded by Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, had expelled the French occupying troops led by General Louis Emmanuel Rey. The siege had been extremely tough.

The allied rank and file wanted revenge. Looting, burning, and raping were the order of the day. One street was spared. The Trinity Street (Calle de la Trinidad), now known as August 31st Street (Calle de 31 Agosto). The street, selected by the allies to house their commands, connects the two oldest churches of the town that survived the fire: San Vicente and Santa Maria.

Each year, on the final day of August, local people light candles and torches. They parade silently through the city. An orchestra and choir provide hymns. August 31st Street is also famous among gourmets. The street houses some of the more popular pintxo bars. These are bar snacks like tapas, but with a "pintxo" ("spike"), a toothpick spear.
Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Coro (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus)

5) Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Coro (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus) (must see)

The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus is a Catholic parish church and a minor basilica located in the Old Town (Parte Vieja) of San Sebastian. It was constructed in 1774. The architectural style of the construction is Baroque, with a blend of Gothic and Neo-classical elements. It is a style peculiar to the area referred to as "Churrigueresque," lavishly ornamented late Spanish baroque style. The facade features two spires and faces the south side.

The central nave is a space of 157 feet by 108 feet. It divides into three smaller naves and four zones. Six free-standing columns and wall pillars act as buttresses to support the vaults. The 49-foot columns are octagonal. The central dome is 89 feet high. At the end of the central nave are smaller rooms used as chapels, a sacristy, and for storage.

The image of the Virgin of the Choir is a small dark wood carving. It presides over masses in the basilica from a six-foot-high pedestal in front of the main altar. When not presiding over holy mass, the Virgin of the Choir is in a niche in the center of the altarpiece. The exact origin of the Virgin image is unknown. Locals believe the Virgin of the Choir saved the basilica in the fire of 1813.
Ayuntamiento de San Sebastian (San Sebastian Town Hall)

6) Ayuntamiento de San Sebastian (San Sebastian Town Hall)

The San Sebastian City Council governs from the old Gran Casino building next to the Alderdi Eder Gardens and La Concha Beach (Playa de la Concha). The Gran Casino was a palace of fortune erected in 1887 and closed in 1924.

Queen Isabela II spent her summers at San Sebastian, making it, for a time, a prime destination for the rich and famous. The presence of the Queen and court turned the city into the most fashionable and chicest holiday destination of the 19th century. San Sebastián became a magnet for the aristocracy.

Along with the casinos, the Maria Cristina Hotel, the Victoria Eugenia Theatre, the Cathedral of Good Shepherd (Catedral del Buen Pastor), the Penaflorida Institute, the School of Arts and Crafts (Escuela de Artes y Oficios,) the new tram, electric lights, and telephones earned the city the nickname "Little Paris."

Architects Luis Aladren and Adolfo Morales de los Rios took inspiration from the casinos in Monte Carlo. Everybody who was anybody came; the Queen and the Royal children, the Shah of Persia, Leon Trotsky, and Baron Rothchild. According to some historians, the casino banned berets and espadrille shoes and was frequented by very few locals.

The Gran Casino closed in 1924. In 1943 architects Alday and Arizmendi redesigned the building to accommodate the City Council, which was moving from its former premises at Constitution Square. And so the Gran Casino evolved into the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento) of San Sebastian.
Catedral del Buen Pastor de San Sebastian (San Sebastián Cathedral)

7) Catedral del Buen Pastor de San Sebastian (San Sebastián Cathedral) (must see)

In August of 1887, the San Sebastian City Council donated some land of dunes and marshes between the river Urumea and La Concha Beach to build a church. In December, a design competition was held. Local architect Manuel de Echave submitted the winning entry. The new church would be named "The Good Shepherd."

The foundation stone was laid in September 1888. Queen Maria Christina and the Royal family were in attendance. The minutes of the ceremony were signed by baby king Alfonso XIII with his mother's help. The San Sebastián Cathedral was consecrated on July 30, 1897. Manuel de Echave was inspired by Cologne Cathedral in France.

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd has a Latin cross plan, three aisles, a transept nave, and a pentagonal sanctuary. The double gables of the transept house have two rose windows. The naves are in five sections, covered with ribbed vaults. The bell tower is a vertical mass of pilasters and buttresses topped with pinnacles and spirelets adorned with buds.

Inside the Main Chapel, on a pedestal hanging from the central boss of the apse, is the neo-Gothic sculpture of the Good Shepherd by artist Josep Llimona i Bruguera. The sculptor also made the figures of the Four Evangelists on the columns of the crossing. Two neo-Gothic gold-covered altarpieces are under the rose windows.

The seven double windows of the apse portray the twelve apostles and the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. There are more figurative windows in the baptistry. Stained glass windows, double and triple-paned, run around the side walls. Under the presbytery, the crypt serves as the parish sacristy and the priestly tomb of Priest Lorenzo de Urizar.

At its installation in 1954, the current organ was considered the largest in Spain and Europe. It has five keyboards for the hands and one for the feet. It has 106 stops. The choir organ houses in its interior and exterior 9,535 pipes, the largest measuring 10 meters, the whole thing weighing 30 tons.
Paseo de la Concha (Concha Promenade)

8) Paseo de la Concha (Concha Promenade)

There can be no walking tour of San Sebastian without a walk along the La Concha Promenade (Paseo de la Concha), the beachside promenade of the city. The beach has the shape of a conch shell, hence the name. La Concha Promenade is entirely pedestrian. It begins at the foot of Liberty Avenue (Avenida de la Libertad) and ends at the tunnel of El Antiguo.

The walkway is edged by a painted, wrought iron balustrade, emblematic of the city itself. It was designed in 1910 by municipal architect Juan Rafael Alday Lasarte. He also designed the roundabout of La Concha, with its famous obelisks and the monumental lampposts flanking the beach access.

There are incomparable views of the sea and Sant Clara Island in the bay. The busy promenade is lined with elegant buildings and monuments. The Hotel Londres, the English-style Miramar Palace, and La Perla thermal water thalassotherapy center bring back times when San Sebastian was a spa city.

The walkway is "book-ended" by Mount Igeldo and Mount Urgull. In the west, the Pico del Loro cliff separates Ondarreta Beach from Concha Beach. Staircases descend to the golden sands of Concha Beach. Many cafes facing the sea serve snacks and refreshments.
Playa de La Concha (La Concha Beach)

9) Playa de La Concha (La Concha Beach) (must see)

La Concha Beach (La Playa de La Concha) has been called the crown jewel of San Sebastian. The beach is often called the best in Europe. Queen Isabel II started the whole thing back in 1845. The monarch moved her court to San Sebastián in the summer, where she could bathe in the sea to treat her skin problems. The high-society aristocrats called La Concha Beach the "Pearl of the Cantabrian Sea." Tourists today feel the same.

The bay itself is relatively shallow. The high tides will limit space on the beach. Even so, there is always room enough for events. On the 15th of August, Virgin's Day, the "Big Week" Festival explodes. It is the International Fireworks Competition. A cannon is fired at 7 pm in the Alderdi Eder Gardens, and the party begins.

While international companies compete with fireworks, a music festival is held in the city. There is swimming from Getaria to San Sebastian, horse races, beach-volleyball tournaments, Cabezudos (Big Heads) parades, disco, fire bulls, and Basque rural sports exhibitions. And, oh yes, there are regattas.

The 4,270 feet of fine golden sand invites barefoot walking. One can walk to Ondarreta Beach by crossing a rocky path called Parrot's Beak (Pico del Loro). The hills shelter the bay. Canoeing, paddle-boarding, yachting, and diving are ideal here. A boat goes to Santa Clara Island. No one lives there except the lighthouse keeper.

The Nautical Club on the far right of the beach is a gem of Architectural Rationalism. It has the form of a boat moored to the quay. It is a perfect spot for sunsets. The old Gran Casino is next door. In front are the Alderdi Eder Gardens. Bronze images of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza hide among the Tamarisk trees. There is a merry-go-round.
Palacio de Miramar (Miramar Palace)

10) Palacio de Miramar (Miramar Palace) (must see)

Jose Goicoa Barcaiztegui, the municipal architect of San Sebastian, can best be described as a conservative, eclectic classicist. He designed and built the Spanish Royal Family's Miramar Palace at La Concha Beach (Playa de La Concha) in 1893. Located in front of La Concha Bay, the Royal Palace has spectacular views of the city and the bay.

San Sebastian had close ties to Spanish royalty since the reign of Isabel II in the mid-19th century. Isabel spent her summers in La Concha to "take the waters" for her chronic skin problems. Aristocracy followed her and her later successor, Queen Maria Cristina, widow of King Alfonso XII. Soon a Royal Country House was required.

The location chosen was a large estate acquired from the Count of Mariana. The Royal Palace received an annex in 1920 called the Prince's Pavilion. The estate was taken over in 1933 by the San Sebastian City Council. During the Franco regime, it was returned to the Spanish Royal Household, and in 1972, the Palace was taken back by the City Council.

The overall style of the building is decidedly English with Neo-Gothic adornments. Inside, the White Room, Music Room, Wooden Room, Petit Room, Library, and Royal Dining Room are unchanged. Parties, events, and the San Sebastian Film Festival are hosted at the Palace, now renamed Miramar Municipal Palace.

Walking Tours in San Sebastian, Spain

Create Your Own Walk in San Sebastian

Create Your Own Walk in San Sebastian

Creating your own self-guided walk in San Sebastian is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Mount Urgull Walking Tour

Mount Urgull Walking Tour

Mount Urgull is a promontory stretching out at the eastern end of La Concha Bay, surrounded by water on all sides, except the one linking it to the Old Town of San Sebastian. Historically, this mount, rising 123 meters above sea level, served as a strategic defense point for the city, attesting to which now are the remnants of old fortifications with cannons still in place.

From its elevated...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles