San Sebastian had been on my travel bucket list for years. I found out about this Basque town through one of my clients, a French surfer who’s been going to San Sebastian every year because he simply can’t get enough of it. I’ve been to Biarritz before (a French town that is considered one of the most important surfing locations in Europe), and San Sebastian is less than one hour away. So I asked my surfing friend what makes San Sebastian so special. “You just have to go there to find out”, he told me. And so I did.
Getting to San Sebastian from the UK
Basically, you have three options when it comes to travelling from the UK. The fastest one is flying, and once again, here you have several options available. San Sebastian has its own airport (called Hondarribia airport and located 12 miles away from the centre), but the local airport only operates flights to Madrid and Barcelona. So this might not be your best option unless you want to combine your surfing trip with a visit to one of these cities. In theory though, you can book a flight from London to San Sebastian (with a stopover in Barcelona) with Iberia or British Airways. How you get to your nearest regional UK airport is up to you, you can either drive your own car and park at the airport, take public transport or pre-book an airport transfer for a door to door service.
Your second option is flying to Bilbao, 60 miles west of San Sebastian. Easyjet flies here from Stansted and Manchester, and Vueling flies from Heathrow and Gatwick. You can then drive, take the train or the bus to San Sebastian.
Third option: fly to Biarritz with Easyjet (Gatwick) or Ryanair (Stansted), then rent a car, hop on the train (you’ll need to change trains once), or take the coach. This is what I did, mostly because I live near Stansted.
Want to travel by train? There’s an overnight train between Paris and San Sebastian, so you could get on the Eurostar from London to Paris and continue your trip from there.
And then there’s the self-drive option, perfect for those with plenty of time in their hands and great if you want to drive across France and see the country at your own pace. It’s nearly 800 miles from London to San Sebastian.
Best surfing beaches in San Sebastian
I was here for the surf, so I headed straight for the beach, which by the way, is never too far away in this pretty Basque town. In fact, San Sebastian is built around three beaches: Gros (aka La Zurriola), La Concha, and Ondarreta. I just couldn’t pinpoint which of these beaches is the most beautiful, as they’re all simply stunning. But the best surf is on the eastern beaches (Gros).
There are a couple of surf shops on the street across the beach where you can rent equipment and talk to the local experts about surfing conditions. The conditions were ideal when I was there, with light to moderate easterly winds, consistent 3-feet tall waves, north-western swells, and water temperatures of 20 degrees. You can check the surf forecast here. Of course, November to March are the best times for surfing, so I’ll make sure to come back next winter.
While I was chatting to the surf shop staff, someone mentioned that I should visit Zarautz’s beach for unbeatable surfing conditions. This village is 10 miles west of San Sebastian and is one of Spain’s prime surfing spots.
Exploring San Sebastian
My French friend was right: you just have to visit San Sebastian. The town reminded me of Paris, only that it was better because beaches are everywhere! It’s impossible not to fall in love with the town’s elegant Belle Epoque architecture, tree-lined boulevards, and beautiful green spaces. And don’t get me started on the absolutely scrumptious food.
Make sure not to miss a visit to the Kursaal exhibition centre, a box-shaped building where you can find out what’s on in town. Nearby there’s a footpath access to the top of Mount Urgull, which rises 443 feet above sea level and offers panoramic views of the city and its beaches.
Your next stop should be the old town, where every other business is a restaurant. San Sebastian’s culinary offer is amazing. Want to splurge? There are seven Michelin starred restaurants in town. In a rush? There are literally hundreds of pintxo bars (the local version of tapas, only better). I had a fantastic three-course lunch at La Rampa (near the harbour), followed by a fair share of pintxos and wine at Rojo y Negro.
Don’t miss the marvellous walk along Paseo de La Concha (the waterfront). If you make it to the westernmost point you’ll find an interesting sculpture called the Wind Comb, created by one of the most important local artists. Great place for pictures. If you’re like me, you just won’t want to leave this gorgeous city!