(Appeared in Condé Nast Traveller Middle East, January 2016)
San Sebastián is known for its talented chefs and Michelin-starred restaurants (look out for my post on this soon), but the 2016 European Capital of Culture has much more going for it. Here’s why you need to visit this northern Spain culture and foodie haven this year:
San Telmo Museum
For a good dose of Basque art and history, head to this museum housed in a 16th-century building, formerly a Dominican convent, in Parte Vieja (the Old Town). Following a three-year renovation and expansion in 2011, the old and new have come together with an avant-garde building of contemporary architecture. Don’t miss paintings by the likes of Ignacio Zuloaga and Antonio Ortiz Echagüc.
Info: Entry, USD 6.5; 00-34-94348 1580, santelmomuseoa.com
Contemporary art, cinema, television, video and design meet at the inspiring International Centre for Contemporary Culture that specialises in the visual arts.
Info: Free entry; 0034-943-01 1311, tabakalera.eu
Aquarium of San Sebastián
Immerse yourself in marine life in the eco-building, which has an acrylic tunnel providing a 360-degree view of mantas, sharks, turtles and over 5,000 other marine species.
Info: Entry, USD 14; 0034-943-44 0099, aquariumss.com
Victoria Eugenia Theatre
Playing host to cultural events throughout the year, this modern performing arts theatre built in Neo-Plateresque style in 1912 is also one of the most iconic buildings in San Sebastián.
Info: Tickets from USD 33; 0034-943-48 1160, sansebastianfestival.com
San Sebastián International Film Festival
Rub shoulders with A-list celebrities this September when one of the most important international film festivals takes place in San Sebastián at Kursaal Congress Centre. Since its inception actors like Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepurn, Meryl Streep, Richard Gere and Brad Pitt have attended.
Info: Tickets from USD 35; 0034-943-48-1212, sansebastianfestival.com
The San Sebastián Jazz Festival, also known as Heineken Jazzaldia, will celebrate its 51st year in July, making it one of the oldest in Europe. Past performers have included Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Van Morrison and Liza Minnelli. With over 100 concerts spread across 12 stages during a five-day period, there’s plenty to choose from.
Info: 0034-943-48 1900, heinekenjazzaldia.com
Known as the pearl of the Cantabrian coast, La Concha is one of the most visited beaches in Spain and boasts the best bay views.
Located in the Antiquo quarter, across from the island of Santa Clara, pretty Ondarreta (meaning “little beach” in Basque) is perfect for calmer watersports like body boarding, Or while away an afternoon watching sailboats pass.
Peine del Vienta (Wind Comb)
One of the most visited sculptures in the city, by Eduardo Chillida, lies at this point with views of the sea.
Info: Though temporarily closed, Tenedor Tours (from USD 104 per person; 0034-943-42 2163, tenedortours.com) can arrange private visits. Visit peinedelviento.info for more.
Put on a pair of trainers and burn off those pintxos by climbing the steps near the Basílica of Santa María to reach this peak with breathtaking views of Mount Igueldo and the deep blue sea. There is a tiny bar close to the top where you can pause on the way to Castillo de la Mota, a 12th-century fort.
Imagine a mini Disneyland atop a hill with the best views of the city and a rooftop bar to soak it all in from. You can drive or ride a funicular.
Info: Tickets from USD 3; 0034-943-21 3525, monteigueldo.es
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Maria Cristina
This Belle-Époque hotel opened its doors in 1912 to its first guest, Spanish Queen Regent Maria Cristina. Ever since, it’s been the centre of many social and cultural events and the meeting point of prominent politicians, artists, Parisian couturiers such as Coco Chanel and Jean Patou. Julie Andrews and Al Pacino have stayed during the San Sebastián International Film Festival.
Info: Doubles from USD 289; 0034-943-43-7600, hotel-mariacristina.com
For more on San Sebastián’s 2016 programme, visit dss2016.eu.