Top 7 things to see and do in San Sebastián
1) Tackle a favourite trek…
Along with food and wine, the outdoors plays a huge role in Basque life. Misty peaks dotted with weathered farmsteads surround the city, and it’s a common sight to see locals packing up their cars to spend a weekend scaling a summit.
Those with a proclivity for plodding should amble to the top of Monte Urgull (123m/404ft), where a 12m-high (39ft) sculpture of Jesus Christ overlooks the city. Experienced ramblers should head to the iconic crucifix-strewn summit of Hernio (1,075m/3,527ft), a more challenging peak and a popular pilgrimage point in September.
2) Pinch a pintxos or three…
The perfect symbol of the sociable and indulgent nature of the Basque people, pintxos (a bite-sized snack consumed during drinking sessions) has become synonymous with easy-going San Sebastián.
As the sun begins to dip behind Monte Igueldo, the tiny taverns that line the snaking alleyways of the city’s old quarter fill their bars with miniature portions of fish and meats, often spread on small slabs of crusty bread. Jolly locals wander in for a beer and a bite then wobble off to find their next haunt. Fish lovers will adore the anchovies at Bar Txepetxa (Calle de la Pescadería 5), while sweet-toothed punters should sample La Viña’s (Calle del Treinta y Uno de Agosto 3) famous baked cheesecake.
3) Sample the Spanish surf scene…
While the swells don’t measure up to those that pound the shores of cross-boarder cousin Biarritz, San Sebastián has a healthy and flourishing surf scene spanning across its two crescent-shaped shores.
The beauteous La Concha Beach (named after its iconic shell-like shape) is the ideal setting for complete novices, with gentle swells favoured by the city’s paddle-boarding crowd.
Across the Urumea River, the Sagüés district is the crest of the city’s main surf scene, with bars and cafés around Zurriola Beach continuously crammed with olive-skinned locals with surfboard in tow. Here, lessons are offered to visitors by numerous schools, including Pukas Surf Eskola, the longest running surf school in Spain.
4) Get lost in a dream world…
One of the standout events of San Sebastián’s chocked 2016 schedule will be the immersive open-air performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, the play will run for four weeks from the 21 June.
The city’s atmospheric Cristina Enea Park provides a fitting stand-in for the play’s fairy woodland setting, where audiences chase the action through the trunks of ginkgo and redwood trees as peacocks prowl nearby. The play will incorporate a banquet and be performed in modern English, Spanish and Basque.
5) Catch a game of Basque pelota…
Capturing the imagination of great minds, including Paul Newman and Ernest Hemingway, Basque pelota is perhaps the most famous and visually spectacular of the traditional Basque sports.
The game has many varieties but loosely resembles an old-fashioned form of squash. Initially played on the exterior walls of churches, you’re likely to find a simple version of hand pelota (where the hand is used to hit the ball) being played on makeshift frontons(courts) throughout San Sebastián.
For a real spectacle, head to the Galarreta Fronton in Hernani, where the pros bestowed with xisteras (gloves that extend into a long pointed curved basket) do battle in front of bellowing sell-out crowds.
6) Scout out some new street art…
Specially commissioned for this year’s festivities, the city and its surrounds have benefited from a lick of paint courtesy of acclaimed local and foreign street artists.
The Walls That Talk project sees artists teaming up with local communities to create large murals that depict images of coexistence painted on large walls, traditionally a symbol of division and separation. Don’t miss Harsha’s Fisher of Dreams in Roman Irigoyen Park or Hormachic’s comment on immigration in the neighbouring town of Errenteria.