San Sebastian City Information

Facts: About 400,000 people live in San Sebastian's metro area. The city serves as the capital of its province and is located in Spain's Basque Country. Although Basque culture is prevalent (the city is commonly referred to in its Basque name of Donostia), most residents only speak Spanish. Located in northern Spain on the Bay of Biscay, San Sebastian's coast keeps temperatures in the city mild both in summer and winter. Fog and rain are fairly common throughout the year.


History: San Sebastian was popularized as a resort destination in the late nineteenth century when Spain's royal family began frequenting its coast, due in large part to the reputation of its healing waters. The city is believed to have its origins in the establishment of a monastery in the area in the early eleventh century. By the late twelfth century, San Sebastian had been officially founded by royal decree. Throughout the Middle Ages the city's port grew in importance, first as a mercantile hub and later as a military asset.

Study Spanish at San Sebastian, SpainBecause of its militarily strategic location San Sebastian witnessed its fair share of war, experiencing foreign occupation during the nineteenth-century Napoleonic Wars and further conflict during the Spanish Civil War. Its transition to a modern resort town was sparked in the mid twentieth century when Queen Isabel II sought medical treatment by bathing in its salt waters, with the rest of the royal family--and ultimately the population at large--following suit.


Attractions: The city is primarily known for its gold-sand blue-water bays, which are unique in that they offer a beautiful beach experience just paces from the heart of town. San Sebastian is comfortably small, with its most important areas accessible by foot. It's also exceptionally well-maintained and clean.

Northern Spain is known for its world-class cuisine, and San Sebastian is no exception. Excellent restaurants abound serving fresh fish and delicious pintxos (the Basque Country's equivalent of tapas). La Concha bay is the largest and most picturesque beach with its view of Santa Clara, a tiny lushly wooded island just offshore. To the west of La Concha, Mount Igueldo offers breathtaking views of the city below.

Because of its position on the coast and enviable natural surroundings, water sports such as surfing and kayaking and land activities such as hiking are popular in the area. The Old Town (Parte Vieja) is rich in historical architecture, and numerous cultural festivities throughout the year keep the city steeped in its local culture.


Going Out: Thanks in large part to its university of over 50,000 students, San Sebastian enjoys an extremely active nightlife. As an example, the city's most popular nightclub, Bataplán, doesn't get crowded until well after its opening time of 2 a.m. Until then nightlife centers around Old Town, where pintxos are served in abundance and bars of all kinds can be found.