The city's name is very different depending on the language you use. San Sebastian is the Spanish name, but it is also often called the Basque variants: Donosti or Donostia. San Sebastian is an extremely attractive city that has much to offer.
San Sebastian was in the end of the 1800's a popular seaside resort during the Spanish summer months when the beautiful beaches along the Atlantic Ocean bathes in sun, but without the extreme heat that the rest of Spain suffers in July and August.
San Sebastian is a city full of culture, history, avant-garde and pioneer Spanish gastronomy. The old town in San Sebastian is very popular and offers thousands of restaurants, bars and typical traditional streets. When the evening comes you will probably discover you have walked more in a single afternoon than you normally do in a week.
The modern part of San Sebastian is an attractive shopping area: Streets with luxury shops and long broad avenues. Many international festivals are celebrated annually in San Sebastian. Among these the already classic film festival that attracts the world's most relevant actors to the yearly Horror Film Festival, which is unique in the world. San Sebastian's famous and prestigious university is one of the Spanish summer's most popular events with many courses.
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The city's most popular places are undoubtedly El Sardinero and La Concha. The beaches along San Sebastian's beautiful promenade, when the weather allows, are the best to enjoy the beauty of the Atlantic coast.
The Old Part of San Sebastian or Donosti is the traditional heart of the city. The Old part of San Sebastian was surrounded by high walls until 1863. A small part of the historical walls still remains, and limits the Old Part of San Sebastian – Donosti from the port.
The Old Town of San Sebastian is divided in two parts: The Santa Maria and the San Vicente districts, referring to the churches in the area.
The historical quarters of San Sebastian are very popular among youth and tourists offering bars, restaurants and entertainment until late hours.
Festivals and cultural Events in San Sebastian - Donostia
The most important cultural events in San Sebastian are the International Film Festival that is held in the city in September and the San Sebastian Jazz Festival that is held in July every year. The festival la Tamborrada on January 20 is also very popular. La Tamborrada is a drum festival that lasts for 24 hours. The festival La Tamborrada starts at midnight and the sound of the drums are present all over San Sebastian day and night while the festival lasts.
Thanks to a royal physician, Donostia can claim to be Spain’s most elegant city. In the middle of the 19th century the Spanish Queen came here on doctor’s orders to bathe in the waters of Spain’s northern shores. Soon the Basque city, better known by its Spanish name, San Sebastián, became the summer resort for royalty and aristocrats, and its Belle Époque building and manicured gardens still speak of more genteel times. San Sebastián has changed often, though not always out of choice.
Between the 13th century and the Napoleonic Wars, thirteen fires have devastated the town or large parts of it. Even what the locals call “the Old Part” is not all that old, though it is old enough to contain traditional restaurants where one can confirm the city’s renown as Spain’s culinary capital.
Before it drew royal patronage, San Sebastián was basically a fishing port. Basque fishermen are adept, not only at catching fish (whose language, legend has it, they understand), but at cooking and eating it too. Their love of good food and their recipes have together inspired a generation of innovative chef-restaurateurs who are at the forefront of Spanish cuisine today.
Any excuse is good for visiting San Sebastian. Over and above the matchless beauty of La Concha Bay, where the Spanish royal family used to spend the summer in the early 20th century, the city has a year-round cultural life with something for everyone, and innovative cuisine that's made it famous the world over.
SAN SEBASTIAN is a city of 183,000 inhabitants, with a remarkably high level of cultural activity for its size. The beauty of its Bay, known as the Pearl of the Cantabrian Sea; its situation in a natural amphitheatre facing the sea and protected by mountains; its quality of life, and its famous gastronomy have turned it during the past two centuries into a world-class tourist destination.
Shaped by its history, it started out as a fishing village; grew as a market town and military fort, with the invasion by Napoleon's troops; and after being almost completely destroyed in 1813 by the garrison's battle against the Anglo-Portuguese, it was chosen by Queen Isabel II of Spain as the Royal Family's summer residence and began to flourish as a services city.
It was in the late 19th and early 20th century that San Sebastian emerged as a city of culture, full of amenities and Northern Spain's tourist destination par excellence. Its majestic buildings and their eclectic style, which reflected the contemporary tastes of the Royal Family and bourgeoisie, gave it a stately character that has adapted well to changing times.
Cultural activity grew at the same pace as tourist activity, so that today the city boasts a top-quality performing arts and cultural programme. The International Film Festival, the ‘Jazzaldia’ Jazz Festival and Music Fortnight are the highlights of its year-round programme, which also includes themed film festivals such as the ‘Surfilm’ Surfing Film Festival and the Film and Human Rights Festival, in addition to performing arts events such as the ‘dFeria’ Theatre Festival.
San Sebastian is world famous as a food tourism destination, since it's collected more Michelin stars per square metre of its territory than anywhere else in the world; and, as the birthplace of the “new Basque cuisine” movement, it's nurtured the renaissance of Basque gastronomy. The quality of its ingredients and its world famous “pintxos” give much pleasure to both local people and visitors all year round.
Because of its gastronomy, culture, beauty and maturity as a tourist destination, along with accommodation and tourist resources of great variety and exceptional quality, San Sebastian is one of Spain's principal tourist destinations, welcoming over 400,000 visitors per year.
San Sebastian offers the visitor non-stop cultural activity that extends into all spheres of creativity, from contemporary art to urban culture. Its world-renowned festivals make it an international capital of culture. Its wealth of museums and art galleries are the best excuse for visiting the city – if its timelessly beautiful landscape were not enough to tempt one.
Culture in San Sebastian offers something for everyone. The Aquarium was built over 80 years ago as a marine science museum. Its most stunning attraction since its recent ambitious renovation is the oceanarium with its 360º acrylic tunnel suspended in the water.
Very close by, the Naval Museum hosts sea-themed temporary exhibitions. Sculpture has its magical setting in purest nature at Chillida-leku indoor and garden museum, where you can wander amongst works by brilliant Donostian sculptor Eduardo Chillida. For lovers of science, especially children: KutxaEspacio Science Centre, created for awareness-raising and learning. Here the visitor interacts with the exhibits by handling them and through experiments.
You have an opportunity to discover Basque art down the centuries at San Telmo's Museum. Housed in a 16th-century former monastery, in the heart of the Old Part, which is currently undergoing renovation, the museum will be a heritage and cultural centre serving the fields of tourism, education and cultural leisure. All this it will do through close liaison with the public. The city's panoply of culture is completed by the ambitious Tabakalera project – a former cigarette factory turned into a factory of contemporary visual culture -- and the refurbished Victoria Eugenia Theatre, with its top-flight stage productions.
Art in open spaces, accessible to everyone, is one of San Sebastian's distinguishing features. On a stroll through the city one can admire works by great sculptors such as Eduardo Chillida and Jorge Oteiza which melt into their urban background, thus creating a deeply meaningful dialogue between the man-made city and its natural setting.
The sculpture that has become an icon of the city, Eduardo Chillida's El Peine del Viento (The Wind Comb), is a work of iron set defiantly next to the crashing waves of the sea. A favourite place to go to have a quiet think, the Wind Comb converses across the waters of the bay with another feat of sculptural engineering, Jorge Oteiza's Estructura Vacía (Empty Structure), set close to the waves that break onto the Paseo Nuevo . The sculpture's placement in such an accessible spot is a perfect example of how to touch art with one's hands.
An influential figure in contemporary Basque art, Eduardo Chillida (San Sebastian, 1924-2002) devoted almost his whole working life to sculpture. His works, spread around the world and awarded innumerable prizes, hold a continuous dialogue with the landscape in which they are set.
The works of Jorge Oteiza (Orio, 1908 – San Sebastian, 2003) – one of the first sculptors to experiment with avant-garde trends – are spirituality in physical form. Influenced by cubism and primitivism, his style was always marked by his love and defence of Basque culture. Tens of international awards testify to his genius.
San Sebastian becomes intensely vibrant during the festivals held throughout the year. The annual fiestas include (in chronological order, starting in January) the unique “Tamborrada” drumming parades held on the feast day of the city's patron saint, St. Sebastian; Carnival; Semana Grande – ‘Big Week’ and its famous International Firework Competition; Euskal Jaiak - the Basque Festivities; and St. Thomas' Feast Day.
San Sebastian has worked very hard to foster art and creativity on all levels; proofs of this are the many Festivals held throughout the year in the city. If you time your visit to coincide with one of the many festivals in San Sebastian, it will show you its most cosmopolitan face.
In addition to the prestigious San Sebastian International Film Festival, which every September brings together on its pink carpet the full national and international filmmaking panorama, in San Sebastian many other top-flight festivals are held. The city streets move in time to the music during the International Jazz Festival in San Sebastian, held at legendary venues such as Trinidad Square and the terraces of the Kursaal, as well as on the beach, and also during Music Fortnight – one of Spain's most traditional and best-known classical music festivals. The same streets are turned into improvised stages when the dFeria Theatre Fair begins.
Coinciding with Halloween, the Horror and Fantasy Film Week in San Sebastian turns the city into a horror film. San Sebastian demonstrates its commitment to defending civil rights and freedoms during the Film and Human Rights Festival, while creativity gets the professional treatment at El Sol Latin American Advertising Festival. One of the latest festivals to choose San Sebastian as its venue is the Surfilm Surfing Film Festival – young, dynamic and full of activities that link the art of filmmaking with the world of surfing on our doorstep.
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Food is an art in San Sebastian, and a sign of the city's identity. Its chefs have made San Sebastian famous the whole world over and its 16 Michelin stars give you an idea of what standards you can expect from Donostia's culinary artists. Pintxos (“pinchos”) and the quality of the ingredients make this city a food lover's paradise.
San Sebastian is the cradle of signature cuisine. San Sebastian chefs go to town on recipes and products to make an art form of gastronomy. A stunning 16 Michelin stars have been won by chefs such as Juan Mari Arzak, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Martín Berasategui and Pedro Subijana, exponents of world-renowned Basque haute cuisine. In fact, Andoni Luis Aduriz' restaurant, Mugaritz, has been named for the second year running the 4th best restaurant in the world by the British publication “Restaurant”.
Juan Mari Arzak
Juan Mari Arzak (San Sebastian, 1942), who helped shape the new cuisine, mixes research with an avant-garde approach in his culinary works of art. He revolutionized 20th century cuisine by mixing innovation and tradition, and his restaurant, Arzak, has 3 Michelin stars.
An acclaimed chef, awarded 3 Michelin stars, who practises light, imaginative, fresh, immediate cooking, done with a precise technique. After working for many years as a chef, in 1993 he opened his own restaurant: Martín Berasategui.
Awarded the highest distinctions in prestigious food guides Pedro Subijana.
The Pinxos are fine gastronomic art in miniature. The famous pintxos (“pinchos”) are expressions of tradition and innovation that are laid out temptingly in the restaurants and bars of the Old Part of Donostia. To “go for pinchos” is a way of getting to know our culture and a form of entertainment that combines conversation, pub crawling and fun. Originally, the pintxo was a small slice of bread on which one put a portion of food, of all sorts. To hold the pintxo, one used a spike (such as a toothpick) or, for the larger ones, a skewer; that's how they got the name “pintxo” (spike). However, that traditional image has changed over time, and today the pintxo is haute cuisine in miniature: flavoursome, specially prepared food concentrated in delicious small portions.
The quality of ingredients
The secret of this exquisite cuisine is the care that goes into it and, above all, the quality of the ingredients. The province of Gipuzkoa can claim to produce foods of the highest quality, such as Getaria txakoli (a slightly sparkling white wine), Ibarra chilli peppers, Tolosa beans, cider, and Idiazabal ewe's milk cheese, to mention but a few. All these select products, along with the freshest fish and best meat, are displayed in the traditional markets. In San Sebastian there are two markets. One of them, the San Martín, is in the heart of the city. It's housed in modern, recently renovated premises, but has the traditional charm of the markets of days gone by. But without a doubt, the most charismatic market is La Bretxa (“The Breach”), so called because it's in the place where the Anglo-Portuguese troops broke their way into the city during the siege of 1813.
The Basque Culinary Center Foundation
The Faculty of Gastronomic and Culinary Sciences – part of the Basque Culinary Center Foundation – will open its lecture rooms in 2011 and since it couldn't be otherwise, it will do so in San Sebastian – in Miramón Technology Park, to be precise. The new academic centre, which will offer degrees in the Culinary Arts, will be only the second University of Gastronomy in Europe, and will serve to expand even further San Sebastian's already recognized experience in the world of catering. The Basque Culinary Center is a necessity in a world – the world of cookery – that has come of age... where professionals don't just feed people, but also seek to stimulate feelings in every sense of the word.
San Sebastian's beaches, all of them of white sand, are one of the summer season's main attractions. Each one has its own personality: La Concha, the touristiest; Zurriola, the surfing beach; Ondarreta, a family beach; and the small beach tucked away on Santa Clara's Island. All the beaches are cared for under a single Environmental Management System, and offer a full range of services for bathers.
La Concha Beach
The most classic, the most photographed, the most visited one... We're talking about La Concha Beach, the most touristy one in the city. La Concha Beach is different from the rest; it's one and a half kilometers of white sand with an elegant, urbane style to it. La Concha is considered to be one of Europe's loveliest urban beaches. It grew under the stewardship of the Official Summer Residence in the early years of the last century and is still known today as the Pearl of the Cantabrian Sea. La Concha has the attraction of a largely unspoilt, elegant and peaceful beach, and also a touristy one: very good access from a number of points; all the little comforts that make for an enjoyable visit. And all this without losing a fraction of its immense and natural beauty.
Ondarreta Beach, in the El Antiguo neighbourhood, offers a peaceful, quiet and very Donostian family atmosphere. Ondarreta is regarded as the “locals’ beach” – the one where they prefer to relax, away from the incessant activity of the city centre but still within easy reach of it. Situated between Mount Igeldo and Miramar Palace Gardens, Ondarreta Beach offers the sun seeker over half a kilometre by 100 meters of sand on which to sunbathe. Beach volleyball, beach tennis and football are the classic games played on these sands. Only on days when stormy weather churns up the sea, the waters of Ondarreta Beach provide perfect conditions for our practised surfers and body boarders.
Waves, surf and young people. These are the main components that go to make up Zurriola Beach, the one with the most movement and ambience in San Sebastian. Situated in the heart of the Gros neighbourhood, between the two cubes of the Kursaal and Mount Ulía, Zurriola Beach, since it was redeveloped 15 years ago, has become a favourite destination of surfers and young people from all over the world wanting to have a good time and meet people. People come to the “Zurri” – which is the "in" name for the beach amongst Donostia's young people – principally to "move", to burn off some energy. This dynamism is precisely what gives the beach its appeal. Surfing and beach volleyball championships and constant short courses; football and beach tennis matches... the hotbed of beach activity is here, along the 800 meters of shoreline which Zurriola occupies.
Santa Clara's Island Beach
The beach on the island is expert at appearing and disappearing. Being no more than 30 meters in length, it's at the mercy of the tides; but that's also what gives the beach its exquisite charm. For this beach, being small doesn't mean being empty; quite the opposite. The island's beach has every kind of amenity, from a bar to a lifeguard post; it even boasts a salt water “natural swimming pool”. Just about as exclusive as you can get, this beach is accessible only in summer, by a small boat that departs at half-hourly intervals from the port.
San Sebastian Harbour - The Port in San Sebastian
Small, but nicely laid out and full of charm: that's the port of San Sebastian. A place to go for a stroll, to watch big fishing boats and yachts docking and setting sail, to enjoy the gay colours of the bobbing boats neatly lined up in the marina, to look on as the women sew the fishing nets. In the port you can buy the famous “cucuruchos” (cones) filled with karrakelas or kiskillas. Karrakelas are molluscs – small black winkles, while kiskillas are crustaceans – shrimps. The port is the perfect place to buy fresh fish from the Cantabrian Sea. The port of San Sebastian has a wide range of restaurants serving top-quality fish and shellfish from the Cantabrian Sea: freshly caught delicacies to enjoy char grilled or griddled and with the best of views.
San Sebastian has a long list of leisure opportunities and so the visitor has an endless range of different plans with which to make the most of his or her free time. Children, teens and adults are all bound to find opportunities to enjoy themselves, wind down and practise sports in San Sebastian.
Surfing is one of the activities for which San Sebastian is known best. Thousands of surfers from the world over come to Donostia's Zurriola Beach for the sole purpose of riding its waves. For that very reason, San Sebastian hosts tens of local, national and international championships all year round, and especially from spring to autumn. During those months, one could easily mistake Zurriola Beach and nearby places such as the Sagües area for an Australian or Californian surfing city.
Such is Donostians' passion for surfing that in recent years it's become a lifestyle in itself: the Sagües and Zurriola Promenade areas are full of bars, pubs, restaurants and surf shops.
One of the city's most attractive features is its diversity of its night life. San Sebastian has a great number and variety of clubs, discotheques and areas to spend a night out, with something to suit everyone's style. Most people like to start their night out in the small Bohemian-style pubs and bars of the Old Part, swimming with patrons and playing the most get-up-and-dance music. Meanwhile, we'll find a quieter atmosphere, with a touch of informal sophistication, in the Reyes Católicos Street area, with bars that open day and night. The surf set's night spots can be found near Zurriola Beach, in the Sagües and Gros areas, where the dance music varies from rock to jazz, taking in indie and electronic music on the way. If you want a longer night out, there's nothing like going to one of San Sebastian's discotheques, situated in the city centre: different music, different styles, but all with a party atmosphere.
The Casino Kursaal
The roulette wheels at the Kursaal Casino haven't stopped turning for decades. Situated in the High Street, in the heart of the Old Part, the Casino, which is something of an institution in the world of betting, offers in its gaming room a multitude of tournaments, most notably the successful Texas Hold'em Poker, with tens of participants. It also includes a restaurant, La Boule, and an exhibition hall which, when the sun goes down, turns into a party room brimming with ambience.
San Sebastian offers you a business trip where your every need has been thought of. Its many venues for meetings, its wide choice of accommodation, its three-star gastronomy and its strategically positioned location make for not only a successful business meeting but also an unforgettable stay.
San Sebastian – one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world – enjoys a privileged geographical situation that makes it a gateway to Europe. Some of the venues in its long list are suited to your particular needs, giving your meetings every chance of success. What's more, because it's a city on a human scale, getting around and access are easy and comfortable. If to all this you add the modernity of its multi-functional hotels, its gastronomy and the many and varied cultural events it puts on, the city is the ideal place to hold any kind of meeting or conference.
To make sure your stay is perfect, we recommend you get in touch with Convention Bureau, which offers advisory services to guide your choice of the most suitable venue and will support you in obtaining the necessary permits and circulating news of the event through the media, as well as providing you with informative literature about San Sebastian and its surroundings, and the festivals which will be on at around the time you plan to hold your event.
All this has just one aim: to ensure that your event goes off as you would wish while you also make the most of San Sebastian's charm as a tourist destination and take home with you unforgettable memories.
San Sebastian has a long list of conference facilities and function rooms where you can hold successful meetings and conferences. They include eleven conference venues of different sizes equipped with the latest technology – from the Kursaal Conference Centre and Opera House, with seating for up to 1,800, to the Auditorium at the Aquarium with 164 seats, taking in also San Sebastian Technology Park, Anoeta Stadium and a long list of meeting rooms.
San Sebastian, the best incentive travel destination
San Sebastian is the perfect choice for successful incentive travel. The city has tens of team-building activities, such as Basque rural sports, themed gymkhanas through the city and through nature, and paintball games. To dissolve stress there's nothing like a sea trip under sail or by motor boat, and fishing or scuba diving in La Concha Bay. In addition to its gastronomic circuits, the city is a stimulus to creativity thanks to the many festivals it hosts and its extensive cultural agenda.
Conference Tourism Data
Conference activity in San Sebastian has experienced intensive growth in recent years. In 2008, against the backdrop of the recession, 84 conventions and conferences were held in San Sebastian – 25% more than in 2007, when 67 were held. Thus in recent years San Sebastian has been consolidating a growth trend in the business tourism sector.