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More than just an escape: Bilbao and San Sebastian in 3 days

By | 28 October, 2019 | 2 comments

Almost any time of the year is perfect to get lost for 3 days and soak up the culture, cuisine and landscapes that will leave a lasting impression in your memory. Because the two Basque capitals, that look out over the Cantabrian countryside, have so much to offer that we are sure that it won’t be your last visit to the Basque Country.

San Sebastian_Flickr Simon & Vicki

Flickr Simon & Vicki

As we discussed previously in our earlier post about Bilbao and its surroundings, the city has adapted to the times and developed. Despite its role as a purely industrial capital, it has surprised everyone with its radical change, becoming an exponent of modern art and architecture. We talk about the Guggenheim Museum, which boasts the latest collections. Just a couple of minutes’ walks from the Hotel Gran Bilbao and a short tram ride later, you will be right at the door of the museum. From there it is easy to continue exploring around nearby museums such as Itsasmuseum (Maritime Museum) or the Fine Arts Museum.


It is essential for every visitor to wander through the old Basque centre, without hurrying along and looking at the time in order to discover the authentic architectural gems within. The buildings of the Siete Calles retain the typical covered balconies and you can easily discover the plaques that let you know of the illustrious inhabitants who had the privilege of living in this area so dear to Bilbao. Such as Unamuno, a famous writer whose plaque can be found on Calle Ronda.

Bilbao is enchanting destination where they eat in small bites of pleasure. Just the thought of our previous post where we wrote about pintxos makes your mouth start watering. There’s no bar or pub that does not proudly show off a whole range of different flavours. Something that can fill you with the energy to continue your exploration or that we can become an activity to do in Bilbao in its own right.

We want to experience all Bilbao and San Sebastian in 3 days. But there’s much more to Bilbao than just its Old Town and the Siete Calles, and so many reasons to leave the capital with everything there is to see and enjoy in the surroundings: The Suspension Bridge, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and the fishing ports are some of the best options. All very close to Bilbao.


Within an hour’s trip, you can reach the imposing San Sebastian. And if Bilbao is the capital of art and architecture, San Sebastian is the capital of cinema and music. Stars from the classic celluloid era have walked its streets and the soundtrack of the city turns to jazz every year with its international Jazzaldia festival. There is so much to see in San Sebastian.

Where to go

Before discovering what you want to see in San Sebastián, let’s first look at how to get there from the Gran Bilbao Hotel. If you are choosing to go by car, you can take the A-8 which is very close to the hotel and you will be in the centre of San Sebastián in just an hour. You can also make a small stop in Zarautz, a town famous amongst most surfers. Another possibility is to get there by bus. They leave almost every hour from the Termibus bus terminal, which you can reach via the subway. Within a five minute walk from the hotel, we can find the Basarrate stop and the same line will take you to the San Mamés stop, where the terminal can be found.

First stop: San Sebastian from a bird’s eye view. Let’s try to climb the famous Mount Igeldo (by car or cable car). The panoramic views over the bay of La Concha will leave you taking endless photos. And let’s move on to the most fun part of the city: its theme park. Opening in 1912, it is still very much alive today. The views that you can witness from its roller coaster or boats, will take your breath away. Children travelling to San Sebastian are certain to enjoy themselves.

Now that we have seen the sea from the above, it is time to dive straight in. The San Sebastian Aquarium is almost a must see. One of the best oceanographic museums in Europe that attracts thousands of visitors every year. It features the skeleton of a whale and an enormous tank which boasts a 360o tunnel underneath that leaves you feeling as if you’re walking through the ocean itself with bull sharks and numerous Cantabrian species.

san sebastian_aquarium_flicr eric chan

Flickr Eric Chan

The San Sebastian Aquarium is very close to its famous Old Town, a meeting place for locals and tourists. Pintxos, pintxos and pintxos everywhere you look. In addition to asking ourselves what to see in San Sebastian right here, we can ask what to eat, because there’s so much on offer, it’s almost difficult to choose. Give yourself the luxury of wandering around, losing oneself in the framework that forms “Lo Viejo”, something that the locals affectionately call their old town. It is easy to find bars and pubs filled with small bites to eat. If you want any recommendations, we can start on the streets; 31 de Agosto, Fermín Calbetón, Pescadería and San Jerónimo.

Whilst in the Old Town, it’s worth visiting the San Telmo Museum. The entire building is dedicated to Basque culture and ethnography.

san sebastian_parte vieja_flickr francesco Negri

Flickr Francesco Negri

If you enjoy walking, from the historical centre, by passing through the wooded Alameda del Boulevard and taking the beautiful promenade, it’s not only the La Concha beach that we can find. The majestic Miramar Palace and other buildings that embody a Belle Époque, that will transport us to another era, with a wealth the great symbolic buildings that protect the bay of San Sebastian every day.

Practical advice

To give you a little more strength and since you have already reached the Boulevard, why not make a stop for a gin and tonic? Few know it but there is nothing more San Sebastian-esque than a quick G&T pitstop. The best place to enjoy one, the Dickens, considered the driving force of this famous combination.

Now you’re almost at the end of the tour after you’ve crossed the Ondarreta Beach, you come to the Peine del Viento. A modern monument of the city signed off by Eduardo Chillida. A major player in our list of things to see in San Sebastian. Is there anything else? Listen to the sound produced by the waves when they slip through the walkway tiles.

Peine Del Viento, San Sebastian

Flickr ctj71081

And the only thing left is the need to feel like movie star. The Maria Cristina Hotel, where world-class actors and actresses often stay, or the Kursaal Congress Centre are both well worth a photo. The latter is the venue of one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world held every year.

3 days in Bilbao and San Sebastian, with or without children, goes a long way but without doubt, will leave you wanting to do it all over again.

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  1. Lucía Vázquez says:

    Me encantó Bilbao, es precioso, muy verde, limpio y para repetir. Me alojé en el hotel Casual Hoteles Bilbao, muy céntrico, muy bonito decorado y buen precio. Os lo recomiendo si tenéis pensado viajar al norte. Un tratato fabuloso y muy atentos. Podéis ver muchos más hoteles en su web Casual Hoteles

    • Hotel Gran Bilbao says:

      Muchas gracias Lucía! Esperamos poder verte de nuevo en el hotel muy pronto y disfrutar de todas las maravillas de Bilbao y sus alrededores. Un saludo!

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