Making the most of its glorious location, curving languidly around a magnificent semicircular bay that’s lined with golden sand, SAN SEBASTIÁN ranks among the great resort cities of Europe. Although it’s the capital of its region, Gipuzkoa, and has a reputation as a hotbed of Basque nationalism, it has never been a major port, or much of an industrial centre. Instead its primary identity, ever since the Spanish royal family first decamped here for the summer in 1845, has been as a summer playground. In July and August especially, it tends to be packed out, and its hotels are among the most expensive in Spain.

While the superb sheltered beach on its very doorstep is the biggest attraction of all, San Sebastián also boasts a charming old-town core, the Casco Viejo, squeezed up against the foot of verdant Monte Urgull. The new town to the south, known as Centro and the commercial hub of the city, holds a fine crop of century-old belle époque edifices, though they’re interspersed between rather too many dreary newer buildings for this to be an area where you’re likely to spend much time.

The official name of the city, Donostia-San Sebastián, is a tautology, in that Donostia is a Basque name for Saint Sebastian. Some say Sebastian was martyred in the Roman port of Ostia, and is thus the Don (saint) of Ostia; others that Ostia (or Osti) is simply an abbreviation of Sebastian.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Spain features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The 10 best summer festivals for escapism in 2017

The 10 best summer festivals for escapism in 2017

Festivals are a different beast in 2017. They used to be associated with drinking warm cider while watching crusty bands in your naffest clothes; now the best e…

07 Jun 2017 • David Hillier insert_drive_file Article
Why you should visit Palma in 2017

Why you should visit Palma in 2017

Forget package holidays: Palma is far more than just the gateway to Mallorca’s beach resorts. The Balearic capital is a dynamic city of stylish restaurants, c…

28 Feb 2017 • Helen Ochyra insert_drive_file Article
26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

From ancient temples to hyper-modern skyscrapers, these are just a few of the world's most incredible architectural wonders. Whether you're looking to wander l…

01 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month