San Sebastian is a picturesque city, located in the autonomous community of the Basque Country in Northern Spain. Blessed to be on the stunning Bay of Biscay, the city is home to stretches of incredible coastline, was a popular summer destination for the Spanish royal family, and has its own ancient and totally unique language (Basque or Euskara).
Travelers flock to the city to walk through and eat in the charming Old Town, visit the culturally rich museums, swim in La Concha Beach, and attempt to surf, but the San Sebastian food scene and exceptional gastronomy are truly what all the buzz is about.
San Sebastian is a foodie’s treasure chest for any type of budget. One of the best ways to experience the cuisine is by sampling an array of pintxos, or pinchos. Pintxos are small snacks that are typically served on a slice of bread or on a skewer. These delicious bites are staples when visiting Basque Country.
Inspiring foodies can’t leave San Sebastian, or Donostia in the Basque language, without treating themselves to a Michelin Star Restaurant. Don’t worry there are plenty to choose from!
From pintxos bars and Michelin Stars, the San Sebastian food scene boasts markets with inspiring produce and products of the highest quality, daily lunch menus, cooking classes, fascinating secret culinary societies, and a one-of-a-kind Basque wine. It’s no coincidence that San Sebastian was named a European Capital of Culture in 2016 alongside Wrocław Poland.
One of the best things to do in San Sebastian is to simply eat and experience as much of the cuisine and culture as possible. Come hungry and curious.
Here are 11 food experiences in San Sebastian Spain you have to try! (My San Sebastian foodie guide for beginners).
Table of Contents
- San Sebastian Pintxos Crawl
- San Sebastian Michelin Star Restaurant
- San Sebastian Food Tour
- San Sebastian Markets
- Coffee & Pastries in San Sebastian
- Lunch in Local Gros Neighborhood
- Basque Cooking Class
- Day Trip to Getaria for Lunch
- San Sebastian Gastronomic Societies
- Where to Drink in San Sebastian Spain
- A Famous Slice of Basque Burnt Cheesecake
- Conclusion | San Sebastian Food Experiences
1 | Go on a Pintxos Crawl
Pintxos, or pinchos in Spanish are smaller portions of food that can be ordered in Pintxos Bars, almost like an aperitif. This culinary phenomenon is found predominately throughout Northern Spain and the Basque region.
The word pintxos derives from the Spanish verb Pinchar, which translates, to puncture. Consequently, pinchos oftentimes have toothpicks pierced through the center of them. However, today, many popular pinchos are served on a generous piece of bread, in sandwich form, or in small creative pieces of crockery.
The San Sebastian Old Town, or Parte Vieja, is filled with what feels like hundreds of pintxo bars. This is definitely “where to eat in San Sebastian” and it’s super easy to create your own San Sebastian pintxo tour. Most definitely, a San Sebastian food highlight is experiencing the diversity and deliciousness of pintxos.
It can be intimidating visiting a busy pintxo bar, so here are some helpful tips and tidbits on ordering pintxos and what to eat in San Sebastian.
Are Pintxos the same as Tapas?
Pintxos and tapas are not the same and should not be used interchangeably. Spanish tapas are typically included with the purchase of a drink and are small in size, like a bite-size portion of a main dish, or a simple snack. The term tapa originates from Andalusia in Southern Spain where the small bites (like bread or meats) were used as a “cover” to protect drinks from pesky fruit flies. However, there are many theories about the history of tapas.
In Spanish tapas bars, the bartender simply gives you a snack per drink.
Pintxos are not complimentary and must be purchased separately from a drink order. The good news is, pintxos are relatively larger than tapas. Unlike tapas, you get to choose what you eat!
Ordering Pintxos in San Sebastian
Since pintxos aren’t included with the purchase of a drink, it’s possible to order as many pintxos as your heart and stomach desires.
In the display case of all the San Sebastian Pintxo Bars are the cold pinchos. These bites are out on display to lure you in. Oftentimes they are cold salads and seafood. On occasion, these pintxos can be small sandwiches or stews that have the option to be reheated.
Always look for the Pintxos Menu that displays the bar “specialties,” which are cooked to order from the kitchen. The pintxos menus are usually found on a chalkboard or wall, or ask the bartender for one.
In San Sebastian, you must eat off the specialty menu at least once!
The Gilda is San Sebastian’s most iconic pintxo which it is credited as being the “first official pincho.” Gilda’s are simple… an anchovy, olive, and some pickled guindilla peppers that are soaked in a bath of olive oil.
What makes the Gilda a pintxo? It’s held together on a wooden skewer!
A gilda is a San Sebastian must-eat pintxo and staple.
Where to Eat Pintxos in San Sebastian
The most popular place to eat pinchos is San Sebastian’s Old Town. There are so many options, that it would be impossible to eat at every single one.
While tourists spend their days and nights eating and spending all their time in Old Town, oftentimes, more traditional pintxos bars are found in local neighborhoods and quiet side streets.
While you should without a doubt eat pintxos in the narrow streets of San Sebastian’s Old Town, don’t miss the opportunity to wander outside of La Parte Vieja to discover your own San Sebastian food treasures.
Popular San Sebastian Pintxo Bars Worth the Hype
Here are just a small number of top-rated San Sebastian pincho bars.
Bar Nestor is a San Sebastian food must for its famous tortilla, a Spanish omelet that is made with potatoes. To taste it, you will more than likely have to preorder a “slice of the pie” at least an hour before it opens. Bar Nestor makes only two tortillas a day, but those lucky enough to taste it, say it’s completely worth the hype.
If you miss the tortilla from Bar Nestor, order the renowned Basque meat in the form of Ribeye and T-bone steaks. Two of the most notorious side dishes are the fresh tomato salad and the yummy grilled Gernika peppers, which originate in the Basque region.
Atari is a popular pintxos bar in Old Town that boasts tons of creative and delicious pincho options. Seriously, the food here is incredible. Make sure to order at least one item off the specialty menu, like the house special foie gras.
Bar Sport is a top-rated pintxo bar in San Sebastian. The bar serves fresh, inventive, and fun pinchos. This San Sebastian pintxo bar is always so busy it can be hard to reach the bar. Patrons are often found spilling out into the street eating platefuls of pinchos.
Ganbara is a popular pintxo bar with locals in San Sebastian. Order anything with fresh mushrooms. You’re welcome…..
2 | Treat Yourself to a Michelin-Starred Restaurant
Michelin, yes the tire company, has been critiquing restaurants since 1926. Today, it is one of the highest honors and accomplishments any restaurant in the world can receive.
San Sebastian has the second highest concentration of Michelin-star restaurants per square meter in the world (just after Kyoto). There are over 19 Michelin Stars spread across a 25-kilometer radius of San Sebastian, including some nearby villages.
The Basque Country is not just in Spain but follows the Bay of Biscay up to Bayonne France, reaches as far west as Spain to Bilbao, and dips down to Hemingway’s beloved city of Pamplona Spain. Within the culinary destination that is the Basque Country, there are over 40 Michelin Starred Restaurants.
A majority of San Sebastian’s Michelin Starred Restaurants must be booked in advance, by at least a month or two. While many of the Michelin Star Restaurants across the globe come with a steep price tag, the Basque Country restaurants offer menus around €90 and are around €300 for three stars. Of course, it all depends on the menu which usually changes with the seasons.
Oftentimes, more Michelin stars equates to a higher price, but not always.
Top Rated San Sebastian Michelin Star Restaurants
✔ Restaurante Arzak | ⭐⭐⭐ | Current Tasting Menu: €260 per person
✔ Martín Berasategui | ⭐⭐⭐ | Current Tasting Menu: €315 per person
✔ Restaurante Amelia | ⭐⭐ | Current Tasting Menu: €272 per person
✔ Restaurante Kokotxa | ⭐ | Current Tasting Menu: €140 per person / Market Menu for €90 per person
✔ Mirador de Ulía | ⭐ | Current Tasting Menu: €135 per person
3 | Book a San Sebastian Food Tour
If you are limited on time or just want to delve deep into the San Sebastian food scene, book a guided food tour. Many of the San Sebastian food tours include a history of Basque cuisine and stop at top-rated pincho bars.
4 | Stroll the San Sebastian Markets
A free San Sebastian food experience is to stroll the San Sebastian markets. With so many incredible restaurants, most of the food being consumed is locally sourced.
Bretxa Market, in the heart of Old Town, was established in 1870 and has a wide range of permanent vendor stalls. In this market, find everything from wine, olive oil, meats, and seasonal produce and vegetables. Make sure to walk through the fish hall to get up close and personal with the fresh regional seafood.
Outside the market, local farmers sell their best fresh fruits and veggies. Some vendors sell regional cheese and flowers. The Bretxa Market is most lively in the early morning hours, but not too early, as it is Spain.
The Mercado San Martín was built in 1884 but has had a modern facelift. The building houses popular grocery chains and a Zara, but in the basement find vendors selling produce, fish, meat, and all the goodies that make up Basque cuisine. The San Martin market offers a chance to eat right in the market with a few food stalls serving pastries, burgers, Asian cuisine, and of course, fresh fish.
5 | Enjoy Pastries & Coffee in San Sebastian
San Sebastian does not lack cafes, coffee shops, and scrumptious bakeries serving up homemade goodies. Find coffee shops in museums, like the Basque Cultural Museum of San Telmo Museum. Or, sip on a coffee in an old Tobacco Factory that is now home to a stunning cultural center (Tabakalera).
There are coffee shops with vistas of La Concha Beach, and cafes lining cobblestone streets and spilling into plazas and promenades.
My favorite bakery and coffee shop in San Sebastian is so tiny it only fits a few people. Inside are no tables and there isn’t even a sign on the building. However, the shelves are overflowing with delicious pastries, goodies, and bread. At Gogoan Pasteleria there are no price tags, as everything is charged by weight. The window display case does all the marketing.
☛ Helpful Hint | This pastry shop is totally low-key. Find it as Boga Boga on Google Maps, just across the street from the San Martin Market.
6 | Catch a Lunch “Menu del Dia” in the Gros Neighborhood
San Sebastian’s Gros neighborhood is simply over the Urumea River, but it kind of feels like stepping into another village. Most visitors skip this hip neighborhood that possesses a lovely beach, picturesque plaza, and plenty of traditional Basque Restaurants and Pintxo bars.
After so many pinchos, you may be ready for a hearty plate of food. Many of the restaurants in Gros serve up a three-course menu del dia, or a menu of the day that includes a drink. Menus are served for both lunch and dinner, but the lunch menu price is a steal at around 15 Euros. The price-to-portion ratio can’t be beaten in the Gros neighborhood.
Gros is where the locals go to eat and where you should, too.
Where to Eat in Gros San Sebastian
Casa Galicia is home to an impressive lunch menu that is not only filling but oh-so-delicious. Bonus, the simple plates of food are beautiful. Locals fill the tables in the backroom, so make sure to arrive a little before 13:00 to snag a seat, or be prepared to wait.
For dessert, order the famous Basque dessert, Pantxineta, which is almost perfection.
7 | Take a Basque Cooking Class
Did you fall in love with the Basque cuisine? Why not take a cooking class to take home your favorite recipes and learn all the cooking techniques?
8 | Day Trip to Getaria for Lunch
One of the best day trips from San Sebastian is to the fishing village of Getaria. Although small, this seaside town is famous for two things, its grilled fish and vineyards of the beloved Basque wine Txakolí. Getaria should be on every San Sebastian food guide!
Elkano is a popular seafood restaurant that boasts a Michelin Star and was where Anthony Bourdain visited. However, follow your nose past the San Salvador Church and along the cobblestone streets to find a handful of restaurants grilling fresh fish on outdoor grills.
Txakoli, pronounced chah-koh-lee, is a wine you must try while visiting the Spanish Basque Country. Txakoli is most commonly a white wine, but as it grows in popularity, some rose varietals are becoming available.
This refreshing Basque wine pairs best with seafood. You may notice something different about this wine. It has subtle bubbles, almost like fizz. The wine generally has a moderate alcohol content, however, it’s so smooth that it can sneak up on you!
Txakoli is especially fun to order at pintxos bars as it’s poured high above the glass, making the ordering process dramatic and fun. Bartenders typically pour the drink into the glass in this manner to help “awaken” the tiny bubbles and amplify the taste and essence of the grape.
In Getaria, it’s possible to sample Txakoli wine straight from the producers and book a visit to one of the wineries. Txomin Etxaniz offers tours Monday through Saturday at 11:00. The 90-minute tour is only €20. Contact them here to book a visit.
Alternatively, Txomin Etxaniz also has a tasting room, TX, right across from the church in Getaria. Sample a handful of their white and unique Rose Txakoli wines. If you love it, purchase a few bottles for later. The tasting room is cozy, offers pintxos, has an outdoor patio, and has friendly staff!
☛ Psst… Looking for another unique experience nearby? Walk the Flysch Route from Zumaia to Deba
9 | Gastronomic Societies
One of the more unique San Sebastian food things to do is to eat at a Gastronomic Society.
This is no easy feat, as the societies are exclusive and held by private members. The only way to “get in” to one of the many San Sebastian Gastronomic Societies is to be invited by a member or be lucky enough to visit on San Sebastián Day. San Sebastian’s biggest festival happens on January 20th and includes a feast and a lively Tamborrada drum parade with locals donning traditional clothing.
Each Gastronomic Society houses a fully stocked kitchen and has tables. Members bring in their own food and cook for their guests. This is the most exclusive San Sebastian food experience you can have in the city.
10 | Where & What to Drink in San Sebastian
San Sebastian boasts a microbrewery and a bountiful amount of cider houses.
San Sebastian Brewery
In the Gros neighborhood, a favorite brewery is Mala Gissona. This beer house has plenty of rotating taps and a wide range of their own beers in funky-designed cans. There’s an outdoor beer garden and a cozy interior. Mala Gissona also serves up awesome burgers and pub food from friendly bartenders.
Cider Houses | Sagardotegia
Sagardotegia are traditional Basque cider houses. Cider was the drink of choice in San Sebastian up until the 20th century. Cider is making a comeback, not only in the Basque Country but in northern Spain in the Asturias region and the Picos de Europa. However, Cider’s taste and techniques completely differ by region.
Cider in the Basque country is typically stored in huge barrels that can be as big as 13,000 liters! If you hear the shouts of “txotx,” grab your glass and head to the barrel, which means it’s just been tapped!
There are a few Sagardotegias in Old Town, but the nearby village of Astigarraga is the place to visit authentic cider houses and learn all about the traditions.
11 | Indulge in a Slice of Cheesecake from La Viña
No San Sebastian food guide is complete without a mention of La Viña and the famous Basque burnt cheesecake. La Viña is where the legendary cheesecake derived from. Don’t go in with the expectations of a New York-style cheesecake, La Viña’s is less dense, so it has a unique texture and flavor.
Around 50 cheesecakes are whipped up daily in the tiny La Viña kitchen. The scrumptious delicacies sit on shelves behind the bar until they run out. Hungry foodies stand in multiple lines more than 5 people deep, just to get a taste of the award-winning Basque burnt cheesecake. Order it by asking for “la torta de queso.”
La Viña prides itself on having one of the most famous cheesecakes in the world.
☛ Psst.. Continue the Basque food experiences and visit Bilbao next
Best San Sebastian Food Experiences
In short, this San Sebastian food guide should help make the most of your time in one of Spain’s top food destinations. There are so many things to do in San Sebastian, but let’s be candid, most travelers visit Donostia – San Sebastian simply to eat.
In San Sebastian food and culinary experiences range from, sampling pintxos, eating at diverse restaurants, and wandering the markets, to taking a cooking class. Don’t miss the many food-inspired day trips from San Sebastian.
While the San Sebastian food is top-notch, there are also a variety of unique libations to sample. Visit a microbrewery, or a cider house, or sip on the theatrical Basque wine of Txakoli.
Foodies will fall in love with San Sebastian Spain, not only for gastronomy but with the Basque culture and the charm of this seaside city.
Have you been to Donostia – San Sebastian in Spain and experienced any of these San Sebastian food guide suggestions? What did you think of pintxos and what to drink in San Sebastian? What was your favorite San Sebastian food experience? Let me know in the comments below!
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