Travel : Visiting San Sebastian on a Budget

San Sebastian has been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Toulouse. Located in the Basque Country, Northern Spain just near the border of France I have been planning on taking a trip down for months now. This small city is renowned for its food, especially its Pinxtos and has the most Michelin star restaurants apart from Paris. It the perfect weekend getaway for food lovers, beach lovers and water sport enthusiasts.

How to get there?

San Sebastian is a five and half hour bus journey from Toulouse and with Ouibus it only cost me €38 return! I would never find flights that cheap from Ireland. That’s the beauty of living on the European continent, you can drive (or get a bus) to another country. Back home it takes less than 3 hours to cross the country and to go any further you need a ferry or a plane. A word of advice if you plan on doing this journey, make sure you bring water and food because there are no pit stops! The bus does stop in Tarbes, Pau, St Jean de Luz, Bayonne and Biarittz but only to let passengers on/ off.

If you’re located in the South of France or Northern Spain San Sebastian is very accessible and shouldn’t be too expensive to get to bey car or bus.

There are no direct flights from Dublin however if you have a bigger budget there are connecting flights with Iberia or British Airways. These will set you back at least €200. A better option may be to fly to Biaritzz, direct with Ryanair and get a shuttle bus to San Sebastian, less than one hour away and costing on €7.

Where to stay?

While I did manage to find cheap transport cheap accommodation was a bit tougher to find. This isn’t really a budget travel city but if you are willing to compromise finding a bed for the night shouldn’t break the bank.

We stayed in Umore Ona Bi which I found through booking.com. As it was any sort of special occasion we weren’t looking for luxury. I knew we were going to have to share a bathroom and for our budget that was the case with every hostel/ hotel. This hostel actually has two buildings but they are pretty much right beside each other. We basically had an apartment and shared the kitchen and bathroom with just one other man. The accommodation was perfect for us. The only issue was that because of its location, right in the old town beside all the bars, it was really really noisy. It was about half five in the morning before people seemed to leave from the streets below. I think this applies to every apartment and hostel in the old town so just be aware if you’re a light sleeper like me you might not sleep! Otherwise the staff were lovely and the room was clean and comfortable and it was the perfect location for bar hopping.

We paid €98 for two nights for a double room with a shared bathroom. At this price the noise was bearable.

What to eat?

San Sebastian is famous for its food. Before arriving I had been told that there isn’t much to see which is great because you don’t feel guilty spending the day eating. This sounded like my ideal holiday. My love of food and relaxing in cafes or bars definitely came from my parents, who spend holidays switching from coffee shops to bars and having lunch in between.

Pinxto Bars

The old town is where to go to experience the pinxto bars. These are bars which have bite size bits of food laid out along the counter all day. It really does look pretty amazing and draws you inside. However many bars will also prepare hot pinxtos if you order them. I would really recommend doing this, we did try the cold food just to see what it was like but definitely had a much better experience with the hot food. The bars are really open all day and you’ll find people enjoying a pinxto and a glass of wine or beer from as early as 11am.

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Bar Bartola

After arriving off the bus and checking into our hostel I couldn’t wait to try some bars. Just a bit up the street from our accommodation we found Bar Bartola, we were enticed in by the array of food but chose to order from the menu. As with most bars there was no price and having no clue how much a pinxto was we were a bit nervous about ordering too much. However given that a litre of Sangria was €10 I knew it couldn’t be too crazy.

Here we ordered croquettes de jambon, boulette de vinade epicee, calamari fri and cod a l’espagnole. Each cost about €2 and were delicious! If you get a chance to visit add Bartola to your list.

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Bardulia

This bar had a beautiful display of food but we were talked into the cold food and seated downstairs alone away from the busy atmosphere. This put me off as we felt a bit taken advantage of because we were English speakers. We chose to finish our food and move on to the next bar.

We paid €13.50 for two glasses of white wine (this was the most expensive wine we had) a mini pink burger, croquette, chevre miel jambon on baguette and a fried spicy seafood ball.

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Goiz Argi 

Just across from Bardulia we found Goiz Argi, this was recommended to me by a friend and I would 100% go back. It was the cheapest bar and the hot food was super easy to order as we could see the chefs preparing it and the staff were friendly and attentive. Here we had a few glasses of white wine and two small chorizo sandwiches for less than €10. This bar felt local, it was really small but the atmosphere was great.

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Munto Restaurante Donestio

This was my favourite of all the bars, when we arrived at around 9/10 pm it was busy there was lots of food on display and ordering fresh hot pinxtos was simple. There are two types of pinxto bars ones which are mainly standing and the others mainly seated. The standing ones are a little more intimidating as you’re trying to get your voice heard and to be seen. This bar was standing with some high stools and we were really drawn into the buzzy upbeat atmosphere.

Our bill was a bit more expensive only because my boyfriend ordered two of everything. I prefer just ordering one and trying lots of different things. We got croquettes and bola del bosque which were delicious. We also got duck, himself ordered it without asking me… I’m not a fan of duck and it was rare, very rare…so he got to eat the two. Whats more this was the most expensive pinxto we had! So definitely stick to ordering one, try it and order a second!

Our bill was €19.80 for 6 pinxtos and 2 glasses of white wine. This was the one bar I didn’t manage to get a photo in, I thimk thats a good sign as we were too busy enjoying the atmosphere.

If you’re not a fan of bar hopping and prefer a sit down meal or you’re on a tight budget there are lots of other options.

Sit down meal – Bar Intza

Friday night was stormy and wet and the idea of trying to find bars wasn’t appealing. Luckily just outside our door was a small, local feeling restaurant. Main courses were less than €10. I got the tortilla, its like an omlette with potato which was accompanied by a tuna salad. After I ordered a group of Spaniards arrived in and ordered the same so I knew I had chosen right. Himself got the pork, egg, chips and pepper which was simple but so tasty. Given the price of the mains we went for desert, the tiramisu was delicious and indulgent and the rice pudding was light and refreshing. I would recommend this restaurant if you’re looking for simple, tasty food and are on a budget.

Breakfast – Sant Lucia Churreiria 

Breakfast wasn’t included in our hostel but luckily we were recommended a churreiria just a 2 minute walk from the hostel. Santa Lucia Churreiria is a fast food style place and you could easily walk by it  however it was so good, down to earth and simple. On our first morning we ordered 2 coffees, 2 plates of churros and a cup of chocolate. If you have had churros before with nutella you need to try this because its so much better. Its like a really thick hot chocolate so you can drink any leftover at the end, heaven. On the second morning I got orange juice, coffee, toast and shared a plate of churros. It was perfect, having hit the pinxto bars the night before I need caffeine, sugar and carbs with a little vitamin C thrown in for good measure.This place is super cheap with a breakfast for two costing less than €10.

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Sweet Treats – Pasteleria Izar 

Beyond the savoury pinxto bars we came across many patisseries and bakeries. I had tried another bakery but the queue was crazy and we didn’t think we were going to get served any time soon. As we made our way back to our accommodation we came across Pasteleria Izar and had to go in as my boyfriend, who is Brazilian, spotted Quindim which is a really popular desert in Brazil. The last time either of us had eaten it was over two years ago so we had to get it. Quindim is made from eggs, sugar and coconut, its a bit like a stiff custard and like all Brazilian deserts its delicious!

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What to drink?

Beer, wine, sangria whatever you’re into you will enjoy it here. We ordered the house white in all the pinxto bars and found it to be perfect and cost less than €3.50 a glass. Again the Sangria is great, most bars have their house sangria made by themselves and its delicious. A litre cost us €10. Beer again is cheap, in Toulouse a pint costs anything from €5 – 7.50. In San Sebastian it cost us about €5.50 for 2 pints.

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What to see?

San Sebastian is on the coast in an enclosed bay and from photos it looks absolutely stunning. Having lived beside the sea all my life its something that I really miss when in Toulouse. Landlocked cities can feel claustrophobic but a city like San Sebastian with its long beaches and looking out onto the sea is calming.

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A walk along the beach is an absolute must. On the Friday it was about 22 degrees, 10 degrees hotter than the rest of the weekend. So we took advantage of the break in the clouds, took off our shoes rolled up our jeans and walked the beach.

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From Playa de la Concha you can actually walk all the way along the coast and over to Play la Zurriolla, stopping off at the aquarium if you want. Alternatively you can pass through the old town to reach either beach. If you are into water sports you’ll like it here we saw people paddle boarding, sailing, kayaking and surfing. I imagine that in the summer the beaches are packed and water sports are in high demand. Although there is no need to wait until summer we visited in March and temperatures reached up to 20 degrees Celsius.

We didn’t too far from the old town apart from visiting Play la Zurriola. This trip was all about experiencing the food, drink and atmosphere. If you are looking for a more action packed weekend definitely look into the watersports but if you just want to bar hop you’ll easily pass two days doing that.

Is it expensive?

San Sebastian is definitely an upmarket location and if you have a bigger budget you could have a beautiful luxury weekend away. There are some fabulous four and five star hotels along with a number of Michelin star restaurants. However if you are on a budget fear not cheap food and drink is easy to find. If you’re willing to compromise on accommodation a bit this city is perfect for budget travellers.

San Sebastian is a perfect weekend getaway but you could just as easily spend a few weeks here making your way slowly through the pinxto bars. As always let me know in the comments if you have been and would recommend any other bars or things to do?

Happy Travels x

Yvonne

 

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