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Superb architecture, a wealth of festivals, unique Basque tapas – no wonder San Sebastián’s the European Capital of Culture 2016.

Think ‘Spanish beach’, and what might usually come to mind is a packed strip of sand blighted by high-rise hotels where the closest thing to culture is a tacky theme pub – but not in San Sebastián.

It backs onto magnificent buildings from the Belle Epoque, Baroque churches in elegant squares and Basque bars serve that tapas. Add festivals for jazz, film and local culture, and short hikes for great views, and this city has something for everyone – there’s even a beach for surfies.

By day, take in one of those beaches before strolling into the Old Town for churches, museums and galleries – not to mention shopping. When you need a rest, pop into a bar, and as you sip your wine or beer, help yourself to ‘pinxto’. Served on a tray, this is tapas Basque-style, distinguished by toothpicks that skewer anything from fresh fish and squid to peppers and croquettes before lodging in a piece of bread.

San Sebastián is best explored on foot, but if you fancy transport – and this being the ‘Green’ Coast – go eco in the txita, that’s Basque for ‘chick’, a glorified rickshaw that operates as a bike-taxi service from June to September; or the Segway, an electric two-wheeler that can even be delivered to your hotel; and don’t forget the bicycle, available from Dbizi, the municipal bike rental service (€15/ day).

A San Sebastián Card gives you several bus rides as well as discounts in museums, shops and restaurants (three days €8; five days €15). For taxis, bear in mind they can only be hired from designated ranks unless you phone for one.

So, without further ado, here are our highlights for San Sebastián...

Beaches:

With its sweeping view of the bay, Santa Clara island and those Belle Epoque buildings, Playa de la Concha is one of Europe’s best city beaches. You can hire umbrellas, tents and lounge chairs – the WC is free – while across the Rio Urumea at Playa de la Zurriola the hip and fit can do some surfing.

Parte Vieja:

The Old Town boasts two of the city’s finest churches: San Vicente and the Basilica of Santa Maria, one Gothic, the other Baroque; while a 16th-century Dominican convent now serves as the excellent San Telmo Museum of Basque Society and Citizenship. There are high-end shops here too, ranging from designer goods to ethnic gear.


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