Laura Millar. The historic Old Town sits at the base of one of its two hills and houses the Baroque Basilica de Santa Maria, which features a statue on its façade of the arrow-pierced saint after whom the city was named.
Its wide avenues, lined with historic belle epoque architecture, make for a glamorous backdrop to its film festival, which attracts the likes of Brigitte Bardot, Meryl Streep and Sienna Miller every September.
It also hosts a regular jazz festival, so it’s perhaps no wonder Donostia (to give it its Basque name) has been voted 2016’s European Capital of Culture.
Its restaurants have 16 Michelin stars between them and with a brilliant bar snack scene, this is a serious destination for foodies.
On the cheap
Pintxos (“peenchos”) are the Basque version of tapas, and are served in most bars, the majority of which are concentrated in the Old Town.
They range from the basic – ham or prawns on a slice of bread skewered with the cocktail stick which gives the snack its name – to the elaborate: anything from braised beef cheek in wine, to grilled octopus or foie gras, starting at just a few euros.
Locals order one or two with a drink (order a glass of the slightly sparkling cider, poured theatrically at great height to improve the flavour) before moving on to the next bar.
Winding street in the old town, Parte Vieja
Try the squid in its own ink at Ttun Ttun on San Jeronimo Kalea, £3, or the ‘Gilda’ pintxo made of anchovy, hot peppers and olives at Bar Txepetxa on Calle Pescaderia, £1.70.
For the best – and most reasonably priced – steak in town, check out Bar Nestor next door, £15 a head.
Glam it up
On a Friday and Saturday evening, locals stroll up and down the boardwalk behind the Playa de la Concha, the city’s longest beach.
People-watch with a glass of chilled txakoli (“chacolee”), the local white wine, on the terrace at Café de la Concha.
For a cocktail, drop into the stylish DRY bar at the city’s grandest hotel, the Maria Cristina, which opened in 1912.
If you’ve got money to spend – and you’ve booked months in advance – head to the three Michelin-starred Arzak, on Av Alcalde Elósegui, for innovative Basque cuisine.arzak.info
While San Sebastián is lovely at ground level, some of the most beautiful views of the city can be found from several hundred metres up.
Take the funicular (£2.40 return) to the top of Monte Igueldo, to the west above Ondaretta beach. There’s even a funfair up there, should you get tired of the magnificent views.
Where to shop For foodie souvenirs, check out the San Sebastián Gourmet Food Shop in the lobby of the Maria Cristina, for cured meats, olive oils, and marinated anchovies.
Mouth-watering chocolates can be found at Chocolates de Mendaro, in the shopping district near Gipuzkoa Square, which has been selling home-made goodies since 1850.
The elegant Benegas perfumery nearby was founded in 1908 and sells international brands as well as its own range.
Last September, the Tabakalera – an art space located in a former tobacco factory – was renovated and now includes multiple exhibition halls, a cinema, and a cafe.
This year it includes an extensive artistic programme to tie in with San Sebastián’s title of Capital of Culture. tabakalera.eu
Where to stay
The stylish Hotel Astoria 7, a 20-minute walk from the Old Town, used to be a cinema and names rooms after movie stars. Room-only doubles cost from £63.astoria7hotel.com
The four star Hotel de Londres overlooks the Playa de la Concha. Doubles without breakfast from £100. hlondres.com/en
Hotel Husa Europa is a clean and comfortable three star in the city’s Romantic district. Doubles from £49 per night, room-only. husa.es/en
British Airways flies daily from Heathrow to the nearest airport in Bilbao.
The airport is 100km from San Sebastián, linked by a regular bus service costing £12 each way. ba.com
Do your research
For more information on San Sebastián and surrounds, visit dss2016.eu/en orsansebastianturismo.com/en