When most people talk about the Basque city of San Sebastián – the first thing that springs to mind is its gastronomic wealth. It is and always will be a foodie’s paradise. Visitors from all over the globe descend onto this small part of Northern Spain to gorge themselves into a food coma – but more of that in another post.
And, while San Sebastián also has several stunning beaches, a historic Old Town and wonderful architecture – it’s also surprisingly very child-friendly. In fact, before we went, I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough to entertain Monkey – that he would be bored. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Here are 12 reasons why San Sabastián is so child-friendly…
Ice Cream Parlours
San Sebastián is relatively small in size, so when you head into Parte Vieja, you can’t fail to notice the abundance of ice cream parlours/gelatarias. There are around half a dozen that are famed for their delicious frozen goodies in an array of flavours and bright colours. It was difficult not to walk past one and purchase a cone. Our particular favourites were Gelateria Boulevard and Oiartzun Pastry – which has over 50 flavours. Yes… 50! Ice cream heaven!
Playgrounds – everywhere
When we first arrived in San Sebastián and made our way on foot to our accommodation, we were relieved to find a decent playground situated on the main promenade at La Concha beach – next to a traditional carousel. Then we found another playground about two minutes from our apartment in the Old Town. The another, then another and then another. One on the beach itself and several in the main squares of the Gros district. Clearly there are a lot of children in San Sebastián and it was heartwarming to see the locals and visiting children playing together. Monkey was very happy.
Monte Igueldo Amusement Park
Not only is it fun to catch the funicular (the third oldest in Spain) to the summit of Igueldo but the view from top out to La Concha Bay is outstanding. Well worth the €3.15 adult return ticket for that alone. Meanwhile, the Monte Igueldo Amusement Park has a whole host of attractions to keep little ones entertained from bumper cars to a haunted house, trampolines and boat rides. Unfortunately for us, it was closed due to it being low season and only open on the weekends. But no matter, we still had fun exploring.
Monte Igueldo Amusement Park Rides from €1-€2.50
Having been to a few aquariums around the globe – including the one in my hometown of London – I have to say the Aquarium in San Sabastián is head and shoulders above the rest. We chose to visit the Aquarium – located just by the harbour – on a miserable, wet day but were lucky enough to avoid any crowds. We enjoyed all the installations and features including the awe-inspiring Oceanarium, containing several sea creatures including sharks, turtles and sting rays. Walking through the 360 degree tunnel was a great experience especially when a shark swam above our heads. With over 31 aquariums, over 40 different species of fish, plus a fascinating exhibition on maritime history, and a suspended whale skeleton, we thought the €13 was well worth the money.
Aquarium Plaza de Carlos Blasco Imaz, 1, 20003 Donostia-San Sebastián, Gipuzkoa; Tickets: Adults €13; Kids 4-12 €6.50
Tourist Train and Bus
I’m not usually a big fan of jumping on tourist modes of transportation but sometimes it just has to be done, especially when you see them cruising the streets at regular intervals. Monkey was adamant he wanted to ride the ‘train’ so after consulting our map and finding the pick up location, we boarded the train and were given headphones to listen to the commentary about the area.
We didn’t actually go anywhere we hadn’t already walked ourselves but Monkey enjoyed the experience and happily waved at passing vehicles.
Tourist train and bus leaves from locations by the Maria Cristina Bridge on Paseo Salamanca Street. Tickets from €3-5.
Castillo de la Mota
Castillo de la Mota – which dates back to the 12 Century – and its grand, looming statue of Christ sits on top of Monte Urgull. From most vantage points in San Sabastián you can’t ignore its presence. So much so, that Monkey pointed up to it one day and said: ‘Can we see the castle?’. Not one to shy away from adventure, we plumped for a dry day and made our way up there.
Reached from a path by the Plaza de Zuloaga or from behind the aquarium, it’s steep in some parts but the walk itself is pretty easy. We took our time and spent a good hour reaching the summit, stopping along the way to enjoy the peaceful parkland; the breathtaking views and the nooks and crannies. Monkey loved all the old cannons, while we wandered the English Cemetery which was built in 1924 to honour the British soldiers who died in the battle of 1813. There is also a small chapel and an exhibition dedicated to the history of the city.
With three stunning beaches – Playa de la Concha, Playa de Zurriola and Playa de Ondarreta – you’re spoilt for choice. Our favourite was the shell-shaped bay of La Concha as the tide here wasn’t as ferocious as the surfer’s hangout across the way. The sand is soft under foot and the sea crisp and clear. We spent hours just walking along it and enjoying the sheer delight of just being by the ocean. If the weather had been warmer – I imagine several days would have been spent on the beach – a small section of our own to sunbathe and relax, while Monkey played with his bucket and spade.
Boat trips to Isla de Santa Clara
Santa Clara is a little island that’s situated slap bang in the middle of the bay between the two mountains, Urgull and Igueldo. It has a small beach, lighthouse, a café and picnic areas – and during the summer, the island, declared to be a Historical National Interest Site, has lifeguards so you can swim off the jetty or the beach and explore its hidden recesses.
Then there’s the excitement of the boat trip itself. Monkey was disappointed he couldn’t take the ferry out to the island because they only run from the harbour until the end of September. Maybe next time…
Parks and gardens
San Sabastián is awash with lush green open spaces across the city. Plenty for your little ones to run free in. At Alderdi Eder which is situated right by the La Concha and the bustling promenade – the garden is flanked by a large carousel, which was a massive hit with Monkey and lots of other children. Meanwhile, the most popular park by far is Parque de Cristina Enea, created by the Duke of Mandas in honour of his wife. Not only is this park the most attractive in the city, it is filled with ornamental plants, open lawns and the kids will love the roaming peacocks and ducks! Others worth visiting include Miramón Park – with its amphitheatre, and the biggest park in the whole city, Ametzagaina, which has sprawling hills and an ancient fort.
As well as castles and forts, San Sebastián is home to several Palaces which not only have marvellous views but wide open spaces to wander. We spent a while exploring Palacio Miramar and its gardens. This mansion was constructed in 1887 as a Summer residence to house the Royal Family when they wanted a beach pad in San Sebastián. Built up high, it’s position is key – because it has the best views of the bay and of Santa Clara. It’s free to enter and a great spot for a picnic. Other palaces include Del Duque De Mandas which is at Cristina Enea Park and Palacio De Aiete.
Toy Shops and Penny Rides
Aside from the playgrounds on every block, we began to notice other enticing outlets that screamed: ‘Come over and look!’ from the several penny rides dotted all over the city outside pharmacies and newsagents, to the toy slot machines which swallowed several euros during our holiday. We also came across several toy shops – one of which was hidden on a street close to the beach. Monkey spotted it a mile off and to our dismay, what seemed like a small establishment turned out to be a TARDIS of epic proportions. In the end, it worked out well when we had serious bargaining power in exchange for good behaviour.
Children Aren’t Considered A Nuisance
The final and most important reason in my opinion. Spanish culture is heavily family orientated – and because of siestas, people eating their meals much later, and dare I say, a generally much more relaxed attitude towards children, it wasn’t an issue for us to have Monkey out with us at dinner or in bars. In fact, families with babies and small children were a familiar sight across San Sebastián. It wasn’t an issue in the slightest. More often than not, other diners, tourists and waiting staff tried to engage with Monkey – he loved the attention. It made a pleasant change and our time in San Sebastián even more special.