They say the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain. However, we would beg to differ. There’s a reason it’s so green up here in the North, and it’s a function of the profuse rainfall. San Sebastián gets about 140 days of rain per year, and we just so happen to be heading into the wettest month of them all.
Uninformed travelers visiting the city, especially outside of summer season, might be surprised by how damp and drizzly it is here. Yet there’s a cinematic flair to the place during these rain-soaked months, a moodiness that’s scenic, mysterious, and romantic: wet cobblestone, clouds rolling in along the beach, and a fog hanging over the bay that can feel both ominous and dreamy. There’s even a whole lexicon of rain-related vocabulary in the local Basque language, a popular favorite being “zirimiri,” an onomatopoeic word for the misty kind of drizzle that seems to perpetually cloak the town in colder months.
Fortunately for you, there’s plenty to do even during a downpour. Whether it’s a cooking class in the center of San Sebastián or a Pintxo Tasting Tour (ours was ranked in the world’s top 10 food tours by Trip Advisor!), the weather will not be able to get you down. Here are our ideas for how you can fill up your time on a rainy day in Donostia.
Visit Nemo and his friends in San Sebastián’s aquarium, which is actually one of the Basque Country’s most popular attractions. The star of the show here is a tunnel immersed in water that simulates a walk through the ocean, with sharks, manta rays, and other specimens swimming around you. There are tactile tanks where you can touch live fish like starfish and sea urchins, and an impressive whale skeleton, plus exhibits about local fishing and maritime history.
From high-street to high-end to small boutiques featuring local designers, the shopping scene here is like the city itself – stylish, sophisticated, and with a nod to tradition and Basque pride. Most of the high-street shopping is concentrated in the city center’s Área Romantica, where you’ll find international brands like Mango and Zara, interspersed with some family-run boutiques. The Parte Vieja is a mix of souvenir stores, delicatessens, and specialty shops; and across the river in Gros you’ll find a mixture of charming boutiques, antique shops, and sport and surf stores. And if you’re looking for some edible souvenirs, pop into Mimo San Sebastián gourmet shop inside of the Maria Cristina hotel to stock up on local Añana salt, Espelette pepper, Basque cookbooks, and other culinary goodies.
If your idea of shopping is of the culinary persuasion, then you have to check out the city’s two markets. In the Old Town, La Bretxa beckons with stands piled high with seasonal produce, Idiazabal cheese, and fresh fish and meat. The city’s other market, San Martín, is situated in the center of town and in the heart of the shopping district. A kind of mall, it’s home to a three-story Zara, Fnac electronics store, and other businesses — but at its core is the fresh food market. From brightly colored fruit stalls and flower stands to prime cuts of meat at the butcher’s to fishermen’s latest catch, these beautiful stalls are alluringly festooned with seasonal produce and choice ingredients.
La Perla spa
Indulge in a bit of pampering at this spa that’s fit for a queen, literally. Queen Maria Cristina commissioned this Belle Epoque spa. Soak in the beautiful pools and Jacuzzis filled with sea water – some with scenic views of the shore — or sweat it out in a sauna or steam room. Beauty treatments include an array of massages, baths, wraps, scrubs, and facials. There’s even a pool with stationary bikes, treadmills, and other machines submerged underwater for some aquatic activity.
San Telmo Museum
Tucked away in the Old Town at the foot of Mount Urgull, the San Telmo Museum is a hub of Basque history and culture, with two expansive floors of fascinating exhibits illuminating the region and its people. And there’s a lot of material to cover, from the ancient whaling days to contemporary culture. Learn about traditional music and dance, Basque sports like pelota, heavy stone lifting, and wood chopping, and the city’s evolution through history. Bonus: Tuesdays are free!
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Every year the creative team at @mugaritz – 9th best restaurant in the world – completely reinvents the menu. No dish is ever repeated from one year to the next. This herb mille feuille is one of the appetizers on the 2018 menu ?? • • • #millefeuille #michelinstar #worlds50best #mugaritz #sansebastian #donostia #finedining #tastingmenu #lefooding
San Sebastián is not just pintxos, but you already knew that. A rainy day is the perfect time for a long, multi-course spectacle of a meal at one of several Michelin-starred restaurants that stud this region – the most Michelin stars per capita, actually. Arzak, Mugaritz, Akelarre, Martín Berasategui….there are many to choose from, but make your reservations in advance. Several also make an appearance on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, this year including Mugaritz, Asador Etxebarri, and Arzak.
Another kind of meal of epic proportions, a visit to a local cider house is a memorable (or perhaps not, depending on how much you drink) Basque experience. Winter and Spring are the best time to go, as cider season runs from January through April. Course after course of traditional fare – chorizo cooked in cider, cod omelette, and the belle of the ball, a beautiful, juicy txuletón – is interrupted by frequent cries of “txotx” which signal cider drinking. When you hear the magic word, head to the barrels where dramatic pours straight from the massive wooden casks are a fun sight to behold and a skill you’ll get better at with each txotx.
Yeah, you might get a bit wet ambling from bar to bar, but by the fourth bar and subsequent glass of txakoli, you won’t even notice. And a dampness seeping into your bones will just make the food taste that much better. Lucky for you, the high concentration of pintxo bars in the old town means that you barely have to walk to get to the next destination, just wander from door to neighboring door. Pssst…for a great introduction to this culinary scene, check out one of our pintxo tours. If you’re stumped on where to go, what to order, how to pay, and just generally puzzled by the etiquette of it all, we can help.
Maybe we’re biased, but a cooking class is an ideal way to spend a rainy day – all cozy kitchen clatter, tempting aromas, new skills learned, and tips and tricks added to you repertoire while gray skies rumble outside. Learn to make the pintxos you ate the night before, dive deeper into traditional Basque fare, or soak up some Michelin star secrets – our daily schedule is packed with choices. Don an apron and get settled behind your station, chopping, seasoning, sipping some wine, and creating a meal that you then get to enjoy with a new group of friends as the rain pitter-patters away outside.