San Sebastián means beach time, excellent Basque food, and strolling along the Paseo de la Concha. The monuments, such as they are, can easily be viewed before lunch.
Museo de San Telmo, Plaza Zuloaga 1 (tel. 94-348-15-80; www.museosantelmo.com), housed in a 16th-century Dominican monastery, contains an impressive collection of Basque artifacts from prehistoric times. The museum includes works by Zuloaga (Torreillos en Turégano, for example), Golden Age artists such as El Greco and Ribera, and a large number of Basque painters. Located in the Old Town at the base of Monte Urgull, the museum is open Tuesday to Saturday 10:30am to 1:30pm and 4 to 7:30pm, Sunday from 10:30am to 2pm. Admission is free. Note: This museum was closed for renovations at press time; check its status before heading here.
The wide promenade Paseo Nuevo almost encircles Monte Urgull, one of the two mountains between which San Sebastián is nestled. (Monte Igueldo is the other one.) A ride along this promenade opens onto panoramic vistas of the Bay of Biscay. The paseo comes to an end at Palacio del Mar, Plaza Carlos, Blasco de Imaz s/n (tel. 94-344-00-99; www.aquariumss.com), an oceanographic museum/aquarium. Like most cutting-edge aquariums, it boasts a mesmerizing collection of huge tanks containing myriad marine species. A transparent underwater walkway allows a 360-degree view of sharks, rays, and other fish as they swim around you. A maritime museum upstairs presents a fascinating synopsis of humankind's precarious relationship with the sea through the ages, with historical displays of fishing gear, naval artifacts, and marine fossils. Here you can also see the skeleton of the next-to-last whale caught in the Bay of Biscay, in 1878. The museum is open October 1 through April 2 Monday to Friday 10am to 7pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 8pm; April 3 through June 30 and September Monday to Friday 10am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 9pm; and Easter week and July 1 through August 31 10am to 10pm. Admission is 10€ adults, 8€ students, and free for children 4 and under.
Other sights include the Palacio de Miramar (tel. 94-321-90-22), which stands on its own hill opening onto La Concha. In the background is the residential district of Antiguo. Queen María Cristina, after whom the grandest hotel in the north of Spain is named, opened this palace in 1893, but by the turbulent 1930s, it had fallen into disrepair. The city council took it over in 1971. You can visit daily from 8am to 9pm. Because you can't go inside the palace, you must settle for a look at the lawns and gardens. The palace stands on land splitting the two major beaches of San Sebastián: Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta.
Palacio de Ayete was constructed by the duke of Bailéen in 1878 and became the summer home of King Alfonso XIII and his queen, María Cristina, until their own Palacio de Miramar was completed. With 75,000 sq. m (807,300 sq. ft.) of parkland, the palace served as the summer home of Franco from 1940 until 1975. The residence remains closed to the public. However, you can wander through the beautiful grounds daily in summer from 8am to 9pm, and in the off season from 8am to 7pm. To reach it, take bus no. 19 to Ayete from Plaza de Guipúzcoa.
Museo Chillida-Leku, Caserío Zabalaga 66, Jáuregui Barrio, Hernani (tel. 94-333-60-06; www.eduardo-chillida.com), is devoted to the artwork of Eduardo Chillida, a sculptor legendary in the Basque world; his work appears in many of the world's museums. He's best known for his monumental steel Comb of the Wind rising from the rocks at the far end of the Bay of Biscay. A 10-minute drive from the heart of San Sebastián, the museum lies in the little mountain town of Hernani. The hillside around the museum is studded with some 40 Chillida monoliths set among beech trees, oaks, and magnolias. In the center of the property is a farmhouse from the 1500s, which the artist designed to display some of his smaller pieces. These include hanging paper "gravitations" (not quite a collage, but not a mobile either), translucent alabaster sculpture, and stone blocks that evoke the Mayan culture, as well as "jigsaw" sculptures of metal and marble. The aging sculptor referred to his museum as a "cathedral." Surprisingly and virtually unheard-of in an art museum, he firmly believed that his sculpture "should be touched" by visitors. Hours in July and August are Monday to Saturday 10:30am to 8pm and Sunday 10:30am to 3pm; hours from September to June are Wednesday to Monday 10:30am to 3pm. The museum is closed December 25 and January 1. Admission is 8.50€ adults, 6.50€ students and seniors, and free for those 9 and under. Guided visits are an additional 5.50€. Take bus no. G2 from San Sebastián.
Finally, for the best view of the city, ride the funicular to the top of Monte Igueldo (tel. 94-321-02-11) where, from a gazebo, you can take in a panoramic view of the bay and the Cantabrian coastline. From July to October, the funicular runs Monday to Friday 10am to 9pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 10pm. From April to June, it runs Monday to Friday 10am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 9pm. Round-trip fare is 2.50€ adults, 1.40€ children 7 and under. It's also possible to drive up. In spring, the air is rich with the scent of honeysuckle. The funicular is closed from November to March.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.