Barcelona Spain with some Basque- San Sebastian September 2022
Back in Barcelona! Only took me over a decade, but I finally made it. And I got to bring Joe, revisit places I loved in the city, and try new ones. Also, we both got a new experience traveling to the Basque country- specifically San Sebastian- for a few days on the Northern coast of Spain. What an amazing place, so different from Barcelona, combining the best elements of Spain, with some French flair, and it's only gastronomy scene which is something unique and special. Foodies, you will love these places!
Saturday: We stayed at the Hotel Catalonia Portal de L'Angel, located on a busy shopping street full of tourists just a few blocks off of Las Ramblas. About a mile from the Barceloneta beach area, right in the middle of it all. Location- check. Our room unfortunately at the hotel was not ready when we arrived in the morning, so we decided to take a walk down towards the beach area and grab some breakfast to fuel us for the next few hours before our eventual power nap. Colibri Brunch is where we ended up, which had amazing bagel sandwiches and ice cream coffee frappes, just what you want after a long night of travel! It was about a 20min walk from the hotel area, so we hit that up and then sauntered back, where we changed into some bathing suits and "relaxed" aka passed out on some lounge chairs by the hotel pool until our room was ready. Once we finally got ourselves together unpacking, napping, showering, we then headed out for drinks at the Talisman cocktail bar and then dinner at Andalusia tapas. After we stopped for nightcaps at the patio of the Dali museum (I went to the museum last time I was in Barcelona, if you are into Salvador Dali I highly recommend!) which was right around the corner from the hotel. All great spots, all cheap spots! I'll never get over getting a bill from dinner - being completely full, drinking several drinks, and it coming out to less than $100 for 2 people. Reason number 366 why I love Europe.
Sunday: Milk bar for breakfast- a 15 min walk from the hotel, very good breakfast- lots of options and super cute place all around. Once fueled up, we were ready for a big day of sightseeing some famous stuff and walking! Lots of walking, and it was hot, but it was absolutely the best way to see a ton of the city. We first walked to La Sagrada Familia- I have been before but it was a first for Joe- we had the hotel buy us tickets with a 1pm time slot the night before- cost about $110 total for the 2 of us for a self guided tour, as well as the opportunity to go up into one of the towers. This cost like $10 extra per person- worth it? I think so, we got some great views of the entire city. I was worried about the dress code since it was so friggin hot that day, but guess what it is not enforced. Our next stop was Park Guell, which we also bought tickets for online the night before, $20 for both of us. We had a 3pm time slot, which worked out perfectly since the uphill walk was about 40 mins from La Sagrada Familia. Park Guell was really cool, not only the Gaudi architecture but also really nice views of the city. On our walk back to the hotel we also walked through the Ciutadella Park, which cuts right through the city. After our long sightseeing day, we chilled at the hotel pool for a couple hours, then got ready to go out for the night. We checked out the El Born neighborhood which was about 20mins from the hotel- Farola and Golfo bars for drinks, and then had dinner at El Set which was the cutest little tapas bar. We made one last drink stop after dinner at El Born Cocktails to end the night.
Monday: We did the hottest run to the beach boardwalk and back- about 6 miles - to start the day. Running in Barcelona is tough, you think you are going straight or parallel to a street, and you end up in a completely different spot. Google maps in your friend here, remember that. After the sweatiest run we checked out of our hotel and headed for brunch at a place basically next to the spot we had brunch Sunday- Cafe Benedict. Here and Milk Bar are pretty similar, but Cafe Benedict is a little bigger so you may not have trouble getting in. However it is pretty popular so maybe plan to wait a little for a table. We walked off brunch a bit and then headed to the train station for our 5hr 40min (actually ended up being 6hr) train ride from Barcelona to Donostia- San Sebastian. It was direct, many stops and not much to see. We ended up flying back from San Sebastian to Barcelona later in the week, and if you have to choose, flying ends up saving you a few hours and costs about the same, so no need to take the train. We arrived to the Donostia train station around 9pm- there were no taxis and our hotel was a 15min walk from the station, so we made the walk. Very easy to do, and kind of nice. We checked into LaSala Plaza hotel, located right by the port area and in the Old City section of San Sebastian, which IMO was a perfect location. They gave us some champagne at check in, we unpacked a little, then headed out to grab some dinner. 10pm dinner is not uncommon in Spain, so it was actually pretty crowded out that night in the restaurants and many were booked. But San Sebastian has this pinxtos culture, where you can just get small bites of local food, and this is a thing in almost all their restaurants in the Old City area. So, we ended up at a place called Zumelzegi- which had downstairs for reservation sit-down dinner, and were booked, but upstairs they had plenty of seating and a menu full of pinxtos and tapas to choose from, which is just what we needed. After our speedy dinner we ended our travel day back at the hotel rooftop with a few cocktails. The view from this hotel roof was perfect, and although the drinks were a little pricier at the hotel than everywhere else, for the view and convenience totally worth it.
Tuesday: Our first full day in San Sebastian! First off, I loved this hotel. Our room was amazing, it had a bidet and really nice shower with heated floors, separate sitting room area, and a ginormous king sized bed - bigger than a California king- didn't realize they came this big. We also had a nice view of the beach and city, so although pricey totally worth the splurge. For our first day we tried the hotel breakfast buffet, which was fine but like most things in the hotel overpriced, however we were looking for fuel and convenience on our first day so it did the trick. This was the only morning we had it though, so that says something. The day was a get to know our immediate surroundings day- we walked around the port and beach areas, and swam in the ocean off of La Concha beach (amazing swimming here, the water temp was perfect, they had some rafts with slides to swim out to, lots of people doing laps, a really good swim scene). At 4pm we had signed up for a bike tour through Viator, so we met our guide for that. It was pretty basic, 8 miles total, 2.5 hrs, saw three of the beaches and he pointed out some main viewpoints and city art. It was around $90 for 2 people, if you find something similar for a little cheaper I'd say go for it, but we biked to spots we could really just walk to, and I didn't really learn much, so it was fine. This city has great bike lanes though, and most of it is super flat around the main areas so a nice activity to do for sure. After the bike tour we had some rooftop drinks at the hotel, and then had dinner at Astelena. I'm kind of an Anthony Bourdain nut, and he went to San Sebastian for 3 different shows, so I compiled a list of the places he ate and this was one of them. It was a little fancy for our state, the portions were small, no sides, and we left hungry. Not our fave. Then we went to a pinxtos place Baztan- and even though we wrote down the pinxtos that we wanted by number (it's a system alot of these places have so no one has to pronounce anything)- they still messed up our order, so that was a bummer. All we could do after that was get gelato, which can never be messed up!
Wednesday: Probably my favorite breakfast spot in San Sebastian- Maiatza - we started our day there. Only a couple minutes walk from the hotel, this place was really cute, vegan options, plenty of outdoor seating, only had to wait a few minutes for a table. I got some poached eggs on avocado toast with some cafe con leche, fresh OJ and fried potatoes, and that's just what a I needed for our first hike of the trip. Right beyond the Zurriola beach (where all the surfers are) there is a hill with a trailhead where you can go up and spend all day hiking. These trails are very well marked too which is so nice, because you could easily get lost or turned around. We decided to hike to the next town- Pasaia, which took us on a trail mostly along the coast. About 5 miles, took us 2 hrs, with some really nice ocean views. Not very challenging, but just good to get out of the city and be in nature. Once we arrived at Pasaia, we called the hotel to arrange a taxi to pick us up- only cost about $13, in my book worth it. Once back in the Old city we went to Churrasia Santa Lucia (another Bourdain stop), kind of like a diner, for some churros con chocolate and cappuccinos. It really hit the spot- and refueled us enough for a ocean swim. Then it was out - Ambrosia on the square first for some Cava, Casa Alcalde for some pinxtos and wine, and then dinner at Asador Aldanondo, followed by gelato.
Thursday: Another local spot breakfast- Old Town coffee. Not as great as the place we went on Wednesday, just some basic toasts/pastries/coffee drinks- I got avocado toast. We needed snacks so we stopped by the Loaf bakery and picked up some breads (delish). And from there, we set out on our second hike of the trip, the opposite direction from Pasaia, to a town called Orio. For this trailhead we had to walk over to Ondarreta Beach and go up from there. This hike was a little easier than the day before's, 8.5miles, took us 3 hours. Again, once we got to Orio we called the hotel to arrange a taxi to pick us up. Another swim once we were back, and pinxtos at Ganbara (a Bourdain spot- slight wait for the bar area but nothing crazy, however this place is popular so go early). Dinner at Ubarrechena- my favorite in San Sebastian- we had amazing paella, followed by gelato.
Friday: Breakfast at Yellow Deli- had some basics- eggs toast OJ and cafe. Time to relax, enjoyed the hotel rooftop pool, one final ocean swim, grabbed a takeaway snack at Otaegui, bought a bottle of wine and some snacks and hiked up Mount Urgull (15mins, .5 miles of mostly steps) for some view and sunset action. Where else do you watch the sunset? Only on vacation. Also on the way back down to the town, we got a moonrise view too! Such a nice way to end our time in San Sebastian. All of this followed by dinner at Casa Urola (another Bourdain spot)- probably our most expensive meal (still pretty cheap though), we split a huge grilled fileted turbot with some veggies and then went out for, you guessed it, gelato.
Saturday: We woke up super early and arrived at the Donostia airport before the employees. About a 30min ride from San Sebastian, very small airport, but no issues. We flew back to Barcelona (1hr flight) and dropped our stuff off, as well as had breakfast, at our hotel The Alexander. The breakfast buffet was one of the best I've had at a Hilton property. The hotel was about 15mins further up on Las Ramblas from our previous hotel, it was located closer to La Sagrada Familia, further from La Barceloneta, but still pretty much in the middle of everything. Waiting to check in, we walked down Las Ramblas and passed by Casa Batllo since it was only a few blocks away. We didn't do a tour though, however that is an option if you go. Then we chilled at the hotel pool- which was shallow and needed some retiling, but was ok for the time. After we finally checked in, we walked to the Mercado de La Boqueria- right off of Las Ramblas, where we had some paella at Paella bar for lunch. This place had so many options! You could just go here every day and be satisfied. Lots of places to sit down and eat/drink or just do take away, tons of food options and tapas, highly recommend going here for some meal(s). It was such a nice day that we walked around some more, and then tried to get into Bar Canete for dinner (it had been recommended by some of our friends). By the time we got there, they were booked until 11, so we walked to an area called Carrer Parlament - a really cute street full of bars and tapas spots. We were able to get into Braseros and Asoc for dinner, this place was so great! The food was amazing, the place was cute and vibe was really good. After we went next door to La Marcanna wine bar, and then walked back to the hotel (30mins) - where we ended the night with you guessed it, gelato.
Going back to Barcelona was so amazing, and I just completely fell in love with San Sebastian. I would love to go back to the Basque region and check out the French towns, as well as more of the Northern coast of Spain. Hopefully it doesn't take me a decade this time to find my way back!