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TRAVEL DIARIES: Exploring San Sebastián: On a Splurge vs. On a Budget

Ready to plan your own San Sebastián adventure? Whether you're in for a splurge or a savvy trip, this culinary paradise awaits your discovery.

Embarking on a journey to San Sebastián is an odyssey of flavors, stunning vistas, and the harmonious clash of tradition and modernity. In this travel tale, we unravel the dual narratives of my visits to this Basque jewel, once drenched in opulence and later approached with budget-conscious mindfulness. Join me as we navigate the labyrinthine streets, savor pintxos in the Old Town, and uncover the nuances of this coastal haven, discovering how a city’s charm can manifest in contrasting styles – from the lavish to the thrifty.

The Splurge: A Luxurious Encounter (2019)

My initial foray into San Sebastián was a lavish affair. It was a quick side trip after attending a wedding in Barcelona, made even shorter because I decided to spend two nights in nearby Hondarribia, which also left a good impression on me. As this was pre-pandemic time and my travel mantra then was to splurge, staying at the opulent Hotel de Londres for 600 Euros a night, I indulged in the stunning vista of La Concha from my room. My journey, a roundtrip via Iberia for 340 Euros, was complemented by the convenience of a hotel car, ensuring I soaked in every bit of the town within my tight 48-hour schedule.

The highlight? I must say the 24/7 view of La Concha from my room was already worth much more than what I paid for. The elegant and very spacious room along with its amenities were just a bonus. The top-notch concierge service was also something else.

A dining experience at the Michelin-starred Mugaritz for 360 Euros with drinks pairing. Although I wasn’t blown away by their food and drinks, the enchanting garden ambiance and meticulous service, including the attention to details like seating me at the center of the room and providing an exclusive kitchen tour made it an overall memorable experience.

My gastronomic adventure continued in the Old Town, where I hopped from one pintxos bar to another, embracing every recommendation from the hotel.


A spontaneous sharing of a txuleta (50 Euros for 1.5 kg) with Mariko, a fellow traveler at Gandarias was the cherry on top of this gourmet journey.

On a Budget: The Conscious Explorer (2023)

Fast forward to 2023, my travel style had evolved. I was back in Barcelona for my first post pandemic Europe trip, I was all about slow travel with a more conscientious approach to spending. I flew Vueling (135 Euros roundtrip fare) from Barcelona. On the plane, I met a lovely local named Maria. Sometimes it pays to put the introvert hat aside and just give that comment about a book that you really like that your plane seat mate happens to be reading because I ended up chatting with her and getting excellent recommendations. 

Staying at Legazpi Doce Rooms and Suites (198 Euros for two nights). I chose public transport over private transfers, significantly cutting costs and found out that it only takes two minutes to get to the place from the bus stop. I figured out a way to just take the bus to and from the airport instead of a hotel transfer and that saved me a lot of money because the bus ride only costs around 2 Euros per way.

Since I arrived early in the morning at around 7:30am, I knew the room wouldn’t  be ready yet, but the staff at the front desk kindly let me use the washroom so I can change into my running clothes. I love running when I travel because it is a great way to discover the lay of the land and to beat jet lag. This time around I set out to discover more of the town and so on my first day I ran the opposite way towards Urgull and then crossed the bridge toward Zurriola beach and then back to Old Town. I even revisited my beloved cheesecake spot, La Viña, for 15 Euros per order.

After freshening up and enjoying my cheesecake in the comfort of my room, I changed into my hiking outfit because I vowed to myself that I will do the Urgull Hike. Thirty thousand steps later, I was rewarded with amazing scenic views from the top of the mountain.

I was also impressed that there was a museum (free entrance) located in one of the old forts scattered around the route leading to the top.

Of course, as soon as I got back down, I wasted no time in hitting the places on my list. First stop was La Cuchara de Santelmo and then Bar Sport, where, unsurprisingly since the town is so small, I bumped into Marie. We hugged like long-lost friends. 

A Tale of Two Visits

Contrasting my two visits, San Sebastián revealed different facets of its charm. Whether it was the luxurious comfort of Hotel de Londres or the homely vibe of Legazpi Doce, each stay carved a unique narrative.

From Michelin-star dining to the best burger at Bar Desy, every meal was a celebration of the town’s culinary prowess . I love simple food and this Burger Desy (11 Euros with beer) is as simple as it gets – perfect bun, excellent meat and some mayo. 

I woke up extra early on my last day and with a mission to run the entire length of the Urumea River to earn the right to eat the Burger Desy again. At this point, I have to confess that I am that kind of foodie. The kind who repeats and on my last day that was what I did. I went back to Bar Desy where the sweet old man who runs the place recognized me. To commemorate my astonishing feat of eating the Burger Desy for breakfast after having eaten it yesterday for early dinner, we took a selfie on both of our phones. I also popped by La Viña for another serving of cheesecake and bought four orders to go. After walking around some parts of the river bank that I missed that morning, I went to Ganbara to get a beer for the road along with some pintxos before taking the bus to the airport.

San Sebastián, with its irresistible blend of gastronomy, beauty, and culture, is one of my favorite places in the world. In fact, on some days, I feel like next to my hometown, it is my most favorite place in the world. Whether indulging in its luxuries or exploring its streets on a budget, I am looking forward to going back again soon and maybe spend even less but experience more.

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