There is something inherently serene about cycling by the sea. Perhaps its the feeling of salty air filling your lungs as your glide like a gull along the waters-edge. Perhaps its the big blue space that reminds you that the world is vast and wild. Or maybe, its just the simple pleasure of being away from routine, out of constructed confines, instead among the fresh air and earthly wonders.
San Sebastian is a seaside city made for cycling. Dedicated bike paths have been carefully woven across the city, along the wide boulevards, past many pleasing city sights and along flat, scenic roads. After finishing my Camino in Santiago de Compostela, I spent a glorious day cycling in San Sebastian, which I can highly recommend to anyone who plans to visit San Sebastian.
Here is a little suggested cycling itinerary that brought me a lot of joy.
Starting in central San Sebastian, make your way through the historical quarter of Parte Vieja before circling around Mone Urgull mendia, the headland closest to the city centre. There is a dedicated bike path and walkway along the rock-fortified shore, giving you a front-row view of the Bay of Biscay, which flows into the North Atlantic Sea.
In about 10 minutes, you can cycle around to Plaza Jacques Cousteau, where you can decide to either take the lift down to the pier level or continue along a steeper path into the town (there are some shallow stairs you will need to walk down) or chain your bike and walk to the peak of the headland, where there is a panoramic view of the city and sea… and a really big statue of Christ.
Whichever option you choose, you will need to eventually get down to pier level. Once there, make your way past the hundreds of colourful bobbing boats in the harbour to the wide boulevard that sweeps along the famous Playa de La Concha and Playa de Ondaretta. As you ride, the aqua water will be lapping gently on your right and the beach-front park will be filled with children on the merry-go-round and swings, elderly hat-wearing men on benches, and buskers playing pipes and strings for your Euros. Again, there is a dedicated bike path for you to enjoy.
Riding in the Spanish sunshine along the a clear blue shore is bound to tempt your inner swimmer. If, like me, you’ve not thought ahead to the highly likely prospect of wanting to swim, there is a protected little cove towards the end of Playa de Ondarreta that’s perfect for a quick, secluded dip in your underwear. Otherwise, you could join the happy-snap tourists and cap-donned oldies in their daily bath along the main beach.
Continuing along the waterfront, through a traffic tunnel with a dedicated bike path, and past expensive seaside cafes, you will come to paved area at the end of the bay that is perfect for photos of the beach and city you’ve just ridden past. Walking your bike up the paved terrace, you’ll find colourful caves, rusty rock-mounted sculptures, blow holes and a tiered platforms perfect for picnicking.
After a little break, remount and ride back towards the fitness centre, taking a right turn where the sign points towards the funicular. A quiet road, which you will share with traffic, takes you to the beautiful funicular station building, where you chain you bike, buy a return ticket for a couple of Euros, and take a relaxing ride to the top of the headland in a little red cable car dating back to the early 1900s.
The headland, Monte Igeldo mendia, has the opposite panoramic view as its neighbouring summit across the bay and hosts cafes serving ice-cream and a near-deserted theme park, Parque de Atracciones, which includes a ghost rail and bumper cars. I could have spent many more hours up there admiring the crystal waters below, the fluffy white clouds on the horizon and the green farmlands backing onto the city.
Returning by funicular to your chained bikes below, take the same route back towards the city. If you have the time and energy, I recommend expanding your tour to include some of San Sebastian’s other delights, as listed below.
Other sights to add into your cycling tour:
- Inglesia de Santia Maria is a lovely church surrounded by tapas bars and lively little plazas. Find it on near your cycling tour starting point or once you’ve made the your lap around the Monte Urgull.
- For an extra leg on your cycling tour, head across the Rio Urunea on one of the ornate little bridges that joins the city. From there you can ride along the edge of Playa de Zurriola to another coastal lookout. Then, you can double back along the wide boulevard lining the river, away from the beach, admiring the leafy parks and glassy river views, before crossing one of the bridges further along, and riding along the bike paths on the other side of the river, back to central San Sebastian.
- If you are in need of a coffee break or cocktail in central San Sebastian, I can highly recommend a funky little place on Calle Bengoetxea called Koh Tao. Order the submarino for a candle-lit chocolate novelty.
Other tips for a day of cycling in San Sebastian
- Bikes can be hired from hotels, hostels, and dedicated hire shops around the city for as little as 5 Euros (or as much as 20 Euros), with the price depending on whether you hire for a full or half day. If you are not sure where to get one, ask at the tourist information office on Alamada del Boulevard.
- Helmets are not required by law in Spain and are usually not included with bike hire.
- Traffic travels on the right side of the road, like most of Europe – this is good to remember.
- Lunch options are plentiful, with some lovely sea-view benches from which to enjoy a picnic, or cafes lining the beach-front boulevards. Stock up on supplies at the central mercado, just a block from the tourist information centre, where there is a big supermarket down the escalators, lots of delis and a produce market most mornings at street level.
- Make sure you have a bike chain and lock. Most hire bikes come equipped for security, but just check it all works before you set off on your adventure. There are plenty of places to chain up your bike while you stop for an ice-cream, coffee or quick dip in the sea.
- Allow the best part of a day to do the above itinerary (e.g. 4-5 hours). The distances are not big and the it is quite flat and easy to ride in most parts, but all the stopping for photos, indulgences and sights etc. can take quite a while.