San Sebastian Visit?
My boyfriend and I will be in Spain for 9 days in December (planning to spend 3-4 days each in Madrid and Barcelona). This is our first time in Spain, and I'm not sure if we should spend one to two of those days in San Sebastian. From everything in this forum and elsewhere, the food sounds amazing, but 10+ hours of train rides (5+ Madrid-->SS and 5+ SS--> Barcelona) seems a little daunting.
We will not be able to go to any of the 3-star Michelins as those are out of our price range--would a trip to San Sebastian still be worth it? If not, what other cities would you recommend for more reasonably priced food?
Thanks very much in advance for your advice!!
Count me on the 'not recommended' side of this decision.
We found central San Sebastian quite expensive and, other than the beach and pintxos places, not a great sightseeing destination.
Most of the places we visited were by car - so we stayed MUCH more cheaply just outside San Sebastian.
If you're going to both Madrid and Barcelona - I just don't see spending all that time travelling to San Sebastian.
I don't want to get into a long debate on tapas/pintxos - but, personally I don't see taking a train for 5 hours each way just to have 'possibly' better pintxos/tapas in San Sebastian when there are numerous places in Madrid and Barcelona that are still 'worthy establishments'.
With only 9 days - 2 destinations is enough! (Incidentally on our last trip we flew in and out of Barcelona and found a 'holiday package' from Barcelona to Madrid for 3 nights including hotel that was actually cheaper than the train fare alone). So do some research (Chowhound doesn't encourage hotel/travel arrangement discussions)!
"We will not be able to go to any of the 3-star Michelins as those are out of our price range--would a trip to San Sebastian still be worth it?"
I heartily agree with the others that San Sé is well worth it.
With 9 days, you can divide it by 3 days San Sé, 6 days Barcelona. As PBSF points out, Barcelona has so much more to see and do, hence 6 days. Personally for the sake of enjoyment I would not visit more than those 2 for a 9-day trip.
If you visit more places than those 2 cities, you will start shortchanging all the places.
You can eat very well - not to mention having loads of fun - in the pintxos bars in San Sé without spending much. Our faves are la Cuchara San Telmo and Astelena, both in the old town.
Here is a link that Phil gave which becvame my pintxos bible in San Sé:
The English on the site is elusive. Sometimes it's there, not all the time. But you don't need much Spanish to understand. It gives a map of the pintxos bars as well as one or two specialties for each place.
I also second Bilbao as a beautiful, user-friendly day trip from San Sé.
It is difficult to do all three in 9 days and still be able to relax and enjoy things. Food wise, San Sebastian is definitely worth it and one can eat very very well inexpensively. Then there is the Guggenheim in Bilbao, only a 45 minute easy bus trip from SS. But I would not skip Barcelona because it also has excellent food. The real plus is that it is a bigger city then SS with lot more things to see and do. As a cosmopolitan city, it is very different from Madrid which I also love.
An alternative is Seville which is only a 2 hour fast train from Madrid.
The trip to SS would be worth it IMO. In fact if it were me I would skip Barcelona all together.
There a loads of affordable eating places in SS, and you can have very a good meal without going to a 3 Michelin Star restaurants.
Another plus is if you're renting a car you can be in the Basque region of France in about 1/2 hour.