Winter Wonderland: Visiting San Sebastian in December 2019

This blog post was originally posted on November 27, 2017, and was updated on November 6, 2019.

Basque traditions, familiar holiday celebrations and delicious food converge to create a winter wonderland here in San Sebastian in December.

Most people might flock to the city’s sunny shores in the warmer months, but that just means that the beaches get packed and there are tourists everywhere you look. In winter, though, San Sebastian is much more laid back and calm, with a tangible sense of holiday cheer filling the streets.

Its prime location not too far from France makes it an easy stop on any European winter itinerary, and the distinctly Basque holiday traditions are unlike those you’ll find anywhere else in the world. If we still haven’t convinced you to visit San Sebastian in December, maybe these fascinating cultural activities and events will do the trick!

SEE ALSO: San Sebastian in Winter: Weather, Festivals, Food and More

Cider, markets, Christmas lights and so much more make San Sebastian in December a true winter wonderland! Here are our favorite things to do in one of the most beautiful destinations in Spain. #Spain #SanSebastian #winter #cider #December #Christmas

Photo Credit: Tomás Fano, Text Overlay: Devour San Sebastian Food Tours

Marvel at the lights—then go shopping!

San Sebastian wastes no time in getting the Christmas spirit going, with the festivities starting almost as soon as calendar pages flip to December.

In the first week of the month, the citywide Christmas lights start to twinkle across town, and the main Christmas market along Paseo de Francia and the river officially opens for business. Even if you won’t be in town for the official inauguration, a laid-back stroll beneath the glistening lights makes for a great way to start your visit to San Sebastian in December.

Make your way to the large bright arch that serves as the entrance to the Christmas market and browse the gorgeous handmade decorations, tasty food items, and more available for sale in the stalls.

The annual Christmas market is a must when visiting San Sebastian in December!
The Christmas market is the perfect place to find unique decorations.

Visit the most extravagant nativity scene you’ll ever see

Spain doesn’t mess around when it comes to nativity scenes. Rather than just sticking with the standard representation of the Holy Family surrounded by a handful of farm animals, Spanish nativity scenes take things several steps further and depict the entire town of Bethlehem. As a result, they’re literally called belenes (“Belén” means “Bethlehem” in Spanish).

Things are no different here in San Sebastian in December. Head to Plaza de Gipuzkoa starting early on in the month to check out the city’s very own belén, featuring more than 150 one-meter-tall figurines.

Be sure to visit the city's nativity scene, or belén, in San Sebastian in December!
Spain’s extravagant nativity scenes pay remarkable attention to detail.

Go window shopping

Even the shops and businesses in the city center take things to the next level here in San Sebastian in December. The annual Christmas Window Display Competition, which runs in early-to-mid December, allows shops to show off their holiday cheer by decorating their storefront windows in the most festive way possible.

There are prizes for the most sustainable, most innovative and most popular displays, but you don’t have to be a local business owner in order to get in on the fun. Just take a stroll through the Old Town and marvel at the intricate and festive displays as you do your holiday shopping!

2019 dates: December 5–16

Step back in time at a traditional cider house

Winter marks the start of cider season here in San Sebastian, and what better way to kick things off than by setting up a pop-up cider house out in the streets? That’s what’s in store at the annual Sagardo Apurua, which is set to take place over the long holiday weekend at the beginning of the month (starting December 6).

You’ll be able to witness centuries of tradition as the cider is carried across the river and into the sidrería with the help of oxen. From there, the festivities are in full swing, with plenty of fabulous traditional food and fun activities for adults and kids alike. Our challenge to you for this unforgettable event: try your hand at pouring cider the traditional way (from high above!).

Make sure to visit a traditional cider house in San Sebastian in December!
Are you up for the challenge of a traditional cider pour?

RELATED: Behind the Bite: Basque Cider

Eat txistorra at a city-wide farmers’ market

The city’s patron saint may be St. Sebastian himself, but St. Thomas also has a special place in locals’ hearts. On his feast day, December 21, the entire city becomes a massive farmers’ market.

All throughout the city, farmers and artisans from San Sebastian and nearby villages set up stalls selling everything from fresh produce to handmade crafts—and of course, plenty of txistorra (chorizo’s Basque cousin, which is one of the most traditional snacks on this day).

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