Start 2020 Off Right: What to Do in San Sebastian in January

This blog post was originally posted on December 12, 2018 and was updated on December 4, 2019. 

The new year has arrived, and in most places, that means it’s time to settle back into everyday life after the holidays.

But not in San Sebastian!

In a city famous for its unique blend of Spanish and Basque cultural celebrations, it should come as no surprise that the fun continues straight through the start of the new year.

If you’ll be visiting San Sebastian in January, there’s plenty of fun to be had. Here’s what’s on our agenda in the first month of 2020—will you be joining us?

San Sebastian in January is practically one nonstop party. From film festivals to Basque cultural events, there are plenty of things to do—and plenty of wine and cider to go along with it. #Spain #SanSebastian #BasqueCountry #Donosti #culture #celebrations #cider

Celebrate the Three Kings

No matter where you are in Spain, you’re sure to encounter three magical figures parading through the streets on January 5. These guys are the fabled three kings of biblical lore, and they’re a pretty big deal here in Spain. In fact, even Santa Claus takes a backseat to them!

The kings make their way through the streets of San Sebastian, greeting all the children who will receive presents from them overnight (if they’ve been good, of course!). If you’ll be in town, the parade is one of the most extravagant and exciting events taking place in San Sebastian in January.

The next day, it’s time to see what gifts the kings have left! Eager children sprint out of bed and eagerly rush to open their new presents. Families gather around to dig into an indulgent breakfast of roscón de reyes, the cream-filled cake traditionally enjoyed on the morning of January 6. Join the festive fun by heading to your nearest pastelería to get a roscón of your own!

One of the most typical things to do in San Sebastian in January is to enjoy the Three Kings parade on January 5!
The kings may be the stars of the show, but there’s so much more to see at the parade. Check out these colorful floats! Photo credit: pegatina1

Party like a local on St. Sebastian’s day

Without a doubt, one of the most authentic local celebrations taking place in San Sebastian in January has to do with St. Sebastian himself. The city’s patron saint’s feast day is celebrated on January 20 every year, and it’s a huge deal. Think massive parades and drum lines making their way through the streets for a good 24 hours.

The fun starts in Plaza de la Constitución at midnight on January 19, when the city’s flag is raised to the tune of traditional drum songs. That’s just the start of a full day of music and good vibes filling the streets of San Sebastian.

Every year, an estimated 125 music companies fill the streets throughout the day on January 20, playing Basque folk songs and dressed in traditional regional clothing. It’s a celebration you won’t find anywhere else in the world, so if you’re visiting San Sebastian in January, don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime party.

If you're visiting San Sebastian in January, don't miss the fun and festive celebrations on St. Sebastian's feast day, January 20. Just follow the sound of the drums!
The streets of San Sebastian fill with the sounds of drums on January 20. Photo credit: Donostia/San Sebastian 2016

Drink cider and perfect the art of the txotx

You can’t visit the north of Spain without trying one of the most refreshing local drinks: crisp, fresh Basque cider, preferably straight from the barrel. However, getting your timing right is essential. While some cider houses are open year-round, the traditional cider season kicks off in the second half of January.

Head to one of the dozens of cider houses in and around the city and you’ll see how the age-old cider-drinking tradition known as the txotx (pronounced “choch”) comes to life. When you hear that magic word called out, grab your glass and make your way to one of the massive barrels to get some cider. Then, sit down to enjoy the traditional cider house meal of a salt cod omelet, cod fried with green peppers, a juicy Basque steak, and local idiazabal cheese with quince paste and walnuts for dessert. Eating like a local has never been more fun!

The cider season kicks off in San Sebastian in January, so find your nearest sidrería and join in on the fun!
The looming barrels at a Basque cider house!

Take a delicious day trip to Getaria to try txakoli

Cider isn’t the only thing flowing freely in San Sebastian in January. Our other favorite local drink, txakoli wine, is also at its freshest in the first month of the new year. The best txakoli in the region comes from Getaria, just about half an hour west of the city and one of the most charming traditional Basque villages for a day trip from San Sebastian.

The txakoli-making process starts in the fall, when the grapes are harvested and fermentation begins. Then, every year on January 17, Getaria kicks off the start of txakoli season with the first tasting of the new wine.

Be sure to head to a traditional bodega, where they usually serve the wine with salted anchovies or white tuna in olive oil for a simple yet outstanding pairing. In addition to plenty of wine, you’ll also be able to enjoy Basque sporting events and traditional music. Wine lovers visiting San Sebastian in January won’t want to miss this!

If you'll be in San Sebastian in January, take a day trip out to Getaria on January 17 to welcome txakoli season. Don't forget the seafood!
Seafood and txakoli: a match made in heaven!

Discover your next favorite music documentary

San Sebastian is an underrated film lover’s paradise. Yes, we have our own international film festival in September and even a special horror and fantasy edition the next month, but that’s not all. Music and film buffs visiting San Sebastian in January should save the date for the Dock of the Bay music documentary film festival.

Entering into its 13th edition this year, the festival promises to be better than ever, with several striking films representing the power of music in all its forms.

2020 dates: January 13–18

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