Best San Sebastian pintxo bars: Bar Sport counter top

My Guide to the Best San Sebastián Pintxo Bars

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The glitz and the glamour! Old-fashioned fun and new-fashioned bites! San Sebastián is so much fun if you love to eat. This small coastal city has the air of 20th-century grandeur with an expansive bay ripe for a seaside promenade, an old town filled with pinxto bars, and more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the world. 

We spent two days in San Sebastián, eating our way across as many of the city’s pintxo bars as possible. Some spots on our list were closed during the quieter winter period (it was November) but these were our favourite pintxo bars in San Sebastián that we tried and tested.

What’s the difference between tapas and pintxos?

The term pintxo is specific to Basque, a northern region of Spain with a strong local identity and its own language. Tapa or tapas is common in the rest of Spain.

Before visiting, my idea of a pintxo was a little slice of baguette topped with something delicious. Pintxos are often that, but also so much more. While the first San Sebastián pintxos were just little slices of bread with toppings held in place using a toothpick (hence the name – pintxo means spike), these days the category is more diverse.

Across Spain you can also find pinchos, which is little snacks on a toothpick. Tapa refers more to a mini version of a dish.

It seems modern Basque pintxos can be broken into two categories: cold and hot. The cold ones you will see displayed like savoury candy in a glass countertop – think marinated seafood, bread-based bites, and pre-prepared snacks. Hot pintxos are made-to-order and usually there’s a chalkboard or menu with a list of the house specials that combine creativity and local ingredients such as anchovies (antxoa), salted cod (bacalao), spider crab (txangurro), and local sausage (txistorra).

Apparently, there is even an annual competition, which pushes local chefs in San Sebastián to invent new, creative pinxtos.

How much do pintxos cost in San Sebastián?

You can expect to pay around €2-6 for most pintxo snacks and mini dishes, and you’ll usually order a drink with each pintxo. Usually these are calculated with a tab that you’ll pay for when you leave.

That said, at one San Sebastián pintxo bar we paid €21 for a seasonal plate and larger portions or hot pintxos often attract higher prices too.

What do you drink with pintxos?

  • Txakoli – a young and fresh slightly effervescent white wine. Sometimes it’s poured from up high for extra fizz.
  • Sidra – local cider, which is a Basque specialty. It’s rustic, not sweet and comes in a small pour. It will be poured from a great height to create some bubbles.
  • Zurito – small glass of beer
  • Txikito – world’s smallest legal serve of wine

How to order pintxos in San Sebastián like a local

Naturally, there is an art to pintxos – and a name for a pintxo crawl, txikiteo. Usually you’d order one or two dishes at each San Sebastián pinxto bar along with a small drink – cider, wine, or beer. Pintxos are snacks to tide you over to lunch or dinner, but a pintxo crawl or txikiteo can be the main event.

  • Most San Sebastián pintxo bars have a local specialty, so read up on what’s “the dish” before going in
  • Prepare for crowds – pintxo bars get busy, so go early or prepare to fight your way to the bar
  • Choose one or two pintxos and a drink. Loading up your plate is a tourist move.
  • Look for the hot pintxo menus or board, usually behind the bar. Some have menus in English, but lots don’t – have Google Translate ready
  • Pintxo bars are social, so you can ask people what they are eating if you see something yum.
  • Order a drink to go with your pintxo.
  • If one pintxo bar is too busy, move on to the next and come back later.
  • Part of the culture is throwing your used napkins on the ground. Embrace the mess.
  • Keep a mental tab – often you’ll pay right at the end, so try to remember what you’ve order – although the staff usually have amazing memories.

If navigating San Sebastián’s food scene sounds a little complex, I suggest kick-starting your visit with a food tour. Explore the best San Sebastián pintxo bars with the ultimate pintxo bar tour with Devour or this highly-rated pintxo one and have a local show you the ropes over an evening. After that, you’ll have the confidence to explore the best San Sebastián pintxo bars solo.

Our top 3 San Sebastián pintxo bars (that we tried, and think you should too)


La Cuchara de San Telmo

I don’t think you can order wrong here. It’s definitely the most gourmet spot, but really damn good. Sadly it was our last pintxo bar in San Sebastián, because if we’d known earlier this spot would have been on repeat! The octopus was fantastic, and the pig’s ear was a delicious surprise. Here you can order the handful of hot pintxos on offer in different portions sizes, depending on the size of your group.

Where: Santa Korda Kalea, 4 – Google Maps

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Bar Nestor 

This San Sebastián spot is less a pintxo bar yet it’s an essential stop for txuleta (mega steak!), served with tomato salad and pimientos de padrón. We dropped by, asked for a table, popped off for a cheeky pintxo and drink elsewhere, and came back to a prime spot just outside the window.

The steak goes for about €60/kg and you could easily split one between four, like we did. We didn’t get to try the bar’s famous tortilla, as you have to go and order it ahead as it sells out instantly. 

Also, say yes to the drink offered at the end – a shot of espresso, condensed milk, rum/whisky and cinnamon. It’s super delicious.

Where: Arrandegi Kalea, 11 – Google Maps
Website: Nestor

La Espiga 

In the newer town, away from the increasingly touristy vibes of the old town, we dropped in La Espiga. It’s one of the city’s oldest pintxo bars, open since 1928, and still felt very local.

Every small bite was a solid 10/10, but the “delicia” stole my heart. This must-try pintxo is a slice of bread with two thin slices of hard-boiled egg, salt-cured anchovy, and a finely chopped mixture of onion and garlic on top, finished with a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Flavour punch! 

What’s nice is this is a BIG place and feels more relaxed, so you could come here, get a table and really relax if the tiny pintxo bars of old town get too crazy or claustrophobic.

Where: San Martzial Kalea, 48 – Google Maps
Website: La Espiga

Other best San Sebastián pintxo bars

Bar Antonio 

We stayed on the street right next to the original location of this favourite San Sebastián pintxo bar. It was always pumping with locals dropping in for a drink, snack, and catch-up. 

From the hot pintxos we ordered the seared scallop, which was fantastic, and from the counter we tried the cold octopus pintxo. Both were great! I’d love to stay here a week and make this spot a daily habit!

Where: Bergara Kalea, 3 – Google Maps, and a second location
Website: Bar Antonio

Gandarias 

We broke all the rules at this fantastic pintxos bar. Instead of ordering one or two pintxos, we walked out with a plateful. In our defense –  it was lunchtime, we were hungry and the place was RAMMED with people. By the time we’d squeezed our way to the front, salivating over a counter filled with tempting treats and dreaming about the hot pintxos, it was impossible to walk away with less.

You have to order the solomillo here, a pinxto of steak with green pepper and sea salt. The duck breast brochette (skewer) was our next favourite, and the croquette was also fabulous.

Where: 31 de Agosto Kalea, 23 – Google Maps
Website: Gandarias

Bar Sport 

Don’t be put off by the name – this busy bar in the old quarter is a haven for food lovers. A busy, buzzy spot, the thing to try here is the grilled foie gras toast but you’ll be tempted by more in the counter. The curried sea urchin cream was interesting, and who can resist a gilda – the house specialty. 

Legend has it that the gilda was the first San Sebastián pintxo, a flavour-packed explosion of salty anchovy, pickled spicy guindilla peppers, and olives. It was invited in 1946 by a customer of Casa Vallés, who named the divisive pinxto gilda after a movie. 

Where: Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 10 – Google Maps

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Borda Berri

The pintxos at Borda Berri are like a hug for the soul. We loved the orzo “risotto” with local Idiazabal cheese, a fun and delicious local take on the Italian rice dish. The other hit was the rich beef cheeks, but note that the menu changes throughout the year based on what’s in season. Overall, this spot delivers great portions, delicious well-priced pintxos, and the crowd was pumping.

Where: Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 12 – Google Maps

Goiz-Argi

We dropped by this classic little San Sebastián pintxo bar while waiting for a table at Nestor. Here the signature is the prawn brochette, a skewer loaded with five perfectly cooked prawns with a bright vinegary pepper sauce served on bread. Pull the skewer before you bite. Simple, brilliant.

Where: Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 4 – Google Maps

Ganbara

This spot is a well-known favourite – and you can tell by the queue. We managed to snag a table without waiting too long and enjoyed a few bites at Ganbara. Inside this more upmarket San Sebastián pintxo bar local and fresh seasonal ingredients are stacked on the counter waiting to be used, while fresh cold pintxos gleam under glass for all to eat with their eyes.

While we really enjoyed this spot, it was a bit of a shock to pay €21 for a side serve of seasonal mushrooms. If you’re on a budget and think pintxos are cheap €2 plates, then keep an eye on seasonal specials that will hurt your spending.

Where: C. de San Jerónimo, 21 – Google Maps
Website: Ganbara

San Sebastián pintxo bars I would like to have tried…

  • Txepetxa – Salty and delicious anchovy toasts are the specialty!
  • Martinez – Open since 1942, this spot is famous for its gilda, egg pintxos, and traditional fish cake.
  • La Viña – Famous for baking the original burnt Basque cheesecake, or just cheesecake as it’s called in Basque Country! Sadly they were closed for holidays, which gave us the challenge of finding a good replacement. This spot is also known for its tortilla.
  • Casa Urola – This spot serves modern, elevated pintxos. Sadly it was also closed for holidays when we visited in November.

Other things to do with 48 hours in San Sebastián

Walk the grand promenade along La Concha Beach

More than a foodie heartland San Seastián is a stunning beach destination with multiple golden sandy stretches and a strong surf culture. You must, must, must walk along the wide promenade that follows the arch of La Concha Beach. Along the way you’ll talk in views of the city, the bay, the peaks. 

Ride the Funicular Monte Igueldo

When you reach the far end of La Concha beach you’ll run into the Monte Igueldo funicular. This cog railway has been in operation for more than 100 years, and you can ride one of the wooden carriages up to the summit where a really fantastic retro theme park and incredible views await.

Enjoy old-fashioned rides and cheap cocktails with million-dollar views

If you want to see iconic views over San Sebastián, its old town and Concha Beach, you must climb up Mount Igueldo. We took the funicular up in the late afternoon, landing us in the middle of its old-fashioned fairground theme park in time for a sunset drink and some fun. 

Fun meant paying €2 to ride a tiny log river ride past those incredible views – 10/10 experience. Then we wandered the park, watching people on the wooden rollercoaster, and settled at the very top of the hill for an excellent €5 vermouth cocktail with views over the city. It was unreal to watch the sky turn every shade of pink with the hills in the distance.

Eat the Basque cheesecake at Oiartzun Bakery

We were obviously disappointed to discover that La Viña, home of the original Basque cheesecake, was closed for holidays during our visit. That meant we had to get creative and research deeper to find great burnt Basque cheesecake elsewhere in San Sebastián. We tried it at Bar Sport and it was good but not great, and then found this fantastic bakery – a winner!

Best of all, the terrace tables of Oiartzun Bakery bask in afternoon sunshine if you’re there in the winter months. A great spot to warm up while treating yourself to coffee and burnt Basque cheesecake.

Visit the local Mercado San Martin

I love a local market and always try to visit one when in a new village, town or city anywhere in the world. In San Sebastián that led me to the central Mercado San Martin, a two-level modern beauty in the heart of the newer town shopping district. Inside there was a mammoth selection of seafood and prized hams, produce and local cheeses

TIP: If you want to explore pintxo bars and the market, this local food tour does both.

I discovered why the pricey mushroom pintxo was so expensive – the seasonal fungus is a precious and prized ingredient that fetches a pretty penny. I stocked up on a block of the local Idiazabal cheese to take home as a souvenir.

Seek out specialty coffee 

If you agree that Spanish coffee culture is generally bad, then you’ll be looking for a specialty coffee shop that serves a decent flat white. In San Sebastián that means Old Town Coffee. This local speciality coffee shop also serves pan com tomate and jamon – toast with tomato, olive oil, and jamon – which is one of my favourite things to eat in Spain. It’s a breakfast dish from the south, so I was thrilled to find it here too.

Read next: The best specialty coffee and cafes in Porto

Join a cider house experience – txotx!

On my next visit to San Sebastián I’ll be signing up for txotx – the traditional cider house experience. Essentially you visit a cider house – like a winery for cider – in the countryside close to San Sebastián for a traditional long lunch and cider tasting experience.

This tradition was born from the time when quality varied from barrel to barrel, so locals would visit and taste the “sagardoa” until they found a favourite kupela (barrel) and asked for the cider house to bottle it up for them for the year. 

When you join a txotx you’ll taste cider served directly from the kupela, opened by the cidermaker themself. Between each huge barrel being opened you’ll sit at long tables in the cellar, feasting on traditional dishes including cod omelette, fried cod, chorizo, ribeye steak, local cheese, nuts, quince paste and bread.

Depending on the cider house, Txotx is available between January and May. Usually it costs around €50 per person, so this cider house experience with transfers included is great value. This txotx cider house experience includes transfers and a visit to a traditional shipyard. 

And no, don’t ask me how to pronounce txotx. The Basque Country region, where San Sebastián is, has its own language – euskara. Euskara is apparently the last surviving Paleo-European language spoken indigenously in Europe, and is unrelated to Latin languages like Spanish and French. 

Explore the hip Gros neighbourhood (and learn to surf)

The beachfront neighbourhood of Gros is a youthful and relaxed area of San Sebastián, just east of the city centre. Cross the bridge to find residential buildings, one-of-a-kind boutiques, local pintxo bars, and a buzzing surf culture kicking on at Zurriola Beach.

Where to stay in San Sebastián

We found San Sebastián to be super walkable – it’s flat and easy to get around without a car. I think the best places to stay would be Old Town, Gros or Centro

We stayed in Centro, and I would repeat that next time or stay in Gros. Personally I would avoid the Old Town as with skinny streets and lots of bars, you never know how loud and how late the fun will go.

In Centro

In Gros

Final thoughts for a San Sebastián pintxo trip

San Sebastián is an amazing food destination and a place I hope to visit again and again. Next time I’ll dive straight into San Sebastián’s pintxos again, plus I’ll time my visit for a cider house experience, and lock in a reservation at a Michelin-starred spot.

I always try to join a food tour when I arrive in a new country or region. You can learn so much from the locals, and Basque culture is different to the rest of Spain. So, if it’s your first time in San Sebastián, I’d start with Devour’s ultimate pintxo bar tour or this highly-rated pintxo one to gain knowledge and confidence before setting out solo.

Have fun, and txin-txin!

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Daniela Sunde-Brown

Daniela Sunde-Brown

I'm an Australian travel and food writer who has called Lisbon home since 2018. To help others explore Portugal, I write deep stories about Portuguese traditions, regional dishes, local artisans, and sustainable fashion and ceramics
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Headshot of Daniela Sunde-Brown in a tiled dress with a straw hat on

Olá, I'm Daniela

I’m an Australian travel and food writer who has called Lisbon home since 2018. To help others explore Portugal, I write deep stories about Portuguese traditions, regional dishes, local artisans, and sustainable fashion and ceramics 🙂

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