San Sebastian, on Spain’s northern coast, is a popular tourist destination (and has been for decades). The small city host about two million visitors each year, which is a big number for a city of about 185,000 full-time residents!
The scenery is one of San Sebastian’s main draws. It is located on the dramatic Bay of Biscay and you can stroll on the boardwalk for gorgeous views.
For decades, it’s been a popular beach resort and visitors still love sandy stretches of shore such as La Concha Beach. The city itself is a charming mix of narrow streets in the Old Town and elegant Belle Epoque architecture, dating from its time when it was a popular haunt for the Spanish royal family.
But while this storied country is rich in culture, history, and sights to see, is San Sebastian safe to visit? Here’s our take.
Is San Sebastian Safe to Visit?
Yes, San Sebastian is very safe to visit. In fact, it’s one of Spain’s safest tourist destinations as it doesn’t have the crime of bigger cities such as Barcelona or the rowdiness of party destinations such as Ibiza.
Although it has some crime, especially petty crime, these problems don’t often affect tourists who take the right precautions. First, let’s take a look at the safety of Spain as a whole. After all, a city can only be as safe as the country it is in.
The good news is that Spain is a fairly safe country. Most countries, such as Canada, issue Level One travel advisories for the country. This means that although travelers should still use common sense, they can expect to be safe in Spain.
Other countries advise a bit more caution when it comes to visiting Spain. The United States issues a Level Two travel advisory for the country, citing the risk of terrorism and civil unrest as a reason why visitors should exercise increased caution.
However, these risks aren’t equally present throughout Spain and are more common in bigger cities than in San Sebastian. Common problems that you may encounter when traveling in Spain or San Sebastian include:
- Bag snatching
- Drink spiking
While all of these problems can happen in San Sebastian, they are fairly rare in this peaceful city. One problem that governments sometimes cite in their travel advisories for Spain is terrorism.
However, terrorist attacks in Spain, when they happen, tend to happen in larger cities such as Madrid and Barcelona. A smaller city such as San Sebastian is not a likely target.
Those who know a bit more about Spain’s political history may worry about traveling here because it is in Basque Country. Basque Country is a region in Spain where the Basques, a distinct ethnic group with their own language, live.
Some Basques want independence from Spain and for decades there was a terrorist group, ETA, active in the Basque region agitating for independence. However, ETA is no longer a concern in any part of Basque Country, including San Sebastian.
The group had been inactive for years before it formally disarmed in 2017. There is very little threatening the calm of the city now. San Sebastian is also free from many of the natural disasters that plague the rest of Spain.
While the arid countryside of Spain is vulnerable to wildfires in the summer, the climate is milder and less prone to wildfires (it does mean that it rains very often, even in the summer, so bring your raincoat). Going to the beach is a popular pastime in the city.
However, the water here is a bit wilder than on southern Spain’s warm Mediterranean coast, especially on the beaches away from the bay and closer to the Atlantic Ocean. Make sure that you obey any posted warnings about swimming. The beaches in the Bay of Biscay should be safe, even for families.
Crime in San Sebastian
The most common problem that people worry about when heading abroad is crime. It is, after all, the most likely problem to affect you as a visitor. The good news is that San Sebastian has a low crime rate.
It scores a 19.15 out of 100 on the Numbeo crime index, which is a very low value. People report low levels of all types of crime, from minor property crime to more violent problems.
According to official numbers from Spain’s Ministry of the Interior, theft is the most common crime in San Sebastian. It makes up about 29% of total crimes reported in the city.
On the other hand, violent crime is very rare, making up less than 10% of crime reported. The most common violent crime is robbery, which makes up about 8.6% of total crimes committed.
What is slightly concerning is that crime has increased in San Sebastian over the past few years. In 2023’s second trimester, theft increased by 44% compared to the previous year. However, there is an easy explanation for this.
Many thefts are driven by the tourism industry in San Sebastian. Tourists make easy targets for pickpockets and big crowds provide easy cover for criminals who sometimes pose as fellow travelers.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, travel in 2021 and even 2022 was not back to normal yet, so it makes sense that theft levels were lower back then. Even with a slight increase in crime, San Sebastian is still incredibly safe.
It has a lower crime rate than most of Spain’s major cities, such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Sevilla. The Basque Country as a whole has some of the lowest crime rates in the country on infractions ranging from violent crimes to vehicle thefts.
Although you should still take some precautions when visiting (it may be a safe city, but it is still a city), the risk of being the victim of a crime while you are in town is fairly low.
The most likely crime that you may encounter is petty theft. Although pickpocketing is not nearly as rampant in San Sebastian as in Barcelona or Madrid, it still happens, as is expected for a city that receives this many tourists.
Other forms of petty theft happen as well, such as bag snatching and scams. Theft happens most often in the Old Town, whose narrow streets attract a lot of tourists and provide a good excuse for a pickpocket to bump into an unsuspecting victim.
Although theft from the beaches isn’t that common, it still happens that thieves go through people’s bags while they are swimming. The best precaution you can take against theft is to avoid leaving your belongings unattended.
When you go to the beach, try to leave your credit cards and passport in your hotel safe, so even if someone steals your bag, it isn’t completely devastating. A simple trick that locals use is to cover their bags with a beach towel, which deters thieves.
When walking around town, make sure that your valuables are somewhere where they are secure from pickpockets; you don’t have to go as far as to invest in a money belt.
In fact, a money belt may be counterproductive because it makes you stand out and tells potential thieves where your money is located. Just put valuables in front pockets or zipped bags when walking around town. You may encounter scammers when walking around town.
Common scams in San Sebastian include aggressive panhandling, selling tours or event tickets on the street, and overcharging in restaurants and taxis. If someone comes up to you, just say no and move on, as usually someone coming up to you in the street is up to no good.
The most common violent crime in San Sebastian is robbery. Robberies can occur on the street and sometimes involve violence such as a knife. Although these types of crimes are extremely rare, it’s still a good idea to take precautions against being the victim of a robbery.
Most robberies occur at night. San Sebastian is a city that is generally safe at night, but you should still avoid walking down deserted side streets or along deserted stretches of beach after dark.
One common type of robbery is burglary. While this crime mostly affects locals, it can sometimes touch visitors as well. Burglars will sometimes target vacation homes or home rentals. If you are staying in a home rental instead of a hotel, take precautions to stay safe.
Make sure that you always lock the doors and close the windows while you are out or sleeping. Ask your host before you arrive if there’s been a history of burglaries in the area and if they took any safety precautions.
Avoiding Bad Areas
San Sebastian doesn’t have any neighborhoods that are so dangerous they should be avoided at all costs, but there are some areas that have higher crime rates than others.
One of the places with the highest crime rates is actually in the Old Town, the most popular tourist destination. There are a few reasons for this.
The most thefts happen in the Old Town, since criminals target tourists. Old Town is also home to much of San Sebastian’s nightlife, meaning that it can get rowdy after dark.
The neighborhoods of Gros and Egia are also popular nightlife destinations and can get rowdy for the same reason. Be careful around the rain and bus station after dark as that is where the crime rate is highest.
Things to Consider
Here are a few other things that are good to know before visiting San Sebastian:
- Be sensitive to local pride. Many of the residents of San Sebastian are Basque by ethnicity, although they speak Spanish as well. People are fiercely proud of their identity and may get offended if you refer to them as Spanish or speak dismissively of being Basque.
- Bring rain gear. It rains a lot in Basque Country, especially during the winter.
- Always follow posted warnings at the beach. Most of the beaches are very safe, but it’s always good to be safe just in case.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other common questions that people ask about safety before visiting San Sebastian:
Is it safe to walk in San Sebastian at night?
Yes, San Sebastian is safe to walk at night. However, you should still take basic precautions, such as not walking down deserted streets or parts of the beach.
Is San Sebastian good for tourists?
San Sebastian is great for tourists! It has plenty to see, it offers one of the best culinary scenes in the world, and its safe atmosphere and mild climate make it welcoming for foreigners.
Is San Sebastian safe for solo female travelers?
San Sebastian is the perfect destination for solo female travelers! It has very low levels of crime and women feel safe walking around during the day and at night.
Is San Sebastian worth going to?
San Sebastian is worth going to if you want to explore Spain’s diverse regions. It’s also worth going to if you are a foodie since it is one of the best culinary destinations in the world.
Is it cheap in San Sebastian?
San Sebastian is one of Spain’s more expensive cities to visit. You will have to budget a bit more for ordinary expenses such as food, but it is worth it to explore this amazing city.
So, Is San Sebastian Safe to Visit?
San Sebastian is one of the safest cities in Spain for visitors. It has a very low crime rate. Besides the occasional risk of petty theft, very little can happen to a visitor that might make them feel unsafe. As long as you are aware of your belongings, you should have a safe time visiting.