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European Capital and Green Pioneer of Smart Tourism

SAN SEBASTIÁN – 2023 Shortlisted City

San Sebastián has been a destination the 19th century, when royalty, aristocracy, and the bourgeoisie began to summer in the city, setting a trend.

Sustainability-centred innovative governance

San Sebastián wants to become one of the most sustainable tourism destinations in Europe and clear policies regarding sustainable development have been set in motion. Within the framework of the “Plan Turismo San Sebastián 2017-2021", the city follows three lines of action: destination management, brand consolidation and a new governance model. The plan has included a rich and complete analysis of the environmental situation of natural resources, as well as quality of life, air, greenery, acoustics, participation, housing, transport mobility and energy, which resulted in measures addressing issues of waste management, development of public transport, mobility, circular economy, and water management. The San Sebastián Tourism Office actively encourages the implementation by tourism actors of the Euskadi Tourism Code of Ethics, a tool intended to contain information about the eight main axes for responsible tourism. It has already assisted 27 tourism companies to obtain sustainability management certification.

San Sebastián 1.


Using culture as a tool for integration

Beginning in the 1950s, San Sebastián experienced a series of migratory waves that changed the demographic profile of the city. This raised the challenge of integrating new communities from multiple backgrounds. The city responded with a new approach to culture which also changed the focus of their tourism offer; they shifted from events targeting the rich and wealthy to a broader project of social integration inclusive of the needs and wants of minorities and immigrants. Thus, San Sebastián’s motto “a culture for coexistence”, is voiced through a renewed cultural model that nurtures local traditions, as well as egalitarian values for a more diverse and integrated society.

San Sebastián 2.

Well-known for its many internationally recognised festivals, such as the International Film Festival, the Jazz Festival, the Musical Fortnight (La Quincena de la Música in Spanish), San Sebastián also seeks to promote and protect local cultural resources as a tool for integration of locals and visitors - including the Basque language, Euskera – as the distinguishing element of Basque culture. Small Basque dictionaries are usually distributed among tourists, and the Tourist Offices offers support and resources for the planning and execution of activities linked to Basque culture and traditions, as well as information about Basque cultural activities that can be found on San Sebastián’s Tourism Office website.

San Sebastián 3.


Creating socioeconomic value that transcends

San Sebastián integrates landscape protection into land planning and management policies, as in the case of the Hondalea, a work of art by renowned San Sebastián-born artist Cristina Iglesias. Located in the Lighthouse of the Santa Klara Island, the sculpture artistically recreates the geological forms typical of the Basque coast through a large glass cast in bronze. The project ties in with the defense of nature and of the seas and their coasts, and creates a space for reflection inspired by the changes of the tides and the forces of the waves acting upon the ocean’s cavities. Similarly, San Sebastián has conducted a Special Plan for Urban Cultural Heritage (2014) with information about norms for protection of the architectural, historical, or cultural value of the city, and has facilitated urban renewal projects to create synergies and support the cultural and creative sector. One of the most successful instances of urban regeneration is the Tabakalera, a former tobacco factory converted into an international culture centre. People can enjoy contemporary art exhibitions, cinema and audiovisuals technology and more cultural events in the building venues thanks to the strategic partnership of companies and public institutions. The refurbished building retains many distinctive features including the original façade, but the inner space has been altered to welcome visitors.