One of the essential places to visit when you come to San Sebastián is undoubtedly Monte Igueldo. Our border to the west, Igueldo (in Basque Igeldo, literally “place of frogs”) measures 181 meters high and separates San Sebastián from the town of Orio, just 17 kilometers on the coast towards Bilbao. In fact, it is possible to walk from Donosti to Orio through the mountains, following the Camino de Santiago del Norte, marked with yellow arrows, a route that can be done in a morning and is not difficult at all.
Monte Igueldo Amusement Park
But in addition to crossing it on foot, on Monte Igueldo you can do many more things, such as going to the Amusement Park of the same name by taking the funicular.
At the top of Igueldo, on the part of the mountain that faces San Sebastián, is the Monte Igueldo Amusement Park. This park was inaugurated in 1912 as part of the Monte Igueldo complex, which in addition to the park included a restaurant, a casino and the funicular to reach the top.
The casino ceased to exist a long time ago and today the rest of the elements remain, known worldwide for their location and wonderful views, in addition to the hotel opened in 1967.
History of Monte Igueldo
Until 1912, what was at the top of the mountain was only a tower, called La Linterna, which was used as a lighthouse. With the arrival of the park, the lighthouse was moved a little further down the slope of the mountain and the Lantern was rebuilt as a viewing point (and until not so long ago as a wax museum of dubious quality).
The park, in addition to the best views of the city, has the aforementioned hotel, a restaurant, a bar and food stand, and of course attractions. The Mysterious River, the Pond Boats, the Kosmikar, the trampolines and the Laughter Walk are some of these mythical attractions that everyone in San Sebastian has known and that delight children and adults. The jewel in the crown, however, is the Swiss Mountain.
Swiss Mountain opened to the public in 1928, making it the second oldest roller coaster in the world behind Coney Island in New York, just one year older. Unlike the American one, ours is made of steel and cement, and is called “Swiss” instead of “Russian” because its mechanism is as complicated as a Swiss watch. However, urban legend says that it is called that because at the time the Russians were not very well regarded by communists.
Monte Igueldo Funicular
Another of the most beloved elements of the park is, without a doubt, the funicular that we have already mentioned. The Monte Igueldo Funicular is taken at the base and goes up the slope in a minute and a half to the top.
This little train that goes up between trees and that halfway along the route intersects with the car that goes down, maintains all the original elements from 1912, cable and mechanism included, making it one of the oldest funiculars in the world.
Although this may seem daunting, the truth is that taking the funicular is quite an experience, and just thinking about the noise of each compartment door closing brings back thousands of childhood memories for San Sebastian residents. For that reason alone, it’s worth picking up.
But what obviously draws the attention of Monte Igueldo are the impressive views of La Concha Bay. From here you can perfectly see the reason for the bay’s name, especially at low tide, as well as a good part of the city.
Even on clear days you can see France, just 20 kilometers away. That’s why we climbed a stretch of the mountain on our Classic Electric Bike Tour, because it’s totally worth it.