Hull vs San Sebastian: Which city of culture is better?

How does the UK City of Culture 2017 compare with the European co-Capital of Culture 2016?

Friday 23 September 2016 18:54 BST
Pop quiz: is this Hull or San Sebastian?
Pop quiz: is this Hull or San Sebastian? (Getty)

Hull has unveiled its cultural calendar for next year, as UK City of Culture 2017. Coincidentally, one of the current European Capitals of Culture is another mid-sized maritime city: San Sebastian in Spain. So how do the two compare on a range of measures?


San Sebastian: 186,000

Hull: 256,000

What Lonely Planet says about it …

San Sebastian: "It’s impossible to lay eyes on San Sebastian and not fall madly in love. This stunning city is cool, svelte and flirtatious by night, charming and well mannered by day."

Hull: "Though it’s not going to win any prizes for prettiness, the city has a gritty appeal for those who appreciate Britain’s industrial past and enjoy getting away from the beaten tourist path."

East Park in Hull
East Park in Hull (© Thomas Arran)

Average high temperature in January/July

San Sebastian: 13C/25C

Hull: 3C/16C


San Sebastian: The handsome Aquarium, opened in 1928, features sea creatures that are not (yet) on the menu of the city's many renowned restaurants.

Hull: The Deep is the city’s prime tourist attraction, a spectacular Millennium project that soars above the confluence of the Hull and Humber rivers — and focuses on aquatic enlightenment.

The Deep, Hull's impressive aquarium
The Deep, Hull's impressive aquarium


San Sebastian: “The scallop-shaped bay of La Concha (‘The Shell’) protects a long, broad, safe and sandy beach.” (The Independent)

Hull: The nearby beach of Withernsea “is part of a strip of sand and shingle that stretches for miles in both directions”. (RNLI)

Notable football team fact

San Sebastian: The name of the local team, Real Sociedad de Futbol, translates as “Royal Society of Football”.

Hull: The only top-flight English team whose name has no letters you can colour in is Hull City.

Pintxos are the signature dish of San Sebastian
Pintxos are the signature dish of San Sebastian (Shutterstock / Ivan Smuk)

Local dish

San Sebastian: Pintxos, the Basque take on tapas, such as bites of steak or tuna in heavenly sauces.

Hull: The Hull pattie: mashed potato with a pinch of sage, deep-fried in batter (or sometimes breadcrumbs).

Local drink

San Sebastian: The rough-edged local cider, sagardoa.

Hull: Uncertainty Principle IPA, brewed by Atom Beers.

Notable twin town

San Sebastian: Plymouth, Devon

Hull: Szczecin, Poland

Access from the capital

San Sebastian: Six flights daily from Madrid airport.

Hull: Eight trains daily from London King’s Cross.

Philip Larkin was University Librarian at the University of Hull
Philip Larkin was University Librarian at the University of Hull

Notable resident

San Sebastian: Queen Isabel II, who was chased away in the Glorious Revolution of 1868, leaving the property to serve as a casino, then a hospital, and now the Hotel de Londres y Inglaterra.

Hull: The poet, Philip Larkin, whose statue greets new arrivals at Hull’s Paragon railway station, and who wrote: “Sexual intercourse began in nineteen sixty-three (which was rather late for me)."

Last featured in The Independent’s 48 Hours series

San Sebastian: June 2016

Hull: Never

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