Euskera and Basque culture

The oldest language in Europe

The Basque language is spoken on both sides of the Western Pyrenees, i.e. in different parts of France and Spain. Basque and Spanish are the official languages in Donostia/San Sebastian and in the Basque Autonomous Community as a whole.

What makes the Basque language so special? First of all, it is the oldest language in Europe! We still do not know from where it originated. Even for researchers, its origins are a mystery. They say that it is an isolated language, genetically speaking, as it is one of the few languages for which no parent language has been found.

3000 years ago, it was surrounded by non-Indo-European languages. Due to migratory movements, those languages gradually became extinct and, for the first millennium B.C., Indo-European languages (Germanic, Romance, Slavic, etc.) were dominant across the whole of Europe. But the Basque language did not disappear and it has survived to this day!




Basque speakers

Currently, around 1,000,000 people speak Basque and another 500,000 people are able to understand the language. Gipuzkoa is the region with the highest number of bilingual people; 57.37% of people speak Basque and another 15.90% are able to understand it. Specifically, San Sebastian is the city with the highest number of bilingual people: 81,274 people from San Sebastian can speak Basque (46.01%) and a fifth of them can understand the language (19.72%).

Basque language revival

In recent years, the number of bilingual people has risen significantly and an even sharper rise is expected in the future. Thanks to the education system, children and young people are learning it.

In the last thirty-five years, the number of Basque speakers has increased by more than 300,000 people in the Basque Autonomous Community. It has also found a place in areas where it has not been used in the past or has been forbidden: in administration, in education and in the media.

The Basque language revival has become a model to follow globally in the language revitalisation processes of other languages. In the last forty years, the Basque language has had the will of the people, legal protection and language policy to support it in the Basque Autonomous Community and, thanks to that, this process has made remarkable progress.

When you are walking around the streets of San Sebastian, look at the posters and signs. Which of those two languages is Basque? Would you like to know how to pronounce it? We’ve prepared a short dictionary so that you can say hello and order tapas just like the locals do.

Basque (Euskera) Dictionary

  • Ongi etorri

    Ongi etorri

    Welcome. ‘Ongi’ means well and ‘etorri’ to come. A tradition that we still preserve is to welcome people with a traditional dance.

  • Kaixo


    Hello. We also use "Epa!" "Aupa!" and "Iepa!"

  • Agur


    Bye. We also say ‘Aio’, although we prefer a see you later (laster arte)!

  • Mesedez


    Please. Much better with a smile.

  • Eskerrik asko

    Eskerrik asko

    Thanks. We also use ‘Mila esker’ (a thousand thanks).

  • Etxea


    House. Donostia feels like home

  • Zorionak


    Happy Birthday!

  • Gosaria


    Breakfast. The most important meal of the day.

  • Bazkaria


    Lunch. Daily menu, pintxos, cider menu… which one do you prefer?

  • Afaria


    Dinner. A light super like a salad and… a ‘txuleta’! (delicious T-bone steak!)

  • On egin

    On egin

    Enjoy your meal!

  • Pintxo


    Miniature Culinary Art. On egin!

  • Goxoa


    Delicious. We like to say ‘goxo-goxoa’. It also works for “sweet”.

  • Azoka


    Traditional market. Fresh and seasonal products. You will find them in La Bretxa or San Martin markets for example.

  • Xirimiri


    Light rain. Although you think it is not raining, open the umbrella, if you do not want to finish completely drenched.

  • Hondartza


    Beach. Which of our 4 beaches do you prefer?

  • Zenbakia


    Bat (un), bi (deux), hiru (trois), lau (quatre)... Trouvez la chanson et apprendre ces chiffres!

  • Maite zaitut

    Maite zaitut

    I love you.

  • Muxu



  • Polita


    Jolie. Essayez de répéter cette phrase : Zu oso polita zara !

  • Donostia


    You should say Donostia, if you want to act like a local.

  • Euskara


    Basque language.

  • Txuri-urdin


    White-blue. These are the colors of the city and also of La Real Sociedad soccer team.

  • Bai, Ez

    Bai, Ez

    Yes, no.

  • Zenbat da?

    Zenbat da?

    How much is it?

  • Mendia


    Mountain. From the mountains of Igeldo, Ulia and Urgull, the views are amazing!

  • Txotx


    If you hear this word you are in a cider house and you have to stand up and fill your glass!

  • Besarkada


    Hug. There is a Chillida’s sculpture with that very same name, find it! It looks at the sea…

Hiztegi txikia (Small Basque (Euskera) Dictionary): In this small dictionary you will find basic words and phrases in the Basque language, which may help you when you come to visit us.

A unique and original culture


Basque rural sport, or herri kirolak is the term used to describe the sports traditionally practiced in the rural areas of the Basque Country. Most of these sports take their origin from work in these rural areas. Neighbours or the inhabitants of a village would compete to see who was best at their jobs, and the competitions eventually turned into sports. Thus, for example, the chopping of tree trunks for firewood led to the aizkolaris or wood-choppers; while the moving of huge rocks for use in construction led to stone-lifting (the people who practice the sport are called harrijasotzailes in Basque) and the pulling of enormous stones by oxen (idi probak), pelota etc.

Herri Kirolak
Donostiako Estropadak - Kontxako Bandera



Like in many other cultures, dance has always played a hugely important part in Basque social and religious life. Many of the dances still performed at popular festivities have been in continuous existence for over 400 years. There are endless individual and group dances, and every popular celebration and festivity usually has its own typical version.



Bertsolarismo, the improvisation of Basque verse, is one of the most peculiar disciplines in the Basque culture. A bertso involves improvising verse, in song, to a set rhyme and melody. It requires bertsolaris to have large amounts of imagination, oral skill and mental agility. Bertsolari competitions are still organised today throughout the Basque Country, mainly in popular festivities, cider houses, etc. There are even bertsolari schools that have produced a new generation of improvisers who achieve tremendous standards of quality and popularity.

Maialen Lujanbio - Plazetik Plazera


For the purpose of providing a general overview about the music that is produced in the Basque language today, we can say that for at least the last 15 years one of the main characteristics of Basque music has been its diversity. It is possible to listen to almost any style at all in the Basque language. During the last fifty years, our pop, rock and folk music has served almost every purpose and has been important in terms of its lyrics, its calls for social and political change, its entertainment value and its level of involvement. It has been used to reinforce old traditions and to create new ones.

Zea Mays eta Euskadiko Orkestra Sinfonikoa
Berri Txarrak


The evolution of the Basque film industry has been modest until relatively recently. The 1920s represented a mere outline, so to say, of the paths that were subsequently followed. It was not until the years of the Second Republic that the first work to feature a genuine, conscious nationalist spirit was filmed. Today, Basque cinema has gained significant local and international recognition and acclaim, and we can proudly announce that a new generation for Basque cinema has been born.

Haundia (Aundiya)


Although its origins were strongly linked to religious education and the church, since the 19th century literature written in the Basque language has changed in direction and begun to include other genres such as the novel. Despite the fact that only five novels were published during that century, those works constituted a significant milestone because they opened the door to other forms of expression. However, we had to wait until the middle of the 20th century before Basque literature became an independent activity within Basque society.



Explore Basque culture in San Telmo Museum and discover the secrets of the Basque language, the oldest in Europe. All preserved in a former Dominican convent with a cloister, extended with the addition of an internationally acclaimed avant-garde building.

the-passport-memorandum-san-telmo-museoaPhotos: The Passport Memorandum