Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum

One of the greatest fashion icons of the 20th century came from humble beginnings but this museum dedicated to his life is anything but humble!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Visiting the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum

The story of Cristóbal Balenciaga and his rise to the top of the fashion industry would be fascinating in any form, but this museum takes it to a whole other level.

Let me explain why you'll love a visit to the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum and what you need to know in advance.

Are these expensive dresses really worth the amount they cost? I mean, some of them would have cost as much as a house back in their day!

Surely they can’t actually be that valuable, as an object.

I wonder whether it’s not so much about how much something should cost… but more about making it unattainable to pretty much everyone except a few.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, San Sebastian, Spain

I ponder this as I explore the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum in Getaria, near the Spanish city of San Sebastián.

I feel a little silly that I have never really heard much about this designer before – then again, haute couture is not really my speciality.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, San Sebastian, Spain

But as I look at the exhibitions, read the signs, and listen to the guide, I realise how important he was for the fashion industry. And I realise that this is a story about more than just one man – it’s about what clothes can say about any of us.

The life of Cristóbal Balenciaga

Cristóbal Balenciaga was born here in the town of Getaria on the Spanish coast and it’s where he, as a young boy, first caught the attention of the right people in the aristocracy and the fashion world.

His mother was a seamstress and, as he helped her in her work, he showed a natural brilliance.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, San Sebastian, Spain

He opened his first boutique in San Sebastián in 1919 at the age of 24 and had great success in Spain with the royal family and other celebrities wearing his designs.

However, it wasn’t until he moved to France (mainly because of the Spanish Civil War) and opened his shop there in 1937 that he was truly to begin on his path to legendary status.

Cristóbal Balenciaga is still regarded as one of the leading and most influential couturiers of the 20th century. The museum traces his career but the chronology is just one element of the story.

What it really focuses on is the experience of wearing Cristóbal Balenciaga and how his designs fitted into the social world of the time.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, San Sebastian, Spain

His customers are described in the museum as ‘unconditional’. They were the elite of society and for them (moreso, perhaps, than the average person), their clothes were an external symbol of the personality and status.

They needed to look like the person they were and having a unique outfit that had been chosen by them and then fitted for them was all part of the deal.

The haute couture firms that they frequented were exclusive clubs that displayed their social success.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, San Sebastian, Spain

Cristóbal Balenciaga’s firm had a simple doctrine: “Each woman has a style and that style must be respected even before following the imperatives dictated by fashion trends.”

Things to see at the Balenciaga Museum

You can see that in the dresses that are on display. Although there are some recurring themes in the designs – a shift from sartorial innovation to constructive minimalism – each piece is unique.

The names of the original owners of the dresses are on the signs next to each of them. I don’t recognise any of the people but I imagine what they might have looked like, and it’s easier to do that by seeing what they chose to wear.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, San Sebastian, Spain

I do wonder particularly about one woman who is mentioned a few time because she was a regular customer of the firm. She even had a special outfit made by Cristóbal Balenciaga for when she wanted to do her gardening.

What kind of person would spend so much money on clothes to wear in the dirt?!

Well, obviously she was the kind of person who lived her whole life in haute couture because it projected who she was. Other customers maybe only bought a small selection of dresses to wear to the most important social functions.

Regardless, though, these weren’t clothes for just anyone.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, San Sebastian, Spain

The viewings of ‘models’ in the salons of the Balenciaga house were exclusive events. Normally the only way to get in and see the outfits was by invitation from the firm itself or from another customer.

The saleswomen then led the customer through the entire process, including the various fittings. The whole experience was a special one, designed to maintain the impression that this was about more than just a piece of clothing.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, San Sebastian, Spain

This was about style and status.

The Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum also has style.

The enormous building actually seems out of place here in Getaria because it’s so modern. In an old coastal town, it stands out – but so did the man it was built to honour.

The ground floor of the museum is large and empty, with sunshine streaming in through the large windows.

The exhibition rooms on the higher floors are darker (partly to protect the clothing on display) but are still large and capacious. The design is contemporary but also minimalistic. Again, it reflects the principles of the subject.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, San Sebastian, Spain

Despite the style and the impressiveness of the museum, it is open to everyone – it’s accessible. Unlike the most elaborate of Balenciaga’s designs.

However, even the designer saw the opportunity to reach a mainstream audience and created accessories that the non-elites could afford: perfumes, gloves, scarves or handbags.

Cristóbal Balenciaga retired in 1968 and died in four years later at the age of 77. Decades later, his name still lives on – in those accessories, in his clothes and in this wonderful museum.

Visiting the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum

Many of the people who visit the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum will be staying in San Sebastián or Bilbao, and so it may see like the museum is quite inconvenient to reach. But I think its location, in the small town of Getaria, is part of its allure.

It’s certainly going to be easier to reach Getaria if you have a car, but there is a convenient and direct bus from San Sebastián, so don’t let the location put you off.

Also, if you are driving, there’s some parking in town but it gets very full during busy periods, so leave enough time to search around for a spot.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, San Sebastian, Spain

Tickets to the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum can be bought online and are for a particular entrance time, although those sales finish the day before. If you want to buy a ticket on the day of your visit, you’ll have to do it at the counter at the museum.

There are limited numbers and it can get busy at the peak of the summer season. During those months, I would recommending buying a ticket in advance here.

How long you’ll spend at the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum will depend on how much detail you want to see, but I think about an hour is average.

For visitors with a disability:

  • The interior spaces have been designed without architectural barriers
  • Bathrooms have been adapted for wheelchair users
  • There are wheelchairs and walking sticks with seats available for loan at reception
  • There are also tactile resources and multimedia guides

As well as the permanent collection, there is usually also a temporary exhibition at the museum.

I would definitely recommend a visit, because I think it’s one of the best things to do in San Sebastián.

Where is the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum?

The Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum is in the small town of Getaria. It is on the northern Spanish coast about 25 kilometres from San Sebastián and 80 kilometres from Bilbao.
The museum’s official address is Aldamar Parkea Parkea, 6, 20808 Getaria, Gipuzkoa, Spain. You can find it on a map here.

How do you get to the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum?

By public transport, you can catch the Lurralde Bus (UK10 line), which takes about 40 minutes from the centre of San Sebastián
By car, it takes about 35 minutes to drive from San Sebastián, or an hour to drive from Bilbao.
The museum does not have parking. Although there are parking spots in the village, it can get very busy during summer and there may not be space.

When is the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum open?

The Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum is open at the following times:
November – February: Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 – 15:00
March – October: Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 – 19:00
July – August: Every day from 10:30 – 20:00
September – October: Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 – 19:00

What is the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum entrance fee?

The standard entrance fee is €10 while a concession is €9. Children under 12 years old are free of charge.

Are there tours of the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum?

The museum offers guided tours on Saturday at 11:00 (in Spanish) and 13:00 (in Basque), but there are no scheduled tours in English.
However, you can arrange a private guided tour in English for up to 20 people for €65. Contact the museum to book in advance.

You can find more information at the official website of the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum.

The region around the museum is a beautiful part of the coastline and I would recommend combining a visit to the museum with some sightseeing around Getaria.

Getaria, Spain

One way to do that is with this great tour that leaves from Bilbao and also includes San Sebastián.

If you’re exploring independently, have a look at the Monument to Juan Sebastián Elcano, an interesting historical landmark near the museum.

There’s also San Anton, a small mountain that looks a bit like an island located out in the sea (it’s actually connected by a breakwater). There’s a walk to the stop for some beautiful views of the countryside and the coast.


You will find the more upmarket hotels in Centro but the Old Town (La Parte Vieja) is much more lively to stay in.


With modern and private dorm beds, A Room In The City is a great hostel in San Sebastián.


You’ll get friendly hospitality and affordable comfortable rooms at Pension Del Mar.


With understated elegance, Boulevart Donostia is a wonderful boutique hotel.


And for a special luxury experience, I would recommend Maria Cristina, right in the heart of town.

Time Travel Turtle was supported by San Sebastián Tourism in partnership with iambassador but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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