The automobile capital of Spain
Vitoria is located in the province of Alava, which was never part of the Basque Country autonomous region until it was added on May 20, 1980, by decision of the Basque Parliament, naming the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz as the capital city of the Basque Country region due to its favourable transport connections to the surrounding major and important cities and due to its favourable rather flat location, something that Bilbao or San Sebastian for example differ from being in the middle of mountainous valleys.
Erroneously overlooked by tourists who only aim for Bilbao, San Sebastian and the coastal villages around, Vitoria has a great medieval old town with plenty of sights and museums, huge choice for food, shopping and a thriving nightlife. I cannot believe I did never come here before, especially that since part of my family is from Bilbao and the many years I’ve been going to Bilbao, but never made it here until now.
Not only the city will make a great day for visiting, but its location will also give you the chance to visit some of the nearby beautiful cities and villages, wineries, natural parks, landscapes and nature. To mention a few, you are near La Rioja where obviously if you are a wine person, will know how to even further appreciate the region yet still if not into wine, the chance to visit some of the wineries are a good idea specially for their incredible architecture of many of them, where world renown architects have created 21st century masterpieces blended with the ancient buildings. Then you have Burgos, San Sebastian, Bilbao or Biarritz, all at little over 100km away.
If you’ve come here for a weekend, visiting the city itself is good enough for a day to see and enjoy everything, for what you could consider a day trip if you are staying elsewhere in the nearby cities or regions. There are simply too many places one could go, both cultural or natural, but all have the same in common, the beauty.
Food; well, like everywhere in Spain specially the north is strongly influenced by the climate and local products, and is a blend of Basque with Castilian cuisines. Needless to say pintxos, the name that receive the snacks found at most of the bars and taverns across the Basque Country (known as tapas elsewhere), are incredibly tasty and a great way to experience and try the local cuisine. Bars will have many of different kinds, with prices ranging between 1.00 to 2.50 Euros or so depending on the ingredients and level of elaboration. Not only pintxos are about food itself, but elaboration can also be a key factor, with bars competing in having the best pintxo in the city. It is usual to hop from bar to bar and try some at each bar with a drink. You can try some of the Basque wines, being the most known txacoli, although this is a rather sweet white wine, but nice with pintxos.
For more information about Vitoria Gasteiz check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Spain’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Vitoria
- Cathedral of Santa Maria Also known as the Old Cathedral, is the centerpiece of the old town located at the highest point. Dating from the 14th century of Gothic style was built from within the fortification walls and towers hence the extreme austere and closed appearance from the outside. After a lengthy refurbishment process is now opened to the public again, being the portico one of the most visited places in the city.
- Saint Peter Apostle Church In Gothic style from the 15th century it is famous for its Old Portico, with a set of reliefs depicting scenes from the lives of Saint Peter and the Virgin Mary under the images of the Virgin and the apostles.
- Church of Saint Michael the Archangel Built between the 14th and 16th centuries in a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles. The patron of the city, Virgen Blanca, is located at the main portico.
- Virgen Blanca Square Heading downwards from the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel is the main square in the city where the most important streets of the old town with those from the 19th century expansion converge. Pay attention to the traditional stone houses with glass verandas. You will find plenty of nice coffee places, ice cream shops, bars and restaurants at all the sides.
-Battle of Vitoria Monument Stands at the center of the square commemorating the battle of freedom of the city of Vitoria from the French troops on 21 of June 1813.
- Plaza de España Like in most of the cities in Spain, Vitoria also has a portico-ed large square built in 1781 in order to be place for celebrations, bull fighting and marketplace.
-City Hall Is the centerpiece at one of the fronts, in neo-classical style.
- Casa del Cordón Built in the 15th century from within a defensive tower from the 13th century of the old fortifications is a fine example of Gothic architecture in the city, also important to be the place where Hadrian VI was named Pope.
- Fournier Museum of Playing Cards Occupying the Bendaña palace and a newer extension attached to it displays one of the greatest collections of playing cards in the world at one of the finest and most important cards manufacturers in the world, Fournier, who is from Vitoria-Gasteiz.
- Montehermoso Cultural Center Is now an exhibition hall, free for visiting, housed on the former 16th century headquarters of the Diocese of Vitoria. You can also visit the attached extension housed on the former water tanks.
- Escoriaza-Esquivel Palace Built upon orders of King Henry VIII of England’s doctor, Fernán López de Escoriaza and his wife Victoria de Anda y Esquivel in the 16th century. Because of the rich ornamentation and architecture it is considered one of the best civil renaissance buildings.
- Old City Walls Some remains have been refurbished, at other points rebuilt and now open to the visitor with nice gardens and landscaped architectural feats. Older original fortification towers are now transformed into houses and palaces, as it with the Tower of Hurtado de Anda and Tower of Doña Ochanda.
-Tower of Hurtado de Anda Located on the backside of the Cathedral in Burullerías Square, if a gothic style construction dating from the 15th century. Formerly part of the defensive fortifications of the city.
- Cathedral of Mary Immaculate Known as the New Cathedral was built in the 20th century in neo-gothic style with some touches or modernism.
- Basque Parliament Building Located in the center of the city not far from the New cathedral, occupies the premises of a former s 18th century school.
- Ajuria Enea Palace Is the seat of President of the Basque government (Lehendakari) since 1980. The mansion was originally built in 1918 as the main residence of the family of the local entrepreneur Serafin Ajuria. Is a fine example of the Basque architecture from the 20th century.
- Basque Museum of Contemporary Art Known for its acronym Artium hosts one of the best and most important collections of contemporary art from the Basque region.
- Florida Park Located in the 19th century expansion of the city it can be considered as a botanical garden due to the great amount and variety of trees and plants.
Although Vitoria has a pretty new airport that was meant to relieve busy Bilbao, it failed to provide enough passengers and has no commercial flights. Instead it turned to be quite profitable for cargo. Therefore the nearest international airport is Bilbao, around 1 hour away by car or bus from the city center. Farther away to the north-east is San Sebastian with an operational airport though only serving internal flights within Spain. Biarritz, just across the border in France has a major international airport well connected by road and therefore another good option should you be landing there. Needless to say that if coming from elsewhere in Spain, buses and trains do call frequently in Vitoria as it is an important transport axis node.
Within the old medieval city you will see everything is very compact and close to each other, therefor no need for any public transportation, which in case is served by buses and trams, linking to all the neighbourhoods surrounding it.
Although we cannot recommend any hotel in the city merely because we did not need to research for one for our stay as we were at our friends flat, it should not be difficult to find a good deal, yet still bear in mind that due to the factor that the city has well known and important manufacturing factories like Mercedes-Benz, Michelin, Gamesa and more, prices can go up depending on how busy they get when conferences are taking place since people from across Europe not only Spain attend. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.