Vitoria Gasteiz Attractions: Hidden Gems and Popular Sites

As an avid traveler, I thought I was prepared for Vitoria-Gasteiz, but the city’s vibrant charm took me by surprise. The lively pintxos bars, spilling with locals celebrating life, and the deep cultural pride displayed in public festivities drew me in. The historical sites, enriched with well-curated interpretation programs, captivated my imagination.

Join me on a journey through the top attractions in Vitoria-Gasteiz, perfect for both first-time visitors and those returning to explore more. Let’s start with a quick overview of this enchanting capital of Basque Country, just 1.5 hours southwest of San Sebastian, Spain.

Summary

In this story, you’ll be transported by pictures and words to my favorite hidden gems and the most popular Vitoria Gasteiz attractions, including:

  • Historic Plaza de la Virgen Blanca, with its festive events and monuments,
  • medieval Casco Viejo, known for its almond-shaped layout,
  • Santa Maria Cathedral,
  • Unusual museums,
  • Green spaces and
  • Culinary delights in the city’s pintxos bars and restaurants.
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Brief overview of Vitoria-Gasteiz

pedestrians walk in large square with light colored stone pavers, tall white buildings with red tile roofs surround this attractions
Plaza de la Virgen Blanca | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

When Vitoria-Gasteiz was established deep in the green heart of Basque Country, people spoke a language older than Latin: Basque. I assumed—mistakenly—that the name Vitoria came from the British Victorian area.

But nooooo, no, the designation came a full 13 centuries before that, in 581, when a Visigothic king gave the Latin name Victoriacum to celebrate his victory over the Vascones (Basques).

The nearby salt valley surely attracted both Visigoths and, earlier, Romans, who brought technology, improved roads and grapes and viticulture for a refined beverage: wine. Indeed, the Roman road, ab Asturica Burdigalam, ran 10 kilometers west of present-day downtown Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Through the Middle Ages, the region grew in stature with the construction of a grand cathedral and formidable defensive walls. Today, with its well-preserved medieval quarter, Vitoria-Gasteiz stands as a pivotal city in the Basque Country, having been named its capital and the seat of the Basque government in 1980.

As a governmental hub, it has undergone a remarkable transformation into a Green City, with green spaces and sustainability at the forefront of development. In fact, I was pleased to learn it is the first Spanish municipality to receive the European Green Capital title, a testament to its commitment to environmental excellence.

People here still speak Basque—and, of course, Spanish—but not Latin! Indeed, the Basque / Ikastolas language is a compulsory subject or the language of instruction in Vitoria-Gasteiz public schools.

Tip for pronouncing Basque words: x = the ch sound

So now let’s carry on with my pick for the best Vitoria Gasteiz attractions.

Top things to do in Vitoria-Gasteiz: Plaza de la Virgen Blanca

folkish dummy with umbrella hangs from wire above a crowd of thousands enjoying one of the Vitoria Gasteiz attractions in a square
Bajada de Celedón / the Descent of Celedón in Plaza del Virgen Blanca | By los desiguales.com via Wikimedia

Since the Middle Ages, Plaza de la Virgen Blanca has been the meeting place for the citizens of Vitoria-Gasteiz. It has cupped bullfights, food markets and festivals.

Its favorite fest is Bajada de Celedón / the Descent of Celedón, where Celedón slides down a wire from the bell tower of San Miguel over the crowd gathered below. Revelers welcome him by lighting cigars and opening bottles of champagne.

His 6 pm flight marks the beginning of the Festivities of the White Virgin of Vitoria-Gasteiz, patron saint of the city, which is celebrated from August 4 to 9.

Within the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca, there are top Vitoria Gasteiz attractions you don’t want to miss:

Monument to the Battle of Vitoria | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

Monument to the Battle of Vitoria

The monument commemorates the June 21, 1813, Battle of Vitoria, which collapsed Napoleon’s power in Spain. I was intrigued by the life-size humans and animals, including the Vitorian hero General Miguel Ricardo de Álava y Esquivel, with his sword raised and mounted on what appears to be an Andalusian horse.

General Arthur Wellesley, the commander of the allied troops who pushed the French out of Spain, later became the Duke of Wellington and is depicted on horseback in bronze on the front. On the north face are the retreating French invaders, with Joseph Bonaparte on horseback.

An interesting aside, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 91, “The Battle of Vitoria” or “Wellington’s Victory,” put Vitoria on European maps of the time. Just a few steps away is one of our next best things to do in Vitoria-Gasteiz:

The green sign is one of the Vitoria Gasteiz attractions in Plaza del Virgen Blanca | Photo by Zarateman via Wikimedia

Living sculpture, the logo of the Green Capital

The monument commemorates the June 21, 1813, Battle of Vitoria, which collapsed Napoleon’s power in Spain. I was intrigued by the life-size humans and animals, including the Vitorian hero General Miguel Ricardo de Álava y Esquivel, with his sword raised and mounted on what appears to be an Andalusian horse.

General Arthur Wellesley, the commander of the allied troops who pushed the French out of Spain, later became the Duke of Wellington and is depicted on horseback in bronze on the front. On the north face are the retreating French invaders, with Joseph Bonaparte on horseback.

An interesting aside, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 91, “The Battle of Vitoria” or “Wellington’s Victory,” put Vitoria on European maps of the time. Just a few steps away is one of our next best things to do in Vitoria-Gasteiz:

Casco Medieval (Old Town Vitoria Gasteiz)

aerial photo of streets laid out in the shape of an almond
The streets of Casco Medieval (Old Town Vitoria Gasteiz) are laid out in the shape of an almond | Photo courtesy of www.vitoria-gasteiz.org

Casco Medieval / Old Town is built on a steep hillside, and its narrow streets lined with shops, sidewalk cafes and pintxos bars wind up to the Catedral de Santa María de Vitoria / Santa Maria Cathedral. But don’t worry about its incline; pedestrian escalators will whisk you along when needed.

The streets of this medieval city, preserved mainly intact since the 12th century, date back to that era. From above, the streets—now pedestrian-only— are, interestingly enough, laid out in the shape of an almond. Finding no documentation on why Casco Medieval is almond-shaped, I suppose it is due to the steep terrain.

Plaza de la Virgen Blanca lies at the base of the almond-shaped street plan, while Santa Maria Cathedral is near its almondy point.

As you meander through Old Town, you’ll learn about its history and discover the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque or Neoclassical architecture that make Casco Medieval one of the best Vitoria Gasteiz attractions.

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3.) Rent a car

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Santa Maria Cathedral, my favorite of all Vitoria Gasteiz attractions

woman looks through glass at miniatures of building stages of cathedral, one of the vitoria Gasteiz attractions
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey is mesmerized by the many dioramas sequencing the building stages of the Santa Maria Cathedral

You might know how crazy I am about Gothic cathedrals. If you do, you know it’s really something when I say I just experienced one of THE BEST cathedral tours I’ve ever taken!*

The reasons for that are, first, as you enter the crypt, you feel like you’re walking through an archaeological dig. Second, the museum-quality displays succinctly communicate an abundance of quality information. In fact, the restoration of this cathedral has been extensively researched and documented, which author Ken Follett used to write his sequel to “The Pillars of the Earth,” titled “World Without End.” Third, the knowledgeable guide led us through tunnels and walkways I’ve rarely been allowed inside Gothic Cathedrals. 

*I’ve toured St. Paul’s in London, St. Peter Cathedral in Rome, Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, Catedral de Sevilla, Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque (formerly a cathedral) in Istanbul and Notre Dame de Paris, among others.

Plaza de la Burullería in Old Town

bicycles parked in front of colorful mural depicting the weaving and fabrics of these Vitoria Gasteiz attractions
Mural “Al hilo del Tiempo”, at Plaza de la Burullería is only one of mady vivid murals in Vitoria-Gasteiz | Photo by Jules Verne Times Two via Wikimedia

Plaza de la Burullería gets its name from the medieval weaving of coarse fabrics, sacks and cloths that took place here. The picturesque plaza is surrounded on all sides by wood-beamed inns, including El Portalón, the crooked Torre de los Hurtado de Anda and centuries-old residences. 

Insider tip: The defensive tower was one of the old entrances to the city.
El Portalon gets its name from the large front door that allowed merchants to pull in their carriages and wagons

El Portalón in Plaza de la Burullería

Be transported back to bygone times at El Portalón, a 15th-century building beloved for its Gothic, Renaissance and Mudejar architectural features.

The structure of exposed wooden beams, stone and brickwork, once an inn and carriage house—note the large door where merchants parked their wagons for safekeeping—now houses one of Vitoria-G’s favorite restaurants honoring the Basque culinary tradition.

The door, of course, is what lends El Portalón its name.

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Plaza del Machete (Machete Square) in Old Town

Plaza del Machete (Machete Square) | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

At Plaza del Machete in Old Town, see the replica of the ‘Vitoriano Machete’, a 23-inch / 58 cm iron knife, on which the city’s Attorney General was sworn in. You can find it in a niche in the apse of San Miguel Church.

The oath ceremony was held in this plaza each year on September 30 in the presence of the citizens. The Attorney General offered his own head to guarantee that he would faithfully defend his mission to defend the “fame, honor, property, privileges, franchises, uses, customs, and jurisdictions” of Vitoria.

The plaza with great views was also called “La Plazoleta del Juicio / The Little Plaza of Justice” since it was where death sentences by garrote were carried out.

Here, you’ll also find the magnificent Villa Suso palace, completed in 1542.

Download the handy geo walking tour app for a guide to Old Town Vitoria.

Art and Culture | Top things to do in Vitoria Spain

singers dressed in green kerchiefs gather around band playing flues and drums
Traditional Basque band in Vitoria-Gasteiz | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

Just as in any capital city across the globe, you can expect art and culture to be a big part of Vitoria Gasteiz attractions. But what distinguishes the capital of the Basque Country is their enormous pride in their culture.

I was drawn in by the Basque bands that paraded through Old Town streets or set up in one of the plazas. Musicians played the txistu, a three-hole flute that can be played in one hand while the other is free to bang a drum called a danbolin. They wore traditional Basque clothing, including the Basque beret. People would gather around the band with green and red kerchiefs around their necks, songbooks in hand and sing.

Singing is a big part of traditional Basque culture, as are outdoor sports like rowing, handball and carrying heavy stones.

When it comes to art and museums, there’s no shortage of those in this list of the best things to do in Vitoria Spain.

Bibat in Casco Medieval Vitoria Gasteiz

visiting this stone palace connected to modern museum by glass atrium is one of the top things to do in Vitoria Spain
The architect blended the medieval with modern at Bibat cultural heritage center | Photo by Guyletsbuild via

At Bibat, a cultural heritage center, the Fournier Playing Card Museum shares space with the Archaeological Museum of Álava.

Architecture buffs will flip over how Spanish architect Francisco Mangado melded his new contemporary design of the Archaeological Museum of Álava with the adjoining 16th-century Bendaña Palace, where you’ll enjoy the playing card museum. He transformed the palace’s courtyard, embedded within the medieval core of Vitoria, into a grand atrium entry to the Bibat.

Viewing the exterior and interior design, which manages to create a cohesive complex that includes both new construction and the rehabilitated palace, is worth a trip to the Bibat alone.

3 playing cards with king riding white steed and other royalty in red and blue
Early playing cards displayed at the Fournier Playing Card Museum

Fournier Playing Card Museum

Until I walked into the Bibat, where the Fournier Playing Card Museum is located, I had no idea that Vitoria Gasteiz was one of the leaders in manufacturing playing cards. This museum is considered the world’s most important museum dedicated to playing cards.

Although I considered the subject matter “ho-hum” when I set off on this adventure, the professional displays and museum items from around the world unexpectedly captured my fancy. What intrigued me about this museum was its focus on the printing process and the artwork of playing cards over time.

large black beads of azabache stone lay in museum display case
Azabache necklace displayed at Archaeological Museum of Álava

Archaeological Museum of Álava

At the Archaeological Museum of Álava, I explored its extensive collection of historical relics illuminated by natural light. You should visit to experience its innovative design by architect Francisco Mangado, which beautifully integrates ancient artifacts with contemporary architecture.

Mangado’s remarkable tubular lighting—with a system of large prisms inlaid with graphics and information to describe the ancient artifacts—uses natural light to illuminate the exhibition hall.

Walking or biking Vitoria's Green Spaces

elevated gravel trail goes through green marsh
Green space within the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country, Spain

I walked to most of the Vitoria Gasteiz attractions, as the Basque city is very walkable. It has miles of biking and hiking trails and glorious city park systems. Green spaces ring the city, creating a green circle of wildlife habitats and recreational areas.

green park with shady trees and path is one of the things to do vitoria gasteiz
La Florida Park, makes it easy to walk to Plaza de Virgen Blanca | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

La Florida Park

La Florida Park offers lush greenery, beautifully landscaped gardens, and peaceful walking paths, making it ideal for relaxation and leisurely strolls. Here are two places where I walked, and I highly recommend them to walkers and cyclists looking for a quick escape from the urban environment.

Sauntering La Florida Park, one of the most relaxing things to do in Vitoria-Gasteiz, you’ll find various sculptures, fountains, and a picturesque pond. The park’s central location and tranquil ambiance draw both locals and tourists.

Nearby Paseo de la Senda, a scenic promenade lined with elegant mansions and mature trees, enhances the experience and allows you to extend your exploration into one of Vitoria’s most beautiful areas.

what looks like half of a modern bridge reaches out over marsh area for wildlife viewing
Wildlife viewing overlook at Salburua Park | Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey

Salburua Park

Salburua Park’s unique blend of natural beauty and biodiversity is ideal for wildlife and bird watching. The park features well-maintained walking and cycling trails, providing a perfect setting for outdoor activities and leisurely exploration.

We saw many runners, walkers and cyclists enjoying this green space, one of the top Vitoria Gasteiz Attractions.

Tasting the culture is one of the best things to do in Vitoria Spain

people lined up at bar, servers behind bar rush to serve all the customers
Squeeze up to the bar to order at pintxos bars | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

Another of the top Vitoria Gasteiz attractions that bring people to the city is its pintxos food culture, once bestowed with the prestigious title of “Gastronomic Capital of Spain.”

There are more gastronomic things to do in Vitoria, Spain, such as sampling the local wines, Rioja Alavesa wines and txakoli from Álava. Book a tour with your favorite online tour company like Viator.

hand holds piece of round bread with cheeses and toppings stabbed with a cocktail stick
Pepper, sauteed onion and cheese on a cocktail stick sprinkled with sesame seed

Pintxos Bars

Pintxos are small snacks named for the stabbing motion used by chefs to place a bit of meat, cheese, or seafood on a cocktail stick. The stick is then pierced into a piece of bread to hold the artfully crafted morsel upright.

Popular streets for pintxos bars include Calle Cuchillería and Calle Pintorería. These narrow streets, which run parallel to each other on Old Town’s almond-shaped street plan, were packed with families and friends when I visited on the weekend.

Don’t be afraid to push your way in and belly up to the pintxos bar. That’s proper conduct! However, avoid standing at the bar and eating and drinking for an extended period. Part of the pintxos culture is eating a little, drinking a little, and then moving on to the next establishment.

table set with three wine glasses, linen white napkins and maroon tablecloth
Menu del Dia is offered as a sit-down lunch with three courses

Restaurants with Menu del Dia

Vitorianos eat more than pintxos, typically gobbled twice a week while hanging out with friends or family. There are plenty of sophisticated offerings for sit-down meals.

One of my favorite ways to sample Basque cuisine is to order the Menu del Dia / Menu of the Day, where you can choose between two or three items per course for a hearty three-course lunch. You’ll get an appetizer, main and dessert, and a bottle of wine or water during lunchtime, usually around 2 pm.

Try El Siete, Camerino Vitoria or Taberna Tximiso for their Menu del Dias, a must things to do in Vitoria-Gasteiz.

MAP YOUR STAY

Additional must-See Vitoria Gasteiz attractions

large square with colonnades on street level
Plaza de España | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

Plaza de España

Plaza de España, modeled after the grand plaza in Salamanca, is the perfect spot for an afternoon cup of coffee or wine. I loved sitting there and watching the world go by.

Visit the Town Hall and Tourist Information Center. There, you can arrange tours, get city maps and learn more about things to do in Vitoria Gasteiz.

crenellated stone walls around a city gate is arched with a peak like in Morocco
Exploring the medievals walls are one of the fun things to do in Vitoria-Gasteiz

Vitoria-Gasteiz City Walls

The Vitoria-Gasteiz City Walls hold significant historical importance as they date back to the 11th century, marking the city’s foundation. Originally built for defensive purposes, these medieval walls have witnessed the city’s development over centuries.

They offer a glimpse into the past, showcasing the strategic and architectural prowess of the time. Visiting the Vitoria-Gasteiz city walls helped me connect with this ancient city’s rich history and cultural evolution.

woman stands overlooking salt valley below
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey at Salinas de Añana / Salt Valley of Añana

Salinas de Añana / Salt Valley of Añana

The Añana Salt Valley is one of the world’s most important cultural, architectural, environmental and archaeological sites. You’ll be able to Channel your inner Indiana Jones, Anthony Bourdain and Margaret Meade simultaneously!

Walk through an open-air salt mine where the precious commodity is extracted from spring water using the same technologies the Romans used here.

After seeing the drying process first-hand in the field, I went indoors for a tasting experience that helped me understand why so many top chefs recommend and use the salt from this mine. A 40-minute drive through windy roads and gorgeous countryside from Vitoria Gasteiz attractions. Book here.

How to get to Vitoria Gasteiz attractions

Ryan Air and Iberia fly in and out of this happy city with a chill vibe! We drove from San Sebastian to on modern divided freeways for 1.5 hours to get to Vitoria Gasteiz attractions. After our three-day visit, we drove 1.5 hours to Bilbao, and I flew back to the US from there.

Table of Contents

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Recap of Vitoria Gasteiz attractions

Vitoria-Gasteiz offers a blend of history, culture, and green spaces, making it a must-visit destination as far as I am concerned. Key Vitoria Gasteiz attractions include:

  • historic Plaza de la Virgen Blanca with its festive events and monuments,
  • medieval Casco Viejo, known for its almond-shaped layout and the impressive Santa Maria Cathedral,
  • Plaza de la Burullería and El Portalón showcase medieval charm, while Plaza del Machete offers historical insights,
  • The city’s vibrant culture is evident in its street bands, traditional sports, and museums like Bibat and the Artium Museum,
  • Green spaces like La Florida Park and Salburua Park provide lush landscapes and wildlife viewing and
  • Culinary delights are found in the city’s pintxos bars and restaurants offering the Menu del Dia.

When you combine Basque gastronomy with over-the-top cultural attractions and a Green City, you’ve got the perfect Spanish destination for outdoorsy types, history buffs and those concerned about their carbon footprint!

I highly recommend exploring the Basque Country capital with all its Vitoria Gasteiz attractions. Just writing this has me searching for cheap flights to get me back there! I encourage you to visit and explore the city’s rich history and vibrant culture.

Please share your personal experiences or favorite things to do in Vitoria Spain in the comments below.

Check out these detailed guides and resources for planning your visit to Basque Country.

woman stands on rooftop with Med sea in background

Hi, I’m Stacey

UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel is a travel blog focused on immersive travel that highlights food, wine and the spirituality of place. You can count on me for accurate reports and insightful analysis as your trusted travel writer since 2008.

As the author of several spiritual and walking guides, I occasionally write about life as a Camino de Santiago pilgrim. See my Amazon author page here. You may review my credentials as a professional travel writer on LinkedIn.

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