Vitoria-Gasteiz: The Complete Guide

Vitoria - Plaza De La Virgen Blanca
CC BY-SA 1.0 / Zarateman

Vitoria-Gasteiz is the seat of government and the capital city of the Basque Country and the province of Araba/Álava in northern Spain. It hosts the autonomous community’s House of Parliament, the Government headquarters, and the Lehendakari’s official residence. The municipality, which includes the city and the surrounding 63 agricultural villages, is the largest in the Basque Country, covering a total area of 276.81 km², with a population of 252,571 people. Residents of Vitoria-Gasteiz are known as vitorianos or gasteiztarrak, and traditionally as babazorros.

Vitoria-Gasteiz is a multicultural city with notable strengths in healthcare, aeronautics, the vehicle industry, and gastronomy. It consistently ranks among the top five best places to live in Spain. It was the first Spanish municipality to receive the title of European Green Capital and has also been recognized by the UN with the Global Green City Award. The old town features some of the best-preserved medieval streets and plazas in the region and is one of the few cities with two cathedrals. The city hosts well-known festivals such as the Azkena Rock Festival, FesTVal, Vitoria-Gasteiz Jazz Festival, and the Virgen Blanca Festivities.

The vicinity of Vitoria-Gasteiz is home to world-renowned wineries such as Ysios and the Marqués de Riscal Hotel. It boasts significant heritage sites, including the Neolithic remains of Aizkomendi, Sorginetxe, and La Chabola de la Hechicera; Iron Age settlements such as Lastra and Buradón; ancient remains like the settlement of La Hoya and the Salt Valley of Añana; and numerous medieval fortresses such as the Tower of Mendoza and the Tower of Varona.

Ludwig van Beethoven dedicated his Opus 91, often called the “Battle of Vitoria” or “Wellington’s Victory,” to one of the most famous events of the Napoleonic Wars: the Battle of Vitoria. In this battle, a Spanish, Portuguese, and British army under the command of General the Marquess of Wellington defeated the French army and nearly captured the puppet king Joseph Bonaparte. It was a pivotal point in the Peninsular War and a precursor to the expulsion of the French from Spain. A memorial statue commemorating this event can be seen today in Virgen Blanca Square.

History of Vitoria-Gasteiz

Early Origins

Vitoria-Gasteiz, located in the Basque Country of northern Spain, has ancient roots dating back to prehistoric times. Archaeological evidence indicates the presence of early settlements in the area, particularly in the surrounding hills.

Foundation and Medieval Period

The city was officially founded in 1181 by King Sancho VI of Navarre under the name Nueva Victoria. It was established as a defensive outpost and quickly developed into a thriving medieval town. During this period, Vitoria-Gasteiz was characterized by its strategic location, which made it a key military and trading hub.

The Battle of Vitoria

In 1813, the city became the site of the pivotal Battle of Vitoria during the Peninsular War. The battle, fought between the British, Portuguese, and Spanish forces against the French, resulted in a decisive victory for the Allies. This event significantly contributed to the liberation of Spain from Napoleonic rule and is commemorated annually in the city.

Industrialization and Modernization

The 19th century marked a period of industrial growth and modernization for Vitoria-Gasteiz. The city’s economy diversified, with the development of industries such as metallurgy, textiles, and machinery. This era also saw significant urban expansion and infrastructure improvements.

20th Century and Basque Identity

Throughout the 20th century, Vitoria-Gasteiz experienced continued growth and modernization. The city played an important role in the cultural and political movements of the Basque Country. In 1980, Vitoria-Gasteiz was designated the capital of the Basque Autonomous Community, further solidifying its significance in the region.

Contemporary Vitoria-Gasteiz

Today, Vitoria-Gasteiz is known for its blend of historical heritage and modern amenities. The city boasts a well-preserved medieval Old Town, expansive green spaces, and a vibrant cultural scene. It has earned recognition for its commitment to sustainability and quality of life, including being named the European Green Capital in 2012.

Vitoria-Gasteiz’s rich history, from its medieval origins to its modern achievements, reflects its enduring importance as a cultural, economic, and political center in the Basque Country.

Visiting Vitoria-Gasteiz for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Vitoria-Gasteiz on the first visit. To help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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Best Time to Visit Vitoria-Gasteiz

Spring

Spring, from March to May, is an ideal time to visit Vitoria-Gasteiz. The weather is mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F). This season is perfect for exploring the city’s parks and gardens, as they come to life with blooming flowers and lush greenery. The city also hosts various cultural events and festivals during this time.

Summer

Summer, from June to August, is warm with temperatures typically ranging from 15°C to 30°C (59°F to 86°F). This is a great time to enjoy outdoor activities and explore the medieval Old Town. The city is vibrant with numerous festivals, including the popular Virgen Blanca Festivities in August. However, it can get busy, so plan accordingly.

Autumn

Autumn, from September to November, offers cooler temperatures ranging from 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F). The crowds begin to thin out, making it a more relaxed time to visit. The fall foliage adds a picturesque charm to the city’s parks and natural surroundings. It’s also a great time to experience local food and wine festivals.

Winter

Winter, from December to February, is cold with temperatures between 0°C and 10°C (32°F to 50°F). This season is quieter, providing a peaceful atmosphere for exploring indoor attractions such as museums and historical sites. The city’s Christmas markets and festive decorations create a magical holiday experience.

Average Temperatures in Vitoria-Gasteiz

  • January 11°C 13
  • February 13°C 13
  • March 15°C 10
  • April 18°C 11
  • May 22°C 9
  • June 26°C 11
  • July 30°C 4
  • August 30°C 4
  • September 27°C 7
  • October 24°C 9
  • November 16°C 15
  • December 13°C 10

How to get to Vitoria-Gasteiz

By Air

The nearest airport to Vitoria-Gasteiz is Vitoria Airport (VIT), located about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the city center.

  • From Vitoria Airport:
    • Taxi: A taxi ride to the city center takes approximately 10-15 minutes.
    • Bus: The Line 3 bus service connects the airport to the city center, with a journey time of about 20 minutes.

Another option is to fly into Bilbao Airport (BIO), which is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) away.

  • From Bilbao Airport:
    • Bus: Direct buses operated by companies such as Alsa run from the airport to Vitoria-Gasteiz, taking about 1.5 hours.
    • Taxi: A taxi ride from Bilbao Airport to Vitoria-Gasteiz takes about 1 hour.

By Train

Vitoria-Gasteiz is well-connected by train, with the Vitoria-Gasteiz Railway Station serving as the main hub.

  • From Madrid: High-speed trains (Alvia) from Madrid to Vitoria-Gasteiz take around 3.5 hours.
  • From Barcelona: High-speed trains (Alvia) from Barcelona to Vitoria-Gasteiz take about 4.5 hours.
  • From Bilbao: Regional trains from Bilbao to Vitoria-Gasteiz take approximately 1.5 hours.

By Bus

Several bus companies operate routes to Vitoria-Gasteiz from various cities in Spain.

  • From Madrid: Buses from Madrid to Vitoria-Gasteiz take around 4.5 to 5 hours.
  • From Barcelona: Buses from Barcelona to Vitoria-Gasteiz take about 6 hours.
  • From Bilbao: Buses from Bilbao to Vitoria-Gasteiz take approximately 1.5 hours.

By Car

Driving to Vitoria-Gasteiz is a convenient option, especially for exploring the surrounding regions.

  • From Madrid: The drive from Madrid to Vitoria-Gasteiz takes about 3.5 to 4 hours via the A-1 highway.
  • From Barcelona: The drive from Barcelona to Vitoria-Gasteiz takes about 5.5 to 6 hours via the AP-2 and AP-68 highways.
  • From Bilbao: The drive from Bilbao to Vitoria-Gasteiz takes about 1 hour via the AP-68 highway.

Local Transportation

  • Walking and Biking: Vitoria-Gasteiz is a walkable city with many attractions close to each other. Biking is also a popular way to get around, with numerous bike lanes and rental services available.
  • Public Buses: The local bus network operated by Tuvisa provides convenient transportation within the city.
  • Taxi: Taxis are readily available for getting around Vitoria-Gasteiz and offer a convenient option for short trips.

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