I’ve been to both Bilbao and San Sebastián countless times, but up until recently, I’d never been to Vitoria, the capital of Basque Country. Of Basque Country’s three main cities, Bilbao, San Sebastián and Vitoria, you’ll hear lots of Bilbao’s transformation from an industrialized city to a modern metropolis, and of San Sebastián’s stunning natural beauty and incredible food. What you won’t hear much of, however, is Vitoria.
If Basque Country is relatively untouched by tourism compared to other places in Spain, Vitoria is even further off-track. While there are a few Michelin-starred restaurants to be found in the area, there’s no Guggenheim, no UNESCO-Heritage sites, seemingly nothing to draw in outside visitors–at first glance.
The only thing I had heard about Vitoria before coming was that it was considered one of the cleaner cities in Spain, well-known for its potatoes, and became populated with a lot of commuters who work in Bilbao but didn’t want to pay the high prices to live there. Doesn’t exactly spark your interest, does it?
Vitoria turned out to be a nice surprise. It’s a sprawling city with a small town feel: full of parks (which lead to it being named the European Green Capital of 2012!), pubs crowded with locals and an old quarter packed with historical treasures; like the Cathedral of Santa María or the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca. It can easily be seen in a day and is less than an hour away from Bilbao.
What to Do in Vitoria:
Explore the medieval old quarter
Vitoria’s old quarter dates back to more than eight centuries ago, and is full of extravagant palaces (some of which have been converted into museums), pretty plazas, historic churches, winding streets, cozy cafés, and more. The city has a past of craftsmanship, and many of the streets are named after traditional craftwork like Zapetería (shoemaker), Herrería (blacksmith), Pintorería (painter) and more. Here’s a cool map from the tourist office that follows a route through these streets, passing by shops that still practice these crafts to this day. Here’s a number of other routes available focusing on the history of Vitoria, sure to enrich your time visiting the city.
Admire the street art
Stay tuned as I’ll be writing about the street art in Vitoria soon–I was definitely taken by surprise by it!
Relax in a park
Since Vitoria was named the European Green Capital of 2012, checking out one of its urban green spaces is a must. According to the European Commission’s website, every resident in Vitoria lives within 300m from a park!
For more on Vitoria–check out this great photo essay focusing on the city’s commitment to being environmentally friendly.