Museum of Fine Arts
The Fine Art Museum of Vitoria contains a nice collection of 18th and 19th century Spanish art, as well as Basque art from 1850 to 1950. The works here represent both romanticism and realism and focus on portraying rural Basque life as well as the bourgeoisie life in an industrializing Bilbao.
The building itself, surrounded by a beautiful garden, is one of the most splendid mansions in Vitoria. It was built between 1912 and 1916 in an eclectic style, mixing baroque and romanic architecture with a little bit of neo-basque. The owners were Ricardo Augustin and Elvira Zulueta, therefore it is also known as the Augustin-Zulueta Palace.
The building is even more impressive in the interior than on the outside. The wood work is simply amazing and the floors are a little bit different in each room. The chapel and stained windows are also original. Although we like the art collection a lot, we personally find the building most impressive. The Museum of Fine Arts is definitely worth a visit!
Between 1999 and 2001 a new modern building was added to the original palace, providing for more space that was needed for the expanding art collection.
The almond-shaped medieval town is set upon a hill that is the only elevation in the plain of Álava. The fortified wall that surrounds the town was built during the second half of the 11th century (new findings suggest that parts of it may be even older).
The strategic position on the hill helped old Vitoria to become a defensive stronghold coveted by the Kingdoms of Navarra and Castile during the 11th and 12th centuries.
Santa Maria Cathedral
Known by the locals as ”the old cathedral,” the Santa María Cathedral is a marvelous example of gothic architecture.
The building was conceived at the beginning of the 13th century by the King of Castile Alfonso VIII as a church-fortress, rising at the highest point of the hill where the settlement of Gasteiz first began.
In 1994, the cathedral was closed to the public and attempts to save the crumbling structure began. The restoration is ongoing and the Santa Maria Cathedral Foundation is in charge of the work and manages guided tours.
If you are interested in seeing the live restoration in progress and archeological ruins of a 13th-century sanctuary, then a visit to the old cathedral might be a good idea.
Virgin Blanca Square
Also known as “the old square,” the Virgin Blanca Square is without a doubt the main square of the city. It is not only the geographical center but also central gathering point for the locals, surrounded by a tons of bars and terraces.
It is named after the city’s patron saint, the Virgen Blanca, who is said to be watching over the citizens from her perch up in the Church of San Miguel. The square is also the starting point of Vitoria’s annual festival.
Every year on the 4th of August at 6 pm, locals gather to watch Celedón come down from the tower of the Church of San Miguel, marking the start of the Virgen Blanca Festival.
In the middle of the Virgen Blanca Square stands the monument portraying the “Battle of Vitoria” (21st of June of 1813) against Napoleon’s troops. The French troops escorting Joseph Bonaparte fought against a conglomerate of British, Spanish and Portuguese troops under the Duke of Wellington.
The victory of the allied troops forced the French troops to retreat from Spain (with the exception of Cataluña) and consequently, Napoleon gave the crown of the country back to Fernando VII, thus ending the Peninsular War.
Plaza Nueva (New Square)
Formerly called the España Square, this plaza was historically used for bullfights and markets. Today, there are a number of nice cafés tucked around the surrounding building.
The New Square is the place where locals come to let their kids run around, while having a drink and a pintxo in one of the surrounding bar terraces. Many city celebrations and concerts are also held on this square, which is adjacent to the Virgen Blanca Square.
Moreover, every Sunday a collectors market is held in the New Square. If you are around, it might be nice to check it out. For many Vitorianos, the market is part of their typical Sunday morning. At the market you will find a bunch of children’s trading cards, stamp collections, coins, antiques and much more.
Bibat Museum Complex
Situated in the heart of the Old Town you will find the Bibat Museum Complex. It is formed by the following two buildings:
The Bendaña Palace is a beautiful renaissance mansion dating back to the 16th century. From the outside it looks like a medieval fortified house while the inside contains renaissance architecture.
Today, it is home to the playing cards museum (called “naipes” in Spanish). The museum has one of the best collections in the world. This is due to the fact that the Naipes Heraclio Fournier card company was based in Vitoria and the founder donated his private collection to the museum. The collection features historic cards from the entire world as well as some of the old machinery that was used in their production.
This is a really unique museum and one of our personal favorites. And for 3 € admission, it is definitely worth a visit.
The Archeologic Museum is held in a modern copper building that was designed by the architect Patxi Mangado in 2008. The structure has 4,200 square meters divided into four floors and two basement levels. It contains around 1,500 original pieces from Álava dating from the prehistoric to the Middle Ages.
Casa del Cordón (Cord House)
The Casa del Cordón was erected in the 15th century by a converted jew named, Pedro Sánchez de Bilbao. This beautiful gothic building was constructed around the ruins of the Gaona Tower (13th century), which can still be found in its interior today.
The Cord House got its name from the cord of the Franciscan Order located over the arch of what used to be the main entrance. Its original owner placed it there to prove to everyone what a good converted jew he was.
Some famous guests stayed in the palace during the 16th century, such as Joan the Mad and her husband Philip I, King of Castile. Also, Pope Adrian VI was staying at the Cord House when he received the news that he had been appointed Pope in 1522.
Since 2010, the Cord House belongs to the Obra Social (Charity Works) of the Caja Vital. It contains a permanent exhibition of which the main highlight is the starry vault located in the inside of the Gaona Tower. There you will also discover some antique Basque furniture pieces, paintings, sculptures and ceramic works.
The Casa del Cordón is not very large and can be visited quite quickly. However, it does make for a great little stop.
The construction of the María Inmaculada Cathedral started in 1907 by the bishop of Vitoria, monseñor José Cadena y Eleta.
Although the ceremony to lay the first stone was a big celebration, on which even the king took part, the construction stopped after only 7 years when the project’s budget had been exceeded and a new bishop had taken over.
The construction didn’t restart until 1946, several years after the Spanish Civil War had ended. The construction continued slowly and although the cathedral was never completely finished because of the high costs, it was consecrated in 1969 and eventually opened to the public.
The main facade was never finished. It is missing a portico and two twin towers, which were supposed to be similar to the ones of Notre-Dame in Paris. If you are interested on knowing how the building should have looked like, there is a model inside the church showing the full design.
Even though the building was never finished, it is worth a visit. Its massive proportions and stained glass windows are quite impressive.
(in the interior of the cathedral)
Eduardo Dato Street
The popular Eduardo Dato Street starts at the Plaza Nueva and ends at the train station. Here you will find a lot of locals going for a walk, for a pintxo or shopping since it is the main commercial street of the city and, at the same time, it is lined with cafes and bars. The Saburdi bar is located on this street and it is known in Vitoria for having some of the best pintxos.
When strolling down the Dato street, approximately half way between the Plaza Nueva and the train station, you will arrive to the Arca Square, where you will find a statue called “el caminante” (“the walker”).
Although it is nothing impressive and probably no one outside Vitoria knows it, for the Vitorianos it is a symbol of the city. “El caminante” is a 3.5 m high bronze sculpture of a very skinny and tall man. Created by Juan José Eguiazábal in 1985, it represents a person that has arrived walking to the city and likes it so much that decides to stay.
Whenver there is an event or celebration in Vitoria, such as the Virgen Blanca Festival or carnival, or also when one of the local sport team wins a championship, el caminante gets properly dressed for the occasion.
The Escoriaza-Esquivel Palace is a renaissance building constructed between 1530 and 1541 for Fernando López de Escoriaza, the doctor of King Henry VIII of England, and his wife Victoria de Anda y Esquivel. It is one of the best examples of civil renaissance architecture in Vitoria.
The façade of the Escoriaza-Esquivel Palace features a plateresque (style of architecture found only within Spain) relief, where the busts of its owners are depicted. Behind its façade you will find a spectacular inner patio with a double archway.
Inaugurated in 2002, the Artium is a modern art museum with a collection consisting of some of the most important Basque and Spanish artists. The collection is comprised of 3,000 pieces from the 20th and 21st centuries (Dalí, Picasso, Miró, Chillida are all included).
The Artium Museum stands next to the Old Town of Vitoria, in the same location where the bus station previously stood. In the square that surrounds the building, you will find a couple of sculptures from the 20th century. The most notable one is called “La Mirada” (2001) from Miguel Navarro, which towers 45 m (147 ft) into the air.
The museum is also home to a documentation center and organizes educative activities to “teach art to the children.” There are also temporary exhibitions, many of which are done in collaboration with other european museums.
Parque de la Florida (Florida Park)
Originally created in 1820 as a botanical garden, this nicely manicured park is located in the very center of the city and is a popular meeting place for the Vitorianos. Inspired by the French gardens from the beginning of the 19th century, this park, with its winding paths, definitely has a romantic aura to it.
The Florida Park is not only full of beautiful hidden corners but is also home of over 90 species of trees and 70 species of plants. The 40 most important species have nameplates.
During spring and summer, live music is offered at the bandstand, which is very popular among older local couples.
Within the park there are also two cafes/bars. Both of which have outdoor terraces.
Ajuria Enea Palace
Since 1980, the Ajuria Enea Palace has been the residence of the President (“Lehendakari” in Basque) of the Basque Country. It has become the Basque equivalent of the “White House.”
The palace was constructed in 1920 by the Swiss architect Alfred Baeschlin as a private residence for the local businessman Serafín Ajuria Urigoitia. From the name of the businessman comes the name of the palace, Ajuriaenea which means “from Ajuria” in Basque.
The building has been described as the perfect example of neo-basque architecture. This is exemplified on the facade which features double archways on the floor level, balconies and heraldic elements on the first floor, and lastly arched windows on the top level. The interior contains other elements of important historic and artistic value.
Virgen Blanca Festival
The Virgin Blanca Festival takes place in Vitoria from the 4th to the 9th of August. Celedón is the festival’s protagonist and every year he descends from the San Miguel Church over a packed crowd standing in the Virgin Blanca Square.
With his speech and the txupinazo, the festival starts. The next 5 days are full of activities and events for children and adults and of course, lots of partying.
Other Places of Interest in Vitoria
Palacio de la Diputación(Provincial Council Palace)
The Palacio de la Diputación currently holds the provincial council of Álava. The local architect Martín Saracíbar built it in two phases between 1833 and 1858 in a late neoclassical style.
In front of the palace, you will find the Province square (“Plaza de la Provincia”) with a statue to a big defender of this province's special privileges, Mateo Benigno de Moraza. The government uses this square for celebration of cultural acts and other festivities, such as the festival of the patron saint of the province of Álava on the 28th of April (San Prudencio).
Torre de Doña Otxanda (Doña Otxanda Tower)
The Doña Otxanda Tower is one of the many defensive buildings from the old walled town of Vitoria. The original house-fort was built at the beginning of the 15th century to watch one of the gateways into the town.
In the 16th century, when Andrés Martínez de Iruña and his wife Catalina de Álava decided to move into the city, they restored the building which became a palace-house. The building was named after their daughter “Otxanda.”
The Doña Otxanda Tower was restored in 1970 and since 1986, it has housed the Nature Science Museum of Vitoria. The museum is divided in two main sections. The first floor is dedicated to geology and the second to botanic and zoology. It also contains an exclusive collection of ambers with insects.
The Nature Science Museum of Vitoria is mostly visited by locals and groups of school children. The inside is nothing too special and unless you are very interested in natural science or perhaps traveling with children, we recommend just viewing the building from the outside.
- Tuesday to Friday: 10am - 2pm & 4pm - 6:30pm
- Saturday: 10am - 2pm
- Sunday and holidays: 11am - 2pm
- Monday: closed
Plaza del Machete & Palacio Villasuso (Machete Square & Villasuso Palace)
The Machete Square is located on the path between the San Miguel and the San Vicente Churches, where it once formed the border of the medieval town. In a hole in the wall of the San Miguel Church there is a machete, under which the governors of the city were swore in. The idea is that if they didn’t perform their jobs properly then they would… well, get the axe in more ways than one. It was also known as the Judgment Square in the past because death penalties were carried out here.
The other main attraction in Machete Square is the Villasuso Palace, which is actually much older than the square itself. The palace was built in 1539 for Martín de Salinas, ambassador to the court of King Charles V. The inside of this renaissance palace still contains remnants of the old city wall as well as other traces of its medieval past.
Inside the palace, there is a Flemish tapestry from 16th century located in the exhibition hall. It belongs to the Brussels School and represents the flight of Aeneas and his family from Troy. Other features of the building are its main entrance, situated next to the top of the stairs, with the Salinas shield on the top and the big shield in the corner of the building by the Machete Square.
Today, it is used as a conference building and it sometimes holds temporary exhibitions.
Practical information - Villasuso Palace
- Monday to Friday: 11:30am - 1:30pm & 5:30pm - 8:30pm
* May vary depending on exhibition and occupancy of the building. Ask at the tourism office for up to date information.
Iglesia de San Vicente (San Vicente Church)
The San Vicente Mártir Church was the last church to be built in the Old Town. It was erected during the 15th and 16th centuries on top of the old fortress of San Vicente, which defended the south-east corner of the city.
The main altarpiece deserves special mention. It was finished in 1749 in churrigueresque baroque style, featuring the image of San Vicente. The tower was rebuilt in the second half of the 19th century in neo-byzantine style.
- During summer, the tourism office organizes guided visits.
- The Santa Maria Cathedral Foundation offers a guided tour dedicated to the medieval wall of the city which includes a visit to the roof/ceiling and tower of the San Vicente Church.
The church is open 30 minutes before and after each service. There are masses at the following times:
- Monday to Saturday: 11am & 7:30pm
- Sunday and holidays: 10am & 12pm
Iglesia de San Miguel Arcángel (San Miguel Arcángel Church)
The San Miguel Arcángel Church is a gothic-renaissance temple that contains the chapel of the Virgen Blanca, patron saint of Vitoria-Gasteiz. It was built at the end of the 14th century, on the hill right outside of the wall that surrounded the original town.
In its interior, the highlight is the main altarpiece, designed by Gregorio Fernández in baroque style in the 17th century. On the exterior, the portico from the 16th century is covered by a vault with two arches which opens to a large balcony overlooking the Virgen Blanca Square. Between these two arches, you will find the bust of the Virgen Blanca inside of a marble niche.
From the church’s balcony, every 4th of August at 6 pm the chupinazo (launch of a firework) takes place and Celedón descends from the tower of the church, signifying the start of the annual Virgen Blanca Festival. There is also a statue of Celedon along the handrail in front of San Miguel.
During summer, the tourism office organizes guided visits.
The church is open 30 minutes before and after each service. There are masses at the following times:
- Monday to Saturday: 11:30am & 7:30pm
- Sunday and holidays: 8:30am, 11:30am & 12:30pm
Palacio de Montehermoso (Montehermoso Palace)
The Montehermoso Palace was built in 1524 by the noble Montehermoso family in renaissance style. The building is noteworthy for both its architecture and for being the residence of Joseph Bonaparte during his short and disastrous stay in Vitoria in 1813. The Battle of Vitoria was the final blow in the war and it sent Bonaparte packing for France.
The main facade of the Montehermoso Palace was rebuilt at the end of the 19th century in neoclassical style. The interior of the building is quite bare, but it does have some nice modern touches. An example of this is the opening near the main stairwell that features wooden cube structures housing the restrooms. Today, the palace functions as a cultural center and is used for various exhibitions.
- Tuesday to Saturday: 11am -2 pm & 6pm to 9pm
- Sunday and holidays: 11am - 2pm