The capital of the entire País Vasco, as well as of Araba (Alava), VITORIA-GASTEIZ is a fascinating and exceptionally friendly old city, all the better for lying off the tourist circuit, and well worth a couple of days’ visit. Sancho el Sabio, King of Navarre, built a fortress here in 1181, on the site of the Basque village of Gasteiz. He renamed it Vitoria to celebrate his victories over Alfonso VIII of Castille, who promptly captured it back in 1200. Stretching along a low ridge in the heart of a fertile plain, Vitoria subsequently prospered as a trading centre for wool and iron, and still boasts an unusual concentration of Renaissance palaces and fine churches.

The streets of the city’s Romanesque old town, the Casco Medieval, still circle like a spider’s web around either side of the central hill, while a neater grid of later developments, Ensanche, lies below on the plain. All Vitoria’s graceful mansions and churches are built from the same greyish-gold stone, and many of the medieval buildings are amazingly well preserved. The finest of Vitoria’s buildings, on c/Fray Zacarías near the cathedral, include the Palacio de Escoriaza-Esquibel, with its sixteenth-century Plateresque portal, and the Palacio de Montehermoso, now run as a cultural and exhibition space. On the southern edge of the old town, the porticoed Plaza de España is a gem, while the neighbouring Plaza de la Virgen Blanca is more elegant, with glassed-in balconies. If you find the hill itself a bit of a challenge, Vitoria offers a remarkable feature: moving stairways climb it from both the east (Cantón de San Francisco Javier) and west (Cantón de la Soledad) sides.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Spain features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Video: a 1 minute guide to Spain

Video: a 1 minute guide to Spain

From the Moorish marvels and flamenco heartland of Andalucía to Ibiza's bleached-sand beaches and hedonistic nightlife, Spain is a country you'll want to visit…

27 Jul 2017 • Colt St. George videocam Video
The 10 best summer festivals for escapism in 2017

The 10 best summer festivals for escapism in 2017

Festivals are a different beast in 2017. They used to be associated with drinking warm cider while watching crusty bands in your naffest clothes; now the best e…

07 Jun 2017 • David Hillier insert_drive_file Article
Why you should visit Palma in 2017

Why you should visit Palma in 2017

Forget package holidays: Palma is far more than just the gateway to Mallorca’s beach resorts. The Balearic capital is a dynamic city of stylish restaurants, c…

28 Feb 2017 • Helen Ochyra insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook