Vitoria: Spain's emerald city

In the north of Spain, the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz is green in more ways than one: not only can it boast that wherever you are within the urban centre you've got a green space within 300 metres, but because of the city's commitment to environmental issues, it has been named European Green Capital, 2012.

A medium-sized city with a huge commitment to the environment and great quality of life, Vitoria combines a pretty medieval Old Town with modern facilities and a forward-thinking attitude to urban management. Surrounded by an enviable green belt, the city lives hand-in-hand with nature. The second largest city in the region after Bilbao, Vitoria-Gasteiz is capital of Spain's Basque Country and owes its double-barrelled name to the two languages: Vitoria in Spanish and Gasteiz in Basque. Around 70 kilometres from the northern coast, the city is set on a hill on the plain of Alava and was a major defensive outpost at least as far back as the twelfth century. The local landscape includes Salburua Park, an important wetland area with lakes, open spaces and oak woods, which is home to a wide range of species as well as being a strategic point on the migration paths of many birds.
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Salburua wetland, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
An internationally important wetland and one of the main waterfowl breeding sites in the Basque Country, Salburua boasts several lakes and a small oak forest, and is home to a wide range of animals from deer to newts, frogs and turtles / Vitoria Tourism 

Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
Cycling is a popular mode of transport in Vitoria and the city is surrounded by a green belt of six large park areas offering an extensive network of pedestrian and bike routes and a large number of rest and recreation areas / Vitoria Tourism 

Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
The Palacio de Vilasuso, alongside the old city wall, is located in the historical quarter and hosts conferences, exhibitions and other cultural events / Vitoria Tourism 

Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
A visit to the old quarter of Vitoria provides a chance to discover the origins of the medieval city. Fragments still remain of the wall that protected the three original longitudinal streets. Later the urban area took on an almond shape as other streets grew up where  merchants and artisans settled; the craftsmen – cutlers, smiths, cobblers... – are remembered in the names seen today: Cuchilleria, Herreria, Zapateria... / Vitoria Tourism – Daniel Llano 

Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
One of the best ways to sample the local cuisine is the traditional txikiteo: the local equivalent of Spanish tapas, the custom is a sort of bar-hopping, where you enjoy small drinks in the local taverns, accompanied by some of the finest Basque cuisine in miniature / Vitoria Tourism 

Plaza de los Fueros, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
The Plaza de los Fueros is the work of sculptor Eduardo Chillida and the architect Peña Ganchegui. The complex, which hosts free concerts during the city fiestas, is constructed in pink granite and includes a handball court, tiered seating and other facilities / Vitoria Tourism 

Los Arquillos, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
The medieval Old Town is separated from the newer, neo-classical Ensanche area by the attractive pillars, balconies and arches of the Arquillos, built at the end of the eighteenth century / Vitoria Tourism 

Plaza Machete, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
The Plaza del Machete, once on the very edge of the medieval town, is also known as La Plazoleta del Juicio – Judgement Square – because it was formerly the scene of executions by garrotting / Vitoria Tourism 

PLaza Nueva, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
The Casa Consistorial – Vitoria's town hall – presides over Plaza de España, also known as Plaza Nueva, a porticoed square designed in the eighteenth century to unite the Old Town with the newer Ensanche area, then under construction / Vitoria Tourism 

Virgen Blanca, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
Dedicated to the 'White Virgin', patron saint of the city, the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca bustles with life and activity. The square is the site of the church of San Miguel – St Michael the Archangel – whose facade houses the statue of the Virgin, and plays an important role in the annual celebrations in August / Vitoria Tourism 

Artium, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
Artium, the Basque Museum of Contemporary Art, has an important permanent collection that includes historical avant-garde items as well as state-of-the art creations from the twenty-first century. The centre also hosts events such as film, video and photography exhibitions and a range of activities related to modern art / Vitoria Tourism 

Salburua Wetland, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
Salburua is a wetland park just a few kilometres from the city centre. With nine kilometres of trails running through the park, it is a popular location for locals to enjoy a day out in the country / Vitoria Tourism 

Armentia Forest, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
Criss-crossed by paths and trails between oaks, maples, hazel and ash, the Armentia forest is home to wild boar, squirrels, birds of prey and dozens of species of small bird. An additional attraction here is the Basilica of Armentia / Vitoria Tourism 

Cathedral, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
Vitoria's Old Cathedral has been undergoing restoration work for some years, but rather than meaning closure of the monument to visitors, the scaffolding has provided access to previously inaccessible nooks and crannies from all sorts of novel perspectives. The writer Ken Follett was so impressed by the visit that he used the cathedral as backdrop for his best-seller World Without End / Vitoria Tourism