Have you ever heard of Andorra? – For those of you who enjoy lesser-known destinations this small state nestled in between Spain and France should be a must-stop! Let me share with you my recent weekend in the mountains, including lots of amazing things to do in Andorra.
My weekend in the mountains: Top things to do in Andorra
Whenever I feel an urge to escape the Spanish beaches in search of fresh mountain air and walks with nature, two of my favorite spots in the Pyrenees pop up in my mind – Andorra and Baqueira Beret. I know that the words “I feel an urge to escape the Spanish beaches” slightly feel like they´ll be followed by the phrase “said no one ever”. But being an expat in the Valencia province for the past 10 years has developed in my heart a secret obsession for winter destinations in Spain.
Therefore, while the Pyrenees are extremely popular in the summer months, mountains mostly call me in winter. Therefore, after our magical Christmas escape to Colmar this December we´ve decided it was just about time to visit Andorra.
It was already my second time in Andorra, back in 2006 I visited this small country with my parents and we spent a whole week skiing and exploring Andorra La Vella. Honestly, I´ve been longing to return to Andorra ever since.
Let me share all the top things to do in Andorra so that you can make the most of your visit.
Where is Andorra?
Andorra is located in the Pyrenees between Spain and France. Technically, it is not part of the European Union, although the official currency is Euro. Andorra is ruled by a democratic parliament, with two co-heads of state – the President of France and the Catholic Bishop of Urgell, Spain (although both have a symbolic power).
The country has around 75000 residents and receives close to 8 million tourists every year.
Andorra is mostly known as a skiing, hiking, and shopping destination. While the first two touristic activities can be explained by Andorra´s gorgeous location in the Pyrenees, the shopping interest is a result of the country´s low taxes. Although in terms of sightseeing, Andorra also has some Roman Catholic cultural heritage and quite a few museums.
There is no international airport in Andorra, only a train station. Andorra´s small airport is located in the nearby Spanish small town of Seu d´Urgell. Visitors mostly fly into the nearby airports of Barcelona or Toulouse.
Where to stay?
Andorra is a popular destination, so make sure you book your stay in advance. Accommodation in Andorra is mostly overpriced, but you can still find something for every budget.
During my first visit to Andorra, we’ve stayed at Holiday Inn Andorra and it was really comfortable to explore local shops and cafes, for skiing it was also ok. This time we booked everything last minute and stayed at Castell de Cuitat in Seu D´Urgell. This small Spanish town is located 10 km from Andora and we actually cross a border quite a few times. Once you enter Andorra by car, it goes fast as the customs officers mostly don´t check your papers (or at least in my experience). However, they do stop random cars when you´re leaving Andorra. Mainly, because the prices for alcohol, tobacco, electronic devices, and some other products are relatively cheaper in Andorra than in the rest of Europe, so they try to avoid illegal export.
Also, if you access Andorra by car on weekends you’d rather be an early bird – from 9 am till 11 am there’s a lot of traffic at customs control.
Things to do in Andorra
1. Explore Andorra la Vella’s Old Town
Andorra la Vella is a nice place for a stroll – you have lots of shops, cafes, restaurants, and a few historical sights. Don’t miss:
- Casa de la Vall: one of the oldest parlaments in Europe, built at the end of the XVI century. They organize guided visits.
- Plaça del Poble: from here you can see 7 Poets sculpture by Jaume Plensa
- Iglesia de Sant Esteve: a medieval church with Romanesque origins
- Casa Guillemó and Casa Felipó
- La Noblesse du temps (eng.The Nobility of Time): a Salvador Dali statue
- walk along the local river rio Valira
- Avenida Meritxell: the main shopping street of Andorra
- Museo Carmen Thyssen
2. Skiing in winter
If you’re visiting during the winter months one of the top things to do in Andorra is testing the local slopes. Andorra is known for its two world-class ski resorts – Grand Valira and Vallnord, with the first one being the largest ski area in the Pyrenees.
Although I should admit that for skiing in the Pyrenees I, personally, prefer the nearby Baqueira Beret. In my experience, there are more international travelers and first-time skiers on the mountains of Andorra, while Baquiera receives a fair share of the Spanish locals. That’s to say: most of the people on the slopes of Baqueira were clearly non-beginners and there were almost no lines to take the lifts. Therefore, skiing in Baqueira felt even more exclusive and relaxed.
Again, this is my personal experience. Let me highlight that I still enjoyed skiing in both Andorra and Baqueira, as both rank globally among the world’s top ski destinations. According to the experts, Andorra´s Grand Valira wins over Baqueira Beret based on the international ski-standards.
Andorra is a shopaholic´s paradise – here you can shop till you drop. The country is known for their low taxes, but you can find anything from high-end brands to low-tax deals. Avinguda Meritxell is the longest shopping avenue in the city.
In Andorra you have around 60 hiking routes, you can get a full guide (in Catalan, Spanish, French, or English) in one of Andorra´s tourist offices.
If you want to enjoy some nice views of Andorra la Vella you should consider Rec Sola hiking route.
Also, don’t miss Mirador Roc del Quer – a scenic viewpoint with the floor fragments made of the transparent glass.
Moreover, Andorra is a popular wellness destination. One of the top things to do in Andorra is to visit its Caldea Spa, the largest spa in Southern Europe. The Complex has a family-friendly Caldea Spa and the adults-only Inúu Spa section. Although, lots of nearby hotels have their own Spa areas to soak in after a long day of skiing or hiking.
6. Activities for non-skiers
If you want to enrich your trip with some adrenaline-pumping activities Andorra got you covered here as well. Top things to do in Andorra if you’re not into skiing:
- go dog sledding in Port d’ Envalira
- fly over the ice in a snowmobiling
- snowtubing in Grand Valira
- ice skating at Palau de Gel d´Andorra
- go cross-county skiing (Andorra offers 11 circuits)
- Naturlandia Amusement Park
- Andorra´s Christmas village in December
Exploring the local gastronomy is one of the top things to do in Andorra. You should not miss a lunch/dinner at la borda ( traditional local restaurants of Andorra). Like any mountain region, Andorra´s food arena offers a lot of stews.
Typical dishes not to miss: Escudella, Trucha à la Andorrana, Cannelloni à la Andorrana, Crema Andorrana, Trinxat de montanya, Cargols a la lluna, Galtes de Porc, Amanida de Xicoira.
Also, on the Spanish forums people warn you against drinking tap water in Andorra. But I personally haven’t tested this tip, as I often drink bottled water in other countries, just in case.