Best Things to Do in Andorra la Vella in One Day
Perched high up on the mountains of eastern Pyrenees, bordered by France and Spain is Europe’s sixth smallest country — Andorra. Its capital, Andorra la Vella, is one of the world’s highest capital cities, and also one of the smallest.
However, due to the natural landscape of Andorra that is mainly mountainous, there is only one road to access it from France, and another one from Spain. The country has no airport or train station.
The easiest way to get there is by bus from Barcelona, and it’s also possible to go in the morning and be back in Barcelona by night.
This article will tell you all you need to know about making a day trip to Andorra la Vella, including things to do in one day, best time to go, how to get around, and where to stay if you do wish to spend the night.
Table of Contents
Overview of Andorra
Andorra is believed to have been founded by Charlemagne and ruled by the count of Urgell until 988, when it was transferred to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Urgell. For 715 years, Andorrans lived under a unique co-principality ruled by Bishop of La Seu d’Urgell and the Chief of State of France.
In 1993, this system was modified and the Andorran Constitution was formed. The Principality of Andorra was then transformed into a parliamentary democracy and an independent democratic state.
Andorra is the sixth smallest state in Europe, and the 16th smallest in the world, with an area of 468 square kilometers. It is a sovereign landlocked microstate on the Iberian Peninsula, bordered by France to the north and Spain to the South.
Due to its location on the eastern Pyrenees mountain range, Andorra is predominantly made up of rugged mountains, the highest one being the Coma Pedrosa at 2,942 meters. Its capital, Andorra la Vella is the highest capital city in Europe, at an elevation of 1,023 meters above sea level.
The Gran Valira river, which is the main stream, leaves the country for Spain at Andorra’s lowest point of 840 meters.
Andorra’s population of approximately 78,000 makes it the world’s 11th smallest country by population. The Andorran people are a Romance ethnic group of originally Catalan descent.
The official language is Catalan, but Spanish is the dominant language of communication among people of different linguistic backgrounds. French, Portuguese, and English are also widely spoken.
Long isolated and impoverished, Andorra only achieved considerable prosperity after World War II, through its tourism industry. Today, tourism still accounts for roughly 80% of its GDP, bringing in tens of millions of tourists every year, who are attracted to the summer and winter resorts, as well as duty-free shopping.
The banking sector also contributes substantially to the economy, while agricultural production is limited. Due to only 2% of the land being arable, most food has to be imported.
Best Time to Visit Andorra
Andorra has a combination of alpine, continental, and oceanic climates, depending on the altitude of the area. The diversity of landscapes and differences in altitude create ‘microclimates’ in the different regions in Andorra.
In general, abundant rains can be seen in spring and summer, with May, June, and August being the rainiest months. Winters are long and cold, with less rain but lots of snowfall especially in the highlands between December and March.
The snow-capped peaks make for a stunning view if you can bear the cold. If you’re not there for skiing, the best time to go is during summer till September, when the weather is warmer.
How to Go to Andorra
There are no airports in Andorra. The nearest ones are:
- Andorra – La Seu d’Urgell (Spain) – 27 km to the south.
- Perpignan (France) – 128 km to the east.
- Carcassonne (France) – 130 km to the north east.
- Lleida (Spain) – 157 km to the south.
- Toulouse-Blagnac (France) – 196 km to the north.
- Barcelona (Spain) – 202 km to the south.
Do note that most of these airports are not connected to Andorra by train or bus. You will need to go by taxi or car.
There are no train lines or stations in Andorra. The nearest ones are:
- L’Hospitalet (France) – 3 km from the Andorran border. Served by SNCF trains from Toulouse and Paris.
- Puigcerda (Spain) – 80 km away.
Bear in mind that although near, the L’Hospitalet station is located in a deserted area and is often unmanned. It has no direct bus connection to Andorra la Vella. You will first need to go to Pas de la Casa (the first town after the Andorran border) and from there take a bus to Andorra la Vella.
Going to Andorra by train is only cost-effective if you have SNCF discount cards.
Roads in Andorra are generally in good condition. Driving from Spain is a straightforward affair, but driving from France can be more challenging as it involves many hairpin bends.
When entering Andorra, you generally don’t need to stop at the border checkpoint, but be prepared to do so if requested. However, it is a must to stop when leaving Andorra. Expect delays during busy times.
Make sure your car is in good condition as Andorra has steep roads. When driving in the colder months (from November to April), beware of black ice and snowdrifts as temperatures in Andorra can be much colder than at sea level.
It’s a good idea to have winter tires and/or snow chains ready, or you may not be allowed to drive in very snowy road conditions. This rule is often enforced at police checkpoints to the ski resorts and mountain passes.
Gas prices are usually cheaper in Andorra than in France or Spain.
There are many bus services operating to and from Andorra.
From France, you can travel on Andbus from Toulouse Matabiau train station and from Toulouse-Blagnac airport. The trip takes 3.5 hours and tickets can be purchased online, at the counter, or from the driver.
From Spain, buses can be taken from various locations, including Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, Lleida, and Valencia. There are also daily services from Barcelona airport.
The trip from Barcelona to Andorra takes around 3.5 – 4 hours. I took Flixbus from Barcelona (Sants) to Andorra La Vella, and it cost me about €40 round trip.
In Andorra, buses arrive and depart from the new bus station (within walking distance to the city center), where you can also buy tickets. The building has a small waiting area, vending machines, and free WiFi.
Visa Requirement for Andorra
Andorra is not a member of the EU, EEA or Schengen Area.
It has no visa requirements and only requires a passport or a European Union national identity card. However, as entry is only possible through one of the Schengen countries (France or Spain), visitors must satisfy the conditions of entry into Schengen.
Theoretically, exiting France or Spain into Andorra will terminate a single-entry Schengen visa, but in practice, immigration does not enforce this, as one has no choice but to re-enter the Schengen Area in order to travel onwards.
How to Get Around in Andorra la Vella
If you’re only visiting Andorra la Vella, you can cover almost everything on foot within one day.
The town is divided into two parts: the newer section in the north and the older one to the south and west. The new section is very commercial with lots of shops, while the older half across the river also has a considerable amount of shops and restaurants, as well as historical sites.
If you’d like to venture further, most of the main villages in the country are connected by the local bus service called the Cooperative Interurbana Andorrana. There are 8 main bus lines, all of them passing through Andorra la Vella.
The fare is anything from €1.20 to €3, depending on how far you’re going. Drivers will provide change. Buses going to nearby towns can be as frequent as every 10 minutes, whereas the ones going to more rural places are less regular. You can check the bus routes and timetables here.
Things to Do in Andorra la Vella in One Day
1. Visit the Church of Sant Esteve
The magnificent Church of Sant Esteve is one of the main attractions in Andorra la Vella. Standing proudly in the old part of the city, it is Romanesque in origin, built in the 1100s, but have gone through several alterations throughout the years.
The church has a tall bell tower and semi-circular apses with their original Lombardian decoration still preserved. Inside, there is a multi-colored wooden beam from the 12th century and two baroque altarpieces.
Entrance is free but the church is closed outside of worship times for much of the year. Still, it’s a sight to behold from the outside, with the mountains as the backdrop.
2. See the Noblesse du Temps
La Noblesse du Temps, or ‘The Nobility of Time’ is a unique bronze sculpture weighing 1,400 kilograms and stands at 4.9 meters above the ground.
Depicting a melting clock on a tree trunk, it makes you feel like you’ve just stepped into a Salvador Dali painting.
In fact, this sculpture was personally made by the hand of Salvador Dali himself, which is why quite a number of art lovers from around the world visit Andorra — to see this authentic piece of art.
It is meant to symbolize the passing of time, how limited our time is on this earth, and how quickly it can fade away without us realizing.
3. Marvel at the Casa de la Vall
Located in the historic part of the city, Casa de la Vall is one of the most iconic monuments in Andorra.
It was built in the late 16th century in the traditional Catalonian style, as a manor house for an affluent local family.
However, in 1702, the mansion was acquired by the Parliament of Andorra to be used as its headquarters and the seat of justice until 2011.
Sitting on top of a rock overlooking the valley of the River Valira, it looks almost like a small castle, with its towers, turrets, high walls, and shuttered windows.
There is a large courtyard outside with recent sculptures depicting some of the most important historical events in Andorra.
To visit, you need to buy a ticket for €5 at the reception. For a guided tour, an advance booking by email or over the phone is required.
4. Cross the Margineda Bridge
Built in the fifteenth century, the Bridge of la Margineda is the largest medieval bridge that still remains in Andorra. It measures 33 meters in length and passes over the River Valira, which is the main river in the country.
Next to the bridge is a modern sculpture to commemorate the First Language and Literature of Catalonia Congress. The two arches represent Andorra’s past and present.
The bridge is located 3.7 kilometers (around 45 minutes’ walk) away from the city center.
5. Take a Picture in front of Pont de Paris
It features two steel spheres measuring 2.2 meters in diameter each. Because of these spheres, the bridge is also known among the locals as ‘The Bridge of the Balls’.
Placed just above the Valira River, it lights up after sunset and looks even prettier than in daytime.
The bridge also bears the name of the city in large letters, making the perfect backdrop for your souvenir photos.
6. Chill Out at Town Square
Andorra La Vella’s town square is surrounded by elegant buildings, restaurants, and interesting statues. And despite it being the center of the capital city, the square is actually a peaceful spot to do some people-watching. I think I spent quite some time sitting on one of the benches to soak in the sun.
It also has a map of the entire town, and gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains.
7. Enjoy the View from Placa del Poble
Placa del Poble is a public square on the roof of a government office building. A popular hangout spot for tourists and locals, this square offers splendid views of the valley and mountains.
There is an elevator in the southeast corner of the square that takes you directly to the car park on Carrer del Prat de la Creu.
8. Admire the Sculptures
Apart from the famous Salvador Dali sculptures, there are many others scattered across the city, including a stone circle of friends holding hands, a metal sculpture of a figure entwined in bonds, faces carved into totem poles, commemorative statues of historical figures and events, and many more.
On the way from the bus station to the city center, look up and you’ll see sculptures of monks in different meditative poses on top of podiums.
Some of these sculptures are merely decorative in nature, while others try to provoke thoughts through social, religious, or political messages.
9. Visit Museums
For such a small state, Andorra has quite an impressive number of museums and galleries. They regularly organize fun activities and workshops for the general public. Although many of them are not located in the city center, you can easily get there by bus or taxi in less than 20 minutes.
Some of the museums you can visit include:
- Bicycle Museum (Andorra la Vella)
- National Automobile Museum (Encamp)
- Casa Cristo (Encamp)
- Electricity Museum (Encamp)
- Carmen Thyssen Museum (Les Escaldes)
- Perfume Museum (Escaldes-Engordany)
- Casa Rull Museum (Sispony)
- Forge Rossell Museum and Iron Interpretation Center (La Massana)
- Comic Museum (La Massana)
- Museum of Miniatures (Ordino)
- Casa d’Areny-Plandolit (Ordino)
- Postal Museum (Ordino)
- Motorbike Museum (Canillo)
- Espai Columba (Santa Coloma)
- Cal Pal Mill and Saw Works Museum (La Cortinada)
10. Try Local Food
Andorran food is mainly Catalan, with some influences from the Spanish and French cuisine. Here are some of the must-try food in Andorra:
- Escudella – known as Andorra’s national dish, usually served in the cold months. A hearty stew of cooked pasta, grains, vegetables, and different kinds of meat. Almost every restaurant in Andorra has its own version, some more modernized than the others.
- Cargols – snails, usually oven-cooked, with olive oil and a special kind of garlic mayonnaise.
- Embotits – Andorran homemade sausages, usually made of pork spiced with salt and red or black pepper.
- Trucha a la Andorrana – grilled fish, usually freshwater fish from the local rivers, wrapped in pork ham.
- Crema Andorrana – Andorran version of creme brulee that uses freshly whipped thick cream on top, instead of torched sugar.
11. Pamper Yourself at Caldea Spa
Right in the heart of Andorra la Vella, around 20 minutes’ walk from the Town Square, you can see a magnificent glass pyramid tower dominating the skyline. This is the Caldea spa resort, the largest of its kind in Europe.
This humongous facility features more than 6,000 square meters of indoor and outdoor lagoons, saunas, Jacuzzis, solarium, water beds, and exotic baths from around the world, such as the Turkish hammam, Aztec bath, and a Japanese-inspired grapefruit bath!
The thermal waters of Caldea, which can reach temperatures of 70°C, are rich in minerals and thermal planktons. They are said to have analgesic, healing, anti-allergic, and decongestant effects on the body.
The spa is suitable for families, but there’s also a separate adults-only space.
12. Go Shopping
Andorra has long been known as a shopping haven due to its low taxes. The best bargains can usually been found on electronics and luxury items, with cigars being among the cheapest in Europe. It’s also a good place to stock up on ski gear.
There are many shops of different sizes, and a huge selection of goods, so you will be spoilt for choice.
Check out Pyrenees department store that has entire floors for electronic goods and designer labels, and a supermarket known for its Andorran and Spanish specialty foods.
How Long to Spend in Andorra la Vella
Most people visit Andorra for skiing and outdoor activities. However, if you only want to see the capital city and nothing else, one day is a perfectly reasonable amount of time to do so.
It really is so tiny that you can see everything and do all your shopping in one day.
I took a bus from Barcelona that arrived in the morning and left late at night, and I had enough time for sightseeing, plus window-shopping, and lunch and dinner.
The only thing I had skipped but wished I could have done if I had more time (and money) is the spa.
- Ordino – a small town located at the foot of Casamanya mountain. Attractions include Museum of Miniatures, the Postal Museum and Casa d’Areny-Plandolit.
- Canillo – a picturesque village featuring one the country’s finest Romanesque churches.
- La Cortinada – a small village surrounded by meadows and rugged mountains, home to a 12th-century church.
- El Serrat – popular for skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in winter, and hiking and birdwatching in summer.
- Les Escaldes – known for its many hot springs and art galleries.
- Encamp – the country’s most important ski centers, with gondolas linking directly to the slopes. A base for hiking in the warmer months, it is also home to the National Automobile Museum.
- Santa Coloma – home to the oldest church in the country and a 12th-century castle.
Is Andorra Worth Visiting?
Absolutely! Even if you’re not into skiing, hiking, or any of the other outdoor activities that Andorra is most famous for, this tiny country is still worth visiting. The capital itself is an amazing chill-out spot with panoramic views of the mountains all around you.
There’s plenty of shopping and dining to keep you entertained, and the best part is that the compact size of this city makes it super convenient to see everything on foot. It’s the perfect weekend destination for those living in neighboring countries and those looking for day-trip options from Barcelona.
Where to Stay in Andorra
If you do decide to spend the night in Andorra la Vella, there are plenty of options to fit different budgets:
Barri Antic Hostel & Pub – Located in the heart of the city, this hostel features a bar, shared kitchen, and shared lounge. Each room is heated and comes with a private bathroom and views of the mountains. The nearest ski resort is only 7 kilometers from this property. Ski rental is available from site. From USD 39 for a Twin Room.
Yomo Centric – Situated on a pedestrian street in the city center, the hotel is within walking distance to the bus station, tax-free shops and the Caldea Thermal Spa. Rooms come with heating, air-conditioning, a minibar and a flat-screen TV. The hotel also features a restaurant, bar, and open fire in the lounge. From USD 103 for a Standard Double / Twin Room with breakfast.
Andorra Park Hotel – Also located in the city center, this hotel features a gym, sauna, indoor swimming pool, and seasonal outdoor swimming pool. All rooms are air-conditioned, with mountain views, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with a spa bath, shower, slippers, hairdryer, bathrobe, and free toiletries. Most rooms come with a private balcony. From USD 220 for a Junior Suite with breakfast.
As I have shamelessly admitted on multiple occasions, I’m one of those obnoxious travelers who take pride in the number of countries they have visited and would go through all the troubles to add more to their list even if it means only spending one day in each location.
That was also the case when I went to Barcelona. I simply had to make a day trip Andorra. It turned out to be one of the prettiest towns I’ve ever been to.
I especially love these tiny countries because I can see almost everything in just one day.
Therefore, it allows me to comfortably claim that, “Yes, I’ve been to that country!” without feeling like too much of a fraud.
So, if you have the same inclination as me, you should definitely make the journey to Andorra the next time you’re in Barcelona. You won’t regret it!
Have you been to Andorra? What was your experience like? Share in the comments below.