11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Avila
Inside the perfectly preserved walls of Avila, visitors are transported to a world where time seems to have stood still. The ancient ramparts guard many historic attractions: Romanesque churches, medieval convents, and Renaissance palaces. The wealth of exceptional monuments and the old-world ambience make UNESCO-listed Avila one of the most interesting cities in Spain.
Throughout the early medieval period, Avila alternated between Moorish and Christian rule until the Reconquest by Alfonso VI in 1085. Many noble families settled here beginning in the 11th century. With its numerous aristocratic palaces, the town became known as Avila de los Caballeros ("Avila of the Nobles"). However Avila's real heyday was in the 16th century, when the mystical spirit of Santa Teresa de Jesús made it an important pilgrimage destination.
Equally inspiring is the natural setting, as the town stands on a high plateau sheltered by the rolling hills of the Sierra Gredos Mountains. Find the best places to visit in the city with our list of the top tourist attractions in Avila.
See also: Where to Stay in Avila
1. Murallas (Town Walls)
The ancient walls, which still enclose the heart of Ávila's old town, are the best preserved in Spain. After the Christian Reconquest of Ávila, the ramparts became an important line of defense against the Moors. Raimundo de Borgoña, son-in-law of Alfonso VI, built the massive circuit of protective walls between 1090 and 1099.
With a rectangular shape following the circumference of the town, the circuit extends 2,557 meters. The imposing stone wall stands at an average height of 12 meters, along with crenellated towers and round turrets positioned every 20 meters for guards to watch for coming invaders. Nine entrance gates provided access to the city. The most spectacular gates are the Puerta de San Vicente and the Puerta del Alcázar, which incorporate repurposed Roman-era stones. Between these two gates is the apse of the Cathedral. Known as the Ciborro, the cathedral's tower forms part of the town's defenses.
Another interesting feature of the wall sits on the north side of the town next to the Puerta del Carmen-a slender tower topped by storks' nests (common all over the Castile region). Visitors can begin a self-guided walking tour of the wall at the Puerta del Carmen gate by taking the steps leading up to the walking path.
If you are staying in Madrid and want to see the city walls and other highlights but only have one day, the Avila and Segovia Guided Tour from Madrid is an excellent option. The tour includes visits to top Ávila attractions, including the Murallas, Cathedral, and Plaza Mayor, as well as time in Segovia for lunch and a walking tour.
2. Basilica de San Vicente
Outside the town walls beyond the Puerta de San Vicente, the Basilica of San Vicente is Avila's most important church after the cathedral. The Romanesque church stands on the spot where Saint Vincent is believed to have been martyred in AD 300. Much of the church was built in the early 12th century, including part of the nave, the apses, and transepts; the rest of the building was completed in the 14th century.
The entrance is through a grand Gothic doorway framed by two towers. Within these are the Chapel of the Orejones, which is home to an inscription from 1321, and its twin, Chapel of the Palomeques; access to the towers above is just inside the second entry. The basilica has a Baroque altar and a combination of Romanesque and Gothic influences in the architecture, with a particularly impressive Gothic cimborri (cupola), which dates from the mid 13th century.
Address: Puerta de San Vicente, Avila
3. Convento de Santa Teresa
The Convent of Saint Theresa lies opposite the Puerta de la Santa on the site of Santa Teresa's birthplace. Designed by the architect Fray Alonso de San José and founded in 1636, the Convento de Santa Teresa de Jesús was built as a convent for Carmelite nuns. The church has a lovely although relatively plain Baroque facade, with a statue of Saint Teresa over the doorway.
The main feature of the interior is the room in which Santa Teresa was born, converted into a lavishly decorated Baroque chapel. The altar displays a statue of Saint Teresa by Gregorio Fernández, depicting the moment of her vision of the Cross. The work is richly ornamented and adorned with jewelry and precious fabrics. In the naves of the church are splendid sculptures by Gregorio Fernández.
The convent allows tourists to visit the church, the relic room, and its museum. An exceptional historic hotel, the Parador de Avila, is on Calle Marqués Canales de Chozas within walking distance of the Convent of Santa Teresa.
Address: 2 Plaza de la Santa, Avila
4. Real Monasterio de Santo Tomas
The Dominican monastery of Santo Tomás lies outside the town walls in a peaceful setting. With an endowment from the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, the Royal Monastery of Saint Thomas was founded in 1483 by María Dávila and Tomás de Torquemada, the first Grand Inquisitor of Spain. The Catholic Monarchs also used the monastery as a summer palace.
The church facade has an austere appearance, and its interior is somber, except for the high altar and choir featuring richly carved stalls. The high altar displays a wonderful retablo, a masterpiece of art by Pedro de Berruguete, illustrating scenes of the life of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Tribunals of the Inquisition once met in the choir, and the Catholic Monarchs attended mass seated in the choir.
Despite its weighty history, the monastery is a place of serenity, with three beautiful cloisters: the simple Claustro del Noviciado (Cloister of the Novices), the peaceful Claustro del Silencio (Cloister of Silence) with steps leading into the choir, and the two-story Claustro de los Reyes (Royal Cloister)
Address: 1 Plaza Granada, Avila
5. Catedral de San Salvador
This spectacular monument holds the distinction of being Spain's oldest Gothic cathedral. One of the most visible landmarks in Avila, the cathedral is integrated into the ancient town wall. Construction of the cathedral was begun in 1091 in Romanesque style, but the building wasn't completed until the 14th century and the dominant architectural style is Gothic. The enormous granite structure has a fortress-like aspect.
One of the cathedral's most notable features includes the figural decoration on the Apostles' Doorway on the north facade that dates from the 15th century. A striking feature of the interior is the red and white granite stonework from the early building phase. Other highlights are the 15th-century stained-glass windows in the transepts and the richly carved choir stalls with reliefs in Plateresque style.
Also of note is the impressive altarpiece by Vasco de la Zarza in the Capilla Mayor (main chapel) along with renowned paintings by Pedro Berruguete and Juan de Borgoña. The Capilla de San Antolín is noteworthy for its magnificentretablo, and a group of alabaster sculptures by Isidro Villoldo and Pedro de Salamanca is displayed in the sacristy.
Address: Plaza Catedral, Avila
6. Mirador de los Cuatro Postes (Viewpoint of the Four Posts)
The Cuatro Postes is a monument consisting of four five-meter Doric columns that frame a large cross made of granite. Built in the late 16th century, it was intended as a stopping point for those on a pilgrimage to the hermitage of San Leonardo, significant for being one of the spots where Santa Teresa de Jesus rested.
This popular vantage point gives tourists the opportunity to see Ávila and the entirety of its historic walls from above, as well as panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. This is a particularly lovely sight at night, when the lights of the city illuminate the walls.
Address: Calle Cuatro Postes, Ávila
7. Museo de Ávila
A significant portion of the Museum of Ávila is dedicated to the history of the province of Ávila. These exhibits focus on various historical periods, from the prehistoric Paleolithic, Bronze, and Iron ages to the various stages in recorded history from Romanization through the 19th century. Specimens in these exhibits include those recovered from places all over the province.
Additional exhibit areas focus on the traditional culture of rural Ávila, including arts, crafts, and social aspects, with a stress on those traditions in danger of falling by the wayside. The uppermost section of the museum is dedicated to archaeological finds from within the city walls.
The main collections are housed in a 16th-century Renaissance palace called Deanes House, so named because it once served as the home of the deans of Ávila's cathedral. Larger items from the collections are kept in the "Visitable Warehouse," located within the 12th-century church of Santo Tomé; museum guests may see these as part of their visit.
Address: Plaza Nalvillos, 3, Ávila
8. People-Watching in Plaza Mayor
Like most Spanish cities, Ávila has a central plaza that is the natural gathering place for socializing. Ávila's Plaza Mayor, also known as Plaza del Mercado Chico or the Plaza Mercado Grande, may not be the largest of its kind but it is nevertheless a wonderful place to visit. Dating back to the 11th century BCE, the square was originally built around the Town Hall. After falling into disrepair in the 1700s, major 19th-century renovations resulted in the primarily Elizabethan style that can be seen today.
This lovely plaza has a typical arcaded perimeter lined with plenty of restaurants and shops, and is the ideal place to stop and enjoy an espresso at a café or simply rest on one of the many benches to watch the people come and go. Tourists and locals alike frequent the plaza, and many of the city's major cultural and social events are held here.
Address: Plaza Mercado Chico, adjacent to Iglesia San Juan Bautista
9. Barrio Judio (Jewish Quarter)
During the Middle Ages, the town of Avila had a large, flourishing, and influential Jewish community. The Jews lived in two areas within the town walls: in the northeast corner around the Puerta de San Vicente, and in the southwest corner between the Puerta de la Mala Dicha and the Puerta del Puente.
Medieval cobblestone streets and hidden squares hint at the legacy of the past. The former Calle Andrín, renamed the Calle Reyes Católicos, once had many shops and craft workshops run by Jewish owners. One of the town's synagogues, the Synagogue de Belforad, was on this street where the 16th-century Chapel of Nuestra Señora de las Nieves now stands. South of the chapel is a hostel called La Sinagoga that occupies the former House of the Rabbi and is full of Hebrew references.
The Calle de los Zapatero (Street of the Cobblers) was named after one of the main trades of Jews who lived in Avila. Researchers believe that a house (with a brick arch) on Calle del Pocillo is the site referred to in 15th-century documents as the synagogue "built by Don Simuel" in the old Jewish quarter of Santo Domingo. On Calle Telares, the Garden of Moshé de León is dedicated to the author of Sefer ha-Zohar (the Book of Splendor).
10. Capilla de Mosén Rubí de Bracamonte
This historic chapel is found in a quiet part of the old town, north of the Plaza Mayor, between the Puerta del Carmen and the Puerta de San Vicente. Mosén Rubí, a converted Jew who belonged to an aristocratic family of Avila, dedicated the chapel in 1516 as a mausoleum for his aunt María Herrera and her husband; the alabaster tomb was created by Vázquez Dávila.
The Chapel of Mosén Rubí now belongs to a Dominican nunnery. The richly decorated interior features beautiful art works and a particular highlight is the Cristo de las Batallas, a 17th-century polychrome figure of Christ. Some scholars believe that the church was originally constructed in 1492 as a synagogue.
Address: Calle Marqués de Benavites, Avila
11. Convento de Santa María de Gracia
The convent of Santa Maria was founded in the 16th century by Lady María Mencía de San Agustín. It lies outside the town walls near the chapel of San Justo and San Pastor. Although the church was built during the Renaissance period, it was designed in Gothic style. The sanctuary was later enhanced with Baroque plasterwork details. The high altar features a Renaissance reredos by Juan Rodríguez and Lucas Giraldo. Tourists can only visit the exterior of the convent or may attend a mass at the church during hours of worship.
Another lovely convent outside the town walls is known simply as Las Gordillas after the farm that used to be located nearby. Declared as a National Monument, the Renaissance convent was built in the 16th century, although much of the building was renovated later. Constructed from brick, the church has an inspiring sanctuary with only one nave. The most remarkable feature of the interior is the choir, featuring delicate tiercerons (diagonal rib vaulting). The high chapel displays an exquisite Neo-Baroque reredos.
Address: Calle Jesús del Gran Poder, Avila
Where to Stay in Avila for Sightseeing
- Luxury Hotels: As the name suggests, five-star La Casa del Presidente was once the home of Spain's first prime minister, and each individually curated guest room has been decorated to represent various themes of democracy. This beautiful stone building sits adjacent to the historic city walls, close to the Puerta de Santa Teresa, and there are many places for guests to relax and enjoy the view, including a lovely patio. Hotel amenities include a pool and a highly rated restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Another excellent luxury hotel that sits just inside the city walls is Parador de Ávila, a four-star historic hotel housed in a 16th-century palace. Guest rooms and suites are large and well-appointed, featuring tile floors and incredible views of the city walls or the beautiful garden. There is an on-site restaurant with room service, and hotel staff is exceptionally friendly and helpful.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Another excellent hotel within a historic stone palace, Palacio de los Velada offers mid-range pricing in a convenient old town location across from the Cathedra of Ávila. The guest rooms are stunning, including huge suites with antique furniture, rich colors, and original features like exposed stonework and brick. The hotel has an atrium-style restaurant with room service and a business center, and offers free Wi-Fi. Hotel II Castillas is a four-star hotel with moderate prices thanks to its location outside the city walls. It is a modern smoke-free property that offers family rooms and suites equipped with amenities including a mini-fridge and free Wi-Fi. There is also an on-site restaurant, room service, and concierge service.
- Budget Hotels: You don't have to sacrifice quality or ambience at the good-value Hotel las Leyendas to get affordable rates. Guest rooms are updated while preserving the old-world feel with exposed beams and stone walls. There is an in-house tapas restaurant, and the hotel is located near the gates of the city walls and within a few minutes' walk of the major tourist attractions. Another budget hotel in a central location is Hotel Las Moradas, where you will find a friendly staff and clean rooms. This family-friendly hotel is smoke-free and offers free Wi-Fi and in-room refrigerators. The hotel is located just up the street from the cathedral, and there are many good restaurants within a five-minute walk.
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Exploring Madrid: Thanks to its close proximity, Ávila is one of the most popular day trips from Madrid. This city, in contrast to the quieter ones that surround it, is a bustling metropolis that offers something for everyone. Among Madrid's top attractions are cultural institutions like the Prado Museum, parks and beautiful public spaces like Buen Retiro Park and its Crystal Palace, and plenty of historic landmarks like the impressive Royal Palace.
Salamanca & Segovia: Those who would like to explore some of the nearby smaller cities will enjoy Salamanca, a university town that has earned a place on the UNSECO World Heritage list for its beautifully preserved historic buildings and streets that make the entire town feel like a museum. Also within a short drive from Ávila and perfect for a day trip is Segovia, a romantic walled city perched on a hilltop. Segovia is home to many Roman ruins, including a massive aqueduct from the first century CE, as well as a fairytale castle.