13 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Andorra
Located high in the eastern Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, Andorra is a small country, boasting lovely mountain scenery, which is often overlooked on travel itineraries. But despite its size, Andorra is well-known as a winter destination in Europe for its superb ski hills, while popular things to do in summer include hiking and mountain biking. Made up of several small towns and villages tucked between tall mountain peaks, Andorra lies just three hours' drive from Barcelona to the south and Toulouse to the north, making it an ideal day trip if you're pressed for time. For most visitors, the main attraction is the capital, Andorra La Vella, a city small enough to traverse on foot, yet offering a bustling main street boasting many shops and dining opportunities. It's also a nation of superb medieval churches, many of them untouched by time.
Skiers and snowboarders tend to flock to the small town of Encamp, a base for the Pas de la Casa and the Grau Roig Ski Area. Other places of interest for sightseers are the picturesque villages of El Serrat, set high in the mountains, and La Cortinada (home to the church of Marti de la Cortinada), both found in the Valira del Nord Valley, northwest of the capital city. Find out more about the best places to visit in this tiny country with our list of the top attractions in Andorra.
1. The Capital City: Andorra la Vella
Perched high in the eastern Pyrenees, Andorra la Vella - the capital of Andorra - is this small nation's busiest tourist attraction. At an altitude of 1,029 meters, it's one of the world's highest capital cities. It's also one of the smallest, too, with a population of less than 23,000 people. Presiding over the Gran Valira river under the east side of the 2,317-meter Pic d'Enclar mountain, the city's main street is lined with shops selling everything from souvenirs to local arts and crafts, along with galleries, cafés, restaurants, and many excellent hotels.
Top attractions include Casa de la Vell, built in 1580 and now the seat of government and notable for its ornate coat of arms and other historical emblems of the country's former rulers. Highlights of a guided tour include the reception room with its 16th-century wall paintings and, in the Council Chamber (Sala de Sessions), the historic Cupboard of the Seven Keys, to which each of the country's seven communes has a key (it contains the country's archives, including documents dating from the time of Charlemagne). Other fun things to do in Andorra la Vella include strolling through Plaça del Poble, a public square on the roof of the city's administrative complex, which offers great views of the surrounding scenery, and visiting 12th-century Sant Esteve Church, with its fine carved woodwork.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Andorra la Vella
2. Winter Wonderland: Vallnord
One of the most popular winter sports destinations in the Pyrenees, Vallnord draws skiers and snowboarders from across Europe to its many fine slopes. Located in the northern part of Andorra and boasting a peak altitude of 2,625 meters, Vallnord is really three unique ski resorts in one -Arcalis, Pal, and Arinsal - providing a vast amount of terrain to explore. Skiers and boarders of all levels are well catered to, with more experienced downhillers usually heading for the north-facing alpine slopes of Arcalis with its long lasting snows, while beginners and seasoned enthusiasts alike are well catered to at Arinsal and Pal. Most slopes are connected to one another by cable car, while gondolas from the village of La Massana serve Pal.
Vallnord is particularly popular for family ski vacations due to its first-rate ski schools and fun activities such as snowshoeing, sledding, and snowmobiling, as well as paintball and laser tag. For the truly adventurous, activities such as speed riding (a mix of skiing and hang-gliding), heli-skiing, and ski-biking are available. Another popular ski area is Grandvalira between Andorra la Vella and Les Escaldes.The arrival of warmer weather sees the opening of the Vallnord Bikepark, a massive network of mountain biking trails, which also draws adventure seekers. Vallnord is also well-served when it comes to accommodations, and offers a variety of hotel options from budget hostels to luxury hotels.
Address: Av Través, 2 - Edf Casa Casa Ferré, Carretera de la Caubella, 1, AD400 La Massana
3. Sant Joan de Caselles Church
A little way north of the picturesque village of Canillo is the chapel of Sant Joan de Caselles. Considered one of the country's finest Romanesque churches, this splendid old stone building dates from the 11th century and contains many interesting features, most notably its fine interior decorated with excellent frescoes, as well as a retablo, St. John and the Apocalypse, dating from 1525. Other highlights of this well-preserved Catholic church are the choir grille with its Romanesque stucco figure of Christ on the Cross, and the unique polychrome painting that surrounds it.
4. Centre Termolúdic Caldea
Found in the heart of Andorra la Vella, the huge Centre Termolúdic Caldea, Europe's largest spa complex, dominates the capital's skyline with its magnificent glass pyramid tower. Featuring more than 6,000 square meters of watery fun and treatment areas, guests can make full use of the facility's numerous lagoons (both indoor and outdoor), its many saunas and Jacuzzis, as well as its specialized spa areas featuring Indo-Roman baths, cascades, warm marble slates, and even a grapefruit pool. Due to its use of the mineral-rich warm waters that emerge from the city's thermal source, a visit to this uniquely designed spa complex is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that is not soon forgotten. For those seeking an adults-only experience, be sure to visit the spa's Inúu facility.
Address: Parc de la Mola, 10, AD700
5. Ordino and Casa d'Areny-Plandolit
The chief destination in Andorra's picturesque Valira del Nord Valley is the small town of Ordino, idyllically located at the base of the 2,740-meter-tall Casamanya mountain. In addition to its quiet streets, quaint shops, elegant hotels, and old churches, the town is home to Casa d'Areny-Plandolit, built in 1633 and later rebuilt in the mid-19th century by Baron de Senaller, famous for instigating reforms in 1866 that gave heads of households voting rights. Now open to the public, this splendid old house boasts a magnificent wrought-iron balcony from 1843 along with a reproduction of the country's original Cupboard of the Seven Keys. On the ground floor are storerooms and a blacksmith's shop, while on the upper level is the old armory with its large barrel-organ, as well as the dining room in which the Baron's Limoges and Sèvres dinner services (the latter a gift from the Austrian Emperor) are displayed. Other interesting rooms are the library with its coats of arms of related families, the music room with a copy of the original version of the Andorran national anthem, the private chapel, and a bakery.
Also worth visiting while in Ordino is the Postal Museum (Museo postal de Andorra). Highlights of a visit include audio-visual displays outlining the growth and development of the country's postal service (including the delivery by mail of the country's first pair off skis), how stamps are made, and a rare collection of more than 50,000 Andorran stamps. English language tours are available, and last 30 minutes.
6. La Cortinada and Sant Martí Church
The village of La Cortinada is one of the most attractive smaller communities in Andorra. Surrounded by meadows and rugged mountains, the village is home to the lovely 12th-century Sant Martí de la Cortinada church, notable for its Romanesque frescoes, its charnel-house, and a beautiful old dovecot. Later additions from the 17th and 18th centuries include locally made fine wrought iron railings, a brightly painted wooden altarpiece, numerous fine pieces of elaborate furniture, and a confessional.
Another village worth visiting is tiny El Serrat. At the end of the road running through the Valira del Nord Valley, this mountain village sits in a magnificent location and is a great base from which to explore the surrounding countryside. It's equally popular among bird-watchers and hikers, as well as those with an interest in alpine flora. Come winter, activities switch to downhill skiing and snowboarding, as well as Nordic skiing and snowshoeing.
7. The Town of Les Escaldes
The Andorran town of Les Escaldes, just a few minutes' drive from Andorra la Vella, takes its name from the many hot springs dotted around the community. Known for their high sulphur and nitrogen content, the town's waters range from a pleasant 22 degrees Celsius to a scalding 66 degrees Celsius and were well known as far back as Roman times for their medicinal qualities. Other highlights include the Viladomat Museum with its displays of works by Catalan sculptor Josep Viladomat, the ruins of the old fortress of Capilla Sant Roma, and the historic Pont dels Escalls bridge with its superb views of the old town.
Also well worth a visit is the Thyssen Museum, an art gallery centered around a large private collection including works by 19th- and 20th-century Masters such as Monet, Matisse, and Gauguin (the country's newest major attraction also offers visiting exhibits). Another art-related attraction is the Centre d'Art d'Escaldes-Engordany, which houses an interesting collection of sculptures and artworks in a historic heritage building.
8. Touring the Valira d'Orient Valley
A highlight of a visit to Andorra is the chance to explore this small mountain nation's stunning scenery from the comfort of a car. One of the best routes is along the Valira d'Orient Valley, starting in Les Escaldes north of the capital Andorra la Vella, before heading along the narrow, winding road leading up to the 12th-century Sant Miquel Engolasters, a typical example of the country's many Pyrenean churches in Lombard Romanesque style. From here, it's possible to walk to Lake Engolasters, an artificial lake created by a dam, which is popular for fishing and sightseeing.
9. Encamp and the National Automobile Museum
In the geographical center of Andorra, the town of Encamp - home to nearly 12,000 people - makes for a good base no matter what time of year you choose to explore the country. Its downtown is also one of the prettiest, with the Valira d'Orient river running through it, and its fine old buildings now serve as shops, cafés, and restaurants. It's also a great place from which to embark on hiking and biking adventures thanks to the neighboring Pic dels Pessons mountain, at 2,865 meters the parish's tallest peak. Come winter, the town is transformed into one of the country's most important ski centers with a gondola linking it directly to the slopes of Grau Roig and Pas de la Casa. The city is also home to the excellent National Automobile Museum with its numerous displays of classic vintage cars - including a steam-driven machine dating from 1885 - along with antique motorcycles and bicycles, all in mint condition.
Address: Avenida Príncep Episcopal 64
10. The Santa Coloma Church
On the main road leading from Andorra to Spain in the little village of Santa Coloma is one of the country's finest Romanesque places of worship, the Santa Coloma Church, the oldest church in the country. Notable for its tall, rounded three-stage tower - very different from the more typical square design of other church towers in the country - this splendid old stone structure dates from the 9th century and contains a much venerated 12th-century statue of the Virgin of Coloma, a number of Mozarabic frescoes on its arched entrance, and a splendid medieval font. Afterwards, take the short hike up to the 12th-century castle of Sant Vicenç d'Enclar perched upon the commanding Roc d'Enclar just above the village.
11. Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley
Andorra's only UNESCO World Heritage Site, the beautiful Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley - despite being only 42 square kilometers - occupies nearly 10 percent of the country's total area ... and a special place as the "spiritual heart" of this tiny nation. Looking like something out of a picture book (yes, it's that attractive and unspoiled), this remote glacial valley is a refuge for a variety of endangered and rare species of wildlife, not to mention spectacular vistas over mountain pastures, rugged crags, and thickly-forested valleys. Part of the fun is getting here. Given its remoteness, the valley is only accessible by walking trails, resulting in a surprisingly peaceful and tranquil hiking experience. Along the way, you'll come across a variety of reminders of the region's prior human habitation (no one lives here now), stretching back some 700 or more years and including two small villages, which are fun to explore, and whose dwellings - along with some of the surviving mountainside huts - now serve as accommodations for hikers.
12. Our Lady of Meritxell
Andorra's patron saint, Our Lady of Meritxell (Mare de Déu de Meritxell), is famous as the country's spiritual guide and is the subject of a major festival held each September 8th since 1873, the same day as the Andorran National Holiday. This Roman Catholic saint is associated with the Meritxell Chapel and is represented by a statue of the Virgin Mary with the baby Christ in her lap (the original statue, made in the 12th century, was destroyed in a fire). The replica, carved of wood and standing just 33 inches high, is said to be close to identical to the original and can be viewed, along with other relics, in the church's sanctuary. Be sure to also take in the splendid courtyard with its impressive arches. This church is also a part of the Marian Route, an important itinerary of pilgrimages that includes sanctuaries in Montserrat and Lourdes, among others.
13. The Museum of Miniatures
The Museum of Miniatures (Museo de la Miniatura) is a great way for young and old alike to spend an hour when in Ordino. And these really are miniature artworks. Crafted by Nicolai Siadristy, a Ukranian artist who's widely regarded as the best in his field, these tiny masterpieces are so small that many have to be viewed through a magnifying glass or microscope to be appreciated. Crafted from metals such as gold and platinum, as well as everyday materials including paper and wood - even grains of rice - the museum's huge micro-miniature collection features everything from miniscule Russian Dolls to religious artifacts including crucifixes. The exhibits are augmented by an interesting audio-visual display, which also features details of the artist's life and craft.
Where to Stay in Andorra for Sightseeing
- Luxury Hotels: The extremely attractive Andorra Park Hotel offers its guests a great deal of comfort combined with superb views over the country's capital, Andorra la Vella. In addition to a great location that makes walking tours of the city easy, guests will enjoy a high-level of service, plus some of the country's most luxurious accommodations. Those seeking a luxury stay may also wish to consider the Grau Roig Andorra Boutique Hotel & Spa, an elegant stone-clad affair set amid some of the country's top skiing and hiking (a particularly popular choice among couples for its superb spa facilities). Also worth considering is the centrally located Hotel Plaza Andorra, a high-end location that offers concierge services, a spa, and a choice of elegantly-appointed accommodations.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Eurostars Andorra is a great choice for those seeking a comfortable mid-range hotel in Andorra's capital. Featuring 66 spacious rooms and suites, this contemporary-style hotel is minutes away from great shopping, entertainment, and dining, as well as a variety of nature trails and ski hills. Another contender is Hotel Palomé, a top-rated boutique-style hotel offering spacious accommodations with modern en-suite bathrooms in a peaceful location, an easy walk to great shopping and dining experiences. The Holiday Inn Andorra is also popular. This family-friendly hotel offers large suites with plenty of room for larger groups to spread out and is just a short stroll to attractions, shopping, and entertainment opportunities in Andorra la Vella.
- Budget Hotels: A great location for those on a fixed travel budget, Hotel Andorra Palace offers comfortable rooms in the heart of Andorra la Vella, close to all amenities, as well as just minutes away from the hiking trails and ski hills that attract so many tourists to the country. Another great budget hotel in Andorra la Vella is Hotel Pitiusa, a perfect jumping-off spot with clean, comfortable rooms that serve as a great base from which to explore the country's top ski hills and hiking and biking trails. A good choice for families and those traveling in groups, President Hotel offers well-appointed rooms and suites just minutes away from the top points of interest in Andorra la Vella.
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Explore Toulouse and the French Pyrenees: Thanks to its location in the very heart of the beautiful Pyrenees Mountains, Andorra serves as a perfect jumping-off point to a variety of top attractions in the French Pyrenees. Of these, the top-most visited points of interest include the town of Lourdes, famous the world over as a place of pilgrimage, and the spectacular Cirque de Gavarnie, a huge circular ring of mountain cliffs, which many suggest resembles a giant church nave. Another great French destination to visit from Andorra is Toulouse, just a two-hour drive north and full of must-see attractions and famous for its many rose-colored brick buildings.
A Day Trip to Barcelona: Just two-and-a-half hours' drive to the south is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Spain: Barcelona. Whether stopping by for a day trip or an extended visit, must-see attractions include the iconic Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, a spectacular cathedral, which has been in the making since 1883 and is still not finished; and Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter), famous for its well-preserved historic architecture and narrow cobblestone streets. While visiting Barcelona, be sure to set time aside for a walk around the hilltop neighborhood of Montjuïc, a popular jaunt for its lovely parks and gardens, museums and art galleries, and superb views over the Mediterranean Sea.