10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Andorra
High in the eastern Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, Andorra is a small country that's often overlooked on travel itineraries. But despite its size, Andorra is well known in Europe for its superb ski hills, hiking trails, and lovely mountain scenery. 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 old medieval churches, many of them untouched by time.
Skiers and snowboarders 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, with the church of Marti de la Cortinada, both found in the Valira del Nord Valley, northwest of the capital city.
1 The Capital City: Andorra la Vella
Perched high in the eastern Pyrenees, the capital of Andorra, Andorra la Vella, 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 with a population of less than 25,000 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 many galleries, cafés, and restaurants. Top attractions include Casa de la Vell, built in 1580 and now the seat of government. It's 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 sites worth seeing are Plaça del Poble, a public square on the roof of the city's administrative complex, which offers great views of the surrounding scenery, and the 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. In the northern part of Andorra, 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.
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 little village of Canillo is the chapel of Sant Joan de Caselles. Considered one of the country's finest Romanesque chapels, 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 church are the choir grille with its Romanesque stucco figure of Christ on the Cross, and the unique polychrome painting that surrounds it.
Address: AD100 Canillo
4 Centre Termolúdic Caldea
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.
Address: Parc de la Mola, 10, AD700
5 Ordino and Casa Plairal d'Areny de 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, and old church, the town is home to Casa Plairal d'Areny de 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.
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 birdwatchers 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 °C to a scalding 66 °C 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.
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 that's 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 serving as shops, cafés, and restaurants. It also serves as a great place from which to hike 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 churches, the Santa Coloma Church. 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.