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Visiting Andorra la Vella’s Old Town—Worth It?

When we told people we were going to spend a few days visiting Andorra, we got a lot of blank looks.  Andorra isn’t on most people’s radar. Actually, from our experience, most people don’t even know that it’s a country.

Sign announcing the border when visiting Andorra

Travel guru Rick Steves tells his readers to give Andorra a miss because there’s not much worth seeing there. We strongly disagree, Rick.  It IS worth setting aside a few days to see this little postage-stamp of a country.  If nothing else, it’s worth visiting Andorra la Vella. Translated from Catalan, its name means Andorra the Town and it’s well named, as the country’s only city.

Mountains closely surround Andorra la VellaAndorra la Vella is a shopper’s paradise

Before we go any further, you should know that Andorra has special tax laws. Because things like perfume, tobacco and electronic items are tax free, parts of Andorra la Vella are just one big shopping center. So please forgive us: we have no fabulous photos of greater Andorra to share.  You can see what we DO have in our Andorra photo gallery, though, and we think you’ll enjoy them.

I also want to make it clear that we didn’t focus on just visiting Andorra la Vella and getting out of the country.  The October weather was perfect for exploring and hiking.  We drove all over the country, even happily discovered a fabulous restaurant called L’Hort de Casa, which I wrote about last week.

By the way, thanks to its tax free status, gas is cheap in Andorra. So fill up before you leave the country. We did.

Gas prices in Andorra, 2012

Visiting Andorra la Vella’s barri antic

We set aside an afternoon to walk around the city because we heard it began in the 1200s. We’re suckers for old cities, the older the better. Any time we hear words like “Gothic section,” “old town,” or “walled city,” we get excited. But why would a city like Andorra la Vella need walls? After all, it has the Pyrenees to protect it.

The oldest part of Andorra la Vella is the Barri Antic. That’s Catalan for Old Town. It still has the ancient winding layout, cobbled streets and buildings that were typical in the middle ages.

Medieval street Andorra la Vella

Some of the streets are so narrow they’re little more than a walkway fit for people on foot. They may have been wide enough to permit a cart to pass through back in the day … but modern-day drivers will have a hard time squeezing through.

Medieval passageway in Andorra la Vella.Be prepared to walk when visiting Andorra la Vella


Casa de la Vall

I don’t know if it’s the oldest building in town but the Casa de la Vall (Town Hall) is certainly the best-known. Built as a stately home in the early 1500s, it was purchased and became the parliamentary house in 1702. The Parliament no longer meets here, however; they recently moved to a modern glass structure across the piazza. I think this is a beautiful example of how Andorra has managed to honor its history while staying with the times.

The old Parliament house, hard to miss when visiting Andorra la Vella.

A view of Andorra la Vella from above

Mere steps from Casa de la Vall we found another piazza with stairs. Like moths to a flame we couldn’t resist climbing them. They led up to a walkway that gave us a beautiful place to overlook and photograph the city in all directions. I started with a view south, toward Spain, from whence we’d come. OK, maybe not south, exactly. I kind of lost my way as we drove through those twisting roads. But you get the idea.
Looking at Andorra la Vella, towards SpainA shot west, across the street toward the mountains. Hey, there’s grass over there! Wonder if it’s a sports field…?
And finally, in the other direction, toward France. You can see how close Casa de Vall is.  What you can’t clearly see in this photo is the massive shopping area beyond. But I promise: It’s there.

What’s Andorra la Vella look like?

Now when we’re asked what Andorra la Vella looks like, I tell them it’s like Gatlinburg on steroids: rustic stone and wood buildings in a rural mountain setting.

What do you think? Do you agree?

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  1. Sharon @ Wheres Sharon

    Andorra looks very pretty! I have to go there one day as it’s the ONE place my husband has been that I haven’t and he goes on about it alllllllllllllllll the time. He likes to say that makes him better travelled than me even though I have been to about 30 more countries. I need to shut him up!!! lol
    Sharon @ Wheres Sharon recently posted…Things to do in New Orleans in a few daysMy Profile

    1. Linda

      I sympathize. Dan has been to two countries I’ve not been to (Jamaica and Bahamas) and I’ve been to two he’s not seen (Australia and Fiji). He keeps telling me we need to visit Australia and Fiji so he’ll have more countries under his belt than I have.

  2. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas

    My family and I spent a day in Andorra, and I’d give it a miss. I felt that the Old Quarter had zero character and that the city was like a strange juxtaposition of a ski town with an outdoor mall. Apart from the shopping and probably great skiing, it was merely a tick in the countries I’ve seen box.
    Cat of Sunshine and Siestas recently posted…Seville Snapshots: Christmas Lights in SevilleMy Profile

    1. Linda

      Lol … that’s why all our photos of the town are of the Barri Antic. Did you see the rest of the countryside? We enjoyed that more.

  3. Adelina @ PackMeTo

    It certainly looks really picturesque set between the mountains on either side. Love those tiny streets that twist and turn – you never know what is on the other end. So much fun for exploring!
    Adelina @ PackMeTo recently posted…How to Celebrate the Holidays Away From HomeMy Profile

    1. Linda

      While we were wandering around we found an awesome beer shop on one of the side streets and tried the local brew. That was fun!

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