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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 were met with 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.

Andorra la Vella
Andorra la Vella

Travel guru Rick Steves tells his readers to give Andorra a miss because there's not much worth seeing there. We could not disagree with you more, 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 its name is well deserved, being the country's only city.

Salvador Dali sculpture 'Nobility of Time' in Andorra la Vella
Salvador Dali sculpture ‘Nobility of Time' in Andorra la Vella

Shopping in Andorra la Vella

Drive down Andorra la Vella's main street and it might seem as though the entire country is just one big shopping center. Things like perfume, tobacco and electronic items are tax free so the country makes a good income from consumer and luxury goods.
But we hadn’t come to Andorra to shop. We wanted to see what the country had to offer, beginning with its capital.

Tip: Thanks to its tax free status, gas is cheap in Andorra. Andorra is not part of the EU but they do use the euro. So fill up before you leave the country. We did.

Gas prices in Andorra, 2012

Visiting Andorra la Vella's barri antic

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

Downtown Andorra la Vella
Downtown Andorra la Vella

The oldest part of Andorra la Vella is the Barri Antic, which means “old town” in Catalan. It has been the heart of the city since the principality was little more than a village and it still has the ancient winding layout, cobbled streets and attractive stone houses 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. (Minim's restaurant offers traditional Andorran cuisine.)

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

Beautiful stone works in Andorra la VellaEating our way around Andorra la Vella

Having lost a combined 170 pounds between the two of us, we are careful of what we eat at home. However, when we travel we take advantage of sampling the local specialties. We enjoyed a bakery and a birrería while in the old town and don’t regret a bite.

Roasted duck breast with potato
The Best roasted duck breast ever from L'Hort de Casa

Casa de la Vall

I don't know if it's the oldest building in town but 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.

Casa de la Vall Andorra la Vella

A view of Andorra la Vella from above

As we left Casa de la Vall we discovered another piazza whose stairs drew us like moths to a flame. They led us 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 Spain
A shot west, across the street toward the mountains. Hey, there's grass over there! It looks like a sports field.
Andorra la Vella towards France
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.


Impressions of Andorra la Vella

Now, whenever anyone asks us what we thought of Andorra la Vella, we tell them that the capital is like Gatlinburg on steroids: all rustic stone and wood buildings in a wooded mountain setting.
Come to think of it, the whole country looks like that.
We drove all over the country and took advantage of the perfect outdoor weather with a bit of hiking. We even reminisce about the food at a fabulous little restaurant in the country called L'Hort de Casa. Andorra and Andorra la Vella are worth it.

Rick Steves really needs to take a second look.


Tourist bureau: Turisme Andorra

Photos: For more, please see our Andorra photo gallery.

Hotel: We stayed at Hotel Rutllan, Sispony, Andorra.


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Visiting Andorra la Vella is a less touristy Gatlinburg on steroids: rustic stone and wood buildings in a picturesque mountain setting.

Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries She has an insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

6 thoughts on “Visiting Andorra la Vella’s Old Town – Worth It?

  1. 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

    1. 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. 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.

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