Andorra is the tiny country between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains. I know, I know, most of you are probably thinking “hahaha there is no country between France and Spain! What are you on?!” But I know all the geography majors can back me up. Look at it on a map (break out your binoculars)…
It might be small, but it is there! As a principality, the country still uses euros as the currency, but does whatever it wants. The official language is Catalan, but most people speak Spanish and learn some French in school.
High season is winter, when avid skiiers and snowboarders flock to the Pyrenees for the slopes.
We went in summer, anxious to see what it was like. After a few Google searches, we knew as much about Andorra as we knew before–not much.
So we hopped on a three hour bus to see the road less travelled by.
From the Barcelona-Sants train station or the Barcelona airport, you can hop on a direct bus to Andorra. One way from the train station is about 30euros and round-trip is about 50euros. Bus and a few dramamine are really the best ways to get through the mountainous ravines of the Pyrenees from Barcelona. Taking a car in Europe is terrifying enough, so I suggest not taking a car to unadvertised territory.
At the Barcelona-Sants train station, there is a bus station right next to the front entrance. Buses leave about every two hours, and they like for you to check-in with them 30 minutes before departure. You can check in and then walk around, but they like to know that you are there. Buy your tickets online through the Andorra Direct Bus website.
What to do (in a ski town) in summer
The best place to “get your nature on” is Andorra, as they have a huge outdoor adventure park called Naturlandia that capitalizes on its enormous mountains and thriving forests. Below is a list of ways to enjoy the serenity of Andorra:
- Go for a hike in the Pyrenees. There are several starting locations in and around Andorra, most of which you need a car to get to unfortunately. But there are two really nice trails that begin in the center of Andorra La Vella that you should absolutely trek. Be sure to visit the tourist office for maps and advice. (Free)
- Climb a mountain with gear (and a guide). Want to have the true mountain experience? Set up a climb with one of the guides from the tourist office and scale the mountains around the city. ($$)
- See the Old Town. Andorra still has a medieval town center that is worth walking around. There is a river that runs through the city, so it is easy to follow.
Where to eat and drink
The best way to learn about a city is to talk to its citizens. (Which is where learning languages comes in handy!) The people are what makes the country unique, and the way they interact with their environment makes each country special. The best place to find other travelers and native Andorrans is a pub.
- Ranxo Apart Snack Pub is the best pub that we could find in Andorra. It is really a must-go if you want to meet people who live in Andorra and English speakers traveling through. The owner, Raul, is originally Argentinian and can make you great Argentinian food, but the menu ranges from pizza to tapas to sandwiches, so there is something for everyone. The bar is incredibly well-stocked and Raul cooks and bartends on his own in low season, but never seems overwhelmed. He makes the best Sangria in town, and if you go, you might see a picture of us on his wall. There is a pool table and a television for watching soccer, and Raul sets up his computer to a projector and lets his customers choose music from YouTube. We learned more about Andorra from our multiple meals at Raul’s restaurant than we could find on Google. (Cheap food and drink, rich experience.)
Where to stay
Summer is low season, so most hotels are cheap.
- Hotel Cervol was really cheap through HostelWorld and it was clean and safe. It is close to the city center and it was only a ten minute walk from the bus station, on one road.
What to know about Andorra
- If you try to search for anything in Andorra in Yelp.com, it will say that it does not understand or recognize the location you entered.
- It is the only principality in the world with two princes. One prince is the president of France, the other is the prince of Catalonia. Andorra pays money to France so that they do not invade it.
- The schools follow the French system of education, but speak Catalan in class.
- They use the euro, but are not part of the European Union.
- They will check your passports at the border, so make sure you have it.
- Andorra is not a big city like Barcelona or Madrid. It is much smaller and not a tourist destination, so there is not a lot to do for tourists in the summer. A day and a half is enough, unless you are Ralph Waldo Emerson and need some solitude and nature.