Up until a few months ago, I had never even heard of the country of Andorra. It wasn’t until I ran a quick Google search on “day trips from Barcelona” that I discovered the sixth smallest nation in Europe that sat on the border of Spain and France.
After doing some research it seemed that many thought Andorra wasn’t worth visiting unless you planned on skiing or were stopping by in the summer to enjoy activities at the Naturelandia resort – some just thought it wasn’t worth visiting regardless due to its lack of attractions.
Fortunately for us, we decided to take the risk and drove roughly 2.5 hours each way from Barcelona just to explore this small country and can assert that it is most definitely worth visiting. Here’s why.
The views are unmatched.
I had read a few people mention that with a 5-hour travel time there and back, that a visit to Andorra didn’t make sense when visiting Barcelona. As someone who has been on many a long drive, the ride in both directions seemed to fly by simply from the stunning landscapes that we passed on the drive up. And due to GPS route changes, we actually experienced completely different views on the way home.
We expected we’d come upon some insta-worthy views as we knew our route had us passing by Parc Natural del Cadí-Moixeró and through the Pyrenees Mountains. What we ended up getting were some of the most unique views that make you want to put your phone down and awe in appreciation for a time.
One of our planned spots included Mirador Roc Del Quer which required us to walk through some thick mud and ice patches. Be warned that there are no guard rails so please be smart, watch your step, and don’t make stupid moves for photo ops especially in the winter. But despite slipping into some mud and walking around the remainder of the day with brown knees, I’m so glad we decided to keep driving until we found this spot. At one point, as we all stood gazing out into the distance, one of my friends noted how sad it is how few people even know this country exists – and that most people we know would never get to take in this exact view.
There are eclectic hidden gems.
If you do a quick search for “things to do in Andorra” you may not be surprised that not much pulls up aside from some churches, some ski lodges, and Naturelandia. It took some Google zooming and clicking around the map before I stumbled upon Juberri Gardens or Jardins de Juberri. While a quick location search on Instagram, didn’t yield too many results, it was definitely enough to peak my interest.
Driving to Juberri Gardens essentially involved driving a long winding road up a mountain – at one point we assumed we’d never find it and parked and got out just to enjoy the mountain view. Fortunately, we persevered and drove just a little higher eventually coming across an interesting and semi-risque statue of two men and a horse. We had found it.
Juberri Gardens doesn’t charge admission. In fact, there was no one around to even see us enter. The only notices are a few signs warning not to climb to high or too low passed certain figures. Similar to Mirador Roc de Quer, there are no guard rails and the entire garden is on a slope so abiding by the signs, wearing sturdy shoes, and making smart choices is highly recommended.
Wandering Juberri Gardens is like wandering the garden in a fairy tale. We passed a statue of large hands that appeared to be wrapped around a tree, statues of every type of animal from deer to unicorns. One section was even made up of several different dinosaur figures. Standing back and taking in the view, it felt as if we had ended up in one of the Jurassic Park films.
My one not-so-favorite part of Andorra because of course there’s always one, is the city center of Andorra la Vella. While the city center is concise and walkable – and offers tax-free shopping, the entire area feels like an over-generic outlet mall. There really isn’t anything unique or stand-out about it. But don’t let this deter you from visiting Andorra; if anything it should sway you more towards a self-guided trip to Andorra as opposed to the pre-packaged day tours you can find on third party tour sites. Most of these “One Day in Andorra” tours focus not only too much on additional villages on the way to Andorra but the bulk of your time in Andorra is spent in Andorra la Vella.
If possible, rent a car or buy a train ticket and make the journey yourself. Our day wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable as it was if we didn’t have the convenience of focusing primarily on the natural wonders and determining how long we spent at each stop to our own personal preferences. And if you do want to add a smaller city stop to your itinerary, drive through Ordino which is much more authentic than the previous.
If you’re looking for somewhere unique even as a day-trip from Barcelona, Andorra should undoubtedly make your list of potential choices. The crowds are minimal especially in comparison to more popular cities in proximity and the culture, beauty, and atmosphere are entirely different from the two countries it borders. Andorra is the definition of a hidden gem.
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