I’m rather embarrassed to admit it but up until recently, we couldn’t have pointed to Andorra on a map. Before we moved to Europe, we didn’t even know that it’s a country. If I had been asked this question on Jeopardy, I would’ve guessed that it’s a region in Spain, like “Basque Country.” It doesn’t help that a town in Italy is called Andora, that there is an Angora rabbit (probably the cutest bunny rabbit in the world), an Angora goat (the famous source of mohair), and that the latter two take their name from a city in Turkey, which is now more commonly called Ankara.
It’s not just us though. When we talk travel with people, many of them have never heard of the country of Andorra, and most of those who have aren’t sure where to find it on a map. Even after reading about it online, we didn’t realize how cool it is until we drove through the entire country on a 10-day roundtrip road trip from Switzerland to Spain. Entire country might not seem like a lot since you can easily drive across it in just over an hour, but considering you can spend weeks there just exploring its hiking trails, this little country has a lot to offer!
If you’re planning your own Andorra road trip or are just curious about what language they speak, what currency they use, what the country is famous for, or what the best attractions are to see in Andorra while you’re there, we’ll share all of that in this post.
Where is Andorra?
Andorra is a landlocked country in the Pyrenees between France and Spain.
With a total of just 468 square kilometers (181 sq miles), it’s the 16th smallest country in the world by size. By population, it’s the 11th smallest.
One of the perks about Andorra being so small is that you can plan a trip without stressing about choosing what you want to see. It’s manageable in a day or two, though obviously if you can afford more time, we say do it!
How do you get to Andorra?
Andorra doesn’t have any major international airports, so your best bet is to drive. You can always fly in to major hubs like Barcelona or Toulouse and then rent a car. From Toulouse to Andorra’s French border at El Pas de la Casa, it’s just over a 2-hour drive. From Barcelona to Andorra’s Spanish border near La Farga de Moles, it’s about 2 1/2 hours.
You can book a day-trip with a tour group also, but we prefer DIY independent travel, so that’s how we visited Andorra. It meant we had the entire day and endless freedom to poke along the route and stop wherever we wanted.
What else do you need to know about Andorra before your visit?
The official language of Andorra is Catalan, a romance language that’s spoken by much of the population. About 60% also speak Spanish, and a small minority speak French.
What currency do they use?
Even though Andorra isn’t officially part of the EU, they entered a Monetary Agreement to use the euro as their official currency. It makes travel super easy!
Don’t bring alcohol to Andorra!
The country is not only a tax haven, but it’s famous for its duty-free shopping. When you see how cheap even fancy alcohol is, you’ll cry at how much you just spent on it in Spain or France.
Buy it in Andorra. Drink it. Then buy more and take it with you!
Our Road Trip Through Andorra –> Spain to France
Have you ever been traveling and pulled into a hotel or campground late at night with no idea what you would wake up to find in the light of day?
It’s always such a fun and exciting moment when you roll out in the morning and find that the flat, dark vastness next to the road the night before is actually a lake, or that you’re on top of a mountain in the jungle with a smoldering volcano immediately adjacent to where you were just sleeping, completely oblivious.
During a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, I remember pulling onto a national forest road near the park to find a free spot for a night of rough camping. It was late, pitch black. Trav and I were both exhausted. After dodging potholes on dirt roads for what seemed like forever, we found a nice little spot just big enough for our tent off in the tulies.
We thought we were in the Dixie National Forest boondocks.
We woke up in the morning to open range cows grazing around our tent and a boisterous neighboring family camped along a nearby ravine. We were hardly in the wilderness, but one of the best things about travelling is that you just never know what you’re gonna get!
Road tripping in Andorra is a bit like that. It’s a lot like the rest of Europe, but you still don’t know quite what to expect.
Staying Overnight at Camping La Ribera Salada in Spain
Many of those who road trip through Andorra never stay the night there. It was the same for us. If we ever go back to Andorra, we’ll definitely plan a multi-day stay in the country and spend it hiking with our dog.
We would’ve liked to have stayed at least one night, but it just didn’t work out that way in terms of our road trip schedule. Instead, we camped in Spain near the Andorran border the night before, and we camped in France after crossing the border on the other side.
We had spent the day before our Andorra road trip exploring Zaragoza. Leaving Zaragoza a bit late in the day, we set a course for Andorra, not knowing if we’d be there by nightfall or where we’d sleep.
Using Maps.me, our fabulous free map app, we saw a little tent icon for a place called Camping La Ribera Salada. We were near Ogern, Spain, almost to the border with Andorra.
It was late evening, we were tired, and the icon was near us not far off the main highway, so we decided to check it out. Since we wanted to spend the entire next day exploring Andorra, the location was perfect.
Lodging Tip: We definitely recommend Camping La Ribera Salada to anyone looking for a nice, inexpensive budget lodging option near Andorra. You don’t even have to be camping since they offer little RVs and cabins for rent as well.
About 5 km off the main highway, we turned up a rough dirt road simply marked “camping.” Navigating around rutted switchbacks, we wound our way to the top of a small rise above town.
Pulling into the parking area for Camping La Ribera Salada just before 10 pm, we looked at each other in dismay.
A few dim lights reflected off strange shiny metal structures and far too many man-made objects for our liking. It hardly fit our idea of a campground. For us, the ideal campsite has more trees + wildlife than humans, but we were tired and curious so we plodded up the stairs to the registration building to ask about tent camping. We had all our camping gear in the car.
I immediately liked the elderly gentleman who greeted us in Spanish. He said it wasn’t good to still be traveling so late at night and seemed quite concerned about making sure we had a safe place to stay.
Grateful that we could communicate in Spanish, I asked if he had anything cheaper than the tent space that was merely a small square of rocks and grass but still cost €18.
He showed us to a cute wooden cabin, warning us that it really wasn’t ready for occupants yet since it was being “remodeled.” Though it was actually a couple bucks more, we nabbed it on the spot, confident he was giving us a bargain compared to the prices of the completed cabins. With full bathroom amenities nearby and a cozy double bed, we crashed hard for the night.
In the light of day, we realized the campground was rather charming. Though its creative mixture of wooden cabins and renovated RVs lining the narrow road made it feel a bit cramped, we found the accommodations to be simple but comfortable.
I felt the love and effort of the owners to make it as nice as possible.
It was clear that it doesn’t really cater to tent campers looking for solitude, but it seemed like a fun place for families and friends to get together for socializing and to enjoy the amenities – playground for kids, pool, etc.
It’s a shame that the pool wasn’t yet open for the season and that we passed up coffee at the little café in favor of getting back on the road, but we still enjoyed our stay.
The pool would be great in summer, and the surroundings are pretty.
Booking Info: You can find more information about Camping La Ribera Salada here.
After checking out of Camping La Ribera, we were within sight of the Spanish/Andorran border in less than an hour.
Crossing the Border at La Farga de Moles
Andorra only has two official border crossings, one to enter France and one to enter Spain. If you enter Andorra from Spain, you’ll cross the border from the Duana d’La Farga de Moles station on the Spanish side to the Duana de Sant Julià de Lòria station in Andorra. Because Andorra isn’t officially part of the EU, these are official border crossings manned with officers checking travel documents. Make sure you have your passport and any other documents you’d typically have to fly or cross an international border.
Despite a long line of cars and tourist buses, the crossing was still pretty quick and easy.
We didn’t have to wait long before we rolled up to a Customs official. He didn’t ask us about our nationality, reason for our border crossing, or whether we were carrying contraband, guns, or cash in excess of $10,000 – questions we came to expect at the US/Canadian border.
Does anyone ever answer yes to those questions?!
Instead, he asked us if we were in a rental car. Rather surprised at the odd question, we told him we owned it. He looked equally surprised, but then smiled, thanked us, and waved us on into Andorra.
I still have no idea what the dealio was with that exchange, but we were IN!
Craaaazy Cheap Duty-Free Shopping
Once in Andorra, you won’t have to wait long before coming across a huge shopping mall. The E.Leclerc Commercial Center is less than 5 miles from the border crossing.
It is THE place to go for shopping in Andorra. And if you miss this one, there’s a second E.Leclerc just up the road in the capital city of Andorra la Vella.
We hadn’t heard of E.Leclerc before our trip, but we pulled in out of curiosity. We’re so glad we did!
The multi-story complex was swarming with cars and shoppers. Thinking it was bound to be cheaper than Switzerland, we figured we’d just pop in for a few non-perishables to stock up our pantry. Instead, we ended up spending close to two hours shopping for groceries, gifts for friends, and at times just staring at the prices!
Even for Two Small Potatoes who grew up with working class parents and who are fairly thrifty, Andorra still blew us away.
Airport shops often claim they offer duty-free shopping as well yet charge ridiculous prices. Duty-free shopping in Andorra is the real deal. Shopping there after living in Switzerland for 9 months was like stumbling upon a desert oasis for thirsty travelers, and I don’t just mean because of the cheap alcohol.
We did, of course, spend a fair amount of time browsing their extensive liquor selection. It wasn’t easy choosing just a few from the hundreds of fancy bottles with exotic labeling.
A huge bottle of Smirnoff for €6? We’ll take it!
With our shopping cart full, I threw in one last impulse buy from the bakery section before checking out. After trying a sample of the coca mini crema (mini cream cake), I couldn’t pass it up.
More like a soft, sweet bread than a cake, it was striped with a delicious cream cheese filling and reminded me of pan de crema, a similar bread pastry I used to buy several times a week from a little shop near the Universidad de Costa Rica where I studied abroad for a semester.
Imagine the filling of a New York Cheesecake meets a fresh loaf of sweet bread and you wouldn’t have passed it up either!
Travis wasn’t as taken with it, but I knew he’d appreciate it more the next morning with coffee.
Exploring Andorra la Vella, the Capital City
From E.Leclerc, the capital city of Andorra la Vella is only about a 15-minute drive up the road.
Free WiFi at McDonald’s
If you’re like us and are super frugal and/or just don’t always have mobile data when you’re traveling, you might need WiFi when you get to Andorra. After searching everywhere in the capital city, we finally gave up and went where we knew it’d be all but guaranteed.
As unglamorous and cliché as it may be, we needed WiFi to message our friends who were caring for our dog, and we were jonesin’ for coffee and french fries. In our neck of the woods in the US, McDonald’s serves Seattle’s Best coffee, which we both love, and we were hoping they’d have something at least equally good.
Turns out, they did – and it was only one euro!
We were so stoked, we each bought two, guzzling the first and savoring the second.
We shot off our message and headed for the Church of Santa Coloma, the most popular tourist attraction in town.
Church of Santa Coloma
Dating from as far back as the 9th century, the Church of Santa Coloma is the oldest church in Andorra. It’s located in the capital city, Andorra la Vella.
We found little information about the Church of Santa Coloma, either on site or online since, but still found it quite charming.
The circular belfry is unusual and the only one like it in Andorra.
The setting, a deep valley in the midst of the Pyrenees, adds to its beauty. The church is so close to Andorra’s northwestern border that Spain is just a few kilometers up the ravine in the photo below.
The church was closed during our visit, but it’s free to explore the grounds.
We came across a single headstone marking the passing of Antonia Casal Molné. She died 24.11.1944 at the age of 70.
Who was this woman?
Why was she buried on the church grounds?
Why is hers the only headstone there??
Caldea Thermal Spa
Andorra has a number of highly rated spa centers, and Caldea Spa is one of them. Located in Andorra la Vella, the spa center covers 30,000 square meters and is one of the largest spas in southern Europe.
Its naturally heated thermal waters are rich in minerals. Visitors can soak in jacuzzis, relax under manmade waterfalls, and just decompress in the most beautifully designed pools.
We didn’t find out about Caldea until after our visit, but if we had a do-over, we’d definitely go there.
Travel Tip: Here you can find more information about Caldea Spa.
Ok, so sheep are pretty much everywhere. But they’re really everywhere in Andorra. You’ll see them in fields and on farms, munching on the high mountain grass.
Just outside Andorra la Vella, we pulled over for one last glimpse down the valley. We watched as a man in a field watched over his sheep and goats, babies frolicking in the spring grass.
With smiles on our faces, we headed for the small resort town of El Pas de la Casa in the Pyrenees.
Driving Through the Pyrenees
Once you leave Andorra la Vella, it’s time for some open road!
The drive through the Pyrenees follows the CG-2, a well maintained and plowed road surrounded by stunning mountain peaks.
Even in April, some of the peaks have enough snow for skiing. Keep that in mind if you’re planning to hike during your visit. It’s better to visit in summer for sunny days, dry trails, and beautiful green vistas.
The drive from Andorra la Vella to the French border is only about 40 km. Plan on at least an hour, longer if you stop for hiking, photos, or to grab a bite to eat.
Mirador del Roc del Quer Viewpoint
One especially note-worthy stop along the drive is the Mirador del Roc del Quer scenic overlook, which is free.
The viewpoint has an observation deck with unparalleled views overlooking the Pyrenees. Though it’s not right on the main highway, it’s not far from it and it’s easy to get to.
From the CG-2, take the exit in Canillo and follow the Coll d’Ordino road, or CS-240. A few minutes later you’ll arrive at the parking area for the overlook. Just don’t forget your camera!
Travel Tip: You can find more information of the viewpoint here.
Hiking or Skiing at El Pas de la Casa
Andorra is a famous ski destination in Europe. It’s known for its superb English-speaking ski courses and schools, a number of family-friendly beginner slopes, and extensive ski trails at high elevation, which means a long ski season.
In fact, Andorra is arguably the best place for skiing in the Pyrenees.
Of its ski areas, the resort town of El Pas de La Casa near the French border is one of the most popular.
Hoping to hike to a lake above El Pas de la Casa, we stopped on our way through. Unfortunately we were there during the wrong time of year for either hiking or skiing.
When we arrived in town, it was already after 6 pm. The weather was totally gross. We couldn’t even locate the trail head with several inches of soupy snow still on the ground, swirling clouds that hid the peaks, and a steady patter of rain.
Finding a wooden map near our trailhead, we could only laugh. It was so bad!
We located ourselves on the left of the overly enthusiastic blue lines (sou aqui), but couldn’t discern much beyond that.
Maybe one day we’ll return to Andorra and do some hiking, but this day was not our day for it.
Once you leave El Pas de la Casa, you enter France almost immediately.
Without fanfare, circumstance, or pomp, we crossed into France and drove down through the scenic Pyrenees on the French side.
The steep mountains gradually gave way to painfully lush, green fields, tiny villages with old cobblestone streets, and classic stone homes graced with window-box flowers, fluffy white sheep (the cartoon kind you usually only see in dreams), and arched entryways draped in wisteria.
It was so pretty it was almost unreal.
If you have time and are flexible, we definitely recommend you book a stay anywhere in this area. We so badly wanted to extend our trip and stay to explore for a few days!
Staying Overnight at Camping de la Cite in France
Instead, we soon left that behind and joined a motorway toward the city of Carcassonne.
A French co-worker in Trav’s lab had recommended we visit the town’s medieval city and famous castle there. Since it was only a couple of hours away between us and home, we decided to check it out the next day.
Again with no place to sleep, we drove to Carcassonne intent on finding a campground or place just to pitch our tent. Rolling into town, we saw a sign for “municipal campground.” We didn’t know what that might mean in Carcassonne, France, but a campground’s a campground, right?
We just needed to sleep for a few hours.
Campground Review: You can see our full review of Camping de la Cite in Carcassonne on TripAdvisor. It’s ideal for budget travelers who want to explore the medieval city and visit Carcassonne Castle.
The gated entryway to Camping De La Cite tipped us off right away that this place was a pretty swanky campground (by our standards), so we didn’t mind shelling out 20 bucks for it.
We drove past mostly vacant sites to our spot, threw up our tent, and then wandered over to a picnic table in a large empty field.
That night, we enjoyed our cold camp dinner with the lights of Carcassonne Castle twinkling in the distance. Tomorrow would bring another fabulous day of adventures, exploring Carcassonne Castle!
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10 Day Road Trip Map – Switzerland to Spain
The medium blue pins mark our travel for day eight, from Ogern, Spain through Andorra to our camp site in Carcassonne, France. The blue line roughly follows our entire 10-day travel path.