Tucked away in the Pyrenees mountains on the French-Spanish border lies the tiny Principality of Andorra, a country not as well-known as its two bordering neighbors but nevertheless worth a visit. Whether your plans include a shopping spree on Avenida Meritxell in cosmopolitan capital Andorra la Vella or skiing in the majestic mountains, this minuscule country has a lot to offer within its 181 square miles (462 square km). Here’s what you need to know before your trip.
1. Only two main highways lead in and out of the entire country.
Andorra has no airport within its borders, so even if you fly into the misleadingly named Andorra-La Seu d’Urgell Airport (actually located in Catalonia, Spain) you’ll have to find ground transport into Andorra. If you’re arriving from Spain, take the CG-1 highway; from France, take the CG-2.
2. Andorra belongs to neither the European Union nor the Schengen Zone.
Although its lack of membership in the EU won’t affect short-term visitors and tourists, all travelers to Andorra should be aware that it’s not part of the Schengen Zone. The Schengen agreement more or less abolishes the idea of international borders between 26 European nations, meaning that when traveling between two member countries (such as, for example, Spain and Germany), you won’t have to go through passport control or show any kind of documentation at the border.
Andorra, however, isn’t a member of the agreement. That means that in theory, you should have to get your passport stamped when entering the country. With that being said, nobody was being stopped at the border, as far as I could tell. The guards were pretty much just waving everyone through, and the same thing happened when we crossed back into Spain at the end of the day. I had my passport and TIE on me just in case, but never needed to show ID at any point during the visit.
The only kind of inspection happened as we were leaving Andorra to go back to Spain. Our vehicle (a large bus with 50+ people on it) had to pull over so guards could inspect the luggage storage area underneath for anything we might have been illegally smuggling back to Spain, but all of us passengers were fine.
Which reminds me…
3. Andorra is a tax haven.
“Why would anybody be smuggling things out of such a tiny country?”, you might wonder. Well, when that country is a tax haven full of cheap cigarettes, alcohol, and electronics, some people might be tempted. Shop to your heart’s content in Andorra, just don’t go overboard lest you get stopped by customs officials at the border.
4. The official language is Catalan.
However, most people can also speak Spanish or French. In Andorra la Vella, ski resorts, and other touristy areas, a lot of people will also have a basic understanding of English. I communicated in a Spanish-English hybrid in Andorra la Vella without any issues.
5. It IS part of the Eurozone.
No worries about exchanging currency! This seems like a simple point, but it’s important to clarify that the EU and the Eurozone are not mutually exclusive. Although Andorra doesn’t belong to the former, it does use the euro.
6. It’s not the smallest country in the world – not even in Europe.
Even the capital, Andorra la Vella, is smaller than my hometown of Westerville, Ohio in terms of both area and population, and the entire tiny country could fit comfortably inside the greater Columbus area. You could drive across the entire country in less than an hour. That being said, it’s only the sixth smallest country in Europe (beat out by Vatican City, Monaco, San Marino, Liechtenstein and Malta) and the sixteenth smallest in the world. With so much packed into just a few hundred square miles, it won’t take long to fall in love with this perfect little principality.
Have you ever been to Andorra or another tiny country? Tell me about it!
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