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Andorra is a small country, but an extremely interesting one. This tiny country has one of the most unique histories and cultures in Europe, and there’s a surprising amount of interesting tidbits that you’d never assume from a first glance. Let’s dive into 17 are interesting facts about Andorra, and then a few things you should know if you’re booking a trip there, or if you just want to more deeply explore the country’s culture and history.
1. Andorra is a country.
OK, you probably know this already, but a lot of people out there have no clue that Andorra is actually a country. One woman I spoke with on my trip to Andorra had visited the U.S., and people didn’t believe she could be from a country called Andorra. Yes, it does exist and it’s been around in some form for almost 1,000 years. It has a seat in the United Nations, an Olympic team, and diplomatic relations with other countries. Get the memo out: Andorra is a real country.
2. Andorra is small.
It’s the 16th smallest country in the world by land, and the 11th smallest by population. It is only about a 40km drive from one side of the country to the other. The total population of Andorra is about 85,000, which includes citizens and residents. What’s even more shocking is that despite its small size, the vast majority of the buildings are located at the bottom of the valleys because so much of the land is mountainous.
3. Andorra produces a lot of tobacco.
One fact that surprised me here is how much tobacco Andorra produces. It takes up a lot of what little farming space exists there. There used to be a cigarette factory in Andorra, and because of its status as a tax haven, you can purchase cigarettes there much cheaper than you can in Spain or France. Cigarette smuggling has been a long problem (tradition) in Andorra—people would head to the mountaintops to take smokes into Spain or France. Andorra is also one of the few places in Europe where you can still smoke indoors in public places.
4. Andorra is the world’s only co-principality.
A principality is a place ruled by a prince. Monaco is an example of a principality. Andorra, however, is a co-principality. They have two princes who jointly share the title of prince. Surprisingly, neither of the two princes are from Andorra. One prince is the President of France, Emmanuel Macron. The other co-prince is the Bishop of Urgell, who is currently Joan Enric Vives Sicília. The position is a constitutional one similar to the British Monarchy and holds no real power. Except for limited things, the two princes must exercise their authority together, not separately. This is the only country where one of their heads of state (the President of France) is democratically elected by another country. The other prince, the bishop, is appointed by the head of state of another country (the Pope).
5. Andorra is the only country in the world with Catalan as its official language.
Catalan is spoken in regions of Spain, bits of France, and an even smaller chunk of Sardinia. However, Andorra is the only country using Catalan as the official language. I’m sure there are many people in Catalonia, however, who would like there to be at least one more country with that designation. :)
6. Andorra has never been in a war in almost 1,000 years
Given its non-strategic location in the Pyrenees Mountains and lack of natural resources, Andorra has been without conflict almost since Charlemagne came through to fight the Moors. Technically, Andorra did declare war on Germany in WWI, but it never sent anyone into the conflict. Given Andorra’s lack of participation in WWI, they were forgotten about in the Treaty of Versailles and didn’t officially declare peace with Germany until 1957!
7. Andorra has no national bank and has never had its own currency.
Andorra currently uses the Euro as its currency. Before that, it primarily used the Spanish Peseta and sometimes the French Franc. There is no national bank in Andorra, so it has to use private banks if the country wants to incur debt.
8. Andorra is not part of the EU, EFTA, or the Eurozone.
Andorra is not a member of most of the major European associations. Even though it uses the Euro, the country is not technically part of the Eurozone. It has a special relationship with the EU in which it follows the trade rules for industry, but not for agriculture. It’s also not a party to the Schengen Treaty, however, you can only access Andorra via Spain and France, which are party to the treaty. And since Andorra doesn’t have an airport, it’s de facto subject to the agreement.
9. Andorra la Vella is the highest capital city in Europe.
At an elevation of 1,023 meters (3356 feet), there is no higher elevation capital in all of Europe. In fact, it’s the 10th highest city of any kind in Europe, and boasts a population over 10,000.
10. The flag of Andorra is strikingly similar to the flags of Chad, Romania, and Moldova.
All four of the flags have the same color combination. They have three vertical strips of blue, yellow, and red. The flags of Andorra and Moldova have their national crest on the flag, which is really the only way you can tell the flags apart if you see them flying.
11. Andorra has the 8th highest life expectancy in the world.
With a life expectancy of 82.9 years, Andorra has the 8th highest life expectancy in the world. With the exception of Japan, every other country with a higher life expectancy is also a small country or a small territory: Monaco, Singapore, Macau, San Marino, Iceland, and Hong Kong.
12. Andorra has the most tourists per capita in the world.
With over 10,000,000 visitors per year and a population of only 77,000, Andorra has the most visitors in the world per capita. The vast majority of the visitors to Andorra are Spanish and French citizens who go there to shop and purchase fuel at cheaper prices.
13. Andorra was late in joining the United Nations.
Even though the United Nations was founded soon after the end of WWII, Andorra didn’t join the UN until 1993. Andorra waited 48 years to join the UN. In particular, they waited until the end of the Cold War so as to not violate their neutrality. They also joined the Council of Europe in 1993, the same year they adopted a new constitution and formally became a parliamentary democracy.
14. France occupied Andorra in the 1930’s.
In order to prevent the Spanish Civil War from spreading into Andorra, France sent a force to occupy the country in 1936. That force remained in place until 1940, when the Vichy government came to power in France.
15. Andorra was neutral in WWII.
Andorra took no sides in WWII. After the German invasion of France, the Germans had an outpost on the French side of the Andorran border but never had troops inside the country. Andorra was often used for smuggling during the war, and French partisan forces often took downed allied pilots there to safety.
16. Andorra has never won an Olympic medal.
Despite having been represented at every Olympic games since 1976, Andorra has never won an Olympic medal. Despite being a major area for downhill skiing, they have never won a medal, even though Liechtenstein, an even smaller country, has won 10 in Alpine skiing.
17. A Russian adventurer once claimed ownership of Andorra.
On July 6, 1934, Boris Skossyreff claimed to be the sovereign of Andorra and got the support of Andorra’s General Council. On July 8th, he proclaimed himself Boris I, King of Andorra and declared war on the Bishop of Urgell, one of the co-princes of Andorra. On July 20th, he was arrested by the Bishop of Urgell and expelled from Spain. A fitting end to that saga, and to our list of facts about Andorra!
Recommended Resources and Readings:
- Andorra: History, Art, Culture and Tourism: From the country’s origins to its place in the modern European political landscape, this book includes an overview of just about anything you might need to know.
- Secrets of the Seven Smallest States of Europe: Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City. The micro-countries in Europe offer a fascinating history and this book covers everything could want to know about Andorra and a few other small European states.
- Pyrenees and Andorra (National Geographic Adventure Map). This detailed National Geographic Adventure map is a handy travel companion for exploring Andorra.
- Andorra la Vella: Travel Photography. Take a visual tour of the main city of Andorra with this guide.
- Andorra Revealed. Looking for more facts and stories? This covers it, while also acting as a practical guide to things you should know when heading to Andorra.
Andorra Travel Guide: Our free guide covers everything you should know about booking travel to Andorra, what you should do once you’re there, as well as where to stay and more. And if you’re after a visual tour of the country, check out our Andorra Photo Essay.