Avila, one of the coolest walled cities in Spain

If you’re taking a trip to Spain, and have an extra day to spend while staying in Madrid, I highly recommend a day trip to Avila.  Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, Avila features some of the best preserved medieval architecture in Europe. The paved streets are suitable for a stroller or wheel chair and the wall walks are optional.

The walls of Avila, SpainCredit: JestMe

Located 70 miles northwest of Madrid in the province of Castille-Leon, Avila is an easy day trip by train or bus and offers just enough to fill a day.  The city includes plenty of shops to duck in to and a lot of history, including some old cannons to climb on.  Walk the walls for a great view of both the inner city and the growing modern town of Avila across the railway.  Be prepared for plenty of stairs as you enter and exit sections of the wall that are open to pedestrians. 

You can find everything you hope to see in a medieval city including remnants of the moat, the imposing cathedral, and the basilica de San Vicente. (As an aside, a cathedral is the main church of a diocese and contains the bishop’s throne, the cathedra.  A basilica is an important church building carrying spiritual, historical, or architectural significance. A basilica could also be the cathedral.)

Cathedral in Avila, SpainCredit: JestMe

Inside the walls you’ll find small shops and restaurants, many around the Plaza de Santa Teresa, a prominent saint of Spain.  The month of October is marked by festivities, with special focus on Oct 15th, the day of the patroness.  You can find a relic of Saint Teresa within the Convent of St Teresa, and more information about her around Avila. 

Have a light meal of tapas at one of the restaurants. Widely considered symbolic of Spanish cuisine, tapas are small bites, or appetizers, that differ from restaurant to restaurant.  Consider bringing either a dictionary or a very open mind – you may unknowingly order something you aren’t prepared to eat.  For us, it was the pig skin, with the hair still on it.  Have a glass of sangria, a lightly sweetened wine punch with fruit.  Trust me, it makes the pig skin a little easier to look at. When you’ve had all the tapas you want to try, grab some Yemas de Santa Teresa, a sweet treat made from egg yolk and available in almost every pastry shop in Avila.  Ah! Sugar, and wine, make everything better

When you’ve seen enough of the inside of the walled city, take a brief walk near the outer part of the walls.  Notice anything?  Grass.  Inside the walls is almost entirely stone.  Easier for the carts, I guess. When you’ve seen enough, hop the train for your 90 minute ride back to Madrid. You’ll be back at your hotel/hostel with plenty of time to plan where to go tomorrow.  Somewhere with interesting architecture maybe.

Cat Gargoyle, SpainCredit: JestMe
Rick Steves' Spain 2013
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I love Rick Steves' travel guides. They're simple and direct, and you can spot a fellow fan by the blue covered book we all carry around.
Lonely Planet Spain (Travel Guide)
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The Lonely Planet guides mention all the sights in an area, but the author doesn't generally provide an opinion about the quality of the sight.

Avila, Spain

Take the bus, or train to Avila from Madrid, Spain.