Ávila: Planning Your Trip

A large crowd on the main tree lined pathway exploring the stalls in Rastro Market

TripSavvy / Paula Galindo

Known as the Town of Stone and Saints, Ávila is one of the must-see historic cities surrounding Madrid in the region of Castile-Leon. It is a popular day-trip destination, sometimes combined with trips to Segovia and El Escorial. This historic city was originally settled before the arrival of Romans and has since served as a backdrop for history through the eras of the Visigoths, Moors, and the rebel troops of the Spanish Civil War.

Ávila is most famous for its walls, which are the most complete and best-preserved medieval-era walls in Spain. The bastion encompasses 77 acres of the city within and is made up of 2,500 turrets and eight gates. Within the walls, there are many other historical buildings and significant sights worth seeing, as well as restaurants serving up iconic Castilian dishes and sweets. Although most visitors only come for the day, an overnight trip will give you more time to explore the walls and find the best viewpoints.

Here's everything you need to know about the culture and history of Ávila to plan a trip to this charmingly medieval walled city.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: In October, the weather is mild and you can take advantage of the month-long festivities honoring Ávila's patron saint.
  • Language: Spanish
  • Currency: Euro
  • Getting Around: Ávila is a small city and walkable within the city walls, but if you need a lift you can hire a tuk-tuk or take the tram, which visits all the main sights of the city.
  • Travel Tip: On the first weekend of September, Ávila hosts a medieval fair with a market that sells regional produce of the medieval era. Visitors are encouraged to dress up in their best medieval garb.

Things to Do

Ávila's medieval walls are the main attraction of the city, and there are many ways to experience them from up close or find the perfect vantage point for a photograph. The city also has significant religious landmarks as the birthplace of Saint Teresa and a handful of intriguing museums.

  • Walk Along the Walls: The route along the walls covers about three kilometers, but it is not possible to complete a full circle since only some sections are open. You can start your walk between the Alcázar Gate and walk to the Puente Gate, but bear in mind that there are only four access points along the route.
  • Los Cuatro Postes: From this viewpoint, you can get the best view of the historic walls. It's located just northwest of the city along the road that leads to Salamanca.
  • Convento de Santa Teresa: This convent was built on the site of Saint Teresa's birthplace. Notable features include its baroque façade and Teresa's ring finger, which is on display with other relics.

What to Eat and Drink

While visiting Ávila, you will have the opportunity to try some delicious local dishes and sweet treats. Among the city's most famous dishes are the Barco beans (judías del Barco), which uses large white beans grown nearby, and Chuleton de Ávila, which is a large T-bone steak that comes from a special type of black cow indigenous to the region. Although you may have tried the patatas bravas at a tapas restaurant before, in Ávila you should ask for the patatas revolconas, which are mashed potatoes stirred with paprika, garlic, and pieces of bacon.

Make sure to try some of the city's most iconic products: Monte Enebro cheese and Yemas de Santa Teresa. Mount Enebro is a goat's milk cheese made in Ávila that's very similar to blue cheese and pairs well with dessert wine. Yemas de Santa Teresa is the city's iconic pastry, sometimes also called the Flower of Castille. Made from egg yolks that are boiled in syrup and then rolled in powdered sugar, it is unique in its simplicity of ingredients but the technique is difficult to master. If you're looking for a regional wine to pair with all of the tasty meals and treats you'll find in Ávila, look for any Garnacha produced in the nearby Gredos Mountains in the region of Cebreros.

Where to Stay

Not every visitor stays in Ávila overnight, but if you do you'll have the advantage of being able to avoid the day-tripping crowds while enjoying some beautiful hotels. For the most picturesque experience, visitors should stay in the Old Town, which is everything inside the walls. Here, you'll find hotels with history like the Parador de Ávila, built in the location of a former palace, and Hotel las Leyendas, a 16th-century home that has been restored. If you have an early train to catch, you can stay at a hotel near the train station, such as Exe Reina Isabel, but you'll be outside the walls. Staying outside the city walls also has its advantages if you stay at a hotel like the Sercotel near Los Cuatro Postes, which has great views of Ávila from its terrace, which are especially beautiful at night when the walls are illuminated.

Getting There

From Madrid, the easiest way to reach Ávila is by train. You can take line C8 of the Cercanías local train network from a train station like Atocha, Recoletos, Chamartin or Nuevos Ministerios. The journey takes about 90 minutes. Buses are also available with providers like Avanza and cost about the same—and takes just as long—as the train. Ávila's bus station is a five-minute walk from the city walls, with the train station a further five minutes away.

If you are renting a car, you will have more freedom to also visit nearby Segovia and the Gredos Mountains. From Madrid, you will take the M30 towards A Coruña and connect to the A6, going northwest. At the town of Villacastin, you'll connect to the AP-51 to travel southwest towards Ávila. The drive takes about one hour and 15 minutes and covers a distance of 67 miles (109 kilometers).

Culture and Customs

Ávila was considered a very prosperous city in the 16th century and although it has not grown into a large urban center, such as nearby Salamanca has, the grandiosity of its walls and cathedrals reflects that. A decline followed in the 17th century, which has somewhat preserved the architectural treasures of the city, suspending its appearance in time.

Beyond Avila's magnificent walls and historic medieval architecture, the culture of the city is deeply rooted in its historic significance as the birthplace and home of Santa Teresa da Ávila. Every October, the city celebrates its patron saint with the Fiestas de Santa Teresa. Throughout the month, you can find fairgrounds, bullfights, processions, and music. Santa Teresa was a proponent of Christian mysticism, a religious concept that can be further understood with a visit to the Mysticism Interpretation Center, the only mysticism center in Europe.

Money Saving Tips

  • If you are looking to save on accommodation, you can find more affordable hotels and hostels outside the city walls.
  • The bus is sometimes cheaper than taking the train but not always so make sure you compare all your options before booking.
  • If you plan to visit multiple historic cities that are within day-tripping distance from Madrid, consider booking a bus tour that can combine a trip to Ávila, Segovia, and El Escorial all in one day. If it's just a quick overview and some photo opportunities you want, this option can save you a lot of time.
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