Updated: Oct 23, 2020
While a bit of an odd choice for a solo traveler, my first solo trip during my time living in Spain was to the little old town of Avila in Castilla y Leon. I had never heard of this city before coming to Spain, but I soon realized how much of a hidden gem it truly is. While it's a bit far for a day trip but a bit close for a weekend trip (from Madrid), it was the perfect place for my first solo trip abroad (in Spain at least).
The old, medieval walled city is still perfectly in tact, and again, like I've said in so many other posts, it really does feel like stepping back in time. Avila is highly underrated, but it does feel less touched by tourism like much of the rest of Spain, which makes it feel a bit special. It's a small, peaceful city, and you can walk from one side to the other in 30 minutes. Most of the attractions are located within the old, walled city, where it's medieval walls are still perfectly intact, and quite impressive.
With both it's natural and architectural beauty, I had a great time exploring both the countryside and the city itself. Everything is easily done in a day, but since it's a bit hard to get to, it's worthwhile getting a hotel room or Airbnb for the night. I stayed at a little hotel just outside the walls, and it was a great location. I had a pretty good experience there, so I'll link it right here for you to book if you're interested. I'd have to say that while the highlight of this city is that it's well-preserved, it's also uncrowded and relaxing, and a good place to come to relax and unwind.
Like I mentioned, Avila isn't necessarily an easy day trip from Madrid, but it is doable. If you're trying to work it into your Spain itinerary, I'd recommend either adding it on as a weekend trip from Madrid or passing through on your way to Salamanca. The Renfe train that comes here leaves from Principe Pio in Madrid, so just keep that in mind when booking tickets. The train ride itself takes about an hour and a half, since it winds around the mountains and makes plenty of stops along the way. It's also not a high-speed train, so while it may look close to Madrid on a map, it takes just as long as if you're going down to Cordoba. There are some bus options, but they're just as time consuming and leave from further outside of Madrid. Once you get here you really only need to walk, and the train station is in town so you can walk to your hotel from there.
Muralla de Avila. These old, fortified city walls are Avila's main attraction, and probably the main reason most people come here. They wrap around the majority of the old city, and are probably their most impressive from the ground. There are many points around the city where you can enter the walls and climb up, just pay a small fee (they're in amazing shape, so it probably goes to their maintenance). Once you're up on top of the walls you can walk around the whole city, which is a great way to see Avila. The entrance booths are easy to miss, so keep an eye out. They're usually located right next to the entrance gates. Price: 5€.
Palacio de los Verdugo. Located on the Ruta de Palacios, where you can find plenty of beautiful old buildings, this old palace has been turned into an archive. It's one of the most prominent points in the city, and is home to some interesting modern art. Price: Free.
Torreon de los Guzmanes. This ethnographic museum gives a very interesting look into the history of the region. It depicts the lives of people who lived in the region before Spain even existed and how they lived off the land. This was a really interesting museum, and probably my favorite! Price: Free.
Plaza del Mercado Chico. This seems to be Avila's version of the Plaza Mayor seen in almost every Spanish city. While less grand and impressive than these other main squares, it is relaxing, and the architecture is simple but beautiful. It's not super crowded, but still picturesque. There isn't much going on here in terms of bars or restaurants, but it's a great place to come for pictures.
Cuatro Postes. If you walk across the bridge from the old city and hike up a small hill, you'll reach this cool monument with a great view of the walled city. These four columns have been here since the Roman Empire was still a thing, so again, pretty old. It's definitely worth the hike, you walk through a residential area where you can really get a feel for what village life is like in Avila, and how it might have been many years ago. Price: Free.
Eat (honorable mention):
Mantequerias Irande. I didn't eat at too many places while I was here, so this isn't actually a restaurant. I just wanted to shout them out because this cute shop full of local goods has some great wine, and the guy that runs it is super nice and gives great recommendations. He'll recommend a great wine from the region, something super local to Avila. They're located just off the Plaza del Mercado Chico.
To me, Avila is the perfect place to reflect. It's small and quiet, and gave me the perfect background to reflect on my time in Spain so far, and how I wanted to spend the rest of it. It was a lovely weekend trip, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for the perfect little getaway that really takes you back in time. If you're trying to choose between Toledo, Segovia and Avila for an authentic Spanish experience, I'd choose Avila. Less crowded, less touristed, but equally as beautiful, this small city is the closest you'll get to time traveling while in Spain.
For more pictures of this beautiful place, check out my Flickr.