A Wheelchair User’s Guide to Ávila, Spain
Small Spanish towns and wheelchair accessibility usually don’t go well together. But in Ávila, wheelchair accessibility is not only possible but a priority. In this guide, we’ll cover the many wheelchair accessible things to do in Ávila.
Why is Ávila so wheelchair accessible?
Wheelchair accessibility in Ávila wasn’t always as good as it currently is.
In the early 2000s, the city recognized the need and right for Ávila to be accessible to everyone. They started implementing accessible facilities and put together a multi-year plan to make Ávila more accessible.
Since that time, the European Commission launched its Access City Award program. Ávila was the first city to receive this award, which recognizes cities that have demonstrated their commitment to making their cities more accessible.
Ávila is no doubt deserving of the award, since it started an accessible overhaul of its city in 2002. The Access City Award didn’t even come about until 2010.
Since then, Ávila has received a number of other awards for its accessibility.
Overview: Wheelchair accessibility in Ávila
While Ávila has made impressive improvements to its accessibility, it’s not entirely barrier-free.
There are areas where side “streets” are staircases and accessible parking can be hit and miss.
We never had an issue encountering sidewalks without a drop curb. However, some surfaces had cobblestone or uneven slabs of stone. Nonetheless, more times than not, there was the option to roll on pretty smooth terrain.
One important item to note is that Ávila is built on a hill. The majority of the tourist attractions are located on the topmost part of the hill, which is mostly flat and makes it easy to explore by wheelchair.
However, if you head further into the city towards the Cuatro Postes viewpoint, you’ll be greeted by steep hills and narrow, uneven sidewalks.
Ávila has done an excellent job of converting many of its older buildings into being wheelchair accessible. More often than not, we were able to enter buildings of important touristic interest.
Wheelchair accessible resources in Ávila
The Visitor Reception Center located by the San Vicente Gate is an excellent first stop when you arrive in Ávila. We were impressed by how knowledgeable the staff was about wheelchair accessibility- a refreshing change from the blank stares we’ve gotten in other parts of Europe.
They’ll give you a free map and recommend the best routes for wheelchair accessibility. This is also a good place to use an accessible restroom.
That being said, before you even head to Ávila, we recommend reading Ávila Turismo’s online accessibility page, as they offer useful tips on how they live up to their motto that “Ávila is Everyone”.
Getting to Ávila
Part of the fun of visiting Ávila is the views along the way. After leaving Madrid, you’ll be surrounded by mountains, parks, and farms. We recommend taking the train or driving to Ávila.
Let’s take a look at both.
There are two main stations in Madrid that the Renfe trains to Ávila depart from- Príncipe Pio, which is located in downtown, and Chamartín, located in the north.
The train ride is about 1.5 hours and there are train departures on a nearly hourly base. At peak times, trains run even more frequently.
If you’re looking to take a day trip from Madrid by train but are hesitant about how far the train station is from the center, we highly recommend choosing Ávila.
The Ávila train station is only about a 15 minute stroll from the walled city. You’ll have access to sidewalks with drop-down curbs the entire way. There are areas where the sidewalk will be a bit bumpy, but not to the point that it’s a deterrent for most wheelchair users.
It’s recommended to arrive at the train station 30 minutes before departure so that the staff can help you board the train. Both the train stations in Madrid and Ávila, along with the Renfe trains themselves, have accessible restrooms.
Traveling to Ávila by car will take you anywhere from 1.5 to two hours or more, depending on traffic and your starting point in Madrid.
Once you arrive in Ávila, we recommend trying to park on the outskirts of the walled city, as parking of any kind is limited within the city walls.
That being said, if you arrive early enough, you might be able to snag a prime accessible parking space. Check out this one we encountered by the Ávila Cathedral:
If you’re having trouble finding a spot to park, make a stop at the tourist office on Avenida Madrid and they’ll be able to help you out.
Strictly in terms of sightseeing, the advantage of driving instead of taking the train to Ávila is that you’ll be able to easily get to the accessible section of the city walls and the Los Cuatro Postes viewpoint (more on these soon).
However, aside from these two areas, since wheelchair accessibility in Ávila is so good, you’ll be able to roll around the main sites in Ávila without needing a vehicle to get you from point A to point B.
Wheelchair accessible things to do in Ávila
Now that you know how accessible Ávila is, let’s talk about the wonderful places to see there.
Ávila is an easy destination to visit as a day trip from Madrid and even in conjunction with nearby (but not quite as accessible) Segovia. Don’t miss our guide on Wheelchair Accessibility in Segovia for more details.
Santa Teresa Plaza
It won’t take you much time in Ávila to realize that Santa Teresa (Saint Teresa) was an important figure. Her name is everywhere in Ávila. There’s even a dessert is named after her! More on that soon.
Santa Teresa was a nun born in Ávila in the 1500s. She was declared Doctor of the Church for the nature of her writings and mental prayer.
So, it’s fitting to include a visit to Santa Teresa Plaza during your trip to Ávila. This plaza is located just outside the walled city. A large church sits on one end with pretty views of the walled city on the other end. The other two sides of the plaza are packed with shops and restaurants.
Santa Teresa Plaza is spacious, flat, and with a smooth stone floor, making it a great place to explore by wheelchair.
Pedestrian path beside the walls
Spoiler alert: They say that Los Cuatro Postes offers the best views of Ávila, but our favorite was the path around the base of the walls.
In order to get to the walls, when you’re in Santa Teresa Plaza facing the walled city, head around to the left, staying on the outside of the walls, and you’ll be greeted by some of the most stunning scenery that Ávila has to offer.
This pedestrian road will get you up close to the Ávila walls to snap Instagram worthy photos. To us, the countryside views are just as beautiful.
Thanks to the low-lying wall facing away from the city, you’ll get to enjoy unobstructed vistas.
The pedestrian sidewalk is smooth, wide, and flat in the section nearest to the Santa Teresa Plaza.
Roll the Walls
You read that right.
There’s perhaps no better example showcasing how Ávila takes wheelchair accessibility seriously than their development of an accessible portion of their city walls.
The accessible portion of the wall is located at the bottommost part of Ávila. Since it involves going down a pretty steep hill to get there from the main sites, we recommend visiting by car.
Entrance to the Ávila wall is free for wheelchair users and one companion. A ramp will take you to the top where you’ll get to explore about 100 meters of the wall.
The majority of the accessible portion of the wall is towards the left when you arrive from the ramp. You’ll be able to go a little way to the right but you’ll soon come across a single step that leads to an uphill climb, followed by more steps.
The floor of the wall is cobblestone, but not unbearably so. It’s also a flat area to explore once you’re off the ramp.
Slits in the wall are low enough so that you’ll get to enjoy views of the countryside when looking away from the city. You’ll also have great views of local houses within the city.
Aside from the city walls, the Ávila Cathedral is one of the city’s most recognizable sites.
The Ávila Cathedral is unique because while part of its purpose was to be a place of worship, it was built intentionally by a portion of the city wall to also serve as a fortress.
Lovers of architecture will swoon over this area since the Cathedral is surrounded by a plaza with a variety of former palaces on and around it.
We happened to be at the Ávila Cathedral on a Sunday morning, so the church was closed to tourists for mass. However, we were told that the inside of the Ávila Cathedral is wheelchair accessible.
We have no doubt believing this given Ávila’s accessibility in other areas and can attest to there being a ramp leading into the foyer of the Cathedral.
Parroquia de San Juan Bautista
At first glance, the “Parroquia”, or parish, of San Juan Bautista looks like just another pretty building in Ávila.
However, it’s a special place for Catholics since Santa Teresa was baptized there on April 4, 1515.
A small ramp will take you into the foyer of the parish. The doors were closed the day we visited, but since they were glass, we got a nice view.
Parroquia San Juan Bautista offers good wheelchair accessibility thanks to it being single-story and having wooden floors and tightly knit carpet throughout.
Basilica de San Vicente
Continuing with our theme of religion and pretty buildings, the Basilica de San Vicente is a popular tourist attraction in Ávila.
The Basilica is located just outside of the walled city, down a small hill. A ramp will take you to the grounds, but it’ll get at bit bumpy thanks to cobblestone and uneven stone slabs.
They limit tourist visits to just a few hours a day, so make sure to plan your trip accordingly if seeing the Basilica is a priority for you.
Unfortunately, we arrived when the Basilica was closed, so we can’t vouch for its accessibility inside. However, we were told that it is indeed wheelchair accessible.
Below are the hours of operation for the Basilica de San Vicente, as of February 2020:
Monday – Saturday: 10:00am – 1:30pm & 4:00pm – 6:30pm
Sunday: 4:00pm – 6:00pm
Santa Teresa Church & Convent
It wouldn’t be right to talk so much about Santa Teresa without including the church and convent that’s named after her.
Why, of all the churches in Ávila, did this one get named after Santa Teresa?
It’s believed that Santa Teresa was born there, so they decided to build a church over her birthplace in the 17th century.
We were perplexed when we arrived at the Santa Teresa Church and Convent because it seemed that the building was surrounded entirely by stairs. However, we finally found the ramp which is located to the far right side, a good distance from the church itself. The image at the top of this section shows the entrance to the ramp.
Los Cuatro Postes
We love seeking out viewpoints when we travel and Ávila offers three great options. We’ve already covered the two, which are the base and upper part of the city wall. The third is a viewpoint known as Los Cuatro Postes, which means “The Four Posts” in English.
The reason for the name “Los Cuatro Postes” is because of a Roman-style structure that has four posts.
Stairs lead up to the Los Cuatro Postes monument, so it isn’t accessible for wheelchair users.
However, when facing Los Cuatro Postes looking towards Ávila, head down just twenty feet, or so, to your right and you’ll find a relatively accessible option.
Here, wood planks lead to a rooftop viewing area. The planks are spread out and embedded in the dirt, so it’ll be bumpy, but manageable.
The day we visited, there wasn’t a soul in sight in our accessible area and we got to enjoy people-free views of the Ávila Walls.
It was breathtaking!
A rather odd downside to the Los Cuatro Postes area, given Ávila’s commitment to accessibility, is that there aren’t any accessible parking spaces. The parking lot is in the form of a single line to the left of Los Cuatro Postes.
Despite this, we highly encourage driving to Los Cuatro Postes instead of rolling there from the main city. There’s an accessible dirt path that connects the city and Los Cuatro Postes, but you’d have to pass through a valley between them, meaning that you’d be encountering steep downward and uphill inclines.
Mercado Chico Plaza
The Mercado Chico Plaza is another great example of Ávila’s wheelchair accessibility.
Unlike many other plazas in Spain, Mercado Chico Plaza is composed of a smooth brick surface.
The mornings are nice and quiet in the plaza, offering you the opportunity to soak in the architecture, including the Town Hall, without hoards of people getting in your way.
As the day wears on, tourists fill the plaza along with vendors and restaurant tables. This is a great (although pricey) accessible place to have lunch or dinner.
Cuerpo de Intendencia Museum
In our (failed) attempt to travel between the historical center of Ávila and Los Cuatro Postes without a car, we came across the Cuerpo de Intendencia Museum.
This museum was clearly off the typical tourist radar, as we were the only ones there. It’s a shame since they did an impressive job of showcasing military artifacts and explaining the history of the area. However, all the material is in Spanish.
The entire Cuerpo de Intendencia Museum is accessible thanks to ramps leading to the various rooms that have steps. The museum is also free for all visitors.
Remember how we said that there’s a dessert named after Santa Teresa?
The time has finally come to talk about this sweet treat!
You’ll see signs for “Yemas de Santa Teresa” everywhere in Ávila. Some stores have even gone so far with their marketing to have a stuffed doll nun surrounded by boxes of Yema.
So, what is yema?
It’s a small, sweet pastry that tastes like…sweetened egg yolk.
Even knowing that “yema” means “yolk” in English, we still weren’t prepared for what felt like eating a sweetened, half-cooked egg yolk.
It may have not been our favorite, but we recommend trying it. Some people love it!
There are candy shops in Ávila that offer a free sample, although it’s polite to make a purchase if you choose to indulge.
By now, you should know that we were “wowed” by Ávila and its wheelchair accessibility. We have no hesitations recommending Ávila as an excellent wheelchair accessible day trip from Madrid.
Do you have questions about wheelchair accessibility in Ávila? Drop us a comment and we’ll do our best to help. Similarly, if you’ve traveled to Ávila as a wheelchair user, we’d love to hear about your experience and recommendations.
P.S.- Looking for other day trip options from Madrid? Head on over to our post on five accessible day trips from Madrid. Also, don’t forget to check out our guide on eleven accessible things to do in Madrid.
Laura’s love for traveling started with a trip to Jamaica. Since then, she’s spent over five years living in Latin America and four years wandering the globe. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.