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Granada to Madrid via Portugal

Hi! My daughter will be studying abroad in Granada this semester. I plan to visit her Feb. 26 - March 6, 2022 when she has a break. I’m thinking I’ll fly into Granada so I can meet her host family and then travel with her to Portugal and then to Madrid and fly home from Madrid. Also, I have been to Madrid and Barcelona (loved it) but never to the southern part of Spain or Portugal. And, given that it will be off season, I’m wondering if we should rent a car rather than relying on trains/buses and focus our time in larger cities where things are more likely to be open.

And advice you can give on car vs. trains, must see places, places where things may be closed, or other ideas would be greatly appreciated. FYI, we’re from Minnesota so the weather, even if it’s a bit chilly, will be an improvement. 😉


Posted by
8442 posts

If your focus is on larger cities, the less likely a car will be beneficial.

Posted by
3067 posts

If you plan to fly to Granada, your options will be very limited. Granada has a tiny airport with a limited number of flights. Flying to Malaga, Seville or even Madrid will give you a larger selection of available flights.

Trains and buses run all year round, and if you plan to focus on larger cities a car is a bad idea.

Posted by
796 posts

I agree about using trains and/or buses to get around. Except if you do go to Lisbon, I suggest flying. For example, I know that TAP Portugal Airlines have flights from Seville to Lisbon.

Can I make a suggestion? You don't really have a lot of time and it seems like you are trying to see a lot of places. And you mention you have never been to southern Spain. As much as I love Lisbon, I wonder if it would make more sense to spend your time in Andalucia. You could also visit Cordoba and Sevilla in addition to Granada. Are you spending any time in Madrid? If not, it doesn't make sense to fly home from Madrid. You could fly home from Sevilla instead. Something to think about.

As far as things to see: The Alhambra in Granada, the Mezquita in Cordoba, and the Alcazar in Sevilla. There are many other important historical and cultural sites in these cities, but the ones I mention are considered the highlights.

I recommend purchasing some good guidebooks: I found Rick Steves, Michelin Green Guide and Lonely Planet very helpful.

Posted by
395 posts

Do you have a specific destination in mind for Portugal? At the time you are travelling, the weather in southern Portugal won't be great. The main event there are the beach towns and they will be largely shut down, and it looks like a pretty hefty 4 or 5 hour drive anyway. And who knows what kind of hassle it will be to cross borders in 3 months? You only have one week, and in addition to sightseeing, you'll need to factor in transportation time to wherever you choose, plus a half day or so to get back to Madrid to leave. Why not focus on southern Spain? Cartagena and Malaga are both nice 2-3 day destinations, and Seville is wonderful. One or two of these and you've filled the week. All of my southern Spain sightseeing has been in the form of day trips from a cruise ship, so I'm no help on transportation, but if you first decide your destination, transportation options will be easier to discern.

Posted by
5549 posts

Many, many years ago, we started in Malaga, then went by train to Granada. Treat yourself (and your daughter?) to a session at the Hammam Al Andalus Arab Baths - massage optional. Seeing the bathing rooms at the Alhambra and then having our own soaks in town was really special.

We then flew Vueling Air from Granada to Lisbon. Once we were ready to explore more of Portugal, followed by more of Andalusia in Spain, we rented a car in Lisbon. We returned it in Malaga, which incurred an extra charge for renting in one country and returning in another. It was $600 extra, but split between three of us, and because we wanted to tour more remote parts of both countries, that was best for us. Trying to rent in Portugal, then find a place to return it before crossing the Spanish border and getting a second car, wasn’t going to work. If you stuck to major cities in Feb/March, a rental car might not be needed.

Posted by
3 posts

Thanks so much everyone! Any opinions on going to Gibraltar?

Posted by
5549 posts

We considered going to Gibraltar, as much as a jumping-off point to get to Tangier, Morocco, for an “exotic” side trip. We skipped than plan (this was just months after 9/11 happened, as travel to Muslim countries was questionable at the time.

We wound up going to Morocco by itself in 2019, and have yet to get to Gibraltar.

Posted by
784 posts

My trip to Spain and Portugal was in the late Spring so, a bit different scenario. My transportation was predominantly trains and buses, fairly easy at that time of year. I went from Sevilla by train to just outside the border of Southern Portugal, then a bus to Lagos and taxi to Salema. Since your trip is during winter months, I agree that southern Portugal will be very quiet and probably some accommodations/restaurants not open. So, I would probably try and fly from Granada or Seville to Lisbon and train to Madrid for your flight home.

Cyn has a nice suggestion for the Hammam Al Andalus Arab Batas in Granada. My time at the Arab Baths was very relaxing and welcome after touring the cities and traveling from Madrid. I agree that you and your daughter would probably enjoy the serenity of the baths.

Posted by
5490 posts

Gibraltar is hideous and would be a waste of a day IMO. There is plenty to keep you occupied in Spain.

Seville can easily fill 3 full days. Take a day trip to Cadiz if you have a 4th day. Jerez for a further day.

Posted by
658 posts

I see several flights a day on TAP (prop plane) from Sevilla to Lisbon and RyanAir flies a 737 from Sevilla a couple times a week.

I don’t see any flights from Granada to Lisbon.

Posted by
13 posts

Hi Kim, We are currently in the Algarve and did a bit what you are wanting to do. We flew into Faro and rented a car (very reasonable for €290 for a month and drove to Malaga (3.5 hrs) for a few days. We then drove to Madrid (6 hrs) and did a stop in Granada for the Alhambra (amazing). I drove to our hotel in downtown Madrid, which was no issue at all (car didn't leave the garage till we left). We visited our daughter for 3 days, then drove to Sevilla (4.5 hrs) saw the sights for 3 days before heading to our final destination outside of Faro for the rest of the month. The roads/highways in Spain/Portugal are excellent, there are tolls, but easy with creditcards, we stopped by some great local restaurants on each leg and loved seeing the scenery (miles if olive trees, then miles of orange trees). The weather was rainy for the first week, but it has been 65 and sunny (on the coast) the past 3 weeks. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions. JB

Posted by
16 posts

We had a similar experience to jib49 - loved driving in Spain and Portugal in December-January. The roads were good (not in the medieval mountain towns which have very narrow roads) and pretty empty compared to the US. Lots of service stations and restaurants. Please note gas is very expensive - $6-$7/gallon and in the cities we paid $20-$30/day for a parking lot near our Airbnbs.

Having a car gave us a lot of freedom to do what we wanted - my son went diving in Sesimbra, about one hour from Sintra (which we absolutely loved), we hiked the Caminito del Rey, and visited a sword making shop in the tiny town of Camunas, south of Toledo. None of these would have been easy to do without a car.

Weather should be great compared to Minn. In Dec-January temps were in the 40- 60s (were were as far north as Madrid in Spain and Obidos/Batalha in Portugal). I packed winter gear but only needed a wool sweater on most days plus a rain jacket occasionally. Only one day did the lightweight down jacket get used - and some days I was down to T-shirt.