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First Spain Portugal Trip - advice on trip logistics

Planning my next big trip across the pond to Spain and Portugal for September 2015. I have been tracking airfare, both using miles earned and without and find the fares just seem to be going up. That said, I have devised two different travel/trip patterns and would like your advice/input regarding the over all trip. I enjoy being outdoors, like museums but can take only up to 3 hours at a time before it seems overwhelming, and I love just hanging out with great views of people, places, things. Here are my two scenarios to critique:

Scenario 1:

Day 1: Barcelona - arrive from Seattle; Days 2-3: Barcelona; Day 4: Barcelona with afternoon train to Madrid; Days 5-6: Madrid; Day 7: Toledo; Day 8: Seville - stop in Cordoba on way to Seville; Days 9-12 Seville with day trips to Granada and/or Jerez; Day 12: Seville to Huelva; Day 13: Huelva then bus to Algarve; pick up rental car in Faro or Tavira; Day 14: Salema; Day 15: Salema then drive to Lisbon; Day 16: Lisbon (drop car) Day 17: Lisbon fly home to Seattle

Scenario 2

Day 1: Barcelona - arrive from Seattle; Days 2-3 Barcelona; Day 4: Barcelona to Toledo; Day 5: Toledo: Days 6-9: Seville with day trips to Cordoba-Granada or Jerez; Day 9: Seville to Huelva; Day 10: Huelva then bus to Algarve; pick up rental car in Faro or Tavira; Days 11-12: Salema; Days 13-14: Lisbon; Day 14: Lisbon to Madrid (drive or fly?); Days 15-16 Madrid; Day 17: Madrid fly home to Seattle

As you can see, the trip either ends in Lisbon or ends in Madrid. I am finding that flights out of Madrid are somewhat cheaper, but not by a lot. The only reason I have for the rental car in the Algarve is because I think it will be easier to get around the other parts of the Algarve and then up to Lisbon if I drive. Please let me know what you think.

Posted by
3551 posts

I think u are covering a lot of ground for 2 wks. Realize upon arrival in Barcelona u will have some jet lag, so your first day will be a short one. Also leave more time for Lisbon. Even without seeing the great gulbenkian museum there is a lot to enjoy on foot or by trolley there,suggest min 3 days then fly out of Lisbon to Seattle. Train to Madrid and out to airport wastes time and lotsa euros. So scenario 1 is better but looks rushed.

Posted by
1541 posts

This is an aggressive itinerary covering a vast amount of geography thus leaving a minimal amount of time to achieve one of your objectives, hanging out with people (an objective I highly prioritize and typically provides the fondest memories).
Please investigate use of an open jaw ticket to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your trip.
Please take a deeper dive into the locations you list while viewing a map. There are some sizeable distances you are considering traveling in a short time and leaving far too little time to visit the locales. Granada stands out as an example, it is far from being s day trip.
Is this your first trip to Europe? Are you traveling solo?
Why the need to rent the car?
RS just provided a short list of travel tips and I strongly advise taking a gander of hus experise.

Posted by
1541 posts

Also, given your proximity to the RS office I strongly advise scooting over to meet with on their travel experts.

Posted by
15640 posts

Since Barcelona and Lisbon are non-negotiable, it makes sense to start in one and end int he other. I think you will use up too much time backtracking from Lisbon to Madrid.

Cordoba is worth an overnight. It's one of the best Andalusian towns in the evenings. Granada is too far for a day trip. The train itself takes over 3 hours from Seville to Granada and you have to include getting to/from the hotel and to/from the Alhambra (presumably that's what you most want to see).

Posted by
16894 posts

I think scenario 1 makes more sense, to see Madrid early in the trip and to fly out of Lisbon. The only train from Lisbon back to Madrid is an overnight, and either taking that train or dropping a Portuguese rental car in Spain will easily cancel out any savings in the flight price. You don't need a car for Salema-Lisbon, unless you have plans for other stops en-route.

The timing of your plan sounds consistent with Rick's advice in the book, with the most notable exception being that Granada is a long day trip from Seville, 3 hours each way, with not frequent departures, and you'd have to plan the timing carefully around your Alhambra reservation time. It would be easier to stay overnight in Granada.

Posted by
7175 posts

I would recommend this routing...
1-3 Barcelona
4-6 Madrid (day trip to Toledo)
7-8 Granada
9-11 Seville (day trip to Cordoba)
12-14 Faro & Algarve (road trip)
15-16 Lisbon
Granada definitely NOT possible as a day trip from Seville.

Posted by
1351 posts

Thanks everyone for your responses. I often agree with the advice given by Chani and Marbleskies and so many others who give very useful travel tips. In fact, there are several posts in the last few months that I have bookmarked for later perusal. To answer some of the questions: yes, been to Europe 4 x, twice as a child; yes, traveling solo this trip; the car in the Algarve is to explore the Southern Portugal coastline a bit, possibly to include Sagres.

I often visit ETBD in Edmonds. In fact, I routinely take their travel classes in the Spring and Fall and, just two weeks ago, took my Dad to purchase packing cubes and have lunch in wonderful Edmonds. If you know me at all, I am a lurker on the Forum (Helpline) and really only post when there is a subject I can definitively help with OR if I have specific questions.

Yes to using the multi-city option for booking flights. Probably SEA-BARC and LIS-SEA; I have had Scenario #1 planned for 4-5 months now but guess I started over thinking. So, given all your suggestions, I am going to try real hard to add another day somewhere and to also try overnight in Cordoba. Still working full-time with little more than 10 days a year for vaca. As it is, I am carrying over 4-5 days from last year just to make this trip and still have some days in the summer for my family here in Seattle.

Additional questions:

Should I first go to Granada from Madrid and then work my way to Seville, stopping in Cordoba one night?

Which is easier/quicker: train Madrid > Granada or Madrid > Seville, with stop in Cordoba? I really want to work both Granada and Cordoba into my trip.

Again, I have learned so much from this Helpline and from the wonderful posters here.


Posted by
7175 posts

Madrid to Sevilla via Cordoba is about 2-5 hrs by high speed AVE with at least hourly departures
Madrid to Granada is much slower at 4.5hrs and only 2 direct services per day.
It still makes more sense though to head to the Portuguese border from Sevilla.

Posted by
15640 posts

Hi Linda,

Thanks for the compliment.

Tough question: Is Madrid high on your list? The big attractions are the museums and the palace. Would you consider skipping it in order to spend 2 nights in Granada and see the Alhambra? You could drop Madrid from Scenario 1, just connecting there to Toledo and then Granada. From Granada to Seville with a day trips to Cordoba and Jerez.

I don't see how you can reasonably fit in Granada without skipping something else, unless you can somehow extend the trip by a day or two.

Posted by
7175 posts

If time is tight I would suggest you make your travelling in the period from say 6pm to 9pm.
This sees you arriving at your destination rested, ready for dinner and the Spanish night life in the streets/bars/clubs.
Personally over the years I have done lots of waiting around for things to happen during these hours.

Posted by
1541 posts

1) am jealous of your proximity to RS office
2) you are wise to take advantage of what exists so near to you
3) great advice given to travel during the early evening. BTW: AVE second class is equal to USA airlines business class. Carefully learn how to boot tickets online in advance to save much money using the RENFE site, BUT you must be committed to making the train on the day and time purchased.
4) I am enthralled with Granada, Chani (whom I someday hope to meet) is likewise with Cordoba; we are both "right". However, to meet the time and logistics of this trip and hopefully allow you more time to make connections with people. I recommend (wah!) skipping Granada. ;( I can't believe I just wrote that. BUT................. make the sacrifice and give yourself more time to enjoy your trip. I am just feeling there will be too much travel stress added by attempting to make all these locales during this trip.
5) Totally understand about vacation time, it was the biggest challenge I faced while working in corporate America. However, our older daughter recently graduated college and joined the work force and negotiated the following understanding into her first job; in addition to her paid vacation she can take up to 5 additional days a year unpaid as long as her immediate manager approves. This is a tactic I used and found acceptable to HR as they figured as long as the company is not paying for it how could they refuse the request.
6) somewhere on thus trip go get LOST! Make a wrong turn and/or get off on the wrong metro/bus stop and then find the local cafe offering food you cannot describe and a matching drink. Sit down and enjoy the flow of humanity and make a wonderful memory.

Thanks for your compliments, Happy New Year and enjoy a great trip!

Posted by
1351 posts

Again, thank you all for your tips and tricks for this itinerary. The advice about going straight to Granada from Madrid and then making Cordoba a day trip from Seville makes sense but that train ride is long compared with going to Cordoba from Madrid. I don't want to cut out Madrid because I have always wanted to visit the Prado and there are other places near Madrid, like Montserrat, that intrigues me. Saying that, not sure I will even be able to fit Montserrat into the Madrid plan though. We'll see. Traveling solo, like I do most of the time, makes it somewhat easier.

Last night, I pulled up the Renfre site, as well as, the Portuguese train site to look at logistics of train travel. Also, the bus in Portugal looks like the best way to get around for the most part, if I decide not to drive. Haven't yet found how to get to Sagres if I am not driving. Perhaps a scheduled tour or something.

Well, I will continue planning this itinerary and have pretty much decided to add at least one more day so that I can stay in Granada for a night. Don't usually like one night stays but will possibly this time around. I'll keep posting my questions. Thanks again.


Posted by
1 posts


I'm looking to do the same trip in October from Seattle. Could you share what the average going airfare is to fly home from Madrid and Lisbon?

Posted by
1351 posts

I was tracking airfare with various different arrival/departure cities and, for the most part, the airfares have been hovering around $1350 to as high as $1470, open jaw or multi-city flights. Finally, I nabbed a flight from Sea-JFK-Barcelona and return Lisbon-Philadelphia-Sea for $1,210 on American Airlines. Good luck with your search.

Posted by
15640 posts

I'm back from my wonderful 18 days in Spain in February. I went mostly to towns I'd been to before. I liked Cordoba more the second time around (it was my favorite the first time!) when I got to explore more of it. Then I went to Toledo for the first time. It is also my favorite now - along with Cordoba. First time in Barcelona and loved, loved loved it, even though I am not a fan of Gaudi. Learn a little about the major architects before you go. The locals talk about them the way Americans talk about tv stars.

Posted by
1351 posts

Chani: Sounds like you had a fabulous trip. Now, even more, I want to spend some time in Cordoba. Thanks for updating me on your favorites. I have re-worked my itinerary and will post that soon.

Posted by
1351 posts

Hi all, now that I have made my airline reservations and have committed to certain days, here is what my new itinerary looks like. I know it is still somewhat crowded. That being said, I do move pretty fast to include some must-sees/dos and I will be travelling solo; if I want to change plans on my day-to-day activities, I will have that flexibility. What do you think of the new schedule?

9/3-Thur Barcelona Arrive from Seattle early a.m.
RS Eixample Walk & Park Guell

9/4-Fri Barcelona: Sagrada Familia, Bari Gotic walk,
Las Ramblas & Cathedral

9/5-Sat Barcelona: Montserrat or Montjuic

9/6-Sun Barceloneta: Beach Morning
Renfre AVE train to Madrid

9/7-Mon Madrid-Prado Museum

9/8-Tue Madrid & Toledo day trip

9/9-Wed Madrid to Granada by train in a.m.
Alhambra-night tour possible

9/10-Thur Granada: Alhambra, early a.m.
Train to Seville

9/11-Fri Seville

9/12-Sat Seville & day trip to Cordoba

9/13-Sun Seville

9/14-Mon Seville to Algarve: train & bus

9/15-Tues Salema

9/16-Wed Salema

9/17-Thur Sagres & travel to Lisbon (train/bus)

9/18-Fri Lisbon

9/19-Sat Lisbon

9/20-Sun Fly home Depart Lisbon, mid-morn