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Spain and Portugal itinerary ideas/input welcomed

Hello :)

My husband and I are taking a 2 week trip to Portugal and Spain next September (the middle of the month). We have never been to either country and are looking forward to some new experiences.

We fly in and out of Lisbon. I'm in the early-ish stages of planning our trip and would love some input. The only thing currently booked is 5 nights in Lisbon at the end of our trip. Barcelona is a must, and my current thought is to head straight there (literally, we arrive in Lisbon very early and we'd take the earliest logical flight to Barcelona that day without leaving the airport). Everything in the middle is up for consideration.

Here are the ideas I'm contemplating.

  • Barcelona to Madrid to Seville to Lisbon
  • Barcelona to Madrid to San Sebastian to Lisbon
  • Barcelona to San Sebastian/Bilbao to Porto to Lisbon
  • Barcelona to Mallorca to Seville to Lisbon
  • Barcelona to Algarve (Lagos) to Lisbon

I have looked into the logistics of the various options and calculated train/plane times and have a basic understanding of the pros and cons there but would welcome any input on logistics. We plan on 1-2 day trips from Lisbon. If we choose one of the itineraries that includes Seville, we will visit Cordoba and possibly Granada.

We are in our mid-30s, very active, and often plan parts of our trips around restaurants. We like nightlife but my husband doesn't drink so we look for experiences vs. just going out to get drunk. We used to prioritize Michelin stars but honestly we enjoy eating at little bistros more (most of the time), so I always do a lot of research there.
Our priorities are art and culture (including museums), food (a mix of fine dining and hip local cafes/wine bars), beautiful architecture and scenery, and sharing new experiences/making memories.
As may be obvious by what I'm considering, we also love the beach and being near the coast, but I'm torn on whether to include a true beach destination in this trip (e.g. Mallorca or Algarve) or whether we'd be best served by skipping that concept altogether. I'm a little wary of what I've read about over-tourism in both of those areas as well. Totally fine with some tourism but I don't need or want to be surrounded by all native English speakers. I can stay home or go to the UK for that.

If there's a destination I haven't mentioned that you think is a must, tell me why!

Thanks in advance for any advice.

Posted by
7440 posts

Why don't you book your flight open jawed--into Barcelona and out of Lisbon? Backtracking is inefficient and can be expensive. It's bad enough that you lose a day of arrival, a day of departure and the day every time you move to another city.

We flew into Madrid, took a train down to Granada and a cheap Vueling Airline flight over to Barcelona. (Then we took a fast train to Paris.) Beware that Spain is a very large country--especially if you're going to also take in Lisbon. From Lisbon down to Faro and the Algarve is 170 miles, for example. We use Google Maps when planning ground travel and pay close attention to distances.

You'll find Spain to be a great country to travel in with very beautiful people. And it's also very inexpensive to travel there.

Posted by
16 posts

David, I did look into open-jaw options as well, but we got an excellent deal on our flights and there wasn't a nonstop return option available for any type of reasonable price for this particular combination of cities and dates. The way I currently am planning our arrival in Barcelona is just the equivalent of a layover in the Lisbon airport, and since we knew we were planning on ending our stay in Lisbon it made enough sense.

I always make sure to calculate the full travel times between locations as we like to spend our time actually in our destinations vs. traveling between them. I usually end up removing a destination by the time I have my final itinerary.

What was your best experience in Spain?

Posted by
150 posts

My wife and I are a similar age, and are currently in Lagos in the algarve slowly wrapping up a 3 month European trip.

Prior to the algarve we were in Barcelona for a week. Imo it takes wayyyyy too long to get from Barcelona to either the algarve or Lisbon without flying. I believe almost every train option Barcelona to Lisbon was going to take 8-12 hours. So while we don’t love having to fly and deal with airports etc. it was a no brainer to take a 2 hour fight for the same cost these whole day trains would take.

We are loving Lagos, we are staying at an unbelievable Airbnb here with a rental car and have downtime a week basically driving up and down the coast, going to beaches and the small towns dotted along the coast.

There are quite a few little towns which are essentially tourist traps for UK expats and tourists, these can be avoided. From what we’ve seen so far of the 4-5 towns we’ve been in Lagos is the place to be.

I can post more later on as we are basically spending 26 days In Portugal to end the trip, and will be heading through the countryside, stopping and staying In a few different towns before 6 days in Porto and 6 in Lisbon.

Posted by
16 posts

Thank you, Tyler! I'd love to hear your thoughts after your trip is over. Three months sounds incredible :) I hope you're having the best time.

Posted by
3215 posts

Do you know how long you'd like to spend in Barcelona? Andalucia in the middle would be my choice, but four days would be too tight for Sevilla-Granada-Cordoba if you will be spending five days in BCN for example. Madrid would be nice since you mentioned museums and there are tons of day trip options, plus the travel would be a snap and not a big time suck. Most of your options seem a bit short on time. You could get in some coastal time near BCN--have not been there yet but the coast to the north is what always appealed to me.
For any location, would you rent a car?

Posted by
16 posts

Val, I’m thinking 4 days for Barcelona. You must be reading my mind because I was just thinking it would simplify things to do some beach activities near Barcelona and just do one location in between (maybe Madrid). We’d be happy to rent a car anywhere it made sense.

Posted by
3215 posts

I'm actually less of a city person, but given your interests and the amount of time I would devote to those places and what I know of the transport in the area, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon sounds pretty good to me, with side trips.
I don't know Lisbon but you definitely don't need a car for Madrid. I think the area was thinking of near Barcelona has fairly good transport, but wait for the others to chime in--Spain page gets great responses but sometimes it takes a few days.

To complicate matters, the Basque coast is pretty gorgeous, but I'd only choose that if you had easy connections from BCN and to LIS. I'd try to minimize flights because there is so much chance for misery. There is a film festival in San Sebastian in September, which could affect price/availability.

Posted by
6113 posts

Your destinations of Spain and Portugal don’t link as well as one would expect, particularly if you have to back track to Lisbon, thereby losing a day. Ideally, you need to book a through ticket if you are considering heading straight out of Lisbon to Spain to avoid difficulties if your inbound flight is delayed.

Obvious day trips from Lisbon are Cascais, Sintra and Evora. You have 5 nights there, which is only 4 days, so you may want to consider adding at least another night here. You can easily spend 5 days in Lisbon alone.

Barcelona can be seen in 4 full days (5 nights). That suggests one other location, not two. I would pick Seville which can be seen in three days.

September is still very busy in the Algarve, so I wouldn’t head here unless you want beach or golf time.

Posted by
1120 posts

Exactly how many nights do you have on the ground?

Two weeks isn’t a lot of time. Because you are flying into and out of Lisbon, if it were me, I would spend the 2 weeks in Portugal. You could include 5 nights in Lisbon, 3 or 4 nights in Porto and then some time in the Alentejo region, such as Evora and other nearby small towns.

However, if Barcelona is an absolute must, I would do what a previous poster suggests: Barcelona, Seville, and Lisbon. You could visit Cordoba as a day trip from Seville, although I usually recommend spending a night or two in Cordoba, but that might make your trip too hectic.

OTOH, I would not be happy if I were in Andalusia and did not visit the Alhambra which is magnificent! So, depending on your nights on the ground, perhaps the following if you want to see the Alhambra:

Barcelona - 4 nights
Granada - 2 nights
Seville - 4 nights (with a possible day trip to Cordoba)
Lisbon - 5 nights
For a total of 15 nights, if you do indeed have 15 nights on the ground.

Posted by
1120 posts

With 14 nights you could omit one night from Lisbon, but you need to consider the amount of travel time between your destinations. Is it worth it to try and fit in 4 destinations? It all depends on how long it takes you to travel from one place to the next. I think the train from GRanada to Seville is about a 2 -3 hour train ride. The flight from Seville to Lisbon is short but you have to factor in getting to and from the airport and how early you need to be at the airport.

Our trip was for 15 nights and included 6 destinations but they were closer together: Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga and Seville.