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Spain + Portugal April 2015

Hi everyone!!

I'm planning a trip around Spain and Portugal for next April. I'm travelling with my husband and we just started searching for our destinations. We'll be there for around 30 days. We'll include at least Madrid, Granada (La Alhambra), Sevilla, Algarve (my parents-in-law were born there), Lisbon, Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona. Also, we still haven't read anything about Toledo, Salamanca, Valencia, Porto, San Sebastián.

I want to read some suggestions about my itinerary:
- is April a good time?
- which destination we're not considering?
- is this doable with public transportation (train better)?

Thank you!!

Posted by
16883 posts

Yes, it's all doable by public transport and a mix of train, bus and plane is usually the best bet. If you will visit both countries, flying into one and out from the other helps to avoid re-crossing the border, where train and bus connections are more limited. See related tips at http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains/spain-rail-passes#ticket-tips.

How to Look Up Train Schedules and Routes Online gives you the DB train schedule link and tips for using it. Use a current date, since April schedules may not be fully online for a few more weeks. Bus schedules are harder to track down in advance, since there are many different bus companies. The Seville-Lisbon direct bus is operated by www.alsa.es.

Posted by
1259 posts

You will cover quite a bit of geography, but with 30 days there is time to explore. A couple of questions to help us better serve your needs.

Is this a first trip to europe?
Have you previously taken a trip of this length?
Is it more important for you to say "Been there and done that." Or "We really enjoyed exploring the town?"

Some thoughts......

From experience my wife and I advocate recognzing the need to take a breather apart from each other. So allow each other a bit of time to do what they desire without the other.

Use google earth and measure the total distance you are thinking about exploring. Then consider how much time you will spend traveling during your journey. Lay out a monthly calendar and use it to actually plan how much time you will spend in train stations, airports etc. getting from point A to B can be expensive, exhausting, stressful and eat an unexpected amount of your vacation time.

Strongly recommend using an open jaw ticket where you land in one city and depart from another.

Portugal is a great place, but not as easy to incorprate into a Spain/Portugal itenerary as many think. How important is it for you to go to Portugal? Are you considering a visit due to being an adjacent nation?

April is a great time to visit, just do your homework on festivals and seek to include your trip planning by attending some.

Posted by
120 posts

Thank you for your answer! This would be our second trip to Europe, we made a 38-day-long trip in 2011 visiting many different countries. First time visiting Spain and Portugal, though. We really want to visit Portugal, my in-laws are Portuguese, they visit every year and I want to know these places they love.

In our first trip to Europe everything went smoothly, we enjoyed very much our time there and that's why we want to go back. We stayed on average three nights in every destination, and although sometimes I wanted to stay longer, I found it was a good compromise to visit more places and have a good look around. When the city is bigger, we stay longer.

Posted by
4534 posts

30 days is plenty of time to do what you want to do. The locations you have so far are great and at the top of most people's list. I've been to most and really enjoyed them for different reasons. Some of the decisions about where you go will be driven by how you go. Trains link some places better than others, driving might make some sense in places, especially if you want to see some smaller towns or rural areas. A car might also be more efficient for some areas not well connected by train (like northwest Spain, Basque and the Algarve). But be sure not to plan a car drop off in the other country as foreign drop-off fees are very high. All drivers must have an International Drivers Permit to legally drive in Spain (obtained from AAA).

April is pretty good. You may still find some dicey weather (rain) but few crowds except for the biggest attractions.

Most of the main cities you mention will want 3 night minimums to see the main sites. A few might want 4-5, especially if you use it as a base for daytrips. Some of the other places you mention could be daytrips or a night or two. Not on your list but worth considering would be Cordoba, Segovia, Ronda (and the white hills) and Bilboa. And of course so many others, but 30 days will fill up fast.

Posted by
5617 posts

We did a Spain/Portugal combo trip in 2002 (just as the Euro was getting stronger against the dollar and it hasn't looked back), using a combination of plane/train/rental car. We've used buses as well on a more recent trip to Spain, and they can be efficient and affordable. The car gave us flexibility for visiting Ronda, Arcos de la Frontera, Grazelema, and other white village hilltowns in Spain. For us, the convenience of picking up the rental car in Portugal and dropping it off in Spain (long story) was worth the hefty extra fee that Hertz charged, but you'd want to read all the fine print and consider all your options.

Driving to Lisbon, through the forests of cork trees, allowed us to stay in Evora for a couple of nights, and it has interesting ancient Roman ruins in town and an amazing prehistoric dolmen nearby. We also drove to Belem and Sintra (close to Lisbon) and Obidos, on the way to Porto.

We were in San Sebastian in November last year, and it's a great place to visit (especially for the food), but April will be warmer for you than November was for us. On the other hand, Granada & seville will be cooler in April than when we were there in scorching June.

Posted by
14881 posts

After many trips to Europe using only public transportation, I bit the bullet 2 years ago and rented a car for part of my visit to Andalusia. Great car, easy driving (okay, a couple of the little pueblos blancos had some challenging driving, but you don't have to try that).

Are you planning to be there for Semana Santa or are you leaving after Easter (April 5)?

Echoing Douglas, Cordoba's Mezquita is not to be missed. I loved the old town center in the evenings especially, so I recommend 2 nights. Using Ronda as a base, you can explore more of the pueblos blancos by car (pick it up in Sevilla), then drive via Antequera to Granada and return it on arrival. If you want outdoor activities, you could stop at the "pink lagoon" (pink because of the thousands of flamingos that should still be there in April) and a hike in El Torcal.

Another part of Andalusia I enjoyed was Jerez. From there I day-tripped to Cadiz by train and to Arcos by bus. Jerez is the sherry and flamenco capital of Spain (the world?). There are bodegas you can visit (without prior appointment) for tours and tastings.

Ah, so many wonderful places, so little time . . .

Posted by
11805 posts

We rented a car for our 30 days in Spain in 2012. Roads are in good shape, navigating is easy, and our economy diesel got great mileage. Trains are fairly limited in coverage in Spain. If you don't want to drive, assume that some of your travel will best be done using buses - which are fine (and inexpensive).

April is a great time to go because it includes both Easter Week (Semana Santa) and the April Fair in Seville. I would try to include some of both celebrations in your plans, probably a couple of days of April fair in Seville and some Semana Santa elsewhere (my favorite was Holy Thursday in Zaragosa, but Burgos, Valladolid, Salamanca and Santiago de Compostela are probably really good choices too).

Weather will be rainy up toward Santiago de Compostelo in April, but hopefully nice down south. Our route was kind of a figure eight. We started in Barcelona, then Zaragosa, Pamplona, San Sebastian, Burgos, Valladolid, Salamanca, Avila, Segovia, Toledo, Valdepenas, Granada, Ronda, Gibraltar, Tarifa, Cadiz, Jerez, Sevilla, Cordoba, and finally Madrid (plus day stops between on travel days).

I had originally intended three weeks to include Spain and Portugal. Then only Spain because there is so much to see. Then a full month because there is so much to see. I wish I had twice the time because there is so much to see.

I posted a trip report here (Spain: clean toilets, affordable lodging). I talk a little about everything so you may pick up some things that will help.