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Spain/Portugal itineraries

Hi all.

Starting to plan some travel for April 2020 and Spain has been on my bucket-list. I know it still might be too early to know what things really look like, but I still want to get something planned. Right now we only have 8-10 days and want to spend at least 3 nights in Malaga or Palma de Mallorca (Two totally different places but we have a place to stay in both). We can fly direct to/from Barcelona, Madrid or Lisbon. Looking for suggested itineraries and must sees in both Spain and Portugal. Our time is somewhat flexible, so my husband and I might stay longer but my niece and her new husband will be a little more limited on-time.

Just trying to get a sense of the must-sees and timing before we book flights. Last time we traveled to Europe I booked the flights first and had to plan around them. Don’’t want to do that again!

Thank you in advance for your suggestions!

Tracy

Posted by
2881 posts

I predict you’re going to be told this by many posters: with only 8 - 10 days, even 2 or 3 weeks, you should scrap any idea of including Portugal. Traveling between the two countries is more complicated than you would imagine, and it will eat up most of a day.

There are so many must-sees in Spain that you need to indicate your interests in order to get useful input.

Posted by
2716 posts

I’d drop Palma de Mallorca too. One could easily spend your entire time in just Barcelona and Madrid. If somebody asks me about must sees in Spain, I tell them if you’re only going to be in Spain one time, see Madrid, Barcelona, Toledo, Segovia, Cordoba, Sevilla, and Granada. However, there are so many more. In 8-10 days, you don’t have time to see them all.

Posted by
384 posts

You will like Spain - there is so much to see. Remind yourself that you will return someday and that you cannot see it all in one brief trip. Do you like big cities? Small towns? Interests - museums, churches, food, architecture, beaches, castles? Once you decide between Palma and Málaga you can then determine the rest of your must sees and these two areas will give you very different glimpses of Spain. If you choose Palma, then I suggest you concentrate your remaining time in Spain around Barcelona and surrounding area: Montserrat, Girona, maybe Tarragona or Zaragoza. If you choose Málaga, then choose from the many beautiful destinations in Andalucía. Personally, I would choose Málaga and Andalucía and then consider optional visits to Granada, Córdoba, Sevilla if this is your first trip to Spain. In my opinion, Granada is a must! I normally would suggest some smaller towns but you do not have time and these are the iconic Andalucian destinations that most people want to see. I doubt that you will have time to visit both Spain and Portugal. Best way to get to Portugal from Spain is by plane. If you are set on seeing a little of both Spain and Portugal, then consider starting your trip with either your Palma or Málaga stay, pick one other relatively nearby place and then fly to Lisbon.

Posted by
1220 posts

With your restrictions this is what I'd start planning around (you can definitely tweak it at the very least!)

Fly into Madrid and spend 3 nights, including a day-trip to either Toledo or Segovia.

Take the fast train to your Malaga home for 3 nights. Use this as a base to day-trip to the Alhambra (Granada is worth a fuller stop, but you have limited time and Malaga, I assume, is fixed)

Take the fast train to Seville and stop the final 2 nights if 8 is the limit. If 10 is the limit then add to Seville and make a day-trip to Cordoba. Then the other couple return to Madrid. But If you and your husband have extra time stay on in Seville and visit Cadiz, Jerez or Carmona as day-trips, before going back to Madrid. If you have even more time then instead fly from Seville to Lisbon and leave from there. Lisbon ideally needs at least 4 nights, especially if you wish to include Sintra as a day trip.

Bear in mind, you might be travelling around Easter.

Posted by
1550 posts

If Malaga, I would try to fly into Malaga, Jerez, or Sevilla (yes, this requires a connection, but it could save you time, and is just a quick hop). April is so perfect for Andalucia, I would devote the entirety to that region or part of it at least.
If you choose Palma, I would either spend the week on Mallorca or build the trip around wherever your flight takes you--Madrid or Barcelona.
There are no must sees, just what you wanna see and what you can in the time you have. Eight days, no more than two places, maybe a one nighter somewhere. Ten days, no more than three places, ditto.

Posted by
4259 posts

I think Nick's plan makes a lot of sense given your time frame. You could fly in and out of Madrid, and spend some time there if you like art museums (three excellent ones there), otherwise head right to Malaga or Granada or Seville by train. You might want to be in Seville for the April Fair, or you might want to avoid its crowds. Likewise Easter, whenever that happens next year. Cordoba's Mezquita was a wonderful experience for me, more so than Granada's Alhambra, but that's probably a minority view on this forum. And with good planning you can see both!

Posted by
14003 posts

You must mean April 2021. Easter Sunday falls on April 4. If you want to go early in April, I highly recommend spending at least 3 nights in Malaga during Semana Santa (the week from Palm Sunday). It is an incredible experience! You can also day trip to Granada to visit the Alhambra. I'd spend the rest of the time in/around Barcelona - there is so very much to see and do.

edited to correct the date of Easter Sunday. Thanks to acraven!

Posted by
4239 posts

With only 8-10 days total you have no chance of visiting Portugal or for that matter most of Spain.

If you had a month, you might be able to do a good job with both countries.

Also, why do you wish to go to Malaga or Mallorca? Are you interested in the beach. If so, re-examine that, since you can do beaches in the USA. In fact, I was not impressed by Costa del Sol and Malaga when I visited. There are FAR more interesting places to see in Spain.

Seville, Granada, Toledo, Madrid, Segovia, Barcelona, all are fantastic places.

You need a minimum of three full days to see Seville, which is my favorite. The Madrid Area, including Toledo and Segovia need about five days. You need at least four days for the Barcelona area. You can do the Alhambra in Granada in one day.

Posted by
16996 posts

I believe Easter is on April 4 next year (2021). The week leading up to Easter (Semana Santa) is a Very Big Deal in Andalucia. In normal years lodging rates are significantly affected (probably doubled or more) in the cities with major celebrations. If you are flying to Andalucia before Easter, you should get your hotels booked early. But examine cancellation policies carefully. I studiously avoid non-refundable rates, but the only affordable, reasonably central option I could find for Seville last year (booking in early January) required cancellation 2 weeks in advance. Fortunately, nothing came up, so it worked out OK on that occasion. It's not something I'd be willing to do if I hoped to travel next spring.

Posted by
12 posts

Thank you all for the very helpful information. Based on the responses, I am leaning towards flying in and out of Madrid, then to Malaga and somewhere in Andalucia. We are trying to use Malaga as a "home base" of sorts because we are Marriott timeshare owners and can get a spacious condo for the 4 of us. Don't get me wrong, we want to see the region but realize we have beautiful beaches where we live in Florida. It appears Granada can be a day trip from Malaga but do we need more time there? Are there any other places that we should try hit as day trips from Malaga? Then finish the trip in Sevilla? Or Cordoba? I guess that would be Nick's itinerary wouldn't it?

I have always wanted to visit Barcelona but it looks like that might have to wait for our next visit...or my husband and I might finish the trip there after the "kids" head home. They don't have the vacation we do which is the reason for the tight timeframe.

Thanks all!

Posted by
1550 posts

If the trip is still 8-10 days, I'd pick no more than one other place to stay aside from Madrid and Malaga. When I landed in Madrid, I immediately took a short train to Cordoba, so there or Sevilla would be a fine place to start, then a few days in Malaga, then back to Madrid to finish. You would not need a car for the whole trip, or maybe at all depending on your ultimate plan. I would not suggest starting off driving due to jet lag--but I do like to depart from my arrival city immediately if I will be returning there for departure, just to not have unnecessary one-night or split stays.
Malaga is an extremely pleasant city. While it may not have the wow factor of Sevilla, it is still a great place to spend a few days. I would look in a guide book and cross reference with google maps the nearby places you would want to see and determine if they are doable as a day trip, distance and transport wise (we all have different amounts of preferences in terms of how much driving we like per day). In addition to Granada, Ronda and Antequera are reachable from Malaga and likely many other appealing villages. The Andalucia.com website is helpful if you don't have a guidebook yet. If you can get your hands on a Cadogan Guide, the hotel/food info will be out of date, but they often cover small towns the main publishers leave out.

Posted by
16996 posts

I liked Malaga more than I thought I would last year. I spent several nights there. But I was spending a month in Andalucia and had time to cover a lot of other places as well. I struggle a bit to suggest that someone with so little time spend multiple nights in Malaga. I would focus on other places. Can you not get value from your time-share points in some other way--during a domestic trip, for example? Lodging isn't so terribly expensive in Spain, and I think Andalucia will not be particularly costly in April 2021 unless you're traveling during Semana Santa. You can take a look at booking.com to see what you might pay if you weren't trying to go the time-share route.

That said, there are attractive side-trips possible from Malaga. Definitely get hold of a guidebook with good coverage of the region so you can make the most of your time, taking into account both your personal sightseeing preferences and time required in transit. For places on the AVE line heading north the train will be much, much faster than driving. For other places with train or bus service, driving will probably be as fast or faster (but don't discount the hassle factor and parking difficulties and cost).

Ultimately, you'll need to decide whether it's more important to you to see your top two or three places (with perhaps a substantial part of your time spent sitting in vehicles) or to be efficient travelers, seeing as much as you can (but perhaps not all of your top choices) with less time spent on transportation.

Granada is worth more time than just a day-trip from Malaga. The Alhambra alone can take a major chunk of a day. I think a lot of tours allow about 3 hours, but they certainly do not cover the entire complex. And there's a lot more to see in Granada. ViaMichelin.com gives a driving time of over 1-1/2 hours (train time is much longer according to the current schedule and trains are too infrequent to be practical--perhaps just due to COVID-19), and that doesn't cover any stops, traffic issues, searching for parking, etc. If I were going to take just one day-trip from Malaga to Granada, I'd want to get a very early start. There are of course bus tours available, but I wouldn't want someone else determining what I saw in a major city like Granada and how much time I spent at each stop. With a group the size of yours, even an expensive car rental would probably be less costly than all those tour tickets. Note: Alhambra tickets sell out very, very early, so you'll want to take care of those as soon as you can after the April tickets go on sale. The cost of direct tickets is modest enough that I wouldn't hesitate to buy them even if a bit uncertain about the trip; if you wait too late and the direct tickets are sold out, you'll be paying a great deal more to get into the Alhambra.

Antequera (where I've never been) is about 25 minutes by fast train (can be pricey if you don't buy the ticket early) or 1 hour by slower/cheaper train. Driving time is close to an hour. I think I recall reading here that Antequera's AVE station (Antequera Santa Ana) is a bit outside the city, so you'd need transportation from there to the historic district. I assume there are buses and taxis.

Use the Renfe webiste for trains: https://www.renfe.com/es/en

Out of space; will post more in separate message.

Posted by
16996 posts

Cordoba is exceptionally well-linked to Malaga by train. The trip takes about 1 hour. Driving would take roughly twice that long, not counting stops/traffic/searching for parking. Cordoba, like Granada, has more than a day's worth of sights.

Seville is more challenging by train, the fast options taking about 2 hours and the slower/cheaper trains requiring more than 3 hours. Driving time is over 2-1/2 hours, not counting stops/traffic/searching for parking. Seville is a large city where one tends to spend a good bit of time walking from sight to sight, so day-tripping from Malaga is--to me--an iffy proposition. But it's a must-see destination for virtually everyone.

Ronda looks like a minimum of over 1-1/2 hours and would be fastest by car. It's a small enough place that it's a reasonable day-trip from Malaga. I'm not sure it would be practical to see any of the white villages on the same day. A lot involve traveling on roads where you won't be able to drive very fast.

The smaller Grazalema is about 2-1/4 hours from Malaga by car as is Zahara de la Sierra. Those two are close enough to each other (and small enough) that you could hit them in a single day by car.

Arcos is between Ronda and Grazalema/Zahara in size, but farther away; it wouldn't be what I'd choose as a day-trip from Malaga.

Then you have the little towns along the coast. A lot of them are not so attractive anymore because of over-development (British pubs, German sausage joints, etc.), but if you choose carefully you could find a nice destination for a day--though nothing that would hold a candle to Granada, Cordoba or Seville.

If you go to ViaMichelin.com and zoom way in on a map of the area northwest of Malaga, you'll see some roads highlighted in green. Those are the ones ViaMichelin considers especially scenic. One of them would take you on an indirect route to or from Antequera. I haven't heard anything about the little places in that area.

Posted by
92 posts

In response to question of day trips from Malaga: We spent 4 weeks in Malaga in 2019 and returned in 2020 though that trip was cut short by Covid. We love Malaga! We are hoping to return in March 2021. In 2019, we did travel to Sevilla and Granada from Malaga, but did 2-3 nights in each city. We took day trips from Malaga to Marbella and Nerja. Both are easy to get to by bus. In 2020, we were able to get to Cordoba, but did spend 2 nights there and really enjoyed that city. Before lockdown, we were able to return to Nerja one day and then to Mijas Pueblo which is a white town. They are both convenient to Malaga. We had planned to go to Ronda for a night, but I think you could do in a day trip. Estepona is another day trip we would have taken if allowed. I would suggest looking up these towns on YouTube to see if any of them interest you. The videos give you a very good feel for the towns/cities and are helpful in deciding where you want to spend your time. I hope you like Malaga as much as we do - good luck with your planning!

Posted by
14003 posts

While a spacious condo for the 4 of us is a very attractive proposition, it really depends on what kind of an experience you are looking for. Malaga is a pleasant town with a few good "second tier" museums and other attractions. Sevilla, Granada and Cordoba are much richer in Andalucian atmosphere, culture and history.

You can see the Alhambra and possibly a bit more of Granada in a day trip. You can see the highlights of Cordoba in a day trip. I consider the Alhambra and the Mezquite in Cordoba to be the two must-see places in Spain.

Posted by
1220 posts

Just to clarify -

You mentioning Marriott and "condo", made me wonder if you mean Malaga the city or Malaga the wider province? The Marriott resort I'm aware of is in Marbella, which is in Malaga province but about 50km from Malaga city. But I'm not familiar with scheme and perhaps there are independent villa as well.

So are you in the AC Marriott hotel actually in the city (very central & convenient for the railway station), in a villa in the city or at a resort further out along the coast? That will make a difference to what are feasible day-trips by public transport as well as getting to/from your base. If you're going to have a car, it makes less difference, although obviously changes some of the time/distance estimates.