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Traveling the South of Spain

Hello We are a family of 4. (2 kids ages 12 and 13) this will be our fourth trip to Spain.. We have seen the popular places like Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo etc.. We are wanting to do the South of Spain all the way to Portugal. We LOVE the water so we thought of starting either in Madrid or Barcelona (we fly at good rates from Miami non stop) and start our journey there.. We were thinking of flying into Barcelona resting and taking the train to Valencia and from there renting a car and continuing our coastal journey through Valencia, Alicante, Malaga, Sevilla, Faro, Lisbon and Porto... WE have around 30 days.. Is this doable?
After Porto maybe back to Madrid? ( I think there is no train for that)
Thank you for your time

Posted by
596 posts

When are you going?

How about Santiago de Compostela after Porto? The scenery is beautiful and the seafood is delicious.

Posted by
2429 posts

From a logistical standpoint, if you rent a car in Spain you should drop it off in Spain, otherwise you pay a steep drop-off fee.
And at what time of the year would this be? Andalucía (Sevilla, Granada, Córdoba...) can get really unpleasantly hot from mid-June to early September, even if you are used to Florida heat (which hits differently). You can still visit of course, but I wouldn't linger for too long.

Otherwise, I would not start in Valencia. Valencia's great, but highlights are sparse on the coast between there and Andalucía. I would land in Madrid, take a train to Granada, and start there. It will save you a bit of driving, too.
You could then spend about 10 days in Andalucía, 15 days across Portugal from south to north, and 5 days in Galicia up to Santiago de Compostela.

Posted by
4873 posts

Others have raised the question - what time of year?

Yes, you can drive that in 30 days. Would I opt to cover such a distance with so many interesting places en route and with children? No.

How would you split your trip between Spain and Portugal? Personally, I prefer Portugal. You are correct in that public transport between Spain and Portugal is poor, so you would have to fly or drive back to Madrid. A one way car drop is likely to be expensive.

I don’t care for the high rise Alicante or this stretch of coast - the beaches of the Algarve are much nicer if you want beaches. You don’t mention Granada - I know it’s not on the coast, but it is a highlight of the area. Seville needs 3 full days to appreciate its charms. The other places you mention are predominantly beach resorts with small old towns.

Faro is a working city and the charming old town can be seen in a few hours - stay in Tavira and take the boat out to the beach on the barrier island or drive 3 miles to Barril beach and take the mini train out to the beach. Always popular with children and adults alike! Nearby Cabanas doesn’t have the charm of Tavira, but it has far more accommodation, with plenty of cafes and restaurants and a boat to get to the beach. The eastern end of the Algarve is far less windy than the western end - you are likely to get blown off the beach and sand blasted here, although this is where the interesting rock formations are. You could have a few days in family friendly Alvor near Lagos and explore the stunning coast around Carrapateira with its rock formations, surfing and sandy beaches stretching miles.

Lisbon will take a whole day to drive if you follow the coast rather than take the toll motorway. You can easily fill 4-5 days in Lisbon including a day trip to Cascais. You probably won’t have time to see any of the interesting towns between Lisbon and Porto, such a Tomar, Alcobaca and Coimbra. Porto is compact and can be seen in a couple of days plus you could take a day trip to the Douro.

You can easily fill 30 days in Portugal, so you are going to have to make some tough choices as to what to cut out.

Posted by
3306 posts

I don’t recall any must see sights between Valencia and Malaga along the coast. There are some nice beaches like at Mojácar. If you enjoy castles, along that route are castles at Biar and Lorca. The Alcazaba in Almería is nice. El Palmerar at Elche is a UNESCO world heritage site and might make a nice stop. Further west, but east of Huelva is the old west looking town of El Rocio. Between Malaga and Huelva are the more visited Ronda, white villages, etc. Consider reversing the trip and starting in Portugal. When you’re done seeing what you want there, then see different sights in Spain, possibly staying in Extremadura rather than trying to cover the entire south coast. As Jennifer said, one could easily spend 30 days in Portugal alone.

Posted by
19172 posts

I agree with the earlier responders that the there are tons of fabulous destinations in both Spain and Portugal, and I wouldn't want to cover so much territory when it means skipping over fabulous places like Granada and Cordoba. Much of the Iberian coast is very touristy and less attractive than it was decades ago because of over-development, so 30 days hugging the coast would be just about the last thing I'd want to do. I'd include only a very few, carefully-selected tiny coastal towns in my itinerary.

In case you do decide to start driving in Valencia, however, I will mention a trio of spots northwest of that city that are distinctive, interesting and--as a group--convenient to visit by car. I've been to all via public transportation, but it wasn't always easy and I did it over the course of two trips. Those three places are Teruel, Cuenca and Albarracin. Cuenca (with a medieval hilltop historical center) is on the AVE rail line between Madrid and Valencia, so it's easy for the car-less visitor, though keeping the rail fare reasonable means buying tickets early enough to snag the promo fare. Teruel has a mudejar-style cathedral, several mudejar towers and some interesting Art Nouveau houses; it's perhaps Spain's least-visited regional capital because it's somewhat awkwardly located on a secondary rail line running between Zaragoza and Valencia. Albarracin is a small medieval town not too far from Teruel but with a very limited bus schedule that makes a day-trip impossible.

Posted by
1081 posts

We LOVE the water so we thought of starting either in Madrid

Madrid is about as far away from the water as it gets in Spain, so that reasoning doesn't make much sense to me.

For a "coastal journey", I would try to make a choice of which stretches of coast are worthwhile in terms of scenery, and try to focus on those, maybe adding a few inland towns with spectacular sights like Granada, Cordoba, Sevilla.

Large stretches of coastline are really just residential areas with beach access for Northern European snowbirds. I doubt that traveling along those is worth your time.

Posted by
125 posts

I understand and know that Madrid is far from the water however we always fly into Madrid or Barcelona as our point of reference. The airline TIX to either one are usually around 350.00 USD from Miami (we live an hr away from there) and it has always made sense to us to start there bc we are very familiar with both areas.. WE only spend 2 days there to decompress and start our trip whether it is on the Southern or Northern part of Spain ( we have done Italy this way also) Barcelona and Madrid are also good points to starts bc the renfe runs everywhere through them.. Im not too fond of Madrid so Barcelona is always a better choice for us and closer to the water... Im thinking of using the renfe on some of the must see cities in the South and then spending the last 20 days in Portugal...

Posted by
19172 posts

I think ten days for Andalucia will be too short by the time you decompress for a couple of days in Barcelona and then travel to either Granada or Seville, even if you make no stops along the way. To travel all that way from Barcelona and not have time to fully experience Seville, Cordoba and Granada would be a shame.

Posted by
125 posts

WE did spend three weeks in Seville on our last trip bc I consider it to be one of my favorite places... Granada is another place we have spent enough time in. We have not been to Cordoba.

Posted by
19172 posts

That makes a great deal of difference. Cordoba is lovely and is worth 2 days/3 nights. Malaga is attractive; Cadiz has a nice historic center but felt less lively than Malaga. Your family might enjoy the horse show in Jerez. If you opt for a car for part of your time in Spain, it would allow you to see several of the white towns and villages a lot more easily than is possible via public transportation (though the larger Ronda is relatively accessible).

Are your children daredevils? This spot sounds...umm...memorable: I believe a lot of updating has happened in recent years. It used to be scary/dangerous, with crumbling paths above sheer drops, but I assume safety is no longer an issue. It may still be stomach-churning, however.

Places where you wouldn't encounter too many Americans: the Alpujarras outside Granada, Ubeda/Baeza/Jaen, and Extremadura (Caceres and Trujillo for atmospheric medieval architecture, Merida for a good archaeological museum with Roman antiquities in a rather dull city). None of those places are along the coast.

Posted by
2429 posts

Oh, yes, if you have been to Seville and Granada it makes a big difference to overall timing.
I would land in Madrid and head straight to Córdoba by train. Then rent a car, head east to Baeza and Úbeda, then southeast to Cabo de Gata (Rodalquilar or Las Negras are good bases, unless they changed a lot in 10 years), and follow the coast westwards from there.

Posted by
1081 posts

Anna is correct that stretches of the coast on this route are full of
plump Germans and others getting drunk and are best avoided.

Interesting... is that what I said? ;-)

@marticabellido: Seems like you know the area pretty well, so let's focus on those things you haven't seen yet. Cordoba is a town I would really recommend. The Mezquite is just breathtaking.

Another new experience might be the Doñana National Park. I gave a short description of that in this thread.

Posted by
125 posts

This is what Ive come up with
Land in Madrid (sept 10th 2022)
2 days to decompress (been here many times)
head to Valencia (3 days)
Murcia (3 days)
Sevilla (5 to 6 days to do day tours in nearby cities)
Lisbon (5 to 6 days)
Porto (3 days)
Here is where I get lost.. Should I head to Santiago de Compastela for another 3 to 4 days and then make our way back to Madrid? or keep heading North? I dont have much time left until I cut some time elsewhere...

This is about 30 days worth....

I picked these main cities to be able to renfe to them. Then we could rent cars or tours to see nearby cities.. We like to travel and stay away from the tourism. I always rent AirBNB and go to the grocery stores, shop where the people shop and make friends. Spanish is my first language so no barrier problems...
I love all the suggestions I have been given!