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2 weeks in Spain & Portugal -- How's this look?

I'm planning a trip to Spain and Portugal for this coming fall (leave late September, return mid-October). We'll have a little over 2 full weeks. I know that we can't "do" all of these two countries in that time, that's OK, we're not going to try. Our goal is to hit the highlights of Andalucia and a bit of Portugal (Lisbon and the Algarve).

We fly in to Madrid, and need to end (the Spain/Portugal portion of the trip) also in Madrid - after which, we fly to Morocco for a few days. From Morocco, we fly back to Barcelona, where we'll have one full day (2 nights) before our return flight to the US.

Our proposed itinerary is already ambitious, so we're going to skip northern and eastern Spain entirely (except our last day in Barcelona), skip Gibraltar and Spanish beach towns, and most of Portugal. I'm looking at just 4 days in Portugal, split between Lisbon and the Algarve.

It seems that it's not easy to string together a reasonable (efficient) itinerary through some parts of Spain, but I think I've got one sketched out that works, althogh we will be moving fast (usually every other day). It involves a variation on Rick's "take a night train to save time and money" strategy. But instead of doing a night train (which won't really work here), I'm proposing to spend a day in one city, then catch a discount flight to the next city that night (after dinner). I figure this is an efficient way to move on and utilize a few hours that might otherwise be spent having a drink or relaxing after dinner, between two cities that are not served efficiently by rail.

I've posted a map of my proposed route and day-by-day itinerary here:

I'd be interested in hearing from others who have been through southern Spain and can comment on whether what I'm looking at here is realistic or not. My hope is to minimize the days where we move each day, keeping most stops to 2 nights. Thoughts?

Posted by
6222 posts

For those who don't want to follow te link above, here's the tentative day-by-day itinerary:

Day 0: Arrive in Madrid around noon. Rest of the day relaxing/recovering/adjusting. Sleep Madrid.
Day 1: Day trip to Segovia (by bus or train). Sleep Madrid.
Day 2: Madrid. Fly to Lisbon late (21:00). Arrive Lisbon (22:00), sleep Lisbon.
Day 3: Lisbon. Sleep Lisbon.
Day 4: Day trip to Sintra (by train). Sleep Lisbon.
Day 5: Pick up rental car in morning, drive to the Algarve, stop in Sagres. Sleep Salema.
Day 6: Salema. Sleep Salema.
Day 7: Drive to Spanish "White Hill Towns." Sleep Arcos.
Day 8: Tour more hill towns. Drop off car in Ronda. Sleep Ronda.
Day 9: Train to Granada. Sleep Granada.
Day 10: Granada. Sleep Granada.
Day 11: Train to Seville. Sleep Seville.
Day 12: Seville. Sleep Seville.
Day 13: Train to Cordoba. Sleep Cordoba.
Day 14: Train to Madrid (possibly Toledo?). Sleep Madrid (possibly Toledo?)
Day 15: Madrid. Fly to Morocco in the evening (depart 21:00)

Then we have a few days in Morocco, after which we fly from Morocco to Barcelona (two nights and one full day there) before flying home.

Posted by
2 posts

Rail is okay, but there is also a sophisticated bus system for the hops that are too short. Usually bus tickets (clean, comfy and cheap) can only be purchased once in Spain.

As far as spending two nights most places, I think you're on the right track. Some places will offer more, some will be more relaxing.

Posted by
6222 posts

I've updated the map/itinerary ( to include Toledo on day or 16...which leads me to my next question:

I'm looking at the best way to arrange the end of the Spain portion of the trip. The last 3 full days, which begin in Cordoba (we'll spend the previous day and night in Cordoba), need to end up in Madrid (where we wil fly out of, departing around 9 pm, on Day 16). In those last 3 days, what's the best way to split the time between Madrid and Toledo? (Note that we WILL have had some time in Madrid at the beginning of the trip, but all three of those days at the start include some travel: Day 0, our arrival day, Day 1 a day-trip to Segovia, and Day 3 almost a full day but it ends with an evening flight to Lisbon).

We could go "straight" from Cordoba to Toledo (via Madrid, of course) and stay there. Or we could stay in Madrid and do Toledo as a day trip. Either way we need to wind up in Madrid and be at the airport by early evening on the third day (Day 16).

Norm - We could certainly keep the car for one more day and drop it in Granada (rather than Ronda), but I generally assume that cars are more trouble than they're worth, except for those areas that aren't well served by efficient train/bus connections, and those places where you will want to tour along and stop on a whim. I've assumed that we'll have 2 days for that in the white hill towns (we begin day 7 in Salema, then drive to the white hill towns, keeping the car for one more day). Just curious why you think it would be better to keep the car one more day (is there good stuff between Ronda and Grenada?).

I'll look into the bus connections (Granada - Seville and elsewhere...I'm also wondering about the day trip from Madrid to Segovia - on Day 1 - Rick suggests the bus is better but now that there's a high-speed train on this leg I'm wondering if that's more attractive).

Thanks everyone for the input - it's much appreciated.

Posted by
4125 posts

Well, these are some great destinations, but there is a lot of zig-zagging and you are going to be very tired about 2/3 of the way through this trip. Lots of changes of venue; lots of pases through airport security. A pity you can't fly into Lisbon.

(Have you considered that? You might even look into changing your ticket. Or, fly to Lisbon the morning you arrive in Madrid, saving you one change of venue and one pass though airport security.)

Don't get me wrong, I think you will have a marvelous time and your itinerary is both thoughtful & creative.

Posted by
6222 posts

No, can't change the inbound or outbound tickets (we used frequent flyer miles to get them so availability is virtually non-existant.

You're right, going straight from Madrid to Lisbon would eliminate one day where we were making a major relocation (although the way I've got it penciled in now, it comes "after dinner" so I figure that doesn't cut into our sightseeing time).

Unfortunately, I don't think that would work. If we flew MAD-LIS upon arrival in Madrid, that flight would come after flying all the way from the US west coast (Seattle to Newark, with a fairly long layover, then Newark to Madrid) so I expect we'll be wiped out when we get to Madrid. Plus, the available (cheap) flights from MAD - LIS are either in the morning, or mid-evening, and since we arrive in Madrid just before noon, we would miss the morning flight and have most of the day to wait for the night flight, so that doesn't make sense.

I agree, there's some zigzagging, but I found it difficult to string together any better (more linear) route that tied together these destinations. Southern Spain, in particular, seems to be challenging to get through without at least some back-tracking.

I figure it makes sense to have a car for a small portion of this trip (Lisbon to the Algarve to the white hill towns), but otherwise I plan to use trains for all the other legs.

The zigzag route I've sketched out involves only hi-speed routes to minimize travel times; I believe none of the rail legs are more than 2-3 hours, which aren't too bad. In all these cases (the last full week, days 9-15) the day begins with the train trip, so I'm shoting to be in our hotel and settled around noon each time, leaving the bulk of the day for sightseeing (so we have 2 nights and almost 2 days in each city).

Thanks for any input!

Posted by
6222 posts

Actually, looking over what I've posted, I see that we actually have one more day than I have accounted for (in other words, we fly out of Madrid to Morocco on Day 16, not on Day 15 as previously stated). That's good.

So, here's another question: looking over this itinerary, where would you spend that extra day? What part of this trip looks like it could use an extra day to slow down and not be quite so rushed? Or would that extra day be worth spending on a day trip from Madrid to Toledo?

Speaking of zigzagging, from a strictly geographic standpoint (i.e. looking at a map and seeing where the cities line up), if you want to fit in Toledo, it looks like it would make sense to put Toledo in between Cordoba and Madrid, but it appears that you can't go directly from Cordoba to Toledo (by train) - you have to go through Madrid. Correct?

Posted by
4555 posts

Just noticed your latest you have a chance to do Toledo...since you have to come back to Madrid from Cordoba without going thru Toledo. You might as well spend the rest of the day in Madrid (you'll still find lots do to) then spend the extra day going to Toledo. The only other suggestions I would make would be to A) keep the car until Granada if possible; B) look at taking the bus Granada-Sevilla, since it's only about 15 minutes longer than the train and there are many more buses per day than trains, which might fit your schedule better (and it's way cheaper, too).

Posted by
4555 posts

David....the high speed link to Segovia isn't that much faster than the bus...40 minutes compared to about 75 minutes....and hugely more expensive. The runs are also aimed at commuters coming in from Segovia, then going home in the evening, so the schedule isn't nearly as convenient. As for the car...two reasons. A) There are only 3 trains/day from Ronda to Granada, so that limits your flexibility. B) Having a car would allow you to explore areas along the coastline into Malaga, Nerja, and Motril before heading back north into Granada. (BTW, have you examined the drop cost of your car, starting in Portugal and leaving it in Spain? The cost of leaving it in another country can be astronomical!) As for Toledo...if you want to spend the night there then, yes, go thru Madrid from Cordoba and onto Toledo for that night, then return to Madrid. The important thing is to make sure you stay in Madrid the last night to reduce the threat of transportation problems delaying your arrival at the airport. Personally, on such a tight schedule, I'd just do Toledo as a day trip this time. Whatever mode of transportation you choose, try to book all your tickets as soon as you arrive in Sevilla. The high speed trains in the summer, especially towards the weekends, and especially the train to Toledo, can fill up quickly. It's especially important if you do a day trip to Toledo, to ensure you get one of the early trains out and one of the last trains back to Madrid, to maximize your day there.

Posted by
6222 posts

That all sounds reasonable. Regarding the leg between Ronda and Granada....I've got 2 days slated for the white hill towns, between Salema and Granada. While I've listed Arcos and Ronda, I'm not necessarily wedded to those two towns. Ronda seems to get good reviews (although its proximity to the Costa del Concrete would suggest it's probably often flooded with day-trippers); I've heard more mixed reviews of Arcos. I figure we can work out the exact details (which towns, what routes, etc.) a bit later on. That said, I have been assuming that we would skip the coastal resorts entirely. I'm sure we would enjoy a relaxed day in Nerja, but I was thinking it wouldn't be worth the hassles (getting there, dealing with parking, getting out, and on to Granada). Perhaps I should reconsider that, and try to squeeze in an evening at the Balcon de Europa? (despite appearances, I do try to fight the urge to do everything).

I haven't looked into the drop-off cost for the car, but will shortly. It would have to be pretty brutal to put me off on the idea, since I don't think this part of the trip really is doable entirely by public transport (on our tight schedule).

I'll look into the bus/train timetables between Madrid & Sogovia, and see if the higher cost of the train is justified - thanks for the tips on that.

Regarding Toledo, I'm leaning towards spending a night there, since it sounds like the atmosphere is nice (and I'm sure it gets different after the day-trippers leave). Assuming we get an early start from Granada, I'm guessing we can reach Toledo and get settled in our hotel around mid-day, spend about 24 hours there, then train back to Madrid and sleep there our last night, spending the last day in Madrid, before flying on.

Thanks again!

Posted by
1003 posts

As someone who dreams of doing a Spain/Portugal trip one day, your trip looks good (and I am jealous!:)). I only have a couple concerns, about Portugal and Barcelona, since they're where I've been. If I read correctly, you only spend one day in Lisbon, which for me is so underrated and fantastic, I wish I had spent more time there (spent 4 full days and I feel like I missed a lot).Of course, only you can decide the goal of your trip. If your trip is to see a lot of places in a little time, then it's great and you will make it work. But to only spend one day in one of (IMO) the best cities in Europe is unfortunate... You have the Barrio Alto, Chiado, and the Alfama districts and despite being there 4 full days I only glimpsed at all of these neighborhoods, plus the Baixa, and all of the great sites in Belem, plus all the food experiences there are to enjoy; it's impossible to even know where to start in one day in my opinion. but of course I can only give my opinion based on the way I like to travel and I am the type who prefers to set up a home base in a city for a few days and really get under its skin.
As for Barcelona, ditto everything I said above.
Of course, take all advice with a grain of salt... I took a pretty crazy 10-city 6-week trip last summer (the only country I went to more than one city was Italy), and a lot of people told me i was crazy and it was a horrible way to travel, and I wouldn't have changed it for the world - yes it was tiring, but it was the best 6 weeks of my life and it changed my life forever. And it just made me yearn for more and on my next trips I will do one or two countries more in depth to dig deeper. For myself I compromised seeing a whole country in depth by seeing each city I went to in depth (4-5 nights) and that was satisfying because of the variety I could experience. At the end of the day, only you can decide if your itinerary will be satisfying for you. But the most important thing - have a GREAT time! :)

Posted by
4555 posts

Not to scare you David, and not all rental agencies will be the same, but a quick look at Hertz shows a Ford Fiesta at Lisbon airport for a week (9-16 Sept) at 291 Euro. The same week with the same car at Hertz, picking up in Lisbon and dropping off in Sevilla is 1017 Euro. :(

Posted by
6222 posts

Debra, thanks for the feedback.

Lisbon - yes, we will spend 3 nights there, but only one full day in the city. We arrive late the first night, then have the next day in the city, then the following day we do a day trip to Sintra. The morning after that, we head south. So 3 nights, one day in Lisbon. I know that's short, but the question becomes what else on the list would I cut to give another day to Lisbon?

In Rick's Portugal book, he recommends 3 days in Lisbon - on a 2 week tour of Portugal(!). That includes one day in Sintra, which we will be doing. So for our one full day there, I'm thinking of mixing things from his Day 1 and Day 2: morning in Belem to see the monastery and the tower monument (we'll skip the coach mudeum); in the afternoon we'll try to wander the neighborhoods (Bairro Alta, Baixa and Alfama) following Rick's "3 neighborhoods" self-guided walk (which he claims can be done in about 3 hours -- I guess we'll see!).

Regarding Barcelona - we have been to Barcelona before, and loved it. It actually was not going to be part of this trip. The only reason it's included here is because our return flight home leaves from there (because we are using frequent flyer miles for free tickets, our choices were very limited). It just turned out that the only workable flight home out of Spain is from Barcelona, and when I started working on making the connections to Morocco, Barcelona is one of the places we can fly out of on a cheap airline. Since we're going there, and since we loved it last time, and since the discount flights from Morocco do not leave every day, we end up with a day (2 nights) in Barcelona to relax before our flight home (we had no sorry, had to do it..). We know there's plenty to see there, and are making our list of places to re-visit (briefly) on our last day on this trip.

Thanks again for the feedback.

Posted by
6222 posts

OK, Norm, now you HAVE scared me...


I'll check with the guys we usually rent from on European trips tomorrow.

None of this is etched in stone yet (well, the flights from the US to/from Spain are), so if there's a big monkey wrench that gets jammed in the works (like $1000 to drop off a rental car..) I can always recalibrate. Thanks again.

Posted by
6222 posts

OK, so now that you've got me thinking about this, I'm wondering...IF there's a big drop-off surcharge for picking up the car in Portugal and dropping it off in Spain, I wonder if there might be a way to beat that...

Pick up the car in Lisbon (as planned), then drop it off in the small town of Vila Real, Portugal - just west of the Spanish border. Take a taxi about 2 km east, across the border, to the small town of Ayamonte, Spain, and pick up a different car there, drive off as planned, dropping the second car off in Ronda or Granada (as planned). Didn't cross a national border, so no big surcharge. No?

I know, it might seem sneaky, but I wonder if it would work...

Posted by
1455 posts

David, this doesn't have to do with your itinery, but check out ( She has some excellent tips on Spain, including day trip tips for Toledo and Segovia.

I really found using her guide, using the tips found here and using R.S. book helped my journey.

Have a great trip!! Spain is beautiful!

Posted by
4555 posts reason it wouldn' long as you can find a car dropoff and pickup location in the towns you want. If that's not possible, try dropping off the car in Faro, taking a coach bus to Sevilla, and picking up another car there.

Posted by
493 posts

David - We used Carjet a few times last October in Spain with no problems. We didn't take a car across the border, but sometimes they do not charge a drop off fee. They have options for pre-paying but we didn't do that. We have also used Kemwel in other countries in the past and have been able to get a lower drop off fee than booking directly with the traditional US based rental companies. Also, think about keeping your car in Ronda (it's a beautiful town) and driving to Granada. It actually worked out better for us to drive from Granada to Ronda and then on to Seville, than to take the train on the Granada/Ronda leg. If you can get it, I highly recommend the Parador in Ronda. The restaurant isn't the best, but the hotel is beautiful and in the very best location with an underground garage.

Actually, Norm's suggestion of dropping off in Faro and taking a bus to Sevilla is a good one... I'll have to remember that when we finally make it to Portugal.