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3 weeks in Spain/Portugal... tips wanted

We are Seniors planning our first trip to Spain & Portugal. Our tentative plans are to fly into Lisbon, drive South, then into Spain, around Southern Spain, finishing in Madrid, and flying home from Madrid, (Skipping Barcelona). We like museums and historical sites, gardens and food. We're not into hiking or sports, or chilling out on beaches. We want to see as much as possible since we probably will never be able to return.
We plan to rent a car. We are from California, so driving distances is OK with us.
How should we allocate days in each place? What is the driving time like..can we do this in 3 weeks without rushing around like crazy people?

Posted by
3559 posts

The amount of time you have is perfectly adequate; however, there are a couple of of things you need to know about your projected itinerary. First of all, if you rent a car in Portugal and drop it in Spain, you'll be hit with an astonishingly high fee, $400 or more. Second, though the distance from Lisbon to Andalucia is short, there is no direct train service. Since you don't care about beaches, you might look into a bus to Seville, say; and pick up a car there. Or, you could check into cheap flights from Lisbon to one of the Andalucian cities. Seville, Granada, and Malaga all have airports.The Algarve and Costa del Sol are mostly high rise hotels, restaurants, and fast food joints. You might consider dropping the car before you head north and training to Madrid. You certainly don't want it there. You didn't mention when you are going, but I can tell you from personal experience that the south of Spain is amazingly hot in the summer - - 104 F when I was in Seville in June.
Be sure to include Granada for seeing the Alhambra. There's been quite a bit of info on this site about getting reservations. We also loved Cordoba.

You can PM me if you want more details about hotels, restaurants or anything else.

Posted by
4555 posts

Three weeks sounds do-able, but you'll get whacked with a good-sized surcharge for picking up a car in one country and dropping it off in another. For the lowest car rental rates by far, I'd fly into/out of Malaga, then do a circuit....Granada, Ronda, Sevilla, southern Portugal, Lisbon, Madrid (extra days for day trips by train to Toledo and Segovia), then back to Malaga to fly home. Second least-expensive for car rentals would be to pick up in Malaga and drop in Madrid (or vice versa).

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks, we'll look into Malaga. We're waiting for Ricks book on Spain to arrive which will also help with planning.

Posted by
655 posts

We are also seniors. We did a similar trip in just under four weeks but we included areas a little further north, especially Segovia which was a favorite of ours. We did not go to Barcelona but we like beaches so we spent considerable time along the coasts.

We traveled by car which we rented and returned to the Madrid airport. We saved Madrid for last and went into the city by taxi after dropping the car. From the airport, our trip was basically a circle, going clockwise.

The Spanish highways are very good and, compared to the USA, not as crowded. We had a superb little Spanish diesel car called a Seat, the Leon model. If there are two of you, it would be an excellent choice. You can get a pretty accurate idea of distances and driving times at

As your plans develop return here for more information.

Posted by
2788 posts

If you haven't already, get a copy of RS Spain&Portugal tour book. We found it extremely valuable when we did those two countries. My only big complain during that trip: restaurants not opening for dinner until about 9PM. We were use to eating dinner around 6PM so we had to modify our schedule so that we had a big lunch and then visited "tapa's" bars - see explanation in RS book. Good luck and this senior did enjoy the region.