I just recently got back from a visit to Spain and Portugal and found it to be fascinating. I have been to Spain before a few times and Portugal many years ago. I spent a good part of my trip this time on the Madeira Island, a place I highly recommend.
There are plenty of reasons why the Iberian Peninsula remains a top European travel destination for visitors from across the world. Spain and Portugal’s rich cultural histories, grand architecture, savory delicacies, and picturesque coastlines continue to beckon.
Whether you’re looking forward to wandering cobblestone streets, hitting the beach or picking up a new language, both Portugal and Spain are a sight to behold in any season. Ideal for a romantic getaway for two or a solo adventure, the two neighboring countries can be combined into a single, unforgettable European foray.
Whether you’re starting your trip in Spain or planning to head east after spending some time in Portugal, the following destinations are absolute musts. If you’re not renting a car, getting to the country’s main hubs by train is another viable and speedy option.
When considering where to start your journey through Spain, Madrid is a no-brainer. The capital city is a bastion of Spanish culture and rich history, as well as the headquarters of Spain’s government and royal family.
The Royal Palace is a great place to start any self-guided tour of the city. Featuring painted masterpieces, historic artifacts and period furniture, the palace once housed Spain’s legendary leaders. Today, the palace and its grounds are open to visitors wanting to take in its regal presence just north of the city center.
Art lovers won’t want to miss the Museo del Prado, or Prado Museum, located steps from the Royal Botanical Gardens. Displaying national painted and sculpted treasures and open daily, the museum offers a complete synopsis of Spain’s creative heritage. After a day spent touring the museum’s galleries, walk down to the botanical gardens to catch your breath in a city oasis.
If you’re heading to Spain’s eastern coast, Valencia will likely be your home base for exploring the area’s ports and beaches. In fact, scoping out the beaches is one of the best ways to begin your time in the city, so be sure to bring a swimsuit! Once you’re ready to jump back into exploring, find your way to Valencia’s Central Market to get your fill of local specialties – and a freshly prepared bite to eat.
While on the coast, travel a few hours north to get to know Spain’s most popular destination – Barcelona. Perched right on the water, the city is filled with attractions for history buffs, avid shoppers and foodies alike – you may want to devote a few extra days to explore everything the city has to offer.
The towering Sagrada Familia and Barcelona Cathedrals are both must-see architectural attractions in the city, along with anything designed by famed local architect, Antoni Gaudi. Art enthusiasts will be inspired by the world displayed at the Museu Picasso, established in homage to the painter’s time in Barcelona.
Along with walking the city’s beaches and wandering into local food markets, devote a day to El Born, one of the city’s quintessential neighborhoods. Expect cafes, small businesses, and vibrant night life, all set against a backdrop of medieval architecture and quaint alleyways.
When in Portugal, it’s impossible not to soak in some sea, sand and surf, especially if you have the time to travel to Madeira Island. Back on the mainland, don’t miss Lisbon’s best, along with the inland town of Amarante and coastal Porto.
Set in the Atlantic Ocean about a 90-minute flight from mainland Portugal, the Madeira archipelago calls you off the beaten path, presenting a unique perspective on a classic European destination. Your time on the main island will likely begin in the port city of Funchal, where you’ll find the exquisite sights and scents of Madeira Botanical Garden.
A morning in the garden is a great way to get acquainted with the city’s layout and public transportation system. Funchal also offers a walkable old town district where you’ll find historic places of worship, fresh plates, and plenty of chances to try the island’s wine varieties, a local specialty.
When it comes to enjoying the island’s coastline, whale watching, dolphin-spotting and scuba-diving are some of the most popular activities to take part in while in Funchal and surrounding areas.
One of the interesting things I did was ride the cable up over the city of Funchal with gorgeous views. At the top we sat in a Wicker basket and slid down the mountain with two Portuguese men pushing us down the mountain about 2 kms. The line was very long but definitely worth it. I also went on a 5-mile hike along Madeira’s highest peaks. It was very challenging, but the views were stunning.
Lisbon is one of Europe’s most visited capital cities – and it’s easy to see why as soon as you immerse yourself in the city’s historic landscape. The waterfront Belem Tower, Belem Palace and Jeronimos Monastery, which are likely already on your list, are the ideal starting point for a monumental tour of the city.
If you find yourself noticing the gorgeous tile work that adorns Lisbon’s streets, be sure to stop by the National Tile Museum, where you’ll learn how the evocative “azulejos” have been made for centuries.
While walking the city’s alleyways and avenues is the best way to come across spontaneous surprises, hopping on Tram 28 is another classic way to get around the city. A ride on this vintage-style urban tram is an unforgettable experience – and it will deliver you to the doorstep of Lisbon’s top attractions.
Located in Portugal’s northern half, Porto is another important destination to add to your itinerary, especially if you want to stick to the coastline. Along with touring the Porto cathedral and the Ribeira waterfront district, take note of the famous Dom Luis I Bridge, which is open to pedestrian traffic.
When it comes to city views, the Clerigos Tower is one of the best vantage points to take in the panorama. After a day of sightseeing, be sure to kick back on Rua Das Flores and sample local Port wine while people-watching on this quaint street.
While in Porto, consider a day trip to the town of Amarante, located a few hours east of the city. Set along the Tamega River, this town offers a well-rounded break from Portugal’s tourist capitals while still inviting visitors to take in the atmosphere.
Points of interest include the Church of Saint Gonzalo, the Municipal Museum of local artist Amadeo de Souza Cardoso, and the riverfront walking paths, which are perfect for a relaxing stroll following a hearty Portuguese dinner.
If you are thinking of planning a trip to Spain or Portugal and have questions, please reach out.
Have any of you travelled to Spain, Portugal or elsewhere in Europe lately? Which cities and places did you visit? Did you think the trip worthwhile? I would love to hear your thoughts and recommendations.
Tags Solo Travel