Help plan Portugal/Spain Trip!
February 28, 2023 7:03 AM   Subscribe

My partner & I have approximately 5 weeks in Portugal & Spain early this fall (basically, the month of October). Help us set the list of cities to visit, and make sure the transit will work out OK!

The following details are set:
  • flying in to Lisbon
  • flying out of Madrid
  • no car, using public transportation for everything
We're both seasoned travelers who have been going to Europe for decades, but we've never visited Portugal and as far as Spain is concerned have only visited Barcelona.

We don't plan to return to Barcelona (not that we didn't like it!). Our short list so far includes Tarifa with a day-trip to Tangier, and I thought Coimbra sounded neat.

We're museum / hiking / foodie / concert or opera people, but not sunbathing / drinking / clubbing people.

In addition to cities we'd also love tips about how to visit national parks / forests / other areas of natural beauty without needing a car.

While the main goal is to set a list of cities your other tips are welcome. Like, what transit app(s) do I need for rail & bus in these countries?
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun to Travel & Transportation around Spain (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Lisbon is lovely - Alfama is super interesting, and we enjoyed a night of fado in that neighbourhood (Club de Fado).

When we were in Portugal (earlier this month) there were rolling partial rail strikes, which meant a) we couldn't book train tickets until very close to our departure (like, three days before our planned train trip) and b) the day of our train trip, there were other trains that were not operational and it was mostly luck that ours was still running. Hopefully by the fall, these issues will be resolved but it doesn't hurt to check the news on this issue.

You might also enjoy checking out Sintra and Monchique.
posted by hepta at 7:27 AM on February 28

In November 2016, we did a walking (hiking) trip in Andalusia where we walked from Gaucin to Ronda over 4 days, staying in a different white village each night. There are a few different companies that will set you up and carry your bags. We were able to get to the start point using the train system. I spent a bit of time poking around at Man in seat 61 to get that set up. The train to the start of the hike connected through Ronda (which you will want to visit).
posted by TORunner at 7:47 AM on February 28

Coimbra is really cool, it's like stepping into a medieval Harry Potter world. Obidos is magical for a half day trip and when we were there there was a huge outdoor flea market outside the walled city with pretty cool and unique antiques. Porto is amazing, we loved it more than Lisbon (be ready for LOTS of hilly walking). Sintra is definitely worth a day trip, such a whimsical place. The Algarve coast is beautiful with its cliffs, even if it won't be swimming weather, or I'm sure south of Spain also has beautiful coast lines.

Seville is gorgeous. Toledo is a great day trip.

I do suggest googling neighborhoods to stay in and avoid for each city. There were definitely a couple of areas of Lisbon where we didn't feel super comfortable after dark, and I remember seeing 2 shady characters hopping over a gate and running. Overall it was great though!
posted by at 8:00 AM on February 28

The Northern region of Spain is lovely, though I'm not sure I would prioritize it over Southern Spain, especially in October. That said, I really liked Galicia, the small coastal cities and the medieval city of Santiago de Compostela. Plus Basque country is a whole trip and culture to itself.

I really liked the Atlantic coast in Southern Portugal, we spent time near Bordeira (and we had a car), but the whole coast south of Portugal is lovely. Definitely try to get to Sagres in the southwest corner - I did this on mopeds from Lagos, and that was really fun.

I wouldn't bother with a daytrip to Tangier, personally, but that's because I think if you want to go to Morocco, you should go to Morocco. I really enjoyed Gibraltar as a day trip, though.

Andalucia is wonderful. Seville, Grenada, smaller towns. I liked sherry tasting in Jerez. Since you're going in October, nothing will be so hot, which is great. Cordoba has excellent sights (mosque, alcazar, synagogue) but is particularly punishing in the summer.

Don't short change Madrid if you can. Excellent art, excellent vibe. A side trip to Toledo is good.
posted by vunder at 8:21 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]

I went to Madrid the year before the pandemic and the best thing I did was a tapas bar crawl, which I booked through AirBnB and which was also advertised on TripAdvisor. It was huge fun – at five neighbourhood bars we tried a different local drink and the bar's food speciality.

I can also recommend x a millionty Seville and the day trip to Toledo. I found Barcelona lovely but too crowded. Valencia was a lovely walking city.

The trains are a great way to travel.
posted by finisterre at 1:26 PM on February 28

I spent three weeks in the south of Spain. Don't miss Granada and the Alhambra - get tickets well in advance. Seville and Ronda are also gorgeous and the area around Ronda has some fantastic hiking. Eat everything!!!
posted by dazedandconfused at 5:06 PM on February 28

Some relevant companies:

Buses - Alsa

Trains - Renfe, AVLO (Renfe's low cost trains), Ouigo, Iryo
posted by sukeban at 7:23 AM on March 1

Keep in mind that October 12 is a national holiday, and Madrid has a military parade through the city center. It's also the main day for the Fiestas del Pilar in Zaragoza (and the city is full of people during the fiestas). There aren't that many other relevant dates in October, but November 1 is also a bank holiday, All Hallows.
posted by sukeban at 7:27 AM on March 1

We just returned from a trip going the other direction - we flew back to the US from Lisbon after spending time in Portugal, Spain, and Italy. We were absolutely spoiled by the high speed trains in Spain and Italy, We found exploring Portugal outside of Lisbon/Porto a breeze with a rental car - but no driving in the city centers. Within the cities the Metro & Trams/Buses are easy to use.

Rail to get get from Porto/Lisbon to Madrid is a 12-hour trip. We ended up flying Madrid to Porto for $50 each. With more time we might have rented a car in Spain and driven to Portugal...
posted by ElGuapo at 7:46 AM on March 1

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