3 Days in August: Spanish or Portuguese?
May 9, 2008 10:04 AM   Subscribe

The last weekend in August: Madrid or Lisbon?

I have a three-day stopover in Madrid at the very end of August (8.30-9.2). I've never been to Spain, and I have no doubt there are many wonderful things to do and see and eat in Madrid. However, I've heard some reports that Madrid is unbearably hot in August- and that everything is closed. I thought as an alternative that I'd transfer to a cheap flight to Lisbon from the Madrid airport, and spend my few days there instead.

These are obviously both amazing and very different places. But having no experience in either city or either country, I'd love your take(s) on what might be the best way to spend the time. Particularly vis a vis the August thing.
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
I have been to Madrid but not to Lisbon. I spent 4 days there with my girlfriend this March. We spent a couple days in the city, the parks, the museums. We also took a day-trip to nearby Segovia and had planned another one to Toledo but we missed the train for that one. Madrid is a nice city but I do not think it is on par with other great European cities, especially if everything is closed or the weather is unfavourable. Madrid is pretty far from the coast!

You may want to consider Barcelona. Barcelona was way more fun than Madrid. Lots of history, nicer architecture in my opinion, awesome night life and better seafood. My girlfriend and I agreed that the trip could have been better if we spent a day or two less in Madrid and more time in Barcelona. There are inexpensive flights and train rides from Madrid to Barcelona.
posted by KevCed at 10:17 AM on May 9, 2008

I've never been to Lisbon but Madrid is one of my least-favorite places in the world. I agree with KevCed about Barcelona: great place.
posted by thomas144 at 10:20 AM on May 9, 2008

I also didn't really like Madrid. It was sort of drab, and vaguely vanilla-modern. I don't even remember much about it, and I have vivid detailed and cherished memories of Barcelona.

I haven't been to Lisbon.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:02 AM on May 9, 2008

I'm headed to Barcelona instead of Madrid in June also on recommendations from friends who have traveled to or live in Europe. The general message I got was that Madrid is more of just a city whereas Barcelona is a real destination. 3-days would be the perfect amount of time to see Barcelona and visit 1 of the nearby spots.
posted by junesix at 11:09 AM on May 9, 2008

I lived in Madrid for a year and have nothing bad to say about the city. Cosmopolitan atmosphere and beautiful avenues, buildings and museums. The food is fantastic, and the nightlife is something you really can't imagine until you experience it. I wish like all hell I could go there for three days.

But ... I remember that when I arrived (in August!) it was indeed unbearably hot, as in 35 degrees C likely and hotter temps not at all unusual. And yes, everything was closed (though not museums and other prime tourist draws). For the first month it felt like a ghost town, and I couldn't figure out what was wrong. Then suddenly, like somebody had flicked a switch, the metro was full, cafes and restaurants I'd never seen before were open and bustling with business -- from one day to the next, Madrid came to life and turned into the city that I learned to love.

Lisbon will also be hot in August, but that's tempered by ocean breezes and the possibility to swim. It's also a fun city, easy to walk around and plenty to keep you busy for three days. When I was last there (1998) it was also cheap relative to Madrid and Spain in general.

If Barcelona is a possibility for you, then that's also a solid idea.
posted by donpedro at 11:20 AM on May 9, 2008

I don't know what it's like in the summer, but Madrid has plenty to see if you're into art or history. There are three really good, big, museums: the Prado, the Reina SofĂ­a, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza: if you have any interest in art you can easily spend a few days or longer there.

I've never been to Lisbon. I didn't like Barcelona much, but it's a matter of taste: it's a bigger tourist destination and has a much livelier nightlife than Madrid.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:26 AM on May 9, 2008

I've been to Madrid (July 2002) and Lisbon (last summer). There was much more to do in Madrid, while we had pretty much all we needed of Lisbon after 3 days. I would vote strongly for Madrid.

No opinion on the heat in August, though.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 11:32 AM on May 9, 2008

I was in Lisbon in spring 1999 and it was very inexpensive and very pretty. Hilly with some nice views, funiculars, etc. Good pastry if you have like rich, egg-yolky pastries. Lots of salty fish available. Some monuments to the big earthquake that destroyed it hundreds of years ago. Some nice Art Deco architecture.
posted by Penelope at 11:44 AM on May 9, 2008

Personally for three days in August I'd go to the beach and the only beach in Madrid is on the Rio Manzanares :P Much of the city does close for August but there are still the usual sights to see. Three days doesn't really give you much time to do much IMHO so you'll get your money's worth regardless. Roll the dice.
posted by JJ86 at 12:00 PM on May 9, 2008

Response by poster: I'd thought of Barcelona too, which seems like more of my kind of town- but the reports on the heat in August were nearly or just as bad, ie http://www.holidaycityflash.com/spain/barcelona_summer1.htm. I'd love to hear dissenting opinions on that, though.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:15 PM on May 9, 2008

Depends on what you can stand. Madrid dry heat up to 40 degrees, Barca, humid heat 32-35. I find humidity more of a problem. But I agree with the posters who say Madrid feels like a ghost town in August. I would go to Barcelona, if I were you.
posted by Wilder at 12:48 PM on May 9, 2008

I love both cities. But due to the temperature, I'd go for Lisbon.
posted by meerkatty at 1:15 PM on May 9, 2008

I've been to Lisbon (but not Madrid) and I absolutely loved it. I thought it was a gorgeous city and I have nothing but good memories from there. I had an exceptionally good meal at Cafe Luso in Bairro Alto (address: Travessa da Queimada, 10 Bairro Alto 1200-365, Lisbon - I knew my habit of picking up business cards at every restaurant I go to would serve me well at some point!) during a Fado evening, which is a form of Portuguese music I would highly recommend seeing if you have the opportunity.

You could take a bit of time out from Lisbon and visit Sintra, which is a lovely little town on the outskirts and well worth the trip. I was only in Lisbon for a weekend back in February 2003 but it rates as one of my favourite holidays and I'd recommend it to anyone.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:23 PM on May 9, 2008

A 3-Day Lisbon itinerary I did in another AskMe

I've ALSO been to Lisbon (but not Madrid) and I absolutely loved it. Things you should love about Lisbon:
*being on and near the coast
*the pastries
*the lower costs (god, spain is expensive)
*the fado (haunting beautiful music sung in tiny restaurants over dinner)
*the anything-goes atmosphere
*fewer tourists than madrid or especially barcelona
*the crowds of people just hanging out, especially the verdeans and other immigrant groups near the baixa neighborhood.
*super-friendly locals, many of whom speak English (I was really surprised how few people in Barcelona speak English, if this is an issue for you)

Portugal quickly became about my favorite country in Europe, and I regret that I too only had about 4 days there so far.
posted by whatzit at 2:22 PM on May 9, 2008

I've been both to Madrid and Lisbon. Both many times.

I'd choose Lisbon for many of the same reasons donpedro said. The beaches are great. Madrid has no beaches. And I'm in love with Lisbon for a huge number of reasons.

You, however, are not me. For you, I advise you to stay in Madrid, since you have never been to Spain! It is one of the worlds great cosmopolitan cities and there is tons to do just walking around and getting to know Spanish people, Spanish food and Spanish museums. Also, the end of August should be cooling down a bit.
posted by vacapinta at 9:57 AM on May 11, 2008

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