After falling in love with Spain on an earlier trip to Barcelona, I knew I was destined to return sooner rather than later. With my heart set on visiting Alhambra, I set my sights to Andalusia and hoped to tackle Portugal on the same trip.
I soon realized that while Portugal and Spain are in close proximity, there are a few logistical hurdles to consider before booking flights. First, while Spain boasts the longest high speed train network in all of Europe, there is shockingly limited ground transportation between the two countries. Second, picking up a car in one country and dropping it off in another usually generates a very high supplemental charge – in our case, this would have quadrupled the rental car cost. Doing a loop seemed our best bet, not ideal, but at least we would have the flexibility for any detours we desired.
The Trip: One week in Andalusia and Algarve, spanning over 800 miles. While most would recommend at least two weeks for such an undertaking, it is entirely possible in less time!
|Day 1||Evora, Portugal||The Noble House|
|Days 2-3||Seville, Spain||Airbnb – Arenal, Seville’s most traditional neighborhood, packed with bars, cafes, and close tourist sights.|
|Day 4||Granada, Spain||Alhambra Palace Hotel Plaza|
|Days 5-6||Lisbon, Portugal||Airbnb – Chiado, Lisbon’s Bohemian cultural district known for historic landmarks and nightlife.|
|Day 7||Cascais, Portugal||Fortaleza do Guincho|
What to drive:
Like the rest of Europe, the majority of rentals will be manual transmission. If you prefer automatic be sure to specify this in advance. Make sure you’re booking something comfortable as this itinerary calls for several hours on the road.
When to go:
This itinerary works any time of year, though you may want to avoid the extreme heat felt in July and August. Winter lows hover around 50-degrees, so you don’t have to worry about being too cold. May is the best time to see the beautiful gardens of Alhambra.
Day 1: Evora, Portugal
Approximately 2.5 hours driving from the Lisbon Airport.
Arriving in Lisbon in the afternoon, we immediately hit the road for Evora, a walled city classified by UNESCO as World Heritage. We stayed at the Noble House hotel, an old Manor House located in the city center, near the city’s Cathedral and Roman Temple. Comfortable, cozy, and full of history – The Noble House was the perfect start to our road trip.
Top things to see and do in Evora:
- Roman temple
- Cathedral (Panoramic view of the city)
- Temple of Bones
- Agua de Prata Aqueduct
Where to eat in Evora:
- Restaurant Fialho
Days 2-3: Seville, Spain
Approximately 3.5 hours driving from Evora.
Seville is the crown jewel of Andalucia – you could easily spend a month meandering the barrios of the old town, and still have more to uncover. With just two nights, we were determined to fight off the jet leg and pack in as much as possible – starting with a ‘Tapas, Taverns, and History of Seville’ walking tour. This is one of the best food tours I have ever taken – it was the perfect balance of history with visits to some of Seville’s oldest and most treasured local bars. We were able to experience so much more of Seville than we would have been able to on our own – plus our guide gave us so many recommendations for the rest of our stay in Seville, and the rest of Spain. In the morning we visited the Royal Alcazar and Gardens – the oldest palace in Europe. (You may recognize it as ‘Dorne’ in Game of Thrones.) Next we visited the city’s iconic Cathedral and Giralada, officially the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. The detail and intricacy of the decoration is breathtaking, truly no corner is left unadorned! Before leaving Seville, you’ll want to experience Flamenco – an art form of song, dance, and instrumental music that originated in Andalusia in the 18th century. Try La Casa del Flamenco or Casa de la Memoria for a scheduled performance.
Top things to see and do in Seville:
- Plaza de Espana
- Giralda Tower
- Real Alcazar Palace and Cathedral
- Tapas tour
- Torre de Oro
Where to eat in Seville:
- Restaurant Oriza
- Restaurant Eslava
Day 4: Granada, Spain
Approximately 2.5-3 hours from Seville.
Drawn to Granada by Alhambra, we found so much more – there isn’t another city like this in the world. If you have more time, I would add 1-2 nights here. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Granada was the stronghold of the last great Moorish Kingdom in Spain. Although Granada is filled with cultural treasures, its main attraction is the Alhambra Palace, a Moorish citadel that overlooks the city. At the time it was built, this mighty fortress and luxury residence was one of the most lavish palaces that Spain had ever known. I highly recommend booking a private guide – try Toma Tours – who will escort you through the Palace and Gardens, revealing the fascinating history along the way. In the evening, sample a variety of Spanish flavors by visiting Granada’s famed tapas bars. What’s more, tapas in Granada are almost always served free with your drink. A few of our favorites include: Bodegas Castaneda, Bar Poe, Los Diamantes, and Bar Casa Julio – though your best bet is to walk around the historic center and keep an eye out for any place teeming with locals.
Top things to see and do in Granada:
- Alhambra Palace and Gardens (Be sure to reserve your tickets well in advance.)
- Experience Granada’s unique take on tapas culture
Where to eat in Granada:
- El Mercader
- Las Tinajas
- Alacena de las Monjas
Days 5-6: Lisbon, Portugal (with a pit-stop in Cordoba, Spain)
Approximately 7.5 hours driving from Granada.
By far the longest driving day of the trip – it’s about 7.5 hours from Granada to Lisbon – we hit the road early, and made a lengthy stop in Cordoba for lunch and some sightseeing, most notably including a visit to the Great Mosque of Cordoba. If you have additional time, Cordoba would be a great place to spend the night as there is much to experience.
Often overshadowed by neighboring European capitals, Lisbon has been known to sweep even the well traveled tourist off their feet! Sprawling seven hills, Lisbon is a truly picturesque city full of beautiful streets and hidden viewpoints. To truly know Lisbon, you must first experience its many unique and eclectic neighborhoods. For a first time visit, I recommend focusing on the historic neighborhoods of Belem and Alfama, as well as the bohemian districts of Barrio Alto and Chiado.
Furthest from the city center, visit Belem in the morning, beginning with a visit to Pasteis de Belem – widely regarded as the best place to sample pasteis de nata, Lisbon’s famed custard tart. Belem has a rich sea-faring history and many of the city’s most notable landmarks and museums are located here. Don’t miss the Belem Tower for one of the most spectacular views of Lisbon! Returning to the city center, spend the afternoon meandering the medieval alleys and cobbled streets of Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood, and most picturesque. In the evening, visit O Faia for the most magnificent dinner and Fado performance – Portugal’s answer to Spanish flamenco. End the day in Bairro Alto or Chiado, known for the best nightlife, particularly on the weekends.
Top things to see and do in Lisbon:
- St. George Castle
- Belem Tower
- Pasteis de Belem
- Rua Augusta Arch
- Tram 28 in Alfama
Where to eat and drink in Lisbon:
- A Cevicheria – arrive when they open, or plan to pass the time waiting sipping on a pisco sour in the street
- Rio Maravilha – rooftop of an old LX factory converted to bar – amazing sunset view!
- O Faia –breathtaking Fado performance (along with dinner)
- Cantinho do Avillez – famed Portuguese chef Jose Avillez
- Feitoria – Michelin star, located at Altis Belem Hotel
Day 7: Cascais, Portugal
Approximately 30 minutes driving from Lisbon.
We had initially planned to take a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra and the Estoril Coast as the drive is only about 30 minutes from central Lisbon. After realizing Sintra is actually closer to the airport than Lisbon is, we decided to stay the night, allowing ourselves a more leisurely last day of vacation. Visiting the Estoril Coast is like taking a page out of a fairytale. Sintra is a mix of natural and manmade beauty: fantasy castles set amid lush green valleys, and craggy hill tops with hazy views of Lisbon and the Atlantic. Perched atop a lush hill, the colorful Pena Palace is striking in comparison and has been described as appearing to have been made from a pile of different castles. It’s truly one of the world’s most unique and magnificent palaces, a site not to be missed!
Top things to see and do in Sintra and Cascais:
- Pena Palace
- Sintra Palace
- Cabo da Roca (Western most point of continental Europe)
- Try Bacalhau – Portuguese salted cod
- Visit Cascais beaches, depending on the season
All in all this was one of my favorite trips I have ever taken and I hope it inspires your own adventure! If you have more time, check out these places to add to your itinerary.
Additional cities of interest in Portugal and southern Spain:
- Porto, Portugal
- Faro, Portugal
- Ronda, Spain
- Malaga, Spain
- Cadiz, Spain
- Jerez, Spain
- A number of small white towns (Arcos de la Frontera, Grazalema, Zahara de la Sierra, Vejer de la Frontera)