Author Topic: Vacay to Spain & Portugal...Madrid? Barcelona? Lisbon? Others?  (Read 590 times)

haflander

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Hi there. I'm super bored at work today so I've come to pose a very premature traveling question.

My SO and I booked tickets for a flight to Madrid in April 2020. Major shout-out to Scott's Cheap Flights...roundtrip tickets were 270 each. We also got tickets to Lima for the same price this May only 60ish days in advance. Bonus: I get access to SCF for free through a friend, so I don't even have to pay the 50ish per year :)

Our flight arrives in Madrid on a Monday morning and leaves late Tuesday morning of the next week. So, eight full days.

My ? is where in Iberia would you recommend for two people who have never been there? Each of us has been to Europe separately, but neither of us has been to Spain or Portugal. Obviously the three biggies are Madrid, Barcelona, and Lisbon. Other mid-sized cities that I've heard of and would consider are Leon/Oviedo, Bilbao, Valencia, Ibiza, Cartagena, Granada/Malaga, Seville/Gibraltar, and Porto. I'm thinking our options are two locations with plenty of time in each, or three locations with a moderate amount of time in each. I definitely would not want to stretch to four locations or four hotels. As we are flying in and out of Madrid, it would be easy to spend time there. However, there is plenty of time on travel days to go to/come back from somewhere else, so Madrid doesn't HAVE to be one of the three.

Other factors that may matter...we are 20-somethings and not married (yet). I'll primarily look for Airbnbs in whatever cities we choose. I speak a tiny bit of Spanish, but I'm guessing Texan/Mexican Spanish is very different than Spanish Spanish :) We enjoy big cities as well as country and off-the-beaten-path places. On our last big trip to Peru, she enjoyed the big city and art of Lima but I enjoyed the ruins and history and mountains of Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and obviously Machu Picchu. So, we do have one big trip under our belt and would feel fine planning and organizing another. We would enjoy art/history museums and beach time. I scheduled this trip for April instead of May to possibly see a big soccer game such as Real Madrid, Atletico, or FC Barcelona. If we can't swing that, then seeing one of the teams of a mid-sized city instead would be almost as fun anyway.  A castle would be awesome, I've never done one in Europe before. Maybe some fun nightlife too.

All of the above are just stuff we enjoy but I wouldn't say any of them is a must. If summarizing, we just like to do the typical touristy places. Of course, safety is a minor concern. Not enough to sit at home, but enough to...choose destinations carefully. I've read that traveling by train/plane between cities in Iberia is pretty simple/cheap.

Thanks in advance.

terran

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Re: Vacay to Spain & Portugal...Madrid? Barcelona? Lisbon? Others?
« Reply #1 on: July 01, 2019, 08:28:01 PM »
I didn't much enjoy Madrid, so I would probably not spend much time there, but others may feel differently.

Getting from Spain to Portugal isn't as fast/easy as you might think given the proximity, so we flew, but with the amount of time you have I would probably just stay in Spain.

Barcelona and Seville would both be high on my list and should be easy and fast train connections from Madrid, but they're in opposite directions, so you might pick one or the other and add some other destinations in that direction.

SemiChemE

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Re: Vacay to Spain & Portugal...Madrid? Barcelona? Lisbon? Others?
« Reply #2 on: July 01, 2019, 11:21:59 PM »
Last December I traveled with my parents to Lisbon for 3 days, we then took the night train to Madrid, where we stayed one night, seeing the Prado and the Palacio Real, and then continued on to Barcelona, where we met up with my sister's family for 4 days.  It was a great trip. 

Three days was plenty of time to see most of the sites of Lisbon proper.  We especially enjoyed Dinner and a Fado Show at Parreirinha de Alfama (http://www.parreirinhadealfama.com/en/?home).  The various Miradouros (lookout points) throughout the city of 7 hills are spectacular.  There are also a bunch of great sea food restaurants along the Rua das Portas de Santo Antao.  Unfortunately, we did not have time for any day trips, as I would have liked to see the Palaces at Sintra.

We stayed at the Hotel Convento do Salvador, which though somewhat no-frills, is clean and in an excellent location.  I would recommend it. You can probably find a cheaper AirBnB, but I think it was worth having a professional English-speaking staff, who could provide directions and recommendations on things to see and local restaurants.

The night train to Madrid was an interesting experience.  We booked a sleeper car.  It wasn't exactly cheap, but considering we got both transportation and lodgings for the night, it wasn't too outrageous either.  It was really nice to arrive in Madrid fully rested and not lose much time to traveling.  However, while a single night on the train was totally fine, I'm not sure I would want to do it twice in the same week.  So, that may limit your options for making a round trip from Madrid to Lisbon.  Further, for a couple such as yourself, you probably wouldn't want to rent a full car, which requires buying 4 tickets.  You can buy single tickets and book a birth in a "shared" car, but those are segregated by gender, so you and your SO may have to be separated.

We didn't have much time in Madrid, so we only saw the Prado Museum and the Palacio Real, both of which are excellent and highly recommended.  I'm sure there's a lot more to see.  We stayed at the Hotel Mediodia, which is within walking distance of the Prado and across the street from the main train station.  It was nicer than I expected given the quite reasonable price and prime location.

The train to Barcelona is fast, covering the distance in about 2 hours.  Tickets are quite reasonable if purchased well in advance, but prices climb rapidly (2-4x) as the departure date draws near.  Barcelona was the highlight of our trip.  Lots to see and do.  If you do go, make sure to make reservations in advance for a tour of la Iglesia de la Sagrada Familia.  I would also recommend studying "Las Meninas" in the Prado and then visiting the Picasso in Barcelona to see Picasso's take on this famous painting.

Hirondelle

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Re: Vacay to Spain & Portugal...Madrid? Barcelona? Lisbon? Others?
« Reply #3 on: July 01, 2019, 11:48:33 PM »
My recommendation would be Madrid + Barcelona. You don't have the time for much else. Next to Madrid there's the historic city of Toledo which you should definitely check out and would add an extra day to your Madrid itinary. Barcelona has the beach as well so if you get lucky with the weather you could spend an afternoon there.

If you want to add a 3rd city Valencia makes the most sense route-wise and is supposed to be a great place as well.

As you're going in April it won't be high season so if you're comfortable with it, don't stress booking everything in advance. Just go,  and decide spontaneously where you'll go on which day.

Regarding safety; stop worrying. Unless you go into dodgy neighbourhoods of big cities there's nothing to worry about. Just beware of pickpockets like in any big city.

Telecaster

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Re: Vacay to Spain & Portugal...Madrid? Barcelona? Lisbon? Others?
« Reply #4 on: July 02, 2019, 01:02:14 AM »
My recommendation would be Madrid + Barcelona. You don't have the time for much else. Next to Madrid there's the historic city of Toledo which you should definitely check out and would add an extra day to your Madrid itinary. Barcelona has the beach as well so if you get lucky with the weather you could spend an afternoon there.

^ Something like this.  I love Madrid.   It is an amazing city.  Eight days in Madrid with side trips to Aranjuez, Toledo, and Segovia and that's a full trip.  Add in Granada, Seville, and Barcelona and you are cutting it pretty thin.  Best make two trips out of it.

Samuel

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Re: Vacay to Spain & Portugal...Madrid? Barcelona? Lisbon? Others?
« Reply #5 on: July 02, 2019, 10:08:53 AM »
My recommendation would be Madrid + Barcelona. You don't have the time for much else. Next to Madrid there's the historic city of Toledo which you should definitely check out and would add an extra day to your Madrid itinary. Barcelona has the beach as well so if you get lucky with the weather you could spend an afternoon there.

^ Something like this.  I love Madrid.   It is an amazing city.  Eight days in Madrid with side trips to Aranjuez, Toledo, and Segovia and that's a full trip.  Add in Granada, Seville, and Barcelona and you are cutting it pretty thin.  Best make two trips out of it.

Yep, this. Portugal is great but make that a separate trip, and don't run yourself ragged trying to check off too many cities within Spain. Madrid (with a day trip or two) and Barcelona is perfect for 8 days, otherwise you're wasting too much time in transit (especially if you have to end up back in Madrid). Both are awesome cities with plenty to see and do. Hits all your criteria except perhaps nature and "off the beaten path".

If you can't see a game in person watching it in a bar with rowdy locals is a heck of a lot of fun too.

Catbert

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Re: Vacay to Spain & Portugal...Madrid? Barcelona? Lisbon? Others?
« Reply #6 on: July 02, 2019, 11:45:35 AM »
I have a trip to Lisbon and Madrid planned for September.  But mine is two weeks.  I wouldn't try to do both in a single week in large measure because of travel time between cities. The only train between Madrid and Lisbon is the 12 hour overnight discussed earlier in the thread.  While it's a not a long plane fight, you'll lose hours of vacation time at the airport both ways.  I'd either spend the week at Madrid with day trips or split between Madrid and Barcelona if you really need a second city.  Trains between those cities are shorter and more frequent.

Barcelona is a great city.  I spend 3 days there as part of a longer trip and want to go back.

I don't have my days planned for Lisbon/Madrid yet so I don't have specific recommendations of what to do. 




   

aalferez

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Re: Vacay to Spain & Portugal...Madrid? Barcelona? Lisbon? Others?
« Reply #7 on: July 02, 2019, 12:04:48 PM »
Hi there.

Born and raised in Madrid. Mother from Valencia, father from Almeria.
Been in the US (Chicago) for the last 8 years.

Feel free to PM me if you need to.

April is a nice time to go. I would say Madrid is a must and there is so much to do around.
They mentioned Toledo which is my fav city EVER. I took my GF there last year and it blew her mind. Very medieval look, with a huge cathedral. Toledo is famous for the blacksmithing and swords built for superproductions in hollywood come from Toledo.

You may find lots of castles all around the country too.

I don't know what is your preference or what you like to do on vacation (beach and relax or historic tourism or hiking...)

My family uses for traveling an app called Home Exchange https://www.homeexchange.com/
We were just in LA around february and my parents are right now in Peru with the same app.
It's based on points that you make when you have hosts at your place and you use the points when you travel over.
Maybe something you want to take a look at because you end up expending almost nothing.
My family referral is https://www.homeexchange.com/?sponsorkey=351-517967-d276bc09 just in case anyone is interested.


turketron

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Re: Vacay to Spain & Portugal...Madrid? Barcelona? Lisbon? Others?
« Reply #8 on: July 02, 2019, 12:16:08 PM »
If you had longer I'd say go to San Sebastian- probably my favorite city I've ever been to. For 8 days, I'd echo what everyone else says and say hit up Madrid and the surrounding area (Toledo, Segovia, etc) and maybe Barcelona.

haflander

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Re: Vacay to Spain & Portugal...Madrid? Barcelona? Lisbon? Others?
« Reply #9 on: July 02, 2019, 01:05:58 PM »
Sounds like the general consensus is Madrid and Barcelona. I would be interested in some of the places listed around Madrid, such as Toledo. I definitely would want to go to Barcelona as well instead of only Madrid the whole time. Valencia would be a possibility as a third, and it's close to the other two. I know the gf really wants to go to Lisbon, and has mentioned it a few times. "If you're gonna go all the way there anyway, why not?" We have a lot of other world trips on our list, and we may never end up coming to Spain/Portugal ever again.

Our problem right now is we're both at the beginning of our careers. I don't feel comfortable taking two full weeks off of work, so that's why we settled on this timeline. I don't want any job to realize that things go fine when I'm not there...and that I'm unnecessary. Later in my career when I'm more established, sure. She is in a kinda holding pattern for her career trajectory right now. Right now she's in an hourly position that has turned out to be a dead end job, so we don't think she'll be there next spring. She's training to become a teacher, and we're not sure if she'll be doing a probationary teaching internship in the spring semester, or a small chance she'll be in the same job she has now, or we've talked about her waiting tables for a limited time as a bridge between now and teaching. Another reason we scheduled the trip for April is so she could build some trust if she was teaching, instead of taking off 7-10 days in January, right at the beginning of the semester. During the flight deal a month ago, flights were not yet scheduled for summer 2020, so that wasn't a possibility either. We ended up choosing just about the latest date that we could manage before a family wedding in May.

Later in life, I'd love to be able to spend 2/4/6 weeks on vacation, but it's just not a possibility right now, unfortunately.

Any other opinions?

MrSal

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Re: Vacay to Spain & Portugal...Madrid? Barcelona? Lisbon? Others?
« Reply #10 on: July 02, 2019, 08:12:42 PM »
Born and raised in Lisbon here.

I agree with others. 7-8 days for Lisbon+Madrid+Barcelona is too rushed. Either stay fully in Portugal - plenty to see and do and you wouldnt regret it at all - most people I know just want to move there that visit it. Or stick to Madrid-Barcelona ...all 3 is probably too much

Zamboni

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Re: Vacay to Spain & Portugal...Madrid? Barcelona? Lisbon? Others?
« Reply #11 on: July 02, 2019, 09:22:23 PM »
I'll be another vote for 2 locations for the length of time you have, 3 at the most.

It's fairly easy to get a cheap flight to Lisbon for a different trip, or you can take TAP Portugal another time and have up to a 3 day layover in Lisbon for no extra fee on the way to another destination. We flew in and out of Lisbon for a trip to Seville, so those could be grouped together on another trip.

My favorite part of our trip was driving between cities, honestly. There are big beautiful storks nesting with hatchlings in April/May. Almost every exit has some sort of small historic church or castle ruins on a hill you can go see if you feel like it. And we stopped in sleepy little towns for wine and some Iberian ham, olives, and cheese. Heck, I enjoy checking out what is for sale at the gas station quickie marts in other countries . . . although my credit card did get skimmed by the clerk at one of those, so be careful about that.

People say not to drive in Europe, but people don't know anything.

Hirondelle

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Re: Vacay to Spain & Portugal...Madrid? Barcelona? Lisbon? Others?
« Reply #12 on: July 03, 2019, 03:26:38 AM »

Our problem right now is we're both at the beginning of our careers. I don't feel comfortable taking two full weeks off of work, so that's why we settled on this timeline. I don't want any job to realize that things go fine when I'm not there...and that I'm unnecessary.


This sounds like you desperately need to spend some time in Europe. Uncomfortable taking more than 10 days off because things may run fine without you, that's alien to us :). 

Samuel

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Re: Vacay to Spain & Portugal...Madrid? Barcelona? Lisbon? Others?
« Reply #13 on: July 03, 2019, 03:29:23 PM »
Doing Madrid to Lisbon to Barcelona to Madrid in 7.5 days means 30% of your trip is going to be traveling to airports, in airports, or on airplanes. Why would you do that to yourselves? Do yourselves a favor and slow down a bit. Pick Barcelona or Lisbon to complement Madrid, but not both.

Personally, I'd do Portugal separately (cheap tickets to Lisbon pop up fairly regularly) and it's a shame to either get to Spain and skip Barcelona, or get to Lisbon and skip the coast, Porto, etc.