The Best Guide for Planning a Trip to Portugal and Spain

Going to Portugal or Spain is an awesome experience that you’ll likely never forget because both are awesome countries. But what if you could visit both on the same trip? Even if you’ve never visited Europe, you can make that happen if you follow the tips in this awesome guide for planning a trip to Portugal and Spain!

Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain

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Flights to Portugal and Spain

Many flights come through Lisbon which makes it a great hub for travel into Europe. TAP Air Portugal is very cost-effective and provides many options. We flew out of Toronto so we went with Air Transat, which gave us a direct flight and an amazing deal.

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Even though Portugal and Spain are neighboring countries there is no direct high-speed train connecting their national capitals. The drive is just over 6 hours so it’s doable but we were flying into Lisbon and didn’t want to have to then get in a car and drive for another 6 hours.

Royal Palace of Madrid in Madrid, Spain

We opted for a relatively inexpensive one-way flight from Lisbon to Madrid that was just under 2 hours through Air Europa. Several carriers will provide you with a similar flight option. We made our selection primarily based on the time of the connecting flight.

The line through customs was fairly long once we landed in Lisbon, but we had a 2-hour window between flights. Ultimately it didn’t matter much because the line moved very quickly. It was an easy process even though we had just flown overnight and were jet lagged.

Order of destinations

Praca do Comercio in Lisbon, Portugal

In planning for our trip to Portugal and Spain, we had three destinations that we were going to include. Madrid, Lagos, and Lisbon. For 2 weeks, 3 destinations is a good number, anything more and you may feel rushed and spend a lot of time in transit.

If you want to see other areas, you can easily add day trips. Porto, and Sintra from Lisbon are excellent. Toledo and Segovia are great from Madrid. The Algarve is great for day trip exploration with a series of intriguing towns and points of interest.

Praia do Camilo in the Algarve in Portugal
Ponte de Piedade in the Algave in Portugal

The order that we visited was determined by the available flights and prices. First, we purchased round-trip tickets to Lisbon, then we filled in the rest later. Based on the prices and availability we settled on the order of Madrid, Lagos, and then Lisbon.

Check the prices and availability of the flights or trains from different directions and combinations for the locations that you have included in your trip. When we did that we realized a couple of things that helped us make the decision.

First, there were far fewer options for flying from Faro (in the Algarve) to Madrid than Madrid to Faro. There were no direct flights for the dates that we needed.

The only viable option going from Faro to Madrid would be to layover in Lisbon, which didn’t seem appealing at all. So that meant that we would have to go from Madrid to the Algarve.

Second, the flights from Madrid to Lisbon wouldn’t match up with the departure times for our flight leaving to go home. So that meant that we would have to leave for home from Lisbon.

If you’re including the Algarve in your trip (and you should), starting in Spain and then moving on to Portugal with your trip ending in Lisbon seems to be the best way to go.

Connecting between locations

Down a street to San Gines in Madrid, Spain

If you’re starting in Spain, the main locations of Madrid and Barcelona are a great place to start when looking for places to visit. Fortunately, there is a high-speed train that runs frequently between Barcelona and Madrid. The trip is usually just under 3 hours.

Going from Madrid into Portugal to either Lisbon, Porto or the Algarve is possible by way of a direct flight.

There should be plenty of options into Lisbon or Porto, but there are fewer options into Faro which provides access to the Algarve so you might want to secure that flight as early as possible to make sure you get the date and the time that you want.

Traveling between the Algarve to Lisbon can be done by train, bus, plane, or by driving. If you’re arriving in Lisbon to stay for a few days, then driving is probably the best way to go. The drive is fairly easy and is just under 3 hours.

Renting a car for Portugal

Praia Dona Ana in the Algarve in Portugal

Since the Algarve region is so spread out and there isn’t extensive public transportation that services the entire area, renting a car is the best way to get around this scenic region. Also, some of the best beaches and sites simply aren’t easily accessible without a car. If you’re flying into the Faro Airport you can easily pick up your car there.

Several agencies provide great prices for rental cars. To get an even better deal, make sure to choose a manual transmission if you have those types of skills. The Algarve is a popular vacation destination and the rental costs can increase the closer you get to your travel date so be sure to book as soon as possible. Some places don’t require you to pay upfront, so it won’t cost much if anything to make the reservation.

When you arrive to pick up your car make sure you have your locally issued driver’s license, passport, and credit card and you’ll be set.

Accommodations for Portugal and Spain

Since we are a family of four and travel on a budget, we appreciate the comforts and amenities that come with renting an apartment through services like VRBO and Airbnb. All three of the apartments that we rented had full kitchens and three beds.

We often find markets nearby and purchase some snacks, fruit, etc. which helps cut down costs and provides breakfast. This saves time when we’re first starting our day and is one of the best benefits of booking a vacation rental.

The green house in Lagos, Portugal

The apartments that we stayed in were all in amazing locations and had great hosts. We had excellent accommodations for each stop of our trip.

To find out the best areas to stay in those cities, be sure to check out our guides for the best areas to stay in Madrid, The Algarve and Lisbon.

Itinerary for Portugal and Spain

The flight deal that we found was a bit shorter than we wanted but we were able to comfortably visit Madrid, Lagos, and Lisbon.

Lisbon Cathedral in Lisbon, Portugal


Depending on the time available other cities such as Porto in Portugal or Seville and Barcelona could work as well. However you divide the time, be sure to allocate plenty of time for the Algarve region, it will likely be the favorite part of your trip.

In Madrid, our family’s itinerary included:

Plaza Mayor
Mercado de San Miguel
Royal Palace of Madrid
Calle Gran Via
Fundacion Telefonica
Templo de Debod
Prado Museum
Retiro Park

Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain

In Lagos, our family’s itinerary included:

Old Town Square
Praia do Camilo
Praia de Dona Ana
Ponta da Piedade
Carvoeiro
Benagil Caves Tour
Marinha Beach

In Lisbon, our family’s itinerary included:

Praca do Comercio
Santa Justa Lift
Shopping in Chiado
Rua Augusta/Arco da Rua Augusta
Belem Tower
Jeronimos Monastery
Lisbon Cathedral
Miradouro das Portas do Sol
Miradouro de Santa Luzia

Avenue de Liberdade
Praca Dom Pedro IV
Castelo de Sao Jorge

For detailed itineraries of each location, click the links below:

Madrid

The Algarve

Lisbon

Castelo Sao Jorge in Lisbon, Portugal

Items to pack for a trip to Portugal and Spain

  1. Comfy shoes (with a good grip)
  2. Sunglasses
  3. Swimwear
  4. International adapter
  5. Light jacket or cardigan
  6. Small cross-body bag

The Best Time to Go To Portugal and Spain

Miradouro de Santa Luzia in Lisbon, Portugal

The best time to visit Portugal and Spain is May/June and September/October. For families, June is the best time when considering school schedules. While July and August are two of the most popular months to travel, they’re not necessarily the best times to visit Spain and Portugal. Because of their popularity, these destinations can become quite crowded and a bit more expensive. Spain especially can get uncomfortably hot in July and August.

Visiting during the shoulder season gives a lot of the benefits of summer travel without many of the downsides. This will result in an awesome experience.

Make Those Plans to Visit Portugal and Spain Now!

Rossio Square in Lisbon, Portugal

Portugal and Spain have so much to offer by way of history, architecture, food, and gorgeous natural locations including some of the best beaches in Europe. Our family greatly enjoyed our combined trip to Portugal and Spain.

If you want more info to help plan your trip, check out these detailed itineraries for Lisbon, the Algarve and for Madrid that our family used on our trip. I’m sure that if you decide to make the trip, you’ll never forget the experience that is Portugal and Spain.

Author

  • Jeremiah Pittmon

    Jeremiah Pittmon is a published travel writer and photographer from Cleveland, Ohio. Passionate about exploring the world with his family, he finds inspiration in all types of travel. Through his blog, smilesonarrival.com, and social media channels, he shares captivating experiences and valuable tips for families who love to travel.

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The Best Guide for Planning a Trip to Portugal and Spain
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