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Portugal vs. Spain: Which Should You Visit First?


 

Portugal vs. Spain: Which Should You Visit First?

When planning a trip to the Iberian Peninsula, two countries often come to mind: Portugal and Spain. Set on the southwestern edge of Europe, these neighbouring nations share similarities, yet they are distinct in their own right.

With its unique culture ranging from bullfights to flamenco dancing, art, architecture, cuisine and some of the best beaches along the Mediterranean Sea, Spain always ranks high as one of Europe's top travel destinations. But in recent years, its next-door neighbour Portugal has been climbing the charts, drawing travellers with its affordability, artistic cities, food and wine scenes and charming beach resorts and seaside towns.

Sitting side-by-side on the Iberian Peninsula, it'd be easy to visit both Spain and Portugal on a single trip. But is one better than the other? Should you visit Spain first, or Portugal, or vice versa? We'll help you figure out how to plan your perfect trip to the Iberian Peninsula to explore Portugal, Spain, or both!
 

Best time of year to visit: Spain vs. Portugal

Portugal and Spain are similar in terms of the best time to visit. With mild temperatures, fair weather and fewer crowds, spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) are generally the best times to visit both Spain and Portugal.

During the summer high season (June to August), the weather will be at its hottest, and popular destinations like major cities (Lisbon in Portugal and Barcelona in Spain) will be more crowded. The region's many beautiful beaches, especially along the Mediterranean Coast in Portugal's Algarve region and Spain's Andalucia, Valencia, Murcia and Catalonia regions, will also be busier. 

Even winter is a good time to visit both Spain and Portugal, as the winter season on the Iberian Peninsula is mild. Temperatures are usually in the 50s, with some rain and storms. But in general, it's still a pleasant time to travel. Rates will also usually be at their lowest for the tourism low season.

Culture

Switching hands between empires, religions and cultures for centuries, the Iberian Peninsula boasts a fascinating multicultural heritage and history, with each country telling its own story.

Portugal

With its 1,115-mile-long coastline, Portugal has deep maritime roots. Portuguese vessels brought spices and goods from around the world, infusing coastal cities like Lisbon and Porto with flavours and cultural influences from across the globe. 

Today, Portugal is especially famous for its melancholic fado music, picturesque cobblestone streets and intricate azulejo tiles. It's also known for its grand architecture, from the colourful houses of Lisbon to fairytale castles like the National Palace of Pena, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For easy-going travellers who prefer slow travel and a laidback pace, Portugal's warm and relaxed attitude towards life, promoting a slower pace, will be a nice fit. 

Spain

Spain is a diverse tapestry of cultures, influenced by its past as a confluence of Roman, Moorish and Christian civilizations. Across the globe, it's renowned for its artful traditions like flamenco dance and bullfighting, as well as giving the world incredible artwork from the architecture of Gaudi to the paintings of Picasso.

If you've visited Spain before, you'll know that locals here love to have a good time, with cities like Madrid and Barcelona exuding an energetic and bustling atmosphere. You’ll find vibrant nightlife in major cities and destinations like Ibiza, as well as fiestas and celebrations, like La Tomatina and the Running of the Bulls, taking place throughout the year. But Spaniards also value rest, as you'll discover with the local "siesta" culture and laidback lifestyle.

 

Cuisine

Unsurprisingly, seafood plays a major role in both Spanish and Portuguese cuisine. But each country approaches the dishes in their own way and also makes use of imported spices and other ingredients from their seafaring empire days to create globetrotting, multicultural dishes.

Portugal

From octopus to sardines to bacalhau (salted cod), you'll endlessly have your fill of fresh or preserved seafood dining at tavernas, restaurants and eateries along the Atlantic coast, particularly in coastal regions like Cascais and Nazaré. The Portuguese affinity for sweet treats has also taken the internet by storm in recent years, introducing foodies across the globe to local specialties like the pasteis de nata custard tarts. Portugal is also renowned for its Port wine production in the Douro Valley and delicious Vinho Verde from the northwest.

Spain

From the world-famous paella to the savoury jamón ibérico, Spain tantalizes taste buds with its regional specialties and delightful mosaic of flavours. Tapas, small savoury dishes like croquetas and patatas bravas, are a quintessential part of the culinary experience. Along the coast, seafood is used in iconic dishes like paella. As a major producer of olive oil, this rich liquid features heavily in nearly all Spanish cuisine. If you're looking for regional variation, head to different areas like Basque Country for grilled meat dishes and its numerous Michelin-starred restaurants.

 

Top regions and landmarks

Both Spain and Portugal abound with natural beauty, and being on a peninsula, the beautiful coastline that wraps around both countries is a stand-out. As such, you can't visit Spain and Portugal without taking the time to explore their pristine beaches, dramatic cliffs and rocky coastlines. But venture inland and you'll find far more to discover, from river valleys to mountains. Offshore islands like the Azores in Portugal and Ibiza in Spain are also worth the trip, whether for partying it up in Ibiza or hiking around crater lakes in the Azores.

Portugal

Portugal boasts a stunning coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, characterized by golden sandy beaches, rugged cliffs and charming fishing villages. The Algarve region is a haven for sunseekers with its coastal paths, while the Douro Valley entices wine enthusiasts with its terraced vineyards. Inland, the rolling plains of Alentejo and the mystical forests of Sintra captivate nature lovers.

Spain

Spain's geography is remarkably diverse, offering something for everyone. From the sun-soaked beaches of Costa del Sol to the majestic Pyrenees mountains in the north, Spain is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. The Andalusian region showcases the beauty of white-washed villages, while the vibrant islands of the Balearics and the Canary Archipelago provide unforgettable coastal experiences.

 

Which is more affordable to visit: Portugal or Spain?

If you're after a budget vacation, both Spain and Portugal are good fits. Each country is affordable, especially if you visit during the shoulder season (spring or fall) or even during the winter low season. The summer high season (June to August) will be when both countries are at their most expensive, and the hot summer weather and crowded cities, beaches and tourist attractions can also be a deterrent. But in spring, autumn and winter, you can find better rates on everything from flights to hotels.

To compare and contrast average prices, here's what you can expect to pay for everyday things like hotels, taxis, and meals in both Spain and Portugal:

●    Average cost per day: £129 (Spain) vs £117 (Portugal)
●    Accommodations: £86 (Spain) vs £78 (Portugal)
●    Taxi ride: Starting fare £2.99 (Spain) vs £2.78 (Portugal)
●    Casual meal: £8.53 (Spain) vs £10 (Portugal)
●    Activities/Entertainment: £24 per day (Spain) vs £19 (Portugal)
 

Spain vs Portugal: Solo travel, family trips or small-group?

With their warm, welcoming cultures and friendly residents, both Spain and Portugal are safe destinations for solo travel. With well-connected mass transit from buses to trains, it's also easy to get around on your own as well.

The laid back vibe and breezy culture of both countries are also perfect for family travel. The mix of outdoor adventure and cultural immersion offers something for everyone in the family, and the Spanish siesta is especially good for families with young ones who need naptime.

Whether solo, with family or traveling with your partner or friends, small-group travel gives you the best of both worlds. Instead of planning out your entire trip on your own, choose from a range of itineraries depending on your interest. Want a more wine-focused one? Opt for one of the food and wine tours. Prefer lots of time spent outdoors? Sign up for a walking or cycling adventure. Plus, not only are accommodations and transfers arranged for you, but you're accompanied by a guide who can help you learn even more about the countries you're visiting.
 

How to visit both Spain and Portugal

Since they share a border, it's easy to hop from one country to the other on a joint Spain-Portugal trip. One option is to arrive in Lisbon to explore Portugal before heading northeast into Spain. Alternatively, you can start in Spain, head down to Portugal and depart from there. Either way, you want to do it, the countries of the Iberian Peninsula are sure to deliver the adventure of a lifetime. You can even join small-group trips that visit both countries, like cycling from Seville to Porto or hitting all the hidden gems and highlights of the peninsula on one epic two-week trip. You can even go on a wine-tasting tour across both Portugal and Spain.

Explore the Iberian Peninsula in Portugal and Spain

Spain, Portugal...why not both? Both Portugal and Spain make for fantastic European travel destinations that are affordable and accessible, each with its own distinctive culture, art, landscapes and cuisine. And our signature small group guided tours take you to the best parts of each (or both!) country, helping you discover the Iberian Peninsula on foodie forays, cycling trips, coastal walks and more.

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