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Updated: 3 May 2023
Spain and Portugal are two of my favorite countries to explore in Europe. Both destinations offer well-preserved historical cities, many boasting UNESCO World Heritage status, as well as incredible (and diverse) food options and sweeping beaches.
Of course, both countries are obviously different, too. For example, don’t assume that everyone speaks Spanish in Portugal! That would be a major rookie mistake.
Due to their geographical proximity, many travelers like pairing Spain and Portugal in the same vacation. Honestly, if you’re limited on time, I don’t blame you for wanting to create an itinerary that includes a taste of both countries.
Keep in mind that 9 days in Spain and Portugal will require moving at a relatively brisk pace (I’m a slow traveler at heart), and you still won’t see everything. No worries, though. You’ll have the perfect excuse to return next year.
Travel Essentials for Spain and Portugal
First I want to share all my practical travel tips for this 9 day itinerary in Spain and Portugal. Honestly, both countries have strong tourism infrastructure, which makes navigation pretty easy even if you’re a new international traveler.
However, I still wanted to offer some advice on public transportation, including airports, and packing essentials for your adventures around Spain and Portugal. A lot of people get “stuck” on this part of the planning process, and shouldn’t have to.
Arrival in Lisbon Airport
Welcome to Lisbon. You will begin your 9 days in Spain and Portugal at Humberto Delgado Airport, which is the biggest airport in Portugal. If you’re flying internationally, you will most likely land at Terminal 1, whereas budget airlines from Europe land at Terminal 2. Know your terminal ahead of time to make your life easier.
Getting to Lisbon from the airport is fairly straight-forward using public transportation. Don’t bother with a taxi unless you’re splitting the cost between multiple people. The ‘Aeroporto – Saldanha’ line will efficiently transport you downtown in about twenty minutes.
Keep in mind that all overseas flights require going through customs. The lines are … pretty long, depending on the time you land and the time of year. It took me two hours from landing in Lisbon until I reached my hostel.
The good news, though? You will not have to clear customs again going into Spain.
Getting Around Spain and Portugal
Spain and Portugal both have fantastic public transportation systems that travelers will find helpful. In particular, both countries have high-speed trains that link large cities. Madrid and Barcelona, for instance, are connected by a Renfe AVE train that only takes two hours and thirty minutes in total.
In this itinerary, you shouldn’t need to rent a car, and actually I’d advise against spending money for your own vehicle.
Why am I so anti-car? Driving in Lisbon, Madrid, and Barcelona is fast paced and hectic, and not all travelers are used to those conditions. Furthermore, parking is challenging and expensive. You’ll feel much less stressed out if you use the trams, metros, and buses.
As an important side note, validate all tickets prior to boarding your train, metro car, or bus.
Seriously. Please, please, please validate your tickets. Now, if you buy online tickets, you will be fine showing your phone since the dates and times are clearly printed on the digital ticket, but you need to stamp all physical tickets at the machines. You don’t want to risk a huge fine, which is exactly what will happen if you’re caught with an unvalidated ticket.
What to Pack for Spain and Portugal
Obviously, you will have different packing needs for 9 days in Spain and Portugal depending on the time of year that you visit. No helping that.
However, these are few essential items that you don’t want to forget no matter the circumstances.
- Comfortable Walking Shoes: Spain and Portugal’s cities are laced with cobblestone streets. Not to mention, you’ll encounter plenty of hills, especially in Lisbon. Forget about fashion for a moment, and bring a comfortable pair of walking shoes instead for your trip. You will thank me later.
- Guidebook for Spain & Portugal: As much as I love blogs, I still adore traditional guidebooks for planning my trips. Lonely Planet makes my favorite books, and both Spain and Portugal guidebooks are available in physical form and on .pdf.
- Language Phrasebooks: Learn a couple of phrases of the local language to fit in better with the culture! Lonely Planet also carries a phrasebook line and has books for learning both Spanish and Portuguese.
- Pacsafe Travel Gear: I won’t lie. Some cities in Spain, such as Barcelona, are bad for pickpocketing. I’m not saying you ought to lose sleep over it, but you should still take care of your belongings. If you’re worried, my advice is to invest in a Pacsafe crossbody bag or similar for additional protection.
- Sunscreen and More Sunscreen: Ugh, on my first trip to Portugal, I didn’t wear sunscreen and got roasted. Don’t do what I did and bring sunscreen. I love Sun Bum’s sun lotion for travel, because their products are vegan and reef friendly. You’ll protect your skin and environment at the same time.
- Travel Insurance: Spain and Portugal are very safe to visit. Violent crime is rare. However, you still want to invest in travel insurance for your trip in case of sickness, flight interruptions, and other inconveniences. I always use World Nomads for travel insurance, and I haven’t been disappointed yet!
9 Day Itinerary Spain and Portugal: Overview
Like I mentioned earlier in this guide, 9 days in Spain and Portugal isn’t a lot of time to dive deeply into these beautiful countries. Sorry to break the bad news. At heart, I am a slow traveler, and could actually spend 9 days exploring one region in Spain!
However, at the same time, my heart has plenty of room for realism, so I understand that limited vacation days make it difficult for people who want to maximize their time overseas.
In this itinerary, I’m basing travelers in three large cities (namely Lisbon, Madrid, and Barcelona) with strong transportation system that make traveling to smaller villages easy to do.
9 Days in Spain and Portugal: Quick Glance
|2||Lisbon Neighborhood’s In-Depth|
|3||Lisbon Day Trips|
|4||Welcome to Madrid|
|5||Madrid’s Museums and History|
|6||Madrid Day Trips|
|7||Welcome to Barcelona|
|9||Barcelona Day Trips|
9 Day Itinerary Spain and Portugal: Details
Lastly, I’ve broken down the specific days for you. I tried to leave a little bit of wiggle room for each day, so you can add your own touches to this post.
Furthermore, I’ve included a hostel, mid-range hotel, and more luxurious hotel to each day to appeal to every sort of budget.
As for food, each city has an abundance of incredible options, so you want to do your own research on meals, even though I’ll certainly drop a couple ideas!
Day 1: Arrival in Lisbon
Welcome to Lisbon. For your first day in Lisbon, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the city by going on a free walking tour. Free walking tours are perfect for meeting other travelers, too, if you’re traveling alone to Europe.
Keep in mind, though, that free walking tours aren’t 100% free. Instead you tip the tour guide whatever amount that you feel like the tour was worth. Make sure to reward good guides! Not sure where to find a good walking tour? Sandeman New Europe Tours offer wonderful options in many cities including Lisbon!
Afterwards, I suggest seeing some marvelous views of Lisbon with a trip to Castelo de S. Jorge. This Moorish castle is a photographer’s dream come true. This hill is rooted in ancient history. The first fortifications started way back in the 1st century BC!
Once you explore the castle, take a leisurely stroll to Lisbon’s most famous square Praça do Comércio. Honestly, this is one of my favorite plazas in all of Europe, and is the perfect place to relax by the water with a coffee. You will also see Arco da Rua Augusta. This arch was constructed to celebrate Lisbon’s revival after the devastating 1755 earthquake.
And don’t forget to admire the tiles all day. These bright works of art are everywhere. Every. Where.
- Be Poet Baixa Hotel: I love poetry, don’t you? The design of this hotel is based off some of Portugal’s most famous poets such as Bocage and Fernando Pessoa. See prices on Expedia.com and Booking.com.
- Dare Lisbon House: This warm accommodation includes small apartments with kitchenettes, and is unique because you’re able to do short or longterm stays. Perfect for travelers who want a “home away from home.” See prices on Expedia.com and Booking.com.
- Home Lisbon Hostel: One of the best hostels that I’ve ever stayed in on my travels. This is the perfect place to make new friends, and the home cooked meals are reasonably priced and allow for great conversation. See prices on TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com.
Day 2: Explore Lisbon
On your second day in Lisbon, you will dive deeper into the capital’s vibrant neighborhoods, of which there are many. Take your time to enjoy the sites all around you.
My first suggestion is to hop aboard one of Lisbon’s iconic tram cars to go to The Belem District, a laid back and beautiful neighborhood right on Tagus River.
Your first stop should be the Belém Tower, which is a monument to Portugal’s Age of Discovery and now a a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This impressive fortification served as the point of embarkation for explorers who dared to venture onto the open and treacherous waters. As an important side note, as you marvel at the tower, it’s important to keep in mind the plights and suffering of the people who were colonized under the Portuguese.
Next you ought to visit The Jerónimos Monastery. This powerful example of Portuguese Late Gothic architecture is the final resting place of explorer Vasco da Gama and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once you’re done the monastery, don’t forget to grab some Pastel de Belém at nearby Pastéis de Belém. So worth waiting in line, I promise!
For the remainder of your day, I suggest getting lost in the Alfama neighborhood, or the oldest part of Lisbon that was untouched by the infamous earthquake. The Alfama’s tangled lanes are created for travelers to simply roam and get lost.
In the evening, if you’re looking for some fun, then go to Lisbon’s Bairro Alto for hole in the wall bars and other entertainment. You can even enjoy a drink standing in the streets here.
Day 3: Lisbon Day Trips
Lisbon has a ton of great day trips. Seriously, you could base yourself in Lisbon for a week and do a day trip every single day, and still not see everything.
I would decide a day trip based on your own personal interests.
I’ve listed a couple of ideas below to get you thinking about a day trip. Keep in mind that although Porto is a wonderful city, it takes almost three hours to reach Porto on the faster train. Three hours one way is too far for a day trip, in my opinion. You’re better off staying closer to Lisbon to have more time on the ground.
Day Trip Ideas
- Sintra: This charming and castle-packed town is one of the most popular day trips to take from Lisbon. This historical castles and mansions are scenically set against rolling green hills. Sintra is a photographer’s wonderland. The most popular attractions are The Pena Palace of Sintra, Castelo dos Mouros, and Quinta da Regaleira. Keep in mind, though, that since you’re only spending a day in Sintra, you ought to focus on one castle in-depth rather than rush to see every single one.
- Cascais: Are you seeking sandy beaches on your trip to Portugal? While you might not have time to explore the Algarve, nearby Cascais offers a classic old town, pristine beaches, and a bustling marina. Perfect for a day trip!
- Obidos: A delightful and well-preserved example of a Portuguese medieval town. You’ll explore endless colorful lanes, and can even stroll along the impressive stone walls. And you don’t want to miss ginja de Óbidos, which is local cherry liqueur served in a small chocolate cup.
Day 4: Arrival in Madrid
Are you ready to go to Spain? You have a few options to go to Madrid from Lisbon. Honestly, the easiest option is probably a budget flight. If you want to save a day and don’t mind a bit of discomfort, you may want to opt for the night bus to Madrid.
In Madrid, you’ll feel delighted to discover that although this is Spain’s capital city, most major attractions are within walking distance of each other! I would begin your visit with an adventure in Plaza Mayor or Madrid’s historic main square.
Nearby, you will want to fill your empty stomach at San Miguel Market which has been feeding people for over a hundred years. Eat as many tapas as your heart desires!
Conclude your first day with a walk to the jaw-dropping Royal Palace of Madrid – which is the Baroque and massive official residence of the Spanish Royal Family – and the nearby Catedral de la Almudena.
- Hotel Regina: This highly rated hotel combines fun and functionality, and also has a fabulous location just 100 meters away from the famous Puerta del Sol. You can’t do a better job! See prices on Expedia.com and Booking.com.
- Sungate One Hostel: Another one of my favorite hostels! I loved the nightly dinners, as well as the organized group events that made it super easy for solo travelers to make new friends. See prices on Expedia.com or Booking.com.
- Vincci the Mint: If you want to splurge a little bit, then check out this sustainable 4 star property. The roof top bar offers splendid views of Madrid, and the rooms are beautiful. See prices on Expedia.com and Booking.com.
Day 5: Madrid Museums and History
Madrid’s art museums are fantastic. If you’re interested in art, try to go to two of them, but I wouldn’t suggest anymore than that. Pack too many masterpieces in one day, and they will start to blur together!
Personally, I adored Museo Nacional del Prado and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and highly recommend seeing both of them if possible! The Prado is the most famous art museum in all of Madrid, but the Reina Sofia is home to Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica, which is one of the most memorable pieces of art that I’ve ever seen on my adventures around the world.
If you don’t want to spend all day inside museums, then make sure to venture over to nearby El Retiro Park or one of the biggest parks in all of Madrid that’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site (there are a lot of these, huh)?
In addition to art, Madrid also has a fascinating history like all other European capital cities. I always love taking a guided walk based on my own personal interests. In Madrid, I opted for a Spanish Inquisition Tour that was offered by Sandeman New Europe Tours. The free walking tour is also delightful, and like I already said, they are a wonderful way to meet other travelers if you’re going alone.
Last but not least, I suggest going to one of Madrid’s “cooler” neighborhoods for dinner, such as Malasaña or Barrio de las Letras.
Day 6: Madrid Day Trips
I think Madrid has some of the best day trips in all of Europe.
Seriously, I cannot get enough of Madrid day trips, and wish I could go everywhere in close proximity to this city.
I’ve listed a couple of suggestions below for you, although keep in mind that you won’t be able to see and do everything. Some guided tours pair destinations on their day trips, but whether or not you decide to do a tour is a personal decision and entirely up to you!
Day Trip Ideas
- El Escorial: This incredible and vast building complex is located a mere 45 kilometers away from Madrid, making El Escorial an easy day trip for travelers. El Escorial is a historical residence of the King of Spain, and fascinating for history buffs to come and visit.
- Toledo: You could absolutely spend more than a day in the medieval city of Toledo. In Toledo, you will see a combination of Arab, Jewish, and Christian monument, a testament to Spain’s religiously diverse history. Go alone or if you want to learn more about the city, hire an independent guide to give meaning to the buildings that you will admire on your day trip.
- Segovia: Another historically rich city within easy distance of Madrid. Segovia is not only famous for its churches and castles, but also for its incredible Roman aqueduct. The sheer size of the aqueduct will absolutely take your breath away and leave you feeling in awe of ancient technology.
- The Valley of the Fallen: The Spanish Civil War is a very, very recent chapter in the pages of history. This monument is built as a memorial to the victims of the war, but at the same time, it is rather controversial considering it was once the burial place of former dictator Franco. To reach the Valley of the Fallen, I suggest going on a bus tour with a guide not only to understand the sites, but to use the transportation.
Day 7: Arrival in Barcelona
Barcelona is a massive city with tons of unique architecture, so it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at all the attractions.
For your first day, you will see some of Barcelona’s greatest parks and city views. Start in Park Güell early in the morning before the bigger crowds arrive. Barcelona’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi, intended for Park Güell to function as a high class housing development, but the project flopped, and now this unique park is a UNESCO World Heritage site for tourists to explore. You feel like you’re lost in a fantastical fairytale in Park Güell! I highly recommend it.
Next you will want to see some of Barcelona’s best city views at nearby Tibidabo, which is one of the most prominent hills in the entire metro area. You embrace your inner child at the amusement park or simply admire the hill’s stunning cathedral.
Afterwards, shop and eat tapas in the Gracia neighborhood (which is my personal favorite neighborhood). Gracia used to be its own town, and even today, this area feels like a small and charming village in comparison to the rest of Barcelona.
- Hotel Granvia: This gorgeous hotel is located in the heart of Barcelona, in the classy L’Eixample neighborhood, and is inside a restored 19th century palace. Luxurious! See prices on Expedia.com and Booking.com.
- Olivia Balmes Hotel: A modern and sleek hotel that’s perfect for summer travel thanks to its fantastic outdoor swimming pool. See prices on Expedia.com and Booking.com.
- Yeah Hostel: An award-winning, clean, and friendly hostel that hosts group dinners so solo travelers are able to bond with one another. See prices on Expedia.com and Booking.com.
Day 8: Explore Barcelona
Time for us to dive deeper into Barcelona’s fascinating culture! Your day will begin at another one of Gaudi’s most famous contributions to the city: La Sagrada Familia.
I suggest booking the very first ticket into this jaw-dropping basilica, because you want to admire the rainbow colored stained glass and ornate alter before the tourist crowds fully wake up. Take plenty of pictures outside too! La Sagrada Familia will last in your memories forever even though the building is still technically unfinished.
Afterwards, you will see more of Anton Gaudi’s architecture after wandering the L’Eixample neighborhood to Casa Batlló and Casa Mila. Choose to see one or both homes. Just keep in mind that you can’t rush through the Gaudi houses. I honestly spent about two hours at each one!
Last, but not least, I recommend taking a leisurely stroll through Barcelona’s famous Gothic Quarter. As you wander the tangled lanes, make sure to stop at Barcelona Cathedral which is a striking Gothic contrast to La Sagrada Familia.
As the sun sets, head to either El Born or Barceloneta for tapas and drinks. Both neighborhoods are within walking distance, and boast a very vibrant food scene. Your stomach will thank you for your efforts. Don’t be scared off if the tapas bars are crowded. Cozy up at the bar and make new friends.
Day 9: Barcelona Day Trips
What! How is it already your final day in Spain? Don’t worry, though, because your ninth day will be absolutely amazing. Again, we’re going outside a major city to see some of the smaller cities and attractions in the region.
Like Madrid and Lisbon, you will have to wisely pick and choose your day trip from Barcelona.
Day Trip Ideas
- Figueres: Figueres is an easy day trip. It’s a small city in Catalonia that you can reach by taking the train from Barcelona. This town is home to the Dali Museum. For the Dali Museum, make sure to purchase tickets in advance, since it is one of the most popular museums in Spain and sells out quickly.
- Girona: You could seriously spend an entire day in Girona. I wish I did. This historical city has incredible churches, a thriving Jewish quarter, and so much more to see and do. I highly recommend it. Trains run frequently between Girona and Barcelona too.
- Montserrat: Beautiful mountains stand outside Barcelona and transport you to another, far more remote world. Montserrat mountain his home to one of Europe’s most spiritual monasteries. Pilgrims come from all over to see The Black Madonna Statue and to light candles for their loved ones. This is an incredibly touching day trip that I highly recommend taking from Barcelona. You can book a private tour or take public transportation.
I hope you enjoyed reading this guide to 9 days in Spain and Portugal! As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions about your European trips!