Nine days is just enough time for a whirlwind tour of both nations of the Iberian Peninsula. It begins with tours of Lisbon and Porto, both historic bastions featuring well-preserved medieval castles, cathedrals, and grand plazas. Then you'll fly to Madrid to visit some highlights like the El Prado art museum. The adventure ends on the streets of Barcelona, where you'll visit the most iconic Catalan-modernism buildings designed by the master Gaudí.

Highlights

  • Discover historic Portuguese cities like Lisbon and Porto
  • Visit the highlights of Madrid, like the El Prado Museum
  • Marvel at the gothic-modernist architecture in Barcelona

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lisbon Lisbon
Day 2 Private Tour of Lisbon Lisbon
Day 3 Private Transfer from Lisbon to Porto - Coimbra City Tour Porto
Day 4 Private Tour of Porto Porto
Day 5 Fly from Porto to Madrid Madrid
Day 6 Private Tour of Madrid - El Prado Museum Madrid
Day 7 Train from Madrid to Barcelona Barcelona
Day 8 Visit Park Güell & Sagrada Família Barcelona
Day 9 Depart Barcelona  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Lisbon

Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon, Portugal

Welcome to Portugal!

After touching down at the airport in Lisbon, a private driver will be waiting for you outside the terminal to transfer you to your hotel in the historic center. After checking in, you'll have as much time as you'd like to unwind after your long journey. Still, we recommend heading out for a quick stroll around the city. 

You'll find Lisbon to be an unheralded gem of a European capital. The hilly waterfront neighborhoods are dotted with grand plazas and pastel-colored buildings, many of which date back hundreds of years. Old cable cars lurch up winding cobbled roads, and medieval castles sit perched atop the highest points in the city. In their heyday, they served as defensive outposts protecting the Port of Lisbon and all those Portuguese galleons returning from the New World laden with pilfered gold and silver.

The quickest way to acquaint yourself with Lisbon's culture is through its traditional cuisine. This includes pastéis de bacalhau (cod fritters), grilled sardines, squid stuffed with sausage and onions, queijo de azeitão (a creamy cheese made from sheep's milk), pastéis de nata (egg custard tarts), and the quintessential street food, the bifana. This sandwich of pork marinated in white wine is pure heaven after one too many Vinho Verdes.

Day 2: Private Tour of Lisbon

Rossio Square, in Baixa, the historic heart of Lisbon
Rossio Square, in Baixa, the historic heart of Lisbon

There's no better way to get to the heart of a historic city like Lisbon than by venturing from neighborhood to neighborhood on foot. In the morning you'll head out on these winding streets on a three-hour walking tour led by an expert local guide. Along the way, the guide will point out all the major sights of Central Lisbon and recount anecdotes about local lore. It's a great introduction to the culture of this fascinating city. 

The tour includes stops at many highlights, including the upscale shopping area around Chiado Square, and the Lisbon Cathedral, which dates to the 12th century and is the oldest church in the city. You'll also visit Baixa, located in the historic heart of the city. Its central square, Rossio, has been one of Portugal's main plazas since the middle ages.

Another famous square is the Praça do Comércio, which is located on the banks of the Tagus River and is the location of the Arco da Rua Augusta, a triumphal arch that dates to the 18th century and features six impressive columns. You'll then cap the tour with a tasting of Ginjinha, Portugal's famous liquor made from sour cherries.

Day 3: Private Transfer from Lisbon to Porto - Coimbra City Tour

Coimbra University
Coimbra University

After breakfast, your driver will meet you in the lobby of the hotel for a road trip north. The ultimate destination is the city of Porto but after two hours you'll stop en route in Coimbra. This is one of the most stunning cities in Portugal, which is why it's a shame that many visitors overlook it on their way from Lisbon to Porto.

Upon arrival in Coimbra, you'll meet an expert guide who will lead you on a three-hour tour of this historic city. Perched atop a hill, Coimbra affords panoramic views of the Mondego River down below. Your guide will lead the way to major highlights, like the medieval old town and Sé Velha, a romanesque cathedral dating to the 12th century.

Throughout the tour, your guide will regale you with tales of Coimbra's rich history and local lore. One interesting tidbit: Coimbra was once the capital of Portugal but is now best known for its university. The University of Coimbra was founded in the year 1290, which makes it the oldest educational institution in Portugal and one of the oldest in all of Europe.  

At the end of the tour, your guide will drop you at a great local restaurant for lunch. After some more time to explore, you'll meet up with your driver and continue another 1.5 hours until you reach Porto. Upon arrival in this singularly beautiful city, you'll check into your hotel and have the evening free to relax.

Day 4: Private Tour of Porto

Porto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Porto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Your day begins with a three-hour tour of this UNESCO World Heritage city led by a local expert guide. Porto has been a key locale in much of Portugal's rich history, which you can still see on its streets and in its architecture. It has been the site of Celtic, Roman, and Moorish occupation, an invasion by Napolean and Spanish troops, and even a civil war.

You'll learn about this history as you tour Porto's historic center, including the Praça da Liberdade (Liberty Square), which is the largest and most impressive plaza in the city. You'll visit Rua Santa Catarina (the main shopping thoroughfare), Gomes Teixeira Square, and the baroque Igreja dos Clérigos church, which dates to 1750.

From there, head to the iconic São Bento Railway Station (built in 1900 on the site of a former convent) and the riverfront Ribeira neighborhood, which is the heart of Porto's nightlife scene. You'll also learn the history of Porto's emblematic Dom Luís I Bridge, a double-decked iron arched bridge that stands 279 feet (85 m) over the Douro River. It's on this waterway that colorful wooden Rabelo boats line up in front of the old port wine cellars.

At the end of the tour, your guide will drop you at a local hotspot café or restaurant for a hearty lunch and give you some tips on how to enjoy the rest of the day in the city.

Day 5: Fly from Porto to Madrid

Aerial view of Madrid
Aerial view of Madrid

This morning, you'll take an hour-long flight from Porto to Madrid. On arrival at the airport, you'll be greeted by a private driver who will transfer you to your hotel in the city center. Take some time to settle in and get your bearings before heading out to explore this diverse marvel of a city.

Perhaps you could go see a show. Gran Vía is Madrid's answer to Broadway, and on it, you'll find plenty of theaters showcasing plays and musical productions. Needless to say, the options for culture in this city are vast, and you could also visit museums, art galleries, and live music venues if the mood strikes.

When night falls, be sure to indulge in Madrid's world-class culinary scene. If you want to dine amid history, head to Botín in the city center. No less than Ernest Hemingway described it in his seminal novel The Sun Also Rises as the best restaurant on earth. 

Day 6: Private Tour of Madrid - El Prado Museum

El Prado Museum, Madrid
El Prado Museum, Madrid

Make sure to have a hearty breakfast to prepare for your full day of exploring Madrid. A private guide will pick you up from your hotel and take you on a four-hour walking tour of the city highlights. Your guide will adapt to your speed and style, whether you prefer a leisurely stroll or a brisk pace to squeeze in as many sites as possible. 

At the end of the tour, you'll visit the magnificent El Prado museum, which features one of the finest collections of European art in the world. This includes works by Velazquez, El Greco, and Goya. Your guide will lead you through some of these exhibits before leaving you to continue exploring on your own.

Should you choose, before parting ways your guide can recommend a good nearby restaurant or tapas bar—the perfect spot to cap your day in Madrid.

Day 7: Train from Madrid to Barcelona

Barcelona and the Magic Fountain of Montjuic
Barcelona and the Magic Fountain of Montjuic

In the morning you'll leave Madrid on a high-speed train bound for Barcelona. After a three-hour trip, you'll arrive at the Mediterranean coast and the beautiful capital of Catalonia. Make no mistake, Barcelona abounds with as much energy and excitement as it does culture and history. Upon arrival at the train station, you'll transfer to your boutique hotel in the city's historic Old Town. After settling in, you'll want to head back out and experience Barcelona's kinetic energy first-hand.

We recommend visiting Mt. Montjuic. This famous hill stands 1,988 feet (606 meters) high and overlooks the Port of Barcelona. Take the Montjuic Cable Car from the metro station near Olympic Park, which takes you up to the 17th century Castle Montjuic and offers panoramic views of the city. You can also access Montjuic via cable car from Barcelona Beach and by funicular elevator adjacent to the cable car. 

The Poble Espanyol is also fun to visit. Constructed in 1929, this open-air museum features over 100 recreated buildings in the style of traditional Spanish villages. When the sun goes down over the city, make sure you're near the Magic Fountain of Montjuic, which is named for the dazzling display of water and colored lights that occur after dark. It's the best free show in the city, one whose effect is heightened by the hundreds of spectators and a communal atmosphere.

Day 8: Visit Park Güell & Sagrada Família

The gothic-modernist marvel that is the Sagrada Familia
The gothic-modernist marvel that is the Sagrada Familia

After breakfast at the hotel, you'll meet a local guide who will whisk you away in a chauffeured vehicle for a half-day tour. The destinations are two of the most impressive works by the legendary Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí: Park Güell and the Sagrada Família.

First, you'll visit Park Güell. Located atop Carmel Hill in north Barcelona, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a fine example of Gaudí's boundary-pushing modernist style. The park takes up 42 acres and you'll be able to marvel at every building as you stroll the walkways and gardens. There are also incredible views at many points in Park Güell that look out over the city.

Next up is the Sagrada Família, the iconic Roman Catholic basilica with an impressive mix of gothic, Catalan-modernism, and Art Nouveau architectural styles. Despite construction on the church beginning in 1882, it's still technically under construction and was only consecrated in 2010. Upon arrival, the guide will reveal insight into the Sagrada Familia's fascinating history, and you'll glean even more info as you explore the interior. 

Around lunchtime, you will part ways with your guide. On your own, you can visit Ciutadella Park. Open since 1881, this green lung of Barcelona takes up 70 acres and features sculptures, lakes, gardens, playgrounds, and the Barcelona Zoo. You could easily spend the remainder of the afternoon here and not run out of things to do and see.

Day 9: Depart Barcelona

Goodbye, Barcelona!
Goodbye, Barcelona!

It's time to say farewell to Barcelona. Depending on the time of your flight or train reservation, squeeze in one more walk through the city, perhaps picking up some last-minute souvenirs. At the designated time you will be picked up at your hotel and transferred to the airport or train station for your departure onwards. Have a good trip!

Map

Map of Highlights of Spain & Portugal: Cities, Beaches, & Culture - 9 Days
Map of Highlights of Spain & Portugal: Cities, Beaches, & Culture - 9 Days