07 February 2019
British tourists are blessed by the fact that they have such fantastic European countries right on their doorstep. Located on the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal share a border stretching for more than 1,200km, and while they have many cultural similarities, both countries each offer visitors a wide variety of different things to see and do. Both are incredible destinations and we have selected a few highlights that each has to offer.
Anyone considering Spain for their next city break is spoilt for choice. Even people who have never set foot in Spain can rattle off several options so mighty and notorious is Spain’s city break offering. Madrid, Valencia and Seville are just three of the big-hitters in the Spanish city break line-up, but Barcelona is our favourite.
Here, you can stroll the tree-lined Las Ramblas boulevard with its outlandish street performers and stop off for a bite to eat at La Boqueria – Barcelona’s flagship market and home to many brilliant little restaurants serving otherworldly tapas. Any city is boosted by the presence of a beach and the 4km of golden sand lying on Barcelona’s east coast is certainly a boon for Barca.
Often labelled as the playground of architect Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona is peppered with must-see buildings imagined by the great man: Casa Batlló, Casa Vicens and the UNESCO-recognised Casa Milá to name just some. However, Park Güell is unique in that it offers perhaps the city’s best vantage point in a public space populated with Gaudí’s architecture and kooky creations.
The famously unfinished Sagrada Família church - one of Gaudí’s most imaginative and ambitious architectural designs - lies just 2km away too, making for an irresistible Gaudí double whammy with Park Güell. This is your chance to admire the eye-popping temple ahead of its projected completion date of 2026 - the centenary of Gaudí’s death.
“Barcelona is an amazing place to holiday - there really is something for everyone in this city. Whether you want to party or just make memories with the family, this resort is honestly for you. It really does have it all.”
Nick, Travel Counsellor
Over the border in Portugal, Lisbon is the obvious choice for a memorable city break - and for good reason. It’s easy to get about the Portuguese capital on foot and you’ll be able to tick off a lot of the city’s main sights in a couple of days.
After settling on one of the many cafés, restaurants and delis dotted around Lisbon for a tasty breakfast, you could browse the luxury shops on Rua do Norte or trendy local designers boutiques around the backstreets of Bairro Alto, before hitting the Time Out Market for a midday snack. Avenida da Liberdade and high streets in Chiado often sell international brands at around half the price you’ll pay in the UK.
Lisbon’s cultural strength and diversity was officially recognised in 2017 when it was named the Ibero-American Capital of Culture and hosted a programme of 150 activities involving hundreds of artists, producers, teachers and publicists.
Anything Barcelona can do, Lisbon can do too – a point that is proved by the multitude of beaches in and around Portugal’s capital. Praia de Algés, Carcavelos, Guincho and Santo Amaro de Oeiras are all easily reachable for anyone staying in Lisbon.
If beaches are your main concern, then both Spain and Portugal are sure to satisfy.
Some people prefer Spain’s playas and that’s understandable after Spain was officially declared the country with the most Blue Flag beaches in the world (590) for the 31st year in a row in 2018.
La Concha Beach in San Sebastian is often hailed as one of the most beautiful urban beaches in Europe, not just Spain. Foodies will be especially happy here - this small Basque city has more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else on the planet.
With fine golden sands and a promenade packed with restaurants and cafés, Playa de la Malvarrosa is the most famous beach in Valencia, which boasts more Blue Flag beaches than any other Spanish region (132).
The Algarve’s Praia da Marinha was nominated as one of the 10 best beaches in Europe by the Michelin Guide and it rewards anyone who descends its stone steps with white sand and translucent seas. Unsurprisingly, snorkellers love it here.
Over in Lisbon, Adraga Beach nestles between cliffs artistically sculpted out by the Atlantic Ocean. This firm summer favourite promises unforgettable scenery and wild beauty.
With so many major cities, Spain has no shortage of luxury hotels. Barcelona has the tech-laden Hotel El Palauet Living Barcelona with its long list of amenities to keep you connected with your gadgets.
Barca also boasts Hotel Arts Barcelona, Hotel The Serras, Mercer Hotel Barcelona, The One Barcelona, El Palace Hotel and Alma Barcelona, while Madrid is home to the Hotel Ritz Madrid with its classic décor, antique-style furniture and marble and gold bathrooms. Other high-end stays in the Spanish capital include Relais & Chateaux Hotel Orfila, Gran Melia Palacio de Los Duques and URSO Hotel & Spa.
Affluent travellers heading to Portugal won’t struggle to find a hotel that exceeds their expectations either.
In Lisbon, there’s Brown’s Central Hotel with its 18th-century exterior masking light, breezy interior that’s bold and contemporary, as well as the cosmopolitan Altis Avenida boutique hotel, which revives the glamour of 1940s Portugal with its retro urban chic concept.
Over in Porto, there’s the converted monastery-cum-palace that is the five-star InterContinental Porto, as well as the homely Flores Village Hotel & Spa, and The Yeatman, with its decanter-shaped pool, 25,000-bottle wine cellar and Michelin-starred restaurant.
“I adore Lisbon for its beautiful architecture, friendly locals and fantastic food. The Time Out Market Lisboa is a great place to stop for a bite to eat. One half of the building is a traditional food market, packed with great quality produce, and the other half is a stunning food hall with 24 restaurants, eight bars and a dozen shops – all competing to be the best. It is definitely one for your itinerary.”
Sarah, Travel Counsellor
The appeal and popularity of tapas means that Spain’s food doesn’t require much of an introduction. These snacky appetizers can be cold (mixed olives, cheese), hot (Galician-style octopus, battered fried baby squid), meaty (La Bomba, pincho moruno) or veggie-friendly (Pimientos de Padrón, patatas bravas). Many Brits will be big fans of paella and tortilla espanola too.
Foodies heading to Portugal can expect to dig into typically hearty cuisine that calls in fresh ingredients from all over the country.
One of the cheapest and most common Portuguese dishes is Alheira de Mirandela, a type of fowl sausage that can be found at virtually any corner eatery. Fishlovers should order Arroz de Tamboril (rice with monkfish - which isn’t too dissimilar to paella) and Sopa de Cação, which marinates fish in coriander, lemon and garlic.
Whether it’s Spain or Portugal that takes your fancy, get in touch with your Travel Counsellor today to book your next adventure and take advantage of exclusive benefits including full financial protection and a 24-hour duty office ready to assist you before, during and after your stay.