My spring break in Portugal and Spain was pretty much heaven, so here I am, sharing the love. If you’re planning a backpacking adventure of your own in these beautiful countries, here’s how to pack all of that sunshine into one week and a couple hundred Euros.
Madrid —> Lisbon —> Porto
While I originally intended to start my trip in Barcelona, I ended up choosing Madrid instead, for a number of reasons. Although its reputation isn’t as exciting as Barcelona’s, it’s smaller, making it easier to experience in a few days, and significantly cheaper. I saved around 30€ on the flight alone.
Because Madrid is centrally located, it’s also ideal starting point for seeing the rest of the country, although I didn’t get to see much more of Spain due to my one-week time limit. I spent three days here, although two would work if you manage your time well and take less siestas than I did.
Madrid is backpacker friendly, and quality hostels are neither scarce nor expensive. I stayed at Living Mad Hostel [Calle de la Cabeza, 24, 28012 Madrid, Spain] which averages at about 15€ – 20€ a night for their cheapest beds. Their sister hostel, Cat’s Hostel [Calle Cañizares, 6, 28012 Madrid, Spain] is a two-minute walk away and runs at about the same price. I’d highly recommend both, but snoop around and see what you can find!
– Free walking tours are a great way to start a trip, learn some history, and get your bearings. I did Sandemans New Madrid tour.
-Explore Buen Retiro Park.
-I’m not a museum person myself, but there are several of note. Museum Nacional Del Prado & Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía are the biggest two.
-Churros & chocolate at Chocolateria San Gines.
-Street food style eats at Mercado San Miguel.
-Sangria pretty much anywhere. Seriously.
–Tapas. Basically classy, cheap appetizers that usually accompany alcohol.
–Olives? Or are those considered a part of tapas? I don’t know, I’m not an olive person.
-Again, the city is pretty small, and I honestly wish I’d spent slightly less time here, because my ‘SEE EVERYTHING NOW’ attitude meant that I felt done by Day 2. If you have a week, two days is enough.
-If you’re into that sort of thing, try to party while you’re here. Madrid is first and foremost famous for its nightlife, and most hostels offer pub crawls, which are a better, safer option if you’re unfamiliar with the city but still want to get your drink on.
Take an overnight bus from Madrid to Lisbon. [It’s should set you back less than 30€.] 3-4 days here will give you ample time to both explore this gorgeous, sun-soaked city and take a day trip or two—Sintra’s vibrant castles and Cascais’ beautiful beaches are both strong options. This is another backpacker-friendly & affordable place, although touristy. So touristy.
There are plenty of great hostel options around these parts, but Lisboa Central Hostel [€15/night] is where I ended up staying, and holy moly. It’s deceptively small on the outside, but if hostels can have hearts, Lisboa Central’s is made out of pure gold. Be sure to wake up early so you can try their amazing free breakfast pancakes!
-Lisbon is a great jumping-off point for a number of day trips, and three days here is plenty of time to do at least one. I went to Sintra, but Cascais is another popular option if you’re looking for some beach time! Look out for a full post on how to take a day trip to Sintra in the near future.
-A free walking tour is, as always, a great first day option. I went with the one offered by my hostel, but there are tons of tours available!
-If art is your thing, simply taking some time to check out the street art in Lisbon is also well worth your time.
-The famous Tram 28 ride is a great way to see more of the city, but it gets impossibly crowded, so go later in the evening or early in the morning to avoid getting crushed to death!
Portuguese food is the BEST. Here are some cheap options you can find pretty much everywhere you turn.
–Pastéis de nata. There’s no need to make the trip to Belem [said to be the home of this delicious, sweet egg custard pastry.] Quality, warm pastéis de nata can be found in any corner bakery in the city.
-That being said, the other dessert & pastry options available in Portugal are no joke either. Here’s a list that compiles the best of Portuguese sweets better than I ever could.
–Ginja. Okay, so this sweet cherry morello liquor isn’t exactly food, but little shots of it are usually around a euro and are a must-try for any visitor. Some places also sell the shots in little edible chocolate cups, if that’s your kinda thing. [I know it’s mine.] What an awesome way to booze up!
-Despite what you may hear, the hills aren’t that bad. Bring comfy shoes and a good attitude and you should be fine.
-The refillable Viva Viagem public transportation passes cost 50 cents initially and last a year.
-Sintra is a good trip to take, but the entry fees to the palaces and gardens can add up quick. [Pena Palace: €14, Quinta da Regaleira: €6, Moorish Castle: €8]
-Additionally, it’s really impossible to see more than 2 things at Sintra in a full day, so plan accordingly. and budget your time wisely. [Or book an extra day there, if time allows.]
Porto has recently blown up in terms of tourism, and it’s not hard to see why. The home of port wine is a stunning town nestled on the banks of the Douro River that’s perfectly walkable and utterly charming. I took a bus from Lisbon to Porto and stayed here two nights and two days before flying back to Paris, and it made such a sweet final stop!
I booked with Pilot Design Hostel but ended up staying at Spot Hostel due to some clerical errors. [More on that later.] Most of the cheaper hostels are a bit out of the way of the city center and most touristy spots, but nothing’s more than a 20-30 minute walk away. Both were about 15€/night.
-This was the one place where I didn’t take a free walking tour. Instead, I just walked around on my own with a map in hand, as Porto is quite compact!
-Heading to the port wine breweries on the other side of the river for some tours & wine tasting is a popular option. I didn’t partake myself, but I hear good things about Taylor’s self-guided tour [12€].
-Speaking of walking, a stroll along the river is a must. It’s a completely different scene from the city center. Cross the Pont Luís I to catch a different perspective of Porto, or go to the top deck at sunset.
–Livraria Lello, aka every Potterhead’s wildest fantasy, has become one of Porto’s biggest tourist magnets in recent years. It’s not worth it if you’re not going to buy anything, since the 4€ ticket price only really makes sense if you buy a book from inside and get that amount deducted. Also, taking photos is a feat in futility thanks to the massive hordes of tourists doing the same thing, and the line is over two hours long. Maybe try to get in super early or super late??
–Clerigos Tower has a €3 entry fee but provides some stunning views of the city. There are a lot of stairs, though.
-A nice place to rest with that book you got from Livraria Lello and a coffee is Praça de Lisboa, aka that triangle-shaped thing.
-The same classics as Lisbon are available here. Ginja, pastéis, etc. Go on, I know you can’t resist.
-A glass of port wine at any restaurant [or in the wine caves of a local brewery] is a must. You’re in Porto. Try some wine.
–Bifana, or pork sandwiches, are basically Portuguese fast food. And by fast food, I mean drunk food. They’re cheap, quick, and satisfying when you’ve got those late-night cravings.
–Francesinha is also technically a sandwich, as well as a test of human limitations and continence. This is a monster of a dish made with a variety of meats served underneath bread and a hearty coating of cheese and boozy tomato sauce. The one I tried was made with a puff pastry, but I didn’t get anywhere near finishing it. It’s gotten pretty infamous in Porto, the town where it originated, and most restaurants offer up some variation of it for under €10.
-This one’s a bit random, but my last meal in Porto was actually pizza. A couple of friends and I grabbed dinner at Presto Pizza, one of several locations in town. [I believe we were at the Baixa store.] It’s fairly cheap, made right in front of you, and pretty delicious. Just something to keep in mind.
-Pretty much everything you need to see is within walking distance. There is a metro system, but I ended up never using it, since it only has about 1 line and 5 stops anyway.
–Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport [OPO] is about a 15 minute drive out of town. You can get there via the purple metro line, but if you went the budget airline route and ended up with an early morning/late night flight like me, an Uber is your best bet. It shouldn’t be more than 12€.
Have you ever backpacked through Spain & Portugal? What are your best tips and tricks?