Our Epic 1 Month Spain and Portugal Road Trip – Route, Itinerary & Tips
In September 2021 we drove an epic 3,500 km in 1 month visiting 12 destinations on an amazing whirlwind Spain and Portugal road trip. Exploring the beautiful cities, landscapes and historical sights, eating as many tapas and pasteis de nata as possible, visiting offbeat communities and catching up with friends who have moved out there.
We didn’t find many articles online about driving around both Spain and Portugal in one trip and I didn’t find any Spain and Portugal itinerary that started from the ferry ports in Northern Spain. So in this blog post I’ll share our route, itinerary and tips for an epic Spain and Portugal road trip – what we loved and what we would have done differently another time.
We had wanted to do this in 2020, but it looked too difficult with the constantly changing Covid restrictions, but in 2021 the dream finally came a reality and Covid really didn’t affect our trip too much. I’ll explain more about what it’s like traveling nowadays later on in this post.
Our Spain and Portugal Road Trip Route and Itinerary
The route we took for our 1 month Spain and Portugal road trip was:
Portsmouth (UK) – ferry to – Bilbao (Spain) – San Sebastian – Madrid – Granada – Orgiva – Seville – Algarve – Lisbon – Fundao – Porto – Braga – Oviedo – Bilbao – ferry to – Portsmouth.
Quick tips for driving around Spain and Portugal
We drove this route in 1 month but we spent 10 days of that at a friend’s farm in Portugal. So we only had 3 weeks to travel and sadly had to skip some places we really wanted to visit. If you’re planning a Spain and Portugal itinerary I would recommend spending at least 1 month just to see the highlights of both Spain and Portugal.
Nothing can beat the freedom of exploring with your own set of wheels and the free roads in Spain were great, but in Portugal we had to take some toll roads if we didn’t want to spend double the time driving.
We took our own car over on the ferry from the UK but if you need to rent a car you can compare and find the best deals on Discover Cars.
A campervan or motorhome is even better for this route as your transport, accommodation and kitchen are all on wheels for the ultimate freedom! You can compare and find the best deals for motorhomes and RVs on Motorhome Republic.
Pin me for later! 🙂
The downside of taking a road trip is navigating confusing city center one way systems and finding affordable places to park. We stayed at hotels a little outside the city center with parking and took public transport to save us the hassle of driving in.
Agoda has a handy filter to find hotels with car parks and I’ll recommend car friendly hotels with parking and easy access from the motorways that we stayed at in this post. It’s a good idea to book in advance if traveling in the peak season of July and August.
It’s also a good idea to pre-book tickets for popular sights and attractions so that you can skip the line and make the most of your time, especially in peak season. I use Get Your Guide.
If you want to travel Spain and Portugal without driving then taking the coach is the cheapest option. I use BusBud to get discounts on long distance coach trips. Or you could join a tour. This 14 day Best of Spain and Portugal tour with G Adventures takes you from Lisbon to Porto, then to Madrid, Granada, Cordoba and Seville and ends in Barcelona. Check it out here.
There’s more practical Spain and Portugal itinerary and road trip tips at the end of the post but lets get on with my Spain and Portugal road trip route!
Our Spain Road Trip
We began our Spain and Portugal road trip taking the 24 hour ferry with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth (UK) to Bilbao (Spain). Bilbao is a buzzing port city in the Basque region of Northern Spain and home to the Guggenheim Museum.
From Bilbao we drove through the mountainous landscape to San Sebastian. Driving a British right hand drive car on the right side of the road and figuring out the different road signs, in Spanish and Basque, was a bit confusing at first!
But Spanish roads are great and we soon got the hang of driving in Europe. It was useful to have someone in the passenger seat when merging into motorways or overtaking but over all it was fine once we got used to it but I would recommend allowing time in your Spain and Portugal itinerary so that you don’t have to rush on the first day and can acclimatize to the different driving conditions.
Bilbao to San Sebastian: 127km – 2 hours
Donostia San Sebastian was a perfect start to our Spain and Portugal road trip adventure!
Only 2 hours driving (avoiding tolls) from the ferry port at Bilbao is this pretty seaside town with lovely beaches, stunning views and a fab foodie scene.
San Sebastian’s Old Town is lovely to wander while sampling the delicious Pintxos (tasty tapas-like bar snacks) in the bars and the harbour treated us to a spectacular sunset.
Our highlight was taking the historic funicular railway up to Monte Igueldo to see the quirky amusement park and incredible views from there.
Best Things to Do in San Sebastian
- Wander through the Old Town or take a walking tour
- Go up to Monte Igueldo for the views and amusement park
- Taste the best pintxos in the city – we took this tour
- Laze on La Concha Beach or stroll along the Paseo De La Concha.
Check out more things to do in San Sebastian and book tours here.
Where to Stay in San Sebastian – Mercure Monte Igueldo Hotel
The Mercure Monte Igueldo Hotel has the best views over San Sebastian, a lovely outdoor swimming pool, great breakfasts and free parking.
Also Visit: Barcelona is one of my all time favourite cities in the world for it’s combination of beautiful and unique art and architecture, beaches, food and all round amazing vibes.
Barcelona shouldn’t be missed off any Spain and Portugal itinerary but as I’ve been to Barcelona many times before we skipped it on this trip, but if you haven’t been you could skip Madrid and visit Barcelona instead and then head down the coast visiting Valencia and then heading to Granada.
San Sebastian to Madrid: 471km – 4.75 hours
From San Sebastian we drove almost 5 hours through the country to Madrid, the Spanish Capital, to break up the journey south to Andalusia.
Madrid is a beautiful, classy city with grand architecture, amazing parks, some of the most impressive art galleries and museums in the world and the largest Royal Palace in Western Europe.
Our highlight was visiting the Prado and exploring the Parque de El Retiro. This huge city center park, originally a pleasure grounds for King Felipe IV in the 17th century, is one of Madrid’s most well loved hang outs. It’s full of interesting statues, monuments, palaces, gardens, museums, galleries and activities. You can even row a boat on the lake.
Best Things to do in Madrid
- Explore Madrid’s Art Triangle; the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza are considered the best art galleries. The Art Walk Pass gives you entrance and queue jump at all three.
- Marvel at Madrid’s Royal Palace – the largest in Western Europe.
- Stroll around the Gran Vía, Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor
- Relax and explore Parque El Retiro and row a boat on the lake
- Visit IKONO and the Museum of Illusions
- Sample Madrid’s best wine and tapas – we took this fun tapas crawl tour.
Check out more things to do in Madrid and book your tickets and tours here.
Where to Stay in Madrid – Barcelo Imagine
Not wanting to drive right into Madrid we stayed at the Barcelo Imagine. It’s close to the motorways and Chamartin metro station with parking available onsite. The stylish rooftop pool, gardens and interiors also made this hotel a winner.
Madrid to Granada: 420 km – 4 hours
After a 4 hour drive from Madrid we reached Andalusia – Spain’s most flamboyant region and somewhere not to be missed of any Spain and Portugal itinerary. If you didn’t have time to travel around the whole of Spain, Andalusia is my top choice for a short Spain road trip.
From the Sierra Nevada mountains to the Mediterranean Coast, the beautiful landscapes, sun soaked white-washed villages, Moorish forts and palaces make Andalusia one of the most bewitching regions of Spain and my personal favourite.
Granada is home to The Alhambra, a vast palace and fortress perched imposingly on a rocky outcrop against the backdrop of the mountains.
The Alhambra’s long and storied history dates back to 899 AD. It was once home to Granada’s Nasrid rulers in the 14th century and contains some amazingly intricate architecture and palaces inside.
As one of the finest and largest Moorish Islamic buildings in Europe it’s almost overwhelming how much there is to see here. The Nasrid Palaces, Alcazaba, Carlos V Palace and the gardens at Generalife are all must sees.
When planning your Spain and Portugal itinerary take into account that you must book at least a few days in advance to get a time slot for the Nasrid Palaces and have your passport with you when you visit. I recommend getting a ticket with an audio guide so you know more about what you are looking at!
Best Things to do in Granada
- Explore the magnificent Alhambra – book your fast track tickets here.
- Take a photo from the Plaza Mirador de San Nicolas for the best viewpoint of the Alhambra
- Join a sunset walking tour to Granada’s medieval neighbourhoods of Albaicín & Sacromonte
- Visit the Sacromonte Cave Museum and see how people used to live in cave houses.
- Visit Granada Cathedral – Spain’s 2nd largest cathedral
- Relax in a traditional Arabic Hammam
Check out more things to do in Granada and book your tickets and tours here.
Where to Stay in Granada – Hotel Andalusia Center
Parking is difficult in Granada so we stayed at this comfortable, modern, good value hotel on the outskirts with a rooftop pool and on site parking only 15 minutes walk into town
One of our reasons for taking a road trip through Spain and Portugal is because we wanted to visit some alternative communities, friends and more remote regions that would have been difficult to access by bus.
Orgiva is a small town tucked away in a beautiful valley between the Sierra Nevada mountains about 1 hour from Granada.
I’d heard about the alternative communities around Orgiva from friends in Goa and wanted to check it out for myself. I loved how people were able to build their own unique homes and form a community in this beautiful valley. It was really inspiring for me but if you’re not into this kind of stuff and just want to focus on seeing the sights then you can skip this part for your own Spain and Portugal itinerary.
The town, and it’s interesting mixture of inhabitants, is also brought to life in the book – Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart which is now being made into a TV series.
Where to Stay in Orgiva – Casa Jazmin
A lovely traditional Spanish house with beautiful swimming pool and gardens. Situated close to town with free street parking and friendly hosts
Granada to Seville: 250 km – 2.5 hours
Andalusia, and especially Seville, really captures the essence of Spain. As both the Moorish capital and later a 16th-century metropolis rich on the back of trade with the New World, flamboyant Seville has no shortage of sights and was one of the highlights of our trip.
You can see Seville’s sights on a horse and carriage ride or simply wander in the sunshine, admiring the incredible architecture and beautiful parks like Parque de María Luisa.
Don’t miss the Plaza de Espana, the Royal Alcazar and the massive Seville Cathedral – it’s the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and was even built to ‘make something so beautiful and so magnificent that those who see it will think we are mad!’
I really fell in love with Seville, it’s became my favourite place on this trip and I already can’t wait to return. Definitely allow at least 3 days to explore Seville into your Spain and Portugal itinerary.
Best Things to do in Seville
- Marvel at The Royal Alcázar of Seville – Europe’s oldest royal palace still in continual use
- See Seville’s sights on a romantic horse drawn carriage ride
- Explore the Plaza de Espana and the beautiful Parque de Maria Luisa
- Visit Seville Cathedral and climb the La Giralda Tower
- Watch a traditional Flamenco performance in the home of Flamenco
- Visit the futuristic Metropol Parasol, also known as Setas de Sevilla, at night.
Check out more things to do in Seville and book your skip the queue tickets and tours here.
Where to Stay in Seville – Exe Isla Cartuja
The historic centre of Seville is another place where it’s hard to find hotels with parking. Exe Isla Cartuja is a good value modern hotel located near the stadium with plenty of free parking. It also offers easy access from the motorway and a quick bus into town
Seville to Carvoeiro, Algarve: 250km – 3.5 hours (avoiding tolls)
We just drove straight over the bridge and crossed the border from Spain into Portugal – there were no checks or Covid documentation required.
Our Portugal Road Trip
We started the Portugal part of our road trip with a much needed beach day in the Algarve! If you’re following a similar Spain and Portugal itinerary to us you’ll probably want to factor in some rest days too!
Even though it was warm in the September sun, the sea was really quite cold already so it was a super refreshing swim. The turquoise water and golden cliffs, a quintessential Algarve beach scene, made a stunning backdrop.
We only had a couple of days to spend in the Algarve to we stayed in the center of the region near the fishing village of Carvoeiro. A lot of the Algarve has been blighted with developments of towering white concrete apartment blocks (which looked empty.)
But Carvoeiro is retains some charm and made a good base to explore the nearby beaches like Praia da Marinha, kayak to Benagil Caves and to walk the Seven Hanging Valleys hiking trail to soak up the stunning views and rock formations that the Algarve is known for.
Best Things to do in the Algarve
- Relax on the beaches
- Take a boat tour or kayak to visit Benagil Caves
- Take your Benagil Cave tour to the next level by travelling on a pirate ship!
- Walk the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail
- Learn to surf by taking a surf lesson or joining a surf camp
Check out more things to do in the Algarve and find the best deals for activities and day tours here.
Where to Stay in Carvoerio – Castelo Guest House
A unique castle themed hotel in a central location with free street parking. Soak up the stunning views over the beach from the rooms and terraces and enjoy the wonderful breakfast and hosts.
Carvoeiro, Algarve to Lisbon: 307km – 2.75 hours
(4.25 hours avoiding tolls)
Taking the toll road from the Algarve to Lisbon will cut your journey time in half. Or, if you have more time for your Spain and Portugal itinerary and want to take the scenic route you could visit the historic town of Evora on the way from the Algarve to Lisbon. It’s one of the most picturesque and best preserved medieval walled towns in Portugal and a UNESCO world heritage site.
One of Europe’s most distinctive, colourful and picturesque cities. Old yellow trams rattle and screech up and down along Lisbon’s cobbled streets, terracotta rooftops sprawl across the hillsides, while tile covered, pastel coloured buildings part to reveal glimpses of the shimmering Tagus river.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Lisbon. Plan to spend at least 3 days here in your Spain and Portugal itinerary.
After spending so long in Goa, and falling in love with the unique blend of Indian and Portuguese influences there, it was interesting to learn about the history and culture of Portugal on a walking tour of Lisbon and to explore the narrow streets of Alfama (the only part of the Old city to survive the devastating 1755 earthquake)
The waterside district of Belem is definitely worth the short tram ride out of Lisbon’s city center. This was the place where many of the Portuguese maritime explorers left from to explore the world and is a lot more spacious and relaxing than the city center.
Don’t miss the marvelling at the Belem Tower and walking along the Tagus River to the Discoveries Monument. There’s also a huge world map in mosaics on the floor behind showing all the places the Portuguese explored which was eye opening to see.
The Jeronimos Monastery, also in Belem, has beautiful nautical themed details and you can try the original recipe pasteis de natas at Pasteis de Belem nearby.
Best Things to do in Lisbon
- Wander and explore or join a walking tour through Lisbon’s most historic and storied districts – this is the tour we took
- Ride the historic Route 28 tram through Lisbon’s most iconic districts. Or, if you’d rather avoid cramming in with the crowds take a tram tour or follow the route in Tuk Tuk!
- See the Belem Tower and marvel at the 16th-century Manueline architecture of the Jerónimos Monastery
- Take in the beautiful, heart-felt sounds of a traditional acoustic Fado show.
- Explore Lisbon from land and water in adventurous style on an amphibious vehicle
- Take a day trip to Sintra to explore the colourful fairytale castles and palaces.
Check out more things to do in Lisbon and book your skip the queue tickets and tours here.
Our Highlight: Lisbon’s old yellow trams have become an icon of the city and quite the tourist attraction. Riding the scenic tram route 28 as it twists like a rollercoaster through the historic neighbourhoods like Alfama, Baixa and Chiado was one of the highlights of my time in Lisbon.
You can buy a Viva Viagem 24 hour unlimited ticket for only €6.40 which includes all trams, metros, buses and elevadors in Lisbon. But you can only buy it at a metro station not on the tram. Or you could get a Lisbon Card which gives you free access to Lisbon’s top attractions as well as free public transport.
It’s so popular its actually difficult to get on! Board at Martim Moniz, where the metro meets the tram terminus, for a good chance of getting a seat. Standing is quite the experience as the tram lurches, screeches and rattles around.
Or, to be guaranteed a seat and learn something about the streets you travel though, I recommend taking the tram tour for a better experience.
Day Trips from Lisbon
Lisbon is also a great base to explore the many beautiful places nearby. Most of these are easily accessible with a day trip tour.
Don’t miss Sintra, a town and former royal retreat in the Sintra Mountains just 30 minutes from Lisbon. The colourful, fairy-tale like castles and mansions at Sintra are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most enchanting places in Portugal. This is the Sintra day trip we took.
You could also combine Sintra with a stop at Cabo da Rocha and the seaside town of Cascais or the picturesque Azenhas do Mar. Find more Sintra day trips here.
Visit the surfing capital of Europe – the surf reserve of Ericeria only 45 minutes away. It’s a charming historic blue and white fishing town with beautiful beaches and one of the best places to learn to surf in Portugal – more about surf camps in Portugal here.
Where to Stay in Lisbon – Inspira Liberdade Boutique Hotel
An elegant hotel with free parking located near Marques de Pombal so it’s easy to drive to and also close to the metro station. Some balconies have hot tubs.
For more on the different areas of Lisbon and the best hotels check out my post on Where to Stay in Lisbon.
Lisbon to Porto: 317km – 3 hours (5.5 hours avoiding tolls)
After Lisbon we headed inland to the region of Castelo Branco to visit friends on their farm near Fundao.
If you didn’t want to go into the countryside the route up the coast from Lisbon to Porto is only about 320 km which takes 3 hours driving on toll roads, or 5.5 hours without tolls.
There’s plenty of stunning beaches, legendary surf spots like Peniche and Nazare and historic towns to visit on the way including picture perfect Obidos, the historic university city of Coimbra and Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal.
A Lisbon to Porto road trip is one of the highlights of many people’s Spain and Portugal itineraries, but this time we went inland to see what life was like on the farm so check out this blog for more about the Lisbon – Porto route.
Lisbon to Fundao: 260 km – 2.5 hours (4.5 hrs avoiding tolls)
Portuguese Farm Life, Castelo Branco
One of our main reasons for taking this Portugal road trip was to visit friends who bought a farm near Fundao in Castelo Branco, Central Portugal and to check out what the lifestyle is like there.
There’s alot of ruins and cheap land in this area of Portugal (find them on Pure Portugal) and its inspiring to hear and see how people have moved out here to renovate the ruins and farms to build self sufficient homesteads and live off grid.
Some are also building eco villages, communities and yoga retreats and it’s been a dream of mine for a long time to come and see what farm life in Portugal is like for myself.
Our home for the week was this self contained cabin on our friend’s farm. It’s a beautiful area and it’s really inspiring to see what’s going on here but it’s also a reality check of how much money, time and hard work it takes to make it happen.
If you aren’t lucky enough to have a friend with a farm in Portugal but still want to have this experience you can find hosts on Worldpackers looking for volunteers and you’ll receive free food and accommodation in return for your help.
(Use the code ‘GLOBALGALLIVANTING’ to get $20 off membership with Worldpackers.)
Where to Stay in Castelo Branco – Natura Glamping
Natura Glamping is an amazing example of a new eco resort with white geometric domes, spa baths, infinity pool, amazing views and free onsite parking.
Monsanto, Castelo Branco
While staying on the farm we took a day trip to the historic village of Monsanto – a village in Central Portugal that won the award of ‘the most Portuguese village in Portugal‘ and was one of the coolest places we’ve seen in the country.
Yes, the Portuguese seem to like building settlements on steep hills, but Monsanto isn’t really your typical Portuguese village. Actually it’s quite unique and even the Game of Thrones are filming the ‘House of The Dragon’ here!
I loved exploring the historic village of cobble stoned pathways and houses built around the boulders. The ruins of Monsanto castle perch high above the village with amazing views and an old church with spooky graves cut out from the rock.
Best of all it just felt like we were exploring, it doesn’t feel like a tourist attraction. Monsanto is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the Castelo Branco region.
Due to the steep, narrow, historic lanes you can’t drive into Monsanto village. There is car parking and a shuttle bus slightly down the hill.
Where to Stay in Monsanto – Casa Mont’Santo
A cute historic fully equipped 3 bedroom cottage, accessible by car with parking, large terraces and great views
Fundao to Porto: 259 km – 2.5 hrs (4.5 hrs without tolls)
Portugal’s 2nd city is worth visiting just as much as Lisbon and mustn’t be missed from your Spain and Portugal itinerary!
Explore the grand cathedrals, blue mosaic covered churches and the colourful buildings of the historic Ribeira district that tumble down to the Douro River where port barges would have awaited their cargo.
Nowadays you can take a cruise along the river, ride the old trams, funiculars and the modern Gaia Cable Car to explore Porto and stop in at cellar doors to taste Port wine in the city that it was invented.
Did you also know that author JK Rowling taught English and lived in Porto for a while and found inspiration for the Harry Potter series in the enchanting bookstores here like the Livraria Lello and in the uniforms of the university students.
Best Things to do in Porto
- Cross over the river on the Ponte de Dom Luis I Bridge for magnificent views
- Take the 6 bridges cruise down the Douro River
- Visit the port wine cellars and taste the best wines of Portugal on a wine tour
- Explore the historic Ribeira district or join a walking tour.
- Enjoy panoramic views of Porto from the top of the Torre dos Clérigos
- Watch the sunset from the Jardim do Morro.
- See the places that inspired JK Rowling on a Harry Potter tour
- Visit the World of Discoveries museum
Check out more things to do in Porto and find the best deals on tours and attraction tickets here.
Our Highlight: The iconic Ponte de Dom Luis I Bridge is rated on Trip Advisor as the best thing to do in Porto and I can see why. Whether admiring it from below or walking along the top soaking up the sweeping views of this beautiful and unique city and watching the sunset from Jardim do Morro.
Soaking up the picturesque views and riverside vibes while tasting port wine in Vila Nova de Gaia and riding the cable car up to the bridge was another highlight.
Where to Stay in Porto – Vincci Porto
Amazing art deco style hotel in a stylishly renovated landmark building with easy access from motorway, onsite parking and opposite a tram stop. The panoramic river views from the terrace were a highlight.
Porto to Braga: 54 km – 1 hour without tolls
We made a short stop in Braga to meet a friend’s 2 week old new baby! Braga looked like a lovely, historic city but it was raining most of the time we were there so we spent most of the time inside catching up and playing with the little ones.
One thing I couldn’t miss when in Braga is the UNESCO listed Bom Jesus do Monte! The wedding cake like layered steps remind me of the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church – the famous church in Panjim, Goa.
If you’re not keen on walking up the 577 steps you can take the historic wooden funicular railway up to the top. Dating back to 1882 it’s the oldest in the world that moves using water counter balancing.
Where to Stay in Braga – Vila Gale Collection Braga
Located in an amazing heritage building that used to be a church! With a beautiful swimming pool and gardens, fantastic central location and free onsite parking
Braga to Oviedo: 479 km – 4.5 hours (6 hours without tolls)
As we hadn’t planned enough time for our epic Spain and Portugal itinerary, after Braga we only had a few days to drive the 700km back to Bilbao for the ferry so we had to put our foot down if we were going to make it back to the ferry on time and sadly has to skip Santiago de Compostela.
We wound our way over the mountains of Northern Portugal and crossed over the border into Spain without any border checks or paperwork.
Northern Spain and the regions of Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria are beautiful, green and alpine-like – very different from the rest of the Spain.
We stayed 1 night in Oviedo, the unpretentious capital of the Asturias region, and had a bit of time to look around the compact and characterful old town, wander the Campo de San Francisco park and try the local food and cider.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied for a few days in Oviedo. It’s also part of the pilgrims route – the camino (way) to Santiago de Compostela and the cathedral at sunset was a mesmerising sight.
Where to Stay in Oviedo – Exe Oviedo Centro
Great value modern hotel with spacious, comfortable rooms and free onsite parking, close to train station and 15 mins walk to the cathedral
Oviedo to Bilbao: 280 km – 3 hours
I would have loved to spend more time in Northern Spain but sadly we had our return ferry booked. The ferry departed at 8pm so the next day we drove the 3 hours along the coast from Oviedo to Bilbao.
We stopped for lunch at the pretty seaside town of San Vicente de la Barquera. The harbour, beaches, old village and castle amongst the backdrop of the mountains of the Picos de Europa make it one of the most picturesque sights on the Cantabrian coast.
Also Visit: If we had planned our Spain and Portugal itinerary better we would have loved to visit Santiago de Compostela and spend some time walking the Camino, the historic pilgrimage route, but we didn’t have time. Plus, it feels a bit like cheating to drive there instead of walk! I’ll save it for another trip when I have enough time to walk the camino properly!
We also wished we’d had more time to explore the coastline of Northern Spain and Picos de Europa – we didn’t know the region would be so beautiful so I recommend that you leave more time in your Spain and Portugal road trip itinerary for Northern Spain than we did.
Our Spain and Portugal Road Trip Tips & FAQ
Why take a road trip around Spain and Portugal?
There are many ways to travel around Europe – flights are cheap, an interrail pass is fun and convenient and buses are affordable.
But for this trip as we wanted to visit a lot of places in a small amount of time, including some communities and friends off the beaten track. Doing this would be difficult, time consuming and expensive without our own transport.
Nothing beats the freedom of having your own set of wheels and being able to go wherever you want, whenever you want.
Plus, there was less chance of catching Covid or dealing with Covid related paperwork when traveling in the safety of our own vehicle. When we crossed the borders between Spain and Portugal there were no checks or controls at all – we just flew straight through.
Where’s the best place to rent a car or campervan in Spain and Portugal?
We took our own car from the UK on the ferry from Portsmouth to Spain but it’s sometimes cheaper and more convenient to take a cheap flight and then rent a car when you get there.
The benefit of this is that you can drop it off in a different location from where you picked it up saving time and money on fuel (you may have to pay a one way hire charge though)
To find the best deals on rental cars I recommend Discover Cars. They compare all the best deals from the best companies which can save you alot of money – sometimes even 70%, Best of all there are no hidden fees so you can easily see the total price you’ll pay.
Traveling in a campervan, RV or motorhome is also an amazing way to explore and road trip in Europe. You can save money on accommodation and eating out when staying in a campervan or motorhome.
I use Motorhome Republic to find the best deals for motorhome and RV rental. As one of the largest motorhome rental agencies they have a price beat guarantee and the biggest choice from reputable and trusted companies.
You can find places to camp on the Park 4 Night app. It’s easy to find places to camp for free in Spain but Portugal made wild camping illegal in 2021. There’s plenty of campsites which are still a fun, friendly and affordable option. Many have swimming pools, bars and restaurants and feel more like a resort.
How much does the fuel for a Spain and Portugal road trip cost?
We spent €300 on fuel for this 3,500 km trip.
When’s the best time for a Spain and Portugal road trip?
The Summer months of July and August are the peak season for traveling in Spain and Portugal but I think the best time for a Spain and Portugal road trip is the Spring or Autumn as it won’t be so hot and the sights will be less crowded, plus you’ll get cheaper rates on accommodation.
How to plan a Spain and Portugal itinerary? How long should we spend in each destination?
When planning an itinerary you’ll need to research what you want to see and do so you know how many days to spend in each destination.
As a general rule of thumb I usually recommend spending at least 3 nights/ 2 days in each destination so that you have enough time to explore and relax and don’t feel like you’re spending most of your time driving.
We took 1 month for this trip but we spent 10 days with friends on their Portuguese farm, so we only had 3 weeks to travel. Although we tried to fit as much in as possible, there are still places we sadly had to skip because, to be honest, we didn’t plan our Spain and Portugal itinerary very well! So I would recommend spending at least 1 month to see the highlights of both Spain and Portugal.
If you have less time maybe just concentrate on one region like Northern Spain, Andalusia or Lisbon to Porto.
Did you use toll roads in Spain and Portugal?
To keep costs down and to see more of the countryside we tried to avoid toll roads on our Spain and Portugal road trip. This was easy to do in Spain because the free roads were so good and, on the motorways, there were petrol stations literally every 10 kms.
Portugal was a different story though and by avoiding toll roads in Portugal we would have ended spending double the time driving.
The Portuguese toll system is a bit tricky, especially if you are driving an non-Portuguese registered vehicle and don’t have an electronic transponder in your car, so it’s worth getting acquainted with it before you go for a hassle free trip. Read this article for tips.
If you rent a car in Portugal you can rent a transponder from the car hire company.
Is it more expensive to take your car on the ferry straight to Spain or to drive through France?
This is a question we spent alot of time deliberating on. Driving all the way through France looked fun with plenty to stop and see but would ultimately end up being exhausting and costly so we decided to take the car on the ferry from Portsmouth, UK to Bilbao in Northern Spain.
We estimated how much we would have spent in 5 or so days traveling through France in fuel, tolls, eating and accommodation (not to mention attractions and sightseeing) and it made more sense to take the ferry instead.
We paid £780 for return ferry tickets for 2 people, 1 car and cabins on each crossing. We found it useful to compare the routes available and get the best deal on Ferry Savers.
This 24 hour crossing is known for being rough at times but it was nice and calm and I didn’t feel sea sick at all. We had a comfortable en-suite cabin and enjoyed exploring the ferry. It felt like a mini cruise with the bars, restaurants, sun decks and even a small swimming pool.
Taking the ferry made it feel like much more of an adventure than flying!
What was it like traveling in Spain and Portugal in 2021?
The Covid situation and rules are always changing and you should always check the most up to date news before traveling.
But in our experience, in September and October 2021, Covid didn’t adversely affect our Spain and Portugal road trip too much,
We had to present either a negative test, proof of vaccination or proof of recovery and fill out a health form to enter Spain. The process of checking in and disembarking from the ferry was quick and simple. You don’t even need to get out of your car to go through immigration.
Our passports did get stamped at the Spanish border (due to Brexit UK citizens are only allowed 90 days out of 180 in the Shengen zone now.)
Apart from people wearing masks both inside and outside on the street (even though it was not a legal requirement to wear them outside) we didn’t notice many differences from traveling Europe before Covid.
Everything was open, people were friendly and happy to see tourists and, apart from wearing face masks in supermarkets and on public transport, Covid didn’t restrict or impact on our trip too much.
The restrictions had recently been relaxed in Portugal so we no longer need any tests or proof of vaccination to stay in a hotel or eat in a restaurant. There was no Covid pass in Spain.
When returning to the UK we had to fill out a passenger locator form and book a test to do on day 2 after we arrived back. We didn’t need to isolate or quarantine.
Covid doesn’t have to ruin your travels, but it’s really important these days to always check the most up to date rules before traveling!
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Do you have any more tips or questions about our Spain and Portugal road trip?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!