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Spain vs. Portugal: Which Iberian destination is right for you?

Aug 17, 2023 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

Travelers often ask: Should I visit Spain or Portugal on my next trip to Europe? At first glance, it’s an impossible question to answer. Spain has long been a beloved destination among travelers, while a recent surge in popularity has turned Portugal into one of the world’s newer tourism powerhouses.

How do you decide whether a trip to Spain or a Portugal tour is right for you? Travel to Spain and Portugal are defined by a lot of similar experiences, namely great food, rich history, fascinating culture, and inspiring nature. So, if you’re looking for a mind-blowing European destination, these countries will tick all the right boxes. But if you dig a little deeper, you might learn that one country is better suited to your interests.

Curious to learn the difference between Spain and Portugal for your next unforgettable trip with us? Read on to find out whether one of our Portugal tours or Spain tours will make for the best vacation ever.

How to travel to Spain and Portugal?

Before we break down the differences between Spain and Portugal, let’s go over the basics. Because these countries share the Iberian Peninsula—the westernmost region of continental Europe—it’s quite easy to reach them. Cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, and Porto are air travel hubs that connect to many of the world’s most important capitals.

When’s the best time to go to Spain and Portugal?

Both countries are in southern Europe, which means weather in Spain and Portugal typically features hot summers and mild (occasionally rainy) winters. Add gorgeous shoulder-season conditions of sunny, warm days plus cool nights, and you’ve got two destinations that you can really visit any time of year depending on what you want to do when you get there. Now, let’s dig into our destination battle: Portugal vs. Spain!

Pick Spain if you love art and getting lost in museums

Art is a major part of why many of us travel. And it doesn’t matter where you go, there’s local art to explore and experience. Traveling to Spain, however, is particularly important to art lovers because it’s home to some of history’s most famous artists and to some of the world’s most important museums.

A trip to Barcelona, for instance, wouldn’t be complete without discovering the works of Antoni Gaudí. The sightseeing tours on our Barcelona: The City Experience tour feature guided visits to some of Gaudi’s most important works, including the yet-to-be-finished Sagrada Familia. On our Grand Tour of Spain, you’ll enjoy some time to explore the Prado in Madrid, which is home to the private art collection of the Spanish monarchy. It’s full of masterpieces by Goya and Velásquez, just to name a couple.

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Book a trip to Portugal if you love being by the water

When it comes to seaside allure, the Spain vs. Portugal battle isn’t an easy one to call; after all, Spain is much bigger and therefore has more coastline. But Portugal isn’t very big, so no matter where you are, you’re never too far from the ocean. Thanks to its history of seafaring explorers, Portuguese culture has long been defined by the water. Our Portugal tours will get you up close and personal to this relationship, whether you’re exploring the mainland or visiting one of the stunning Portuguese islands.

On our Grand Tour of Portugal: From Porto to Lisbon, start in Porto where you’ll learn about how the Douro River helped create one of the most iconic wine industries on the planet. Then in the center of the country, you can opt for an excursion to Nazaré to see amazing waves (some of the tallest imaginable) and the brave surfers eager to conquer them. You’ll also head to the southern tip of the country for a coastal adventure in the Algarve, where some of Europe’s most beautiful beaches and caves await. Northern Europeans have been traveling to this region of Portugal for years thanks to warm, sunny weather and stunning, relaxing beaches. Enjoying its coastline remains one of our top tips when visiting Portugal.

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Go to Spain if you love fine dining

When it comes to food, comparing Portugal and Spain can be tricky because so much of it comes down to taste. And make no mistake: A visit to Spain or Portugal will include countless delicious meals. But what puts Spain slightly ahead in this category is the fine dining scene. There are 226 Michelin-starred restaurants spread across this great country, meaning regardless of which region your Spain tour takes you to, a memorable dinner awaits. But it’s not just that; some of the most exciting examples of molecular gastronomy come from Spanish chefs, like Ferran Adrià.

Prepare for the tastiest vacation ever on our Food & Wine: A Taste of Spain tour, . Upon arrival in Barcelona, the culinary celebrations begin with a tasting of regional wines. After sightseeing and trips to the market for some chocolate-dipped churros, may we suggest spending some free time tucking into a platter of paella by the beach. In Basque Country, sample Idiazabal cheese and gilda—a traditional pintxo of olives, peppers, anchovies, and olive oil.

Or, you can savor a more hands-on adventure on our Food & Wine: Barcelona & Northern Spain with America’s Test Kitchen tour. Designed in partnership with the food-obsessed experts of America’s Test Kitchen, this trip features a cooking class in Barcelona, Michelin-starred dinner in La Rioja, pintxos crawl in San Sebastián, and much more. One thing’s for sure: Your next trip to Spain will be full of amazing meals, so don’t forget to brush up on your Spain dining tips.

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Head to Portugal if you’re into wine

Wine is another one of those categories where it’s difficult to confidently pick a winner in this Spain vs. Portugal debate. We know that Spain makes some fantastic wine, from rich Tempranillo to dazzling Cava. But what makes Portugal’s wine scene special is the Douro Valley. Did you know that the Douro is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world? It was officially named a wine region in 1756.

On our Food & Wine: A Taste of Portugal tour, we devote two full days to being in the Douro Valley so you can be fully immersed in its unique beauty. Your itinerary includes sailing the Douro River aboard a traditional rabelo, a flat-bottomed boat. There, you’ll get to see the valley’s spellbinding allure as you marvel at terraced vineyards sloping down toward the rushing waters of the Douro. It’s one of the most picturesque wine countries in the world.

Wine lovers should also consider our A Week in Portugal: Porto, Évora & Lisbon tour, during which you’ll sip delicious port in Porto and discover some of the boldest wines coming out of Alentejo when you stop in the historic city of Évora. Lisbon’s wine-making region is smaller than the Douro and Alentejo, but the Portuguese capital is also home to some of the best wine bars in the country. May we suggest adding a wine bar crawl to your list of Lisbon must-dos?

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Choose Spain if you love big city energy

From Madrid to Barcelona to Valencia, Spain has the edge if you love the hustle and bustle of a major European urban center. Add Seville, Málaga, and Bilbao to that lineup and you’ve got a country perfect for city lovers. Spain’s largest cities are full of everything travelers adore about this country: great historical sights, fantastic restaurants, fun shopping, and exciting energy. No wonder our top-rated Spain tours often highlight these destinations!

If you’re hitting the road without a travel buddy, take a tip from our solo traveler’s guide to Spain and make the country’s beloved cities the focus of your trip. On our Spain for Solo Travelers: Barcelona, Madrid & Seville tour, you’ll get to stroll around the atmospheric Gothic Quarter in Barcelona, take a day trip to Toledo while in Madrid, and see a sensual flamenco performance in Seville. Or, you can take a dedicated trip to the great cities of the south on our Journey through Andalusia: Seville, Granada & Málaga tour, where you’ll learn about Spain’s rich Moorish legacy.

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Travel to Portugal for under-the-radar, small-town charm

Europe is known for its heartwarming, historic villages—and our Portugal tours are designed to show these small but mighty destinations throughout the country. In fact, if you want to see all 15 stunning places in Portugal that you can visit on one trip, we have the perfect tour for you.

Our Grand Tour of Portugal: From Porto to Lisbon balances visits to big cities like Lisbon with stops in lesser-known towns dripping with history and charm. This includes the opportunity to explore Guimarães and Braga in the north—two of the oldest towns in the country. (Did you know Guimarães is known as the cradle of Portugal?) You’ll also stop in sacred Fátima and the seafaring village of Sagres—both are important to Portuguese history.

If you want to extend your trip, now is a great time to learn why the Azores is Europe’s best-kept travel secret. The island of São Miguel, located in the middle of the northern Atlantic Ocean some 900 miles from Lisbon, has recently gained more popularity. Travelers from all over are starting to become familiar with this lush island’s serene waterfalls, thermal springs, hills lined with hydrangeas, and mysterious twin lakes of different colors. On your next trip to Portugal, you can discover all of these for yourself.

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Have you picked a winner in the Portugal vs. Spain battle? Book your next Portugal or Spain trip, or check out our Grand Tour of Portugal & Spain: Porto to Barcelona tour to explore both countries.

About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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Grand Tour of Portugal & Spain: Porto to Barcelona
15 days | 18 days with Basque Country extension

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