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Highlights of Spain & Portugal

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13 days From $3,986 $3,886 per person
4.6 stars(9 reviews)
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Visit palaces and cathedrals, taste wine produced under sunny skies, and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the Iberian Peninsula on this grand tour of Spain and Portugal.

Travel on your own following a well-planned itinerary
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Offer Ends June 26th: Save $100 per person on Independent Europe Vacations. Prices as marked online.

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2024 Tour code: CI-HSPW-24

About the tour

Luxury joins with tradition to create an experience unlike any other on this comprehensive tour of the Iberian Peninsula. The highlights of Spain and Portugal are presented thoughtfully, with each destination unveiling new customs, cultures, and elements that join to make this part of the world so special. But the chosen cities are only part of what makes this tour so memorable; enjoy stays at opulent four-star hotels, private transfers, and thoughtfully chosen excursions that capture the heart of each locale.

Explore Barcelona, Granada, Seville, and Madrid in Spain on the first half of your trip, with ample time to get acquainted with the wonders that each hold. Delve into the art scene of Barcelona, and visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites throughout Granada, including the renowned Alhambra. Relish the opportunity to experience a private flamenco performance on a patio in Seville before moving on to Madrid, where a panoramic tour leads to the one and only Royal Palace. Portugal is just as intriguing, and after you fly across the border and arrive in Porto, you are engulfed in a culture built around wine. Taste locally produced vinos at several wine estates throughout the region and enjoy relaxing cruises on the scenic Douro River that showcase the region's terraced vineyards and historic country homes. Moving to Lisbon by train, discover even more to love about this country, from its Fado music to its incredible gastronomy. A journey for the senses and a vacation to remember, this epic tour is one for the books.

Highlights

What’s included

Itinerary

Day 1 - Arrive in Barcelona

A hub of culture and brilliant architecture, a place where flavorful cuisine and lively music tantalize your senses, Spain's beautiful city of Barcelona welcomes you to the Iberian Peninsula. As you arrive today, an English-speaking driver is waiting to escort you from the airport to your downtown Barcelona hotel. Later on meet your local guide for a private walking tour of the city where you will be introduced to Barcelona's incredible skyline, famous attractions, and sparkling coastline one site at a time. The evening is yours to delight in the city's offerings independently. Overnight Barcelona.

Day 2 - Park Güell and La Sagrada Familia

You may wish to start your first full day in Barcelona with an optional culinary activity: a paella experience by the sea. Make your way to Barcelona's harbor to learn about the love and care that goes into creating one of the region's seafood specialties, paella. Enjoy the dish on a terrace overlooking the sapphire water. Whether you join this immersive experience or indulge in a leisurely morning, today is the day to explore Barcelona's historic buildings, their artistry, and the stories behind their development. Begin your excursion at La Sagrada Familia, a crowning jewel of Barcelona whose construction began in 1882 and remains unfinished. The architect behind this masterpiece is renowned Catalonian Antoni Gaudi, and this masterpiece is the pinnacle of this eclectic style. Enjoy a tour of this Roman Catholic cathedral alongside a knowledgeable local guide. Marvel at the soaring columns and the detailed stained-glass windows that seem to glow in the sun's light. 

From here, move to the Carmel Hill neighborhood to visit 42-acre Park Güell, one of Barcelona's most extensive public green spaces. While this park is brimming with gorgeous gardens and beautifully maintained spaces, the unique structures designed by Antoni Gaudi catch the eye and offer endless wonders to behold. From curved benches covered in rainbow-hued tile to chapels, playfully designed staircases, intricate columns, and buildings where hard angles are hard to find, each piece is laden with symbolism and has a story to tell. Walk through the park with a guide, then continue down one of Barcelona's most important streets, where even more of Gaudi's imaginative structures lend a colorful edge to the landscape.

Once your half-day tour concludes, continue sightseeing in Barcelona on your terms. Continue exploring the works of Gaudi at the Casa Vicens Gaudi Museum or seek out some of the other fantastic artistry in the city by visiting the Picasso Museum, the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, or the National Art Museum of Catalonia. You may wish to explore Barcelona's eclectic neighborhoods, such as the old Gothic Quarter or El Born, with its trendy shops and countless restaurants. Lounge like a local with a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafe, and soak in the undeniable ambiance surrounding you. Overnight Barcelona.  

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 3 - To Granada by Train

Aboard Spain's efficient rail network, travel from Barcelona in the northeast portion of the country to Granada deep in the south on the Alboran Sea. The six-hour route takes you inland from the coastline, passing through wonderful cities, including the capital, Madrid, before continuing south to Granada, a city whose history transcends cultures and centuries.

Granada is set deep in Andalucia in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Gorgeous examples of Moorish architecture adorn the narrow, serpentine streets and lively neighborhoods where traditions run deep and tapas flow freely. The combination invites visitors to explore. When the imposing Alhambra, a hilltop fortress that presides over Granada, comes into view, you have arrived. Transfer to your luxurious hotel once your train arrives, and then take some time to settle into your new city. Perhaps set out through the Albayzin quarter, part of Granada's UNESCO World Heritage Site, to see typical examples of ancient Arab architecture. If you look close enough, you may spot hand-painted tiles along the structures and walls. Granada is home to several gorgeous cathedrals, including the Royal Chapel and the Granada Cathedral. The Arab baths and the Alcaiceria (once the city's Grand Bazaar) are lovely places to relive the Moorish history of the region. If you seek grand views, look no further than Plaza de San Nicolas, set at the top of the Albayzin quarter, where panoramic vistas over the city, surrounding mountains, and lush treetops abound. Overnight Granada.

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 4 - The Alhambra and Generalife Gardens

It is hard to imagine a more impressive centerpiece for the city than the Alhambra, a beautiful 9th-century palace complex whose red hue lent it its name. As the palace expanded throughout the 12th and 13th centuries, varying architectural influences left their mark, creating a place so scenic and culturally significant that it earned UNESCO World Heritage Site status. During your tour, today, explore the Nasrid Palaces and beautifully maintained courtyards. Look upon intricately carved archways, stunning fountains, and period decor as you wander through the fortress. Your tour also includes admission to the Generalife Gardens adjacent to the Alhambra.

The Generalife Gardens are a place of peace and beauty where ancient kings went to escape the pressures of everyday life. These carefully landscaped greenspaces offer inspiration and respite to this day, with their intentional usage of greenery, water, and light to create a peaceful retreat. Look over the Genil and Darro Valleys and the sprawling city below as you wander pathway by pathway.

This afternoon, transfer to Grenada's train station for a journey west to Seville, the largest in southern Spain. Seville boasts a vibrant culture built on the shoulders of flamenco dancing, flavorful cuisine, and architecture that showcases the influences from the times of the Romans and the Moors to the Gothic Period and beyond. Arrive in this metropolis after two and a half hours of travel and enjoy the evening at leisure in these idyllic surroundings. Overnight Seville.

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 5 - Seville Sightseeing/Evening Flamenco Performance

Join a local, English-speaking guide in uncovering the most impressive sights throughout Seville on a half-day tour. Enjoy glimpses of places like Seville's university, the 17th-century Palace of San Telmo, an ancient watch tower alongside the Guadalquivir River, and the Puente de Isabel II, the city's arched metal footbridge, amongst other incredible sites. Your tour also includes admission to two of the most coveted buildings here: the Real Alcazar and the Cathedral of Seville.

First, walk through the palaces and intricate grounds of the Real Alcazar, a royal complex that has been in use since the 10th century, making it the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe. As you explore, your guide will provide invaluable insight into the UNESCO World Heritage Site's history. Yet, you may recognize some of the areas of the complex without an introduction, as four areas of the compound - the gardens, the Baths of Lady Maria de Pilla, the Hall of Ambassadors, and Mercury's Pond - were featured in HBO's "Game of Thrones" as the palace of House Martell of Dorne. Next, the Cathedral of Seville shines globally as the largest Christian Gothic Cathedral and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. As you explore, see beautiful artwork, the tomb of Christopher Columbus, and the chapel's intricately molded gold altarpiece. Before leaving, your guide escorts you up the Giralda bell tower for a bird's eye view over Seville.

Following the tour, you are free to continue your explorations at leisure ahead of tonight's authentic flamenco performance on a private patio. Dinner is served while the music plays, and the dancers enchant you with their colorful clothing and graceful movements. Overnight Seville.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Dinner
Day 6 - Seville to Madrid

Venture back into the heart of Spain today by train. Make your way to the station after breakfast, then settle into your comfortable seat for the journey toward the capital city itself, Madrid. The route takes under three hours to complete, leaving plenty of time to settle into your new surroundings on arrival. This city is beloved for its sunny skies, elegant architecture, and devotion to art, which runs deeply and spans multiple periods. You may wish to set out on foot once you have checked into your four-star hotel to explore the lively neighborhoods where modern amenities and ancient architecture join and the heartbeat of the city is palpable. Explore the lovely museums, fantastic shopping opportunities, and thousands of restaurants throughout the city, or find a scenic spot to relax and absorb the energy that is so vibrant in Madrid.

Join an optional ham, cheese, and wine tasting excursion for a more structured afternoon. Led by a local, this tour ventures through Madrid's taverns and markets to taste locally produced products, including three types of wine, two varieties of ham, and two different kinds of cheese. After all, there is no better way to get to know a destination than through its food. Overnight Madrid.

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 7 - Madrid Highlights Featuring the Royal Palace

Discover the highlights of Madrid on this morning's panoramic city tour. Join a local guide on a comfortable coach and watch as the city's beauty unfolds before your eyes. Buildings constructed in a diverse range of styles, from classic French to Gothic, Baroque, and Eclectic, graze the skyline and, despite their differences, complement each other with ease. These structures are built around Madrid's sweeping plazas, so your tour hops between some of the best-known. Venture to Plaza Mayor, Puerta de Alcalá, Puerta del Sol, and Plaza de Cibeles. Each has defined features and a cemented place in Madrid's history; luckily, your guide is there to provide all fascinating facts and stories to bring them and the significant buildings around them to life.

The tour culminates at the Royal Palace of Madrid, which is noted as one of the best-preserved in Europe. The Royal Palace is the largest in Western Europe, with over 3,400 rooms, and one of the largest remaining strongholds in the world. Skip the lines and join your guide in exploring the gorgeous interior of this opulent palace. Highlights of the visit include the Crown Room, the Royal Chapel, and the Grand Staircase. Each area is perfectly maintained and filled with period decor, artwork, and wares. Soaring columns meet frescoed walls and ceilings, and hints of the past - from the armory to instruments - remain everywhere you look. Return to your hotel with the remainder of the day to relax or sightsee on your own. Overnight Madrid.

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 8 – Madrid at Leisure

There are so many ways to enjoy this high-spirited city, and you have the entire day to do so in a way that meets your travel goals. The Prado Museum is a crowning jewel of the art world and the city, housing over 7,600 paintings alone. Wandering the Mercado San Miguel is the best way to shop like a local, with booths offering spices, wine, and delicious prepared food items. The market is a gastronome's dream. Shopping the luxury stores of Grand Via is an experience second to none. Other beloved spots throughout Madrid include Retiro Park, the National Archaeological Museum, and the Temple of Debod.

You may also join a half- or full-day tour of Toledo. Both optional excursions begin on foot in Old Town, where a guide navigates the historic streets and takes you past important buildings and significant sites. Continue your explorations by seeking out the famous Greco painting, The Burial of Count Orgaz. Admission is included on both excursions to St. Tome Church, St. Maria La Blanca Synagogue, and the Monastery of San Juan. After these sites, the full-day tour continues to the beautiful Toledo Cathedral, adorned with carefully crafted stained glass windows. Its Gothic styling and immaculate interior make it a must-see while in Toledo. Finish up the full-day tour with a tasting of traditional tapas before returning to your hotel. Overnight Madrid.

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 9 - Flight to Porto/River Cruise & Wine Tasting

Today takes you across Spain's border to the other country on the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal. Your private transfer takes you to Madrid's airport for your direct flight to Porto, a scenic city right on the Atlantic in the northern portion of the country. If there is one thing this city and its surrounding areas are known for, it is port wine production. Transfer to your centrally located hotel on arrival before diving right in with a river cruise on the Douro River. This waterway has been a critical trade route for centuries and is surrounded by lush and rolling landscapes that lead to Portugal's wine country. Round out your excursion by tasting the region's fruits as the cruise leads to one of Porto's riverside wineries. Sample several varietals produced onsite before cruising back into the city, with contrasting urban and rural views punctuating the course. The remainder of the evening is at leisure. Overnight Porto.

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 10 - Douro Valley

Venture through the oldest demarcated wine region in the world on the day's exploration of the Douro Valley. This lush region is home to vineyards that have been in place for nearly 300 years and has a varied terrain that speaks to its heritage. Enter the valley by bus, then enjoy a panoramic cruise that presents the terraced vineyards, rolling hills, old country estates, and a host of charming little towns and villages that benefit from their position on this winding river. The romance of this UNESCO World Heritage area is all-encompassing. The tour pauses for lunch at a local establishment and continues to two wine estates, Portal Wine Estate and Bonfim Wine Estate, which welcome you to sample the wines they produce onsite. After a full day immersed in the Douro Valley's breathtaking sights and fabulous wine, your guide escorts you back to your hotel for the night. Overnight Porto. 

Includes
  • Breakfast, Lunch
Day 11 - Porto to Lisbon by Train

This morning takes you deeper into Portugal to its glorious capital city, where white buildings and red roofs span as far as the eye can see: Lisbon. Make your way to Porto's train station after breakfast at your hotel and enjoy the views as you follow a three-hour route through Portugal. Featuring shoreline sights, coasting through cities, and coursing through the Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Natural Park, this route is as picturesque as it is efficient.

After transferring to your hotel, spend the afternoon discovering the intricacies of your new surroundings. Lisbon is incredibly hilly, and its narrow streets and alleys are a joy to discover on foot if you are up for the challenge. Two neighborhoods, Alfama and Mouraria, hold the titles of the oldest in the city, with Alfama dating to the Iron Age. Traditional buildings and breathtaking views abound in these areas, so keep your camera handy. For another way to explore Lisbon, jump on one of the trams, and soak in the vibrancy of local life - and plenty of pretty structures and notable attractions - while you ride. Overnight Lisbon.

Includes
  • Breakfast
Day 12 - Lisbon Sightseeing/Fado Performance

Pastel buildings and a colorful culture merge on today's escorted sightseeing expedition through Lisbon. Your well-versed guide leads you through traditional parts of the city, like Rossio and Alfama, and to beloved points of interest throughout the city, including the Belem Tower and the Monument of Discoveries. Sights of the water and brilliant blue skies complement your course and add another layer of beauty to this already gorgeous city. Admission to the Jeronimos Monastery, a 16th-century treasure that speaks to the luxury of the Age of Discovery, and the Coach Museum, which houses ornate horse-drawn carriages and riding equipment from ages long past, are also included with this tour. Tonight, the sounds of Fado fill the air as you venture to one of Lisbon's old quarters for an evening of folk music and delicious cuisine. Overnight Lisbon. 

Includes
  • Breakfast, Dinner
Day 13 - Tour Conclusion

Your grand exploration of Spain and Portugal concludes this morning after breakfast at your hotel. Enjoy a private transfer to Lisbon's international airport to complete your luxurious journey. 

Includes
  • Breakfast

Additional information

Departure times

Departure times vary based on selected rail vacation. This information will be provided in your final documents. For more information please speak with your rail specialist.

Mobility information

Due to the nature of our tours they are generally unsuitable for those with restricted mobility. If you’d like to discuss any particular vacation with us in this respect, then please don’t hesitate to call us.

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Reviews

4.6 stars4.6 / 5 · 9 reviews

  1. 5 stars
    (6)
  2. 4 stars
    (2)
  3. 3 stars
    (1)
  4. 2 stars
    (0)
  5. 1 star
    (0)

Sue R

3 stars

Submitted 22/Apr

Traveled with three couples on an independent tour. The sales and customer service were always very nice on the phone but there was a HUGE DISCONNECT between what they published and had in our contract and what was produced. Our group asked for and paid for comfort class seats on all of our train rides. We asked several months in advance if that was being done, even two weeks before the trip and was assured that they would provide that. It was NOT done when we began our trip and they were scrambling to get us comfort seats after our first leg of the trip. (They did reimburse us for the difference for our first trip). The hotels were adequate but especially in our last city, they were not near the tours provided or in the “tourist” areas. Therefore, we had to take taxi’s to get everywhere. (Or walk very long distances). Lastly, they were inconsistent about providing transportation to the rail stations. Sometimes they did, but most times did not. How do you advertise Vacations by Rail and not include getting you to the rail! I would not recommend using this company! They are good sales people but don't follow through with questions or request.

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Kimberly Galloway

4 stars

Submitted 21/Apr

Overall: great trip! We enjoyed the experience in both countries. The tours are varied and fun, and there is a good balance of tours vs ‘free time’. The itinerary, vouchers, tickets sent by VBR prior to travel is very thorough and detailed; we referred to it throughout the trip! Some observations: Hotels: in Spain, the H10 hotels were all wonderful and in central locations. All in very walkable areas, near the city centre per se. Granada: hotel in good location, but definitely not a 4 star hotel. The AC was somehow linked to a light switch, so the only option was light on to sleep with AC. ? In Portugal: not sure what happened. Both hotels quite far from city centre making it inconvenient, requiring taxi rides for everything. Plus you are away from the tourist crowds and don’t feel quite as safe. The Porto hotel was outdated (burgundy carpet on floor and matching heavy draperies; plus no toiletries or tissues in the bathroom?) and apparently frequented by bus huge bus loads of tourists making even the breakfast room super crowded ( Not to mention long waits for an elevator). Transportation: to be fair, the trip description did indicate that some of the to and from would be on your own. However, after experiencing the trip, we can say it was a bit confusing with the back and forth of ‘do we have a ride set up’ or ‘do we need a taxi’. Also beware: some taxi drivers will try to take advantage of tourists if you try to pay by credit card. We experienced this in Portugal. Tours: most of the tours were absolutely fantastic! Of note: the Alhambra in Granada, the city tour in Seville, the Porto Valley tour - spectacular! You have to find your own way to the tour meeting point, but this is not a huge deal since the itinerary provides the exact address. we did ask in advance about any of the tours being ‘bus’ tours (we are not “bus tour” people!): we were told no, that it might just be a bus taking you somewhere then you get off. This is pretty much the case but note that the city tour in Madrid was by bus (not a good experience, driving by beautiful structures at 45mph not knowing what they are while the guide is on her phone?!) and the city tour in Lisbon was also by bus, though we did get off the bus at a few locations on that tour, so that was certainly doable. Unfortunately some of the tours were ‘cut short’ for various reasons but nothing offered in its place and no (partial) refund : Madrid: palace was closed, so no tour; and in Lisbon: monastery closed, no tour. Also odd that some of the tour companies lumped a big multi-cultural group together; in Lisbon, the guide was speaking 4 languages as we toured the old palace. While that’s very impressive, it makes a short tour very, very long. Trains: We were a bit nervous about the trains, but they ended up being very easy to navigate! We upgraded our rail tickets and are glad we did- very comfortable train travel! We also had an unusual experience: our flight departing the US was canceled d/t weather, putting us into Barcelona a day later. VBR did reschedule the city walking tour for us which was terrific! Overall we had a great experience in Spain and Portugal on the VBR trip!

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Karen

5 stars

Submitted 19/Apr

We loved the hotels in Spain. They were within walking distance to everything. They were wonderful and the breakfasts were great. The excursions were good also. We signed up for extra excursions, and I think we could have been happy with what the ones the company put together. Although the cooking class and the paella experience were amazing. The hotels in Portugal were a little harder to walk from. The city centers were quite a distance away. But the hotels were lovely.

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MELANIE OAKES HARRISON

5 stars

Submitted 21/Mar

Great hotels, many exciting tours included in the package yet I had plenty of free time to explore on my own. Definitely a wonderful trip

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Cindy Zens

5 stars

Submitted 14 Oct 2023

Great itinerary truly hitting the highlights of Spain and Portugal! Beautiful hotels many of which had lovely rooftops to enjoy! The events we attended-Flamenco and Fado were outstanding!

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Joan Richardson

5 stars

Submitted 09 Jun 2023

This trip ran very smoothly. We had one glitch while we were in Lisbon but the Desk clerk was wonderful and made sure all of our reservations were valid.

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