The two countries in the Iberian Peninsula have had their misunderstandings in the past and to grow together, side by side, was anything but easy over the centuries. However, time passes and heals every wound, and even the biggest of issues becomes smaller with the passing of years.
The Portuguese and the Spanish now feel a kind of funny, healthy rivalry towards each other, something along the lines of “Oh, in Portugal/Spain we do/have that also, but better!”, as it is expected between siblings or close cousins! The truth of the matter is that both countries share a similar background and have a lot more in common than they like to admit! While Portugal has been a country for longer than Spain, both countries have many shared characteristics and ways of doing things. More than neighbours, both countries being so close together, are more like relatives with their differences.
So we suggest that on your next trip to Portugal you enjoy this closeness of the two countries and go for a quick detour in Spain. You will be able to see for yourself the live testimonies of the history and culture of the two nations without really having to plan for two trips! Come along with us to the best locations to visit in Spain when you are... in Portugal!
Douro to Salamanca
If you are enjoying a day or a few days at a beautiful wine estate, surrounded by amazing landscapes of slopes descending towards the river in Régua, Pinhão or Alijó, in the Douro Valley, and you have some spare time, you may like to know that the city of Salamanca, whose historic center is UNESCO heritage, is a mere 3 hours driving away from where you are!
The city in the Castille and León region is known for its well-preserved center and University, which dates to 1218 and is the oldest in Spain and the third oldest in the Iberian Peninsula.
Many of its students are international students as the University has quite a reputation for being one of the best Spanish language teaching institutions in the world. The building has been redecorated over the centuries and its intricate, plateresque façade is quite a sight! If you pass by the University of Salamanca, no matter what time of day it is, you will always find people at the front façade stretching their necks and pointing, while trying to discover a small frog carved in stone. According to tradition, this was a symbol of good luck, and students who were about to start their freshman year at Salamanca would have to find it in order to graduate.
While you are in town, and since we are mentioning some quirky symbols, visit the Cathedral, a church from the 16th century, and try to find the carved astronaut on the columns siding the main entrance of it! Even though it is located on an ancient building, the figure dates back to 1992 when, on the occasion of the exhibition "Las Edades del Hombre", funds were allocated to restore the front of the Cathedral so that visitors in the future would know the events that were taking place in that year. Mind twisting, right?
Just around the corner from Portugal, Salamanca, with its ancient streets and its mysteries, is a city well worth discovering. yourself!
Porto or Viana do Castelo to Vigo or Santiago de Compostela
It will take you less than 1h30m to go from Porto or Viana do Castelo, in Portugal, to the incredible port city of Vigo or to the spectacular religious city of Santiago de Compostela, if in the spur of the moment you decide to go for a quick detour in Spain.
Vigo is a city in the province of Pontevedra, within the region of Galicia, Spain. Located in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, it sits on the southern shore of an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, the Ria de Vigo, the southernmost of the Rías Baixas. Fresh fish and seafood are top of the notch here, and that alone can be used as an excuse for the short drive to Spain!
The municipality comprises some rural parishes and seaside towns, and is the most populous municipality in Galicia. While you are in the area, you have to go for a visit to the stunning, turquoise water beaches of the Cíes Islands, which are a part of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park.
If you are more into a cultural trip, then Santiago de Compostela is your best bet! Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the region of Galicia. The city has grown around the shrine of Saint James the Great, which is now the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. This is the final destination of the Way of St. James (El Camino), a leading Catholic pilgrimage route since the 9th century, totally worth going for even if you are not religious, as most people see it as a spiritual journey. In 1985, the city's Old Town was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
These are real gems, each one for their own reasons, and so near to Portugal!
Marvão to Cáceres
If you are staying in the region of Marvão, a lovely walled town on top of a mountain in Upper Alentejo, Portugal, surrounded by the lavishing green scenario of São Mamede Nature Park, and are still keen to include more incredible locations into your itinerary, you will love to know that the Spanish city of Cáceres is a mere 1h40m away from where you are, and is absolutely worthy of a visit!
Cáceres lies at the feet of the Sierra de la Mosca, a medium-sized hill range. The city is part of the Vía de la Plata ("Silver Route") path of the Camino de Santiago that crosses the west of the Iberian Peninsula in a north–south direction. Even though there have been settlements near Cáceres since prehistoric times, the city's foundation by the Romans dates back to 25 BC.
The Old Town still boasts its ancient medieval walls but is especially well-known for its multitude of storks' nests. Inside the walls, you will find a medieval town setting, with no outward signs of modernity, which is why many television shows and films have been shot there. The Universidad de Extremadura and two astronomical observatories are also situated within Cáceres, making it an important academic destination in the Iberian Peninsula.
Cáceres was declared a World Heritage City by UNESCO in 1986 because of the city's blend of Roman, Moorish, Northern Gothic, and Italian Renaissance architecture.
So much history and culture just a stone’s throw away is very hard to resist, right? authenticity!
Elvas to Mérida
Elvas is an extremely interesting city in the Alentejo, in Portugal, from an architectural point of view, and the same can be said exactly of its neighbour Mérida, just 1 hour’s drive away towards the Spanish side.
Mérida was called Emerita Augusta by the Romans. It was founded as a Roman colony in 25 BC under the order of the emperor Augustus to serve as a retreat for the veteran soldiers (emeritus) of the legions. For this reason, the city was once one of the most important in Roman Hispania (the equivalent to our Iberian Peninsula).
Later, following the invasions by the Visigoths, Mérida remained an important center of the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania in the 6th century. The Muslims settled here in the 8th century and were going to remain in Mérida for the next 500 years. The many architectural transformations over the millennia earned Merida the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
When in Merida you will feel like you have stepped right into a history book, and on a day tour of Mérida you will probably see more historical sites than you would in a lifetime, in other places. This is a lesson that we are sure you will be happy to learn!
Algarve to Seville
Even though the Algarve is a region in Portugal and not a city, from any point there you can easily reach Seville in Spain. The Spanish city is located less than 2h from either Tavira or Faro and less than 3h from Lagos. Seville is indisputably one of the best detours to Spain that you can take when visiting Portugal.
Seville is the largest and therefore, the capital city of the Spanish region of Andalusia. It is situated on the lower banks of the River Guadalquivir, in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula. Its iconic old town has an area of 4 square km only (2 sq. miles), but is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Alcázar palace complex, the Cathedral, and the General Archive of the Indies. The Seville harbour, located about 80 km (50 miles) from the Atlantic Ocean, is the only river port in Spain.
After a continued presence by the Romans, the Visigoths, the Muslims, and the Christians throughout the millennia, the city saw its more important growth in modern times, during the 16th and the 17th centuries, when the city earned its pretty Baroque feel and characteristics. However, one of the most popular reasons to visit Seville is still its food! The tapas culture is quite strong here, and the weather conditions permit outdoor dining all year round.
Seville is the perfect place to be with friends and family, enjoying the good things in life. A toast to that!
To Spain and back
To come to Portugal and to tour the country is in itself a very complete experience, with a variety of landscapes, foods, and activities that can keep you happily entertained for the duration of your holidays. However, if you wish to get to know as much as you can within the time frame that you have, it is really simple to include these and other Spanish locations in your itinerary as day tours or, with some planning in advance, a detour of one or two nights. Portugal and Spain’s borders are almost non-existent, and both countries are well connected by high-quality roads and even by a variety of means of transportation that will allow you to move around fairly easily. And should you need any help to know which are the best places to go, well, then we will be glad to help you with this Iberian adventure of yours!