Why You Should Visit Spain and Portugal in Winter
Warm (ish) sunny days, thin crowds and low prices…why wouldn’t you want to see Spain and Portugal in winter!? Here’s a quick guide on what to expect in the winter months, and also a rundown of the places we visited during our two week trip (this post is based on Portugal and the south of Spain, as we didn’t visit the north and it’s probably a lot colder).
The weather is perfect for sightseeing
Assuming you don’t stray into the shade (where it’s freezing), the weather in Spain and Portugal in winter is perfect for wandering around historic sites and relaxing in sunny squares. We experienced clear skies everywhere except for Porto, where it rained uncontrollably for a whole day. I was down to a t-shirt in some other places though — something I wasn’t expecting in January. I’m guessing these places would have been roasting in the middle of summer, so winter could be your best bet, assuming you aren’t planning on spending your whole trip at the beach.
A sunny day in Cordoba
Hotels are cheap
We found a big double room in the centre of Barcelona for €20, a nice (but very cold) room in Porto for €12 and a comfortable little room in Granada for €20. How much would those same rooms be in summer? I have no idea, but probably a lot more! It was great to get such cheap rooms considering all of the awesome historic buildings we were spending money on. Spain isn’t a cheap country at any time of year, but travelling in winter makes it more than manageable. Portugal is one of the best value countries in Europe, especially in winter.
Porto: Home to the cheapest hotel room that we found in Europe
It’s quiet (sort of)
Ok, I’m not going to pretend sites like Seville’s Alcázar or Sintra’s Pena Palace are deserted in winter, but from what I’ve heard they are much quieter than in summer. We didn’t have to queue up to get into any of the touristy places, and the crowds inside weren’t too distracting.
The Alcázar in Seville
Here’s a quick look at the places we visited during our trip to Spain and Portugal in winter.
We flew to Seville from Marrakech just in time for New Year’s Eve. We went to the main plaza for the countdown and ate our 12 grapes as the new year drew closer. Over the next couple of days we explored Seville’s historic streets, took a tour of its famous bull ring and walked around the Alcázar, a sprawling palace built during Seville’s Muslim era (it was also featured in season 5 of Game of Thrones). Plaza de España is also a great place to see in Seville — it’s definitely one of the most impressive plazas / squares in Europe.
Where to Stay in Seville:
Luxury – Hotel Casa 1800 Sevilla
Mid-Range – Hotel Amadeus & La Musica
Boutique – El Rey Moro Hotel Boutique
Budget – Hotel Alcántara
Córdoba is home to the Mezquita, a surreal mosque/cathedral mutant. The candy cane arches survived the Catholic remodel, but you can’t help but wonder what this place was like in its original state. It’s still a beautiful building though and is a must-see if you’re travelling in Andalucía. Cordoba also has a palace with exotic, pool-filled gardens and a bridge dating back to Roman times. We only spent 2 days in Córdoba and could have really used an extra day there.
Where to Stay in Cordoba:
Luxury – Balcón de Córdoba
Mid-Range – Las Casas de la Judería de Córdoba
Boutique – Hotel Boutique Patio del Posadero
Budget – La Boutique Puerta Osario
Granada has it all. It’s close to beaches, great hiking trails and even a ski resort. The town itself is an exotic mix of Muslim architecture, Catholic churches and relaxing plazas. The Alhambra, the hillside palace built during Muslim rule, is Granada’s showpiece sight. The buildings are full of intricately carved doors, walls and ceilings — the detail really is amazing. Watching the sunset at Mirador de San Nicholas, with a perfect view of the Alhambra, is a highlight of any trip to Granada.
Further reading: Granada: One of the Coolest Little Cities in Europe
Where to Stay in Granada:
Luxury – Palacio de Santa Inés
Mid-Range – Palacio de Santa Inés
Boutique – Gar Anat Hotel Boutique
Budget – Maciá Plaza
We hit a bit of a wall in Barcelona and really didn’t have the energy to do it justice. We went for a few walks around town and explored some historic neighbourhoods, but it didn’t leave much of an impression on us. Judging by how much people seem to love Barcelona, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was probably our fault. We did wander around the Gothic district and climbed a hill for a great view over the city, but we missed some of the real highlights, including the many architectural marvels created by Gaudi. We will return!
Where to Stay in Barcelona:
Luxury – Hotel The Serras
Mid-Range – Granvia
Boutique – Boutique Hotel H10 Montcada
Budget – Aparthotel Silver
From Barcelona we took a quick flight to Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, which turned out to be one of my favourite cities in Europe. The hills are full of historic streets, old trams and funiculars, and lots of great street art. We had a relaxing glass of wine as we watched the sunset at Castilo de São Jorge. We also ate some really great Indian food (and local food as well), explored the river-side suburb of Belém and went for an awesome day trip to Sintra.
Further reading: The Hills in Lisbon Have Eyes!
Where to Stay in Lisbon:
Luxury – Valverde Hotel
Mid-Range – My Story Hotel Rossio
Boutique – Santiago de Alfama – Boutique Hotel
Budget – HF Fenix Urban
Only 45 minutes from Lisbon, Sintra is home to some surreal old buildings and gardens. We visited the Quinta da Regaleira, with its grottos, palaces and huge underground tower. We also saw the colourful Pena Palace — it looks a bit like a toy and is definitely one of the most unique historic buildings in Europe. Finally we visited the Castle of the Moors, a sprawling defensive structure with great views over the surrounding countryside.
Further reading: Crazy Castles and Palaces: A Day Trip to Sintra
Where to Stay in Sintra:
Luxury – Penha Longa Resort
Mid-Range – Quinta da Tareca Praia Grande – Sintra
Boutique – Sintra Boutique Hotel
Budget – Hotel Ibis Lisboa Sintra
We grimaced through a glass of port wine in Porto; tastings are popular here but it wasn’t for us! It rained a lot while we were in Porto but we did get one afternoon to explore. It’s a really beautiful city; the area near the river is lined with colourful buildings and is incredibly photogenic. I know I’ll return to Porto sometime soon to explore it properly.
Where to Stay in Porto:
Mid-Range – Porto A.S. 1829 Hotel
Boutique – Descobertas Boutique Hotel Porto
Budget – Hotel Dom Henrique – Downtown
I’m sure Spain and Portugal are great at any time of year, but if you’re interested in history and want to see some truly amazing sights (and save some money), this winter is the perfect time to visit.
Have you visited Spain and Portugal in winter? How was it? Let me know in the comments below!
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