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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.

Spain and Portugal in winter: The Alcazar in CordobaA 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.

Spain and Portugal in winter: Porto riversidePorto: 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.

Spain and Portugal in winter: Alcazar, SevilleThe Alcázar in Seville

Here’s a quick look at the places we visited during our trip to Spain and Portugal in winter.

Seville

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

Spain and Portugal in winter: Plaza de Espana, Seville

Córdoba

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

Spain and Portugal in winter: Mesquita, Cordoba

Granada

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

Spain and Portugal in winter: Alhambra, Granada

Barcelona

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

Spain and Portugal in winter: Barcelona

Lisbon

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

Spain and Portugal in winter: Lisbon

Sintra

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

Spain and Portugal in winter: Sintra

Porto

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:

Luxury  – Pestana Vintage Porto Hotel & World Heritage Site

Mid-Range  – Porto A.S. 1829 Hotel

Boutique  – Descobertas Boutique Hotel Porto

Budget  – Hotel Dom Henrique – Downtown

Spain and Portugal in winter: Porto

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!

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post may be affiliates. If you purchase something after clicking one I’ll get a small commission – it won’t cost you any extra and it really helps me out.

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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12 Comments

  1. January 15, 2016 at 9:10 am — Reply

    My parents did your exact itinerary except Portugal, and really enjoyed themselves as well. Love the reportage.

    • January 15, 2016 at 8:56 pm — Reply

      Cheers Milosz — it’s a great place to travel for pretty much everyone I reckon!

  2. January 15, 2016 at 2:42 pm — Reply

    I feel like it’s all year round just beautiful places to visit. Anything for less people, I would appreciate too!

    • January 15, 2016 at 8:56 pm — Reply

      Yeah, I don’t want to imagine what some of those sights are like in the middle of summer!

  3. January 16, 2016 at 2:01 am — Reply

    I want to go to Porto so bad, it looks amazing there! After reading your post now I’m adding Sintra to my list too.

    • January 18, 2016 at 9:22 pm — Reply

      They are both cool places. Portugal wasn’t actually on our list of places to see in Europe but some cheap flights made us rethink that — it was a great decision!

  4. January 17, 2016 at 7:23 pm — Reply

    I love going places when it’s in off-season. You always get a better deal and sometimes the weather is just as good!

    Crystal recently posted… How to Kill a Man with Your Bare Hands

    • January 18, 2016 at 9:23 pm — Reply

      That’s definitely the case in this part of the world…I couldn’t believe how good the weather was.

  5. Adhita
    May 13, 2016 at 10:57 pm — Reply

    Did you not go to Madrid? Planning to visit a friend in Madrid this Dec and thought you may have some recommendation on cities around Madrid. I also plan to spend NYE in Porto.

    • May 23, 2016 at 9:51 pm — Reply

      I didn’t, will definitely go there one day though. Enjoy your trip, Porto is a really nice city.

  6. Blondrea
    November 6, 2016 at 6:20 am — Reply

    Am thinking of going to Portugal over the winter holiday, and am very thankful for your article! I think I will go. 😉

  7. silvia junaidi
    June 29, 2017 at 2:45 pm — Reply

    hi jon, i want to travel around spain, portugal and morocco too. Would you like to suggest where city i arrived 1st? madrid, lisbon or marakesh? And how you travelling around, spain first and portugal next then morocco?
    thanks in advance

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