Hi! I've got a two week vacation coming up in a few months, and have always wanted to visit Spain and Portugal. How might I get the best out my time? Should I do Spain only? Portugal only? A combination of the two? I have a budget of about $200 a day for hotel, food and trains. Thanks!
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Your budget will take you WAY farther in Portugal than in Spain, although with care you can do well in Spain as well. Portugal, and especially Lisbon, is the home of filling delicious meals in every neighborhood for 5-7€ which lets you spend a bit more on frills and excitement.
You might think of something like a week or so based in Lisbon, a few days in Porto and then...if the budget stretches...a budget flight to a last few days in Barcelona (or other city of your choice with US-bound flights.
Thank you, PHeymont, that's helpful. I've always wanted to see Lisbon and Barcelona, and your plan makes sense.
Is there a specific guidebook you'd recommend?
Usually these days I put together a "trip book" with articles and information from a lot of sources, but I also usually take along one full-scale guidebook as well.
I'd be hard-put to make a recommendation for Portugal, because for that one I decided to overcome my feelings and give Rick Steves a try...and it was nearly useless. No special information, a smug tone, and maps that were too sketchy to be useful.
In general, I've liked the Frommer guides (and I'm excited that the new ones will veer a bit back toward budget travelers) for their fairly comprehensive view. Rough Guides are usually among the best for their historical and cultural context sections at the end.
Suggestion: Go to a bookstore with a big travel section, and look through the guides for a place or two you're familiar with, and find the one or two you'd recommend to someone. Once you've done that, get one from that series for your new destination. No guarantees...but at least you'll know the tone and sections...
That's very helpful. I'll give them a look and see what I find that suites me.
Also, for getting around Portugal and spain, should I take the train? Bus? local planes? Any idea which works best (cost and efficiency both matter, but so does easy connections)
Portugal's rail system feels a bit worn in places, and some trains look terrible from outside...but the interiors are clean and the system seems to work. Not a terribly large country, so that time between the two largest cities (Lisbon and Porto) is about 3.5 hours. If you add in getting to the airport early and getting in from the airport at the other end, it's probably faster than flying.
Other significant points in Portugal also have reasonable rail service, including Coimbra, the university town in the middle, and the vacation beaches of the Algarve in the south. It pays to check prices and routes, by the way. It's one of the few countries we've traveled lately where advance purchase doesn't help much, but good advice (from the ticket agent!) can really help. For instance, from Coimbra to Porto, we saved half because he showed us a regional train from Coimbra that met a Porto regional train about halfway between. A ticket on the "high-speed" train would have required two changes and been only 9 minutes faster!
I'm not as familiar with Spanish trains except in limited areas...suggest you try a wonderful resource: Mark Smith's site, http://seat61.com
I just visited www.seat61.com and it seems a fabulous website for travelers wanting to catch trains in Europe! So many tips and price comparisons!! And thanks for your info on trains. I think I'll take them even if they're a little beat up looking, LOL
You been wonderful with all your help, PHeymont! I might have more questions later. Do you keep an eye on these posts? How does that work? What's the best way for me to get in touch with you if I have more questions?