HOT trip to Spain and Portugal

Hola/Ola! We are back from 8 days in Spain in Portugal! We had an awesome (but HOT!) trip to the Iberian Peninsula and we want to tell you all about it.

Our arrival in Madrid on Thursday evening was followed shortly by the Tapas, Taverns, and History Tour. I booked it thinking it would be a great way to get a feel for the city and the tapas culture right off without having to do any planning on our own. It was a little pricey but when you add up the cost of the drinks and tapas we had at each place, it more than paid for itself. We got to try some amazing foods including: jamon iberico (from acorn fed pigs), fresh marinated sardines, herbed mushrooms, meatballs, and more. Drinks were wide in variety too from vermouth, sangria, tinto de verano, and more wine.

On Friday, we did a tour of the cathedral and royal palace which are located right next to each other. After lunch (most restaurants have a 3 course set menu for around 10-12 euros!) and a siesta at our AirBnB, we went to take in the Spanish artists at the Prado and then for a spin around the lake in Retiro Park. We finished the evening with our own tapas walk complete with sangria and jamon iberico.


After 2 days in Madrid, we decided to take a day trip to Toledo. It was so easy and quick to take the train from Atocha station. We did a LOT of walking with the highlights being the massive cathedral and the many, many steps with amazing vistas of the town below and surrounding areas. We ate lunch at Malquerida de la Trinidad which is right around the corner from the church. There are so many cute boutiques and gift shops around town so we spent much of the afternoon shopping for swords and gifts for our nephews and niece. That night, we took our first overnight train to Lisbon. It was the loudest, jerkiest, shakiest train I’ve ever been on, but we arrived in one piece nonetheless and felt like it was a great way to save traveling time.

Lisbon, much like Madrid, is pretty much dead until 10:00am or so regardless of the day of the week so we had the city more or less to ourselves when we got off the night train. We walked through the main plaza and along the river until we could drop off our bags at our AirBnB. At 11:00am we linked up with the Chill Out Walking Tour and spent the next 3 hours seeing each of the bairros in Lisbon. Free walking tours are always great because (I like to think) you get a more authentic perspective on the town. Our tour ended with a hike up through Al Fama and to the top of the hill near the castle for some amazing views of the city and the river. After we grabbed a bite, we were able to actually check in to our AirBnB and grabbed some naps and showers. After we cleaned up, we headed to BA Wine Bar in Bairro Alto. If you go (which we are recommending this as our #1 thing to do in Lisbon if you love wine), you MUST make a reservation. This adorable wine bar has 6 tables and we watched many guests get turned away. Luciana was an excellent host and made the experience educational and enjoyable all at the same time. We enjoyed a few different glasses of Portuguese wine (who knew it was so tasty and delicious?) and a meat & cheese board. We feel a bit guilty about this but we totally blew off our dinner reservation and stayed to enjoy more wine. Definitely go to BA Wine Bar if you go to Lisbon.

Our second day in Lisbon, we slept late and took a tram out to Belem. It is a beautiful area on the river, west of the city, with the Taj Mahal of monasteries, a tribute to the Portuguese discoverers, and a medieval tower. We (of course) climbed the discoverers monument for a view of the area and out to the Atlantic Ocean. We tried the pasteis de nata, little custards in cups of thin, flaky pastry and went for a walk in the esplanade. Back in town, we did some shopping at Zara and, Alex’s favorite store, El Ganso. In January and July, many stores in Europe put on major sales (70-90% off) to clear out merchandise for the new season. It is an awesome time to grab a few things to round out your wardrobe and we especially try to buy shoes during these times as we go through pairs rather quickly with all of our walking here. We remade our dinner reservation from the night before for the Cevejaria Trindade. It is an old beer hall that serves amazing seafood. It feels a bit touristy but the platter we shared made up for it. We enjoyed crab legs & claws, prawns, barnacles, oysters, and a crab shell of “mustard.” An interesting note, if you are traveling to Portugal: when you sit down, a small plate of appetizers (cheese, little meats, tapenades) and a basket of bread will be brought to your table. These are not free. If you eat them, they will be added to your bill. We thought this was a useful cultural tidbit to share with you in case you ever go.

BEACH DAY! The day I had been waiting for for a year! We took the train from the Cais do Sodre to Cascais (for around 4 euros) and found an awesome cove for swimming, thanks to a friend, Jamie, who taught there before ISB. There were rocks and some sand for sunbathing, a bridge, and a castle-turned-museum and a lagoon of chilly Atlantic water to swim in. There were only about 10 people in this cove and a few dogs running around so it made for the perfect beach day. We also took Jamie’s advice for lunch and got some fresh grilled fish and refreshing white sangria at Dom Pedro.  We walked over to the Boca Do Inferno for some more views of the Atlantic and then we tried the beach near the marina before heading back to Lisbon.

Wednesday, we headed out to the medieval town and national park area in Sintra. Again, this was a quick and cheap train ride from Rossio station and we were able to pack in 3 castle visits over the course of the day. Sintra is super hilly and there are lots of stairs. We visited Palacio da Pena, a very colorful castle, first and ate lunch at the cafe there. Then we hiked through the Valley of the Lakes and back up to the Moorish Castle which was basically just a fortress where you can walk the perimeter on the walls. Even though it wasn’t as high up as the Palacio da Pena, we thought the Moorish Castle had better 360 views. The place we had hoped to grab a meal at was closed already so we decided to check out Quinta da Regaleira, a castle/mansion in town, where legend says candidates for the Knight’s Templar dove down into a initiation well and swam back up the spiral staircase. We grabbed sandwiches at the train station and headed back overnight to Madrid.

Back in Madrid, we dropped off our bags at the Apartamentos Palacio Real and went for a metro ride out to Las Ventas, the bull fighting ring. We did the tour with audio guide and learned so much about Spanish bull fighting, training to be a matador, and the lives of the bulls. We are still undecided as to how we feel about traditional bull fighting, as it seems to be quite gruesome and ends with the public death of the bull (and possibly sometimes the injury or death of the matador and/or team members) and a mule team dragging the body out to the patio area for sale of meat. We walked up the Gran Via for a look at the architecture and walked in and out of a few shops. After checking in to our hotel, naps & showers (we have a pattern), we did our own tapas walk in La Latina. The highlight was definitely Tempranillo, which features only Spanish wines, and pinxtos (tapas served on a slice of baguette). We tried a goat cheese & grilled veggie one and a quail one. Both were awesome. We headed down the road for La Chata for vermouth and jamon. We had our last plate of herbed mushrooms and goat cheese on baguette at Taberna Gerardo and finished with some ice cream in Plaza de los Carros. A successful night of tapas eating!

Last day! We slept in a little bit and tried Muniz for chocolate con churros for breakfast. Very rich but we thought it was a fun start to the day. We walked through the historic part of town one last time on our way to Templo Debod. Apparently the Egpytians gifted Madrid with a temple in the 60s and you can visit it for free. Today was a little cooler so it was nice to spend some time in the park and then walk up the Gran Via to the city hall. Palacio de Cibeles used to be the town’s main post office but now serves as the city hall. It had several free galleries to walk through of paintings and pictures and the option to go to the roof for city vistas. We were short on time for the roof and headed to the airport instead, but this was easily the coolest city hall I have ever been in.

We had a GREAT time in Spain and Portugal and have to admit that both countries exceeded both of our expectations. We are eager to go back to explore more cities, more food, and more culture!

Stay tuned! Alex’s parents arrive Monday and we are off on another adventure! WE LOVE SUMMER!