Visit the best cities on the Iberian Peninsula – Lisbon and Barcelona

Lisbon and Barcelona are among the best cities on the Iberian Peninsula. They are two of the oldest and most beautiful port cities in Europe, and both are worth visiting – maybe on the same trip!

Both vibrant cities are sunny most of the year and have great weather and great beaches nearby.

They both offer loads of art, culture, and history, as well as great historic architecture.

I highly recommend trying to visit both cities on the same trip, if possible.

Lisbon Attractions

Castelo de São Jorge

Built by the Muslim Moors in 1050, Saint George’s Castle is Lisbon‘s oldest surviving building.

However, there has been a settlement on Lisbon‘s highest hilltop since before the Roman occupation.  

Afonso Henriques led a group of Christian crusaders into Lisbon and seized the castle from the Moors in 1147.

Shortly after, having united the counties of Porto Cal and Lisbon and several villages in between, Afonso Henriques became the first king of Portugal.  

Today the castle is the top tourist attraction in Lisbon.

It also offers the best views of the city, as well as the best sunset. 

It is a steep but interesting walk up to the castle.

You could take Tram 28 part of the way up the hill, but bus 737 starts on flat land at the central Praça da Figueira and stops in front of the castle door.

You can do the walk going downhill after you visit the castle. These historic neighborhoods should absolutely be explored.

Admission to the castle is €10.

You will find that all of the attractions in Lisbon are very recent reasonably priced.  In fact, most things in Lisbon are very fairly priced.

Belém

The Belém neighborhood has two UNESCO world heritage sites.

First, the Jerónimo‘s Monastery was built in 1501 on the site where Vasco da Gama went to pray prior to setting out to explore the seas. 

The stunning architecture and stonework demonstrate that Portugal was one of the wealthiest countries in the world at one point.

A monastery may not sound exciting, but this one should not be missed.

Across the street, you will find the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos).

The 20th-century monument is in the shape of a ship, with Henry the Navigator leading a crowd of Portugal’s greatest explorers, poets, geographers, and artists towards the sea.

In front of the monument, you will see a beautiful map and compass mosaic illustrating all of the Portuguese colonies.

The mosaic was a gift from the government of South Africa to the Portuguese government.

A few hundred yards west of the Monument to the Discoveries is Lisbon’s iconic Belém Tower (Torre de Belém).

This is the only other building that survives from King Manuel’s reign.  The fortress was built in 1507 to protect the Tejo River and the Lisbon bay.  

Visitors can enter both the Monument to the Discoveries and the Belém Tower.

Both have great viewing decks.  One of Lisbon’s great sunset locations is just east of the Belém tower. You can watch the sun go down behind the tower. It makes for a beautiful picture.

Tram 28

Lisbon’s street-car-like yellow trams are world-famous, and all visitors want to ride them.

Tram 28E  started running in 1914.

It is, by far,  the most popular tram in Lisbon, because it passes by so many of Lisbon’s most famous sites and miradouros,  (Mira De Ouro =  Golden View) or scenic viewpoints.  

Today the route is 4.5 miles long and begins near Martin Moniz metro station and ends at Prazeres in the Campo de Ourique neighborhood.  

Trams come every 10 to 12 minutes and the entire trip lasts close to an hour. The wait in line can be quite long. Best to try to ride very early or very late in the day.

Tram 28 starts running at 6 AM, with the last one departing at 11 PM on weekdays, and 10:30 PM on weekends

Tram tickets are three euros for a single trip and can be purchased from the driver. 

It’s easier to use a prepaid card such as the Lisboa Card or the Viva Viagem public transport card (purchase at any metro station). 

There is also a 24-hour public transport ticket for €6.40 that you can buy at the metro station.

These are good on all trams, buses, and the Metro. 

Enter through the front door and validate your ticket by scanning it behind the driver.

Lisbon is a very safe city with very little crime, but you are most likely to encounter a crime on Tram 28 or while you are in line waiting for Tram 28.

Unfortunately, the tram is a hotspot for Europe’s best pickpockets.

I would advise you not to carry unnecessary cash, credit cards, or travel documents if you are planning to ride the tram.

Baixa and Chiado

Baixa is the lower district, the central part of downtown.

While it looks old it only dates back to 1755.

On November 1, 1755, the strongest earthquake to ever hit Europe destroyed most of Lisbon and killed more than 30,000.

The Baixa was rebuilt with large, strong, and uniform-looking earthquake-proof buildings under the direction of the Marquis de Pombal.

In Baixa you will find the Rossio Train Station, Rossio Square, and Praça da Figueira. Good spots to have a coffee or a meal, but also these two plazas are Lisbon’s transportation hub, and you can even catch a train out of town here.

If you start at Rossio Square and head away from the river, you will find lots of dining, 4 and 5-star hotels, mansions, and high-end shopping on the grand Avenida da Liberdade.

But if you move toward the river, the most interesting path is Rua Augusta. This wide pedestrian boulevard is packed with restaurants and street performers.

You will notice a huge arch with a clock at the end of the street. At Rua Augusta 2 you can enter and go up to the observation deck at the top for great views of the river and downtown Lisbon.

Passing under the Arco da Rua Augusta, you will find yourself looking at Praça do Comércio and the Tejo River.

The beautiful arcaded yellow buildings hold cafes, hotels, and wine-tasting rooms – among other things.

If you head down to the water, you will notice two oddly-placed marble columns in the water.

Prior to the earthquake, there was a royal palace on this square.

The two columns (Cais das Colunas) are what remains of the royal pier.

The steps going down to the water are also a great place to relax or watch a sunset.

Two blocks west, you will find Rua Áurea and another of Lisbon’s famous attractions – The Santa Justa Lift.

This 150-foot tall wrought-iron tower and elevator opened in 1902.

It was built by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel.

At the top, you will find a great viewing platform, but the elevator also links the Baixa neighborhood downtown to the Chiado neighborhood on the hilltop. 

Chiado is also known for fine dining and high-end shopping.

As you come off the Elevador de Santa Justa, you will soon run into the Convento do Carmo.

Convents may not sound interesting, but this one is eerily beautiful, as the roof was destroyed during the 1755 earthquake and never rebuilt.

Today you see the stone walls and the arches that supported what used to be the roof.

There is a nice plaza in front of the convent where musicians play and a kiosk sells sangria and other refreshments.

Oceanarium / Parque das Nações

Barcelona was remodeled in advance of hosting the 92 Summer Olympics. After the Olympic Games, Barcelona’s tourism industry and economy boomed.

For Lisbon, it was Expo 98 (World’s Fair) that led to a construction boom and the expansion of the metro system.

The Parque das Nações neighborhood was created to host Expo 98, and like Barcelona, Lisbon officials built the new tourism center on rough, somewhat polluted, industrial land.

The whole area got a facelift, and after Expo 98, Lisbon’s tourism industry started to take off.

In Parque das Nações, visitors will find the best examples of Modern and contemporary architecture in the old city of Lisbon.

Among the most impressive buildings are Lisbon’s tallest building, the riverfront Hotel MYRIAD by SANA | 5 Stars Luxury Hotel in Lisbon | Portugal, and the Lisbon Oceanarium (oceanario.pt)

With 450 marine species and more than 16000 animals, the Lisbon Oceanarium is the largest aquarium in Europe.

Just north of the Parque das Nações is the Vasco da Gama Bridge, which was also completed just prior to Expo ’98.

At 56,430 feet (more than ten miles) long, it is the longest bridge in Europe

Alfama and Scenic Viewpoints

On the way up to, or coming down from the castle, you will find Lisbon’s oldest residential neighborhood – Alfama.

The village sprang up right outside of the castle walls.

For years it was known as one of Lisbon’s poorer, working-class neighborhoods, with many houses lacking plumbing late into the twentieth century.

It is also known as one of Lisbon’s most charming neighborhoods, with its maze-like medieval alleyways and stairways.

It is here where Fado music – Lisbon’s blues-like folk music was born, and there are lots of opportunities to see a performance. For more information, see my article, Everything you need to know about fado music in Lisbon

Here you will also find Lisbon’s Sé Cathedral. Built-in 1147, St. Anthony was baptized in this church.

Alfama celebrates the feast of St. Anthony on June 13.

Nearby, you will also find two of the best miradouros, or scenic viewpoints, in Lisbon – the Miradouro de Santa Luzia, and the Miradouro das Portas do Sol.

Lisbon Area Beaches

The Portuguese Riviera is a thing. Many members of Europe’s royalty had vacation homes on the coast west of Lisbon.

Today you will find everything from 5-star hotels to hostels lining the coast.

There is the Estoril Casino which inspired Ian Flemming’s James Bond novels, and there are several beaches to choose from once the Tejo River merges into the Atlantic Ocean.

You can easily access all of these beaches as well as the resort towns of Estoril and Cascais via a train that leaves Lisbon every 15 minutes for a cost of €2.

For more information, see my article, How to use public transportation to get to Lisbon’s beaches

You can also catch a passenger ferry to the south side of the Tejo River and then board a bus for a 20-minute ride to the Costa da Caparica beaches.

A few of the wide sandy beaches on this 16-mile stretch are busy, but others are quiet. Lisbon’s nude beach is at Praia 18. Lisbon’s gay beach is at Praia 19.

Sintra – the Fairytale Village

Every trip to Portugal should include at least one day in Sintra.

The forested mountain town is roughly 40 minutes away from Lisbon and easily accessed by train or bus.

The little town nestled in the green Sintra mountains might have more castles than any other town or city in Europe.

How to plan a day trip or overnight trip to Sintra from Lisbon

Barcelona Attractions

Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia

Carrer de la Marina 41

Metro: L2 Purple line and L5 Blue line. Station: Sagrada Familia

Admission: €26 Buy tickets online.

Sagrada Familia is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Period.

Construction on the cathedral began in March 1882 under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar.  

He resigned after a year and Anthony Gaudí took over and then spent the remainder of his life working on the project.

Gaudí was deeply inspired by two things – his passion for God, and his love of nature. Both are evident in his work.

Gaudí is now buried in the cathedral.

When he died in 1926, less than a quarter of the project had been finished. 

It was estimated that the church would be finally be finished in 2026, but work has slowed due to Covid.  Although the church is unfinished, Pope Benedict consecrated the church in November 2010.

Visiting Sagrada Familia: Sagrada Família – Official ticket vendors – Sagrada Familia

Each Sunday there is an international mass celebrated at Sagrada Familia. The mass is open to the public until the church becomes full

Sagrada Familia, along with Gaudís Palau Güell, Casa Milà (La Pedrera) and Park Güell are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Antoni Gaudí’s Parc Güell

Carrer d’Olot 5

Metro: L3 green line  Lesseps or Vallcara stations

Urban Bus: Routes H6, D40  Buses are more convenient than the metro in this case, because the metro stations are at the bottom of the hill.

Hours: 9:30 AM – 7:30 PM

Admission: €10, children under 6 are free, Ages seven to 12 pay €7, senior citizens €7

The park was built from 1900 to 1914 and opened to the public in 1926.  Originally the park was part of a failed private housing village owned by Count Eusebi Güell. 

The park is famous for its main terrace, on which Gaudí designed a flowing bench in the shape of a sea serpent, as well as the ceramic lizard on the stairs. Gaudí let his imagination run wild on this colorful project.

Official website Park Güell | Barcelona | Web oficial Park Güell | Barcelona (parkguell.barcelona)

Gaudí’s Casa Milà (La Pederera)

Passeig de Gràcia 92

Metro: L2 Purple, L3 Green, L4 Yellow line – Passeig de Gràcia station

Hours: 9 am – 6:30 pm (Last entry 6 pm), Night hours: 8:40 pm – 10 pm

Daytime Admission: €24 online, Nighttime admission: €34

Built between 1906 – 1912, Casa Milà is known as La Pedrera (The Stone Quarry), due to its imposing, undulating stone facade.

The interior of the apartment house features ergo dynamic fixtures and furniture with unique shapes throughout.

In the vaulted attic, visitors will find a thorough and interesting museum displaying Gaudí’s sketches and models of different geometric concepts he found in nature and then employed in his buildings.

The fascinating rooftop has 28 chimneys that resemble sentinels guarding the skylights, domes, and stairwells.

Gaudí again employed ornamental glass, tile, and marble on the rooftop for another sculptural masterpiece.

Casa Mila (La Pedrera) | Gaudí Building in Barcelona

Gaudí’s Casa Battló

Passeig de Gràcia 43

Metro: L2 Purple, L3 Green, L4 Yellow line – Passeig de Gràcia station

Hours: 9 am – 6:30 pm (Last entry at 5:30)

Admission: €35

The house is also known as Casa dels ossos  (the house of bones), as the lower level has window frames that resemble bones.

The House was originally built in 1777, and Antoní Gaud redesigned the building in 1904. 

He incorporated large, unusually shaped windows, curvy lines, protruding balconies, turrets, and ceramic tiles. 

The roof features four chimneys and the back of a dragon crafted out of tile as well.

Casa Batlló | Antoni Gaudí Modernist Museum in Barcelona (casabatllo.es)

Palau de la Música Catalana

Carrer Palau de la Musica 4

Metro: Urquinaona station L1, L4

Tours: Friday – Sunday 10 am – 3:30 pm

Sagrada Familia is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and easily the most beautiful building in Barcelona.

The Palau (Palace) de la Música Catalana is probably the second most beautiful building in Barcelona.

This concert hall was built between 1905 – 1908 by Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner.

It is the only concert hall on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Palau normally offers a full schedule of almost-nightly events but is closed for renovation until September 20, 2021.

For guided tours: Palau de la Música Guided Tours (palaumusica.cat)

For concerts: Choral and classical music concerts | Palau de la Música (palaumusica.cat)

Barri Gotic

 Barcelona‘s oldest neighborhood is the Gothic Quarter, located right on the Mediterranean Sea.

As the neighborhood was built way before automobiles existed, most of the narrow medieval streets are for foot traffic only. 

In this neighborhood, you can find the remains of the Roman temple, as well as Roman and medieval city walls.

Barcelona Cathedral is also located in the Barri Gotic. 

Be sure to check out the Royal Square or Plaça Reial – a large courtyard with palm trees surrounded by many bars and restaurants.

Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas is an extremely popular pedestrian street that starts at the statue of Columbus at the port and heads northwest for nearly a mile.

The wide tree-lined boulevard has many outdoor cafés, street artists, performers, tourists, and pickpockets.

Las Ramblas separate the Gothic quarter from the Raval neighborhood.

Also located along Las Ramblas you will find the Mercat de Sant. Josep de La Boqueria.

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria

Rambla, 91

Metro: Liceu station, L3 Green line

Hours:  Monday – Saturday 8 am – 8:30 pm

Records indicate that the Boqueria market opened in 1217.

In Catalan the word for goat is boc, and at one point the market was known for selling goat meat. 

Today you can find a massive selection of ham, seafood, cheeses, flowers, fruits, vegetables, oils, spices, and smoothies.

There are several great restaurants in the center of the market. 

Mercat Boqueria Barcelona | Mercat de les Rambles

 While this market is massive and the most famous, there are several others in Barcelona that are also worth exploring if you have time.

For example, The Mercat de Sant Antoni and the Mercat de la Sagrada Familia – both of which have a more local clientele and more local prices.

Picasso Museum

Carrer de Montcada 15

Metro: L4  Yellow Jaume I station and L1 Yellow line – Arc de’ Triomf station

Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10 am – 8 pm, Closed on Mondays, Closed May 1, June 1, June 24, December 25.  

Free on Thursdays from 5 pm – 8 pm.  First Sunday of each month, also free on February 12, May 18, September 24

Admission €12, seven euros for seniors and students with college ID.

This is one of my favorite museums in the world.

Picasso spent many years in Barcelona, and the museum was created at the suggestion of one of his local friends.

The huge collection is made up of pieces donated by Picasso himself, his friends, and acquisitions from private collections.

Picasso Museum Barcelona | Official website (bcn.cat)

Barceloneta

Metro: Line 4  Yellow

Once a poor fishermens’ village, Barceloneta Is now one of Barcelona’s most active and in-demand neighborhoods, as well as the city’s most popular beach.

The neighborhood has many bars and seafood restaurants.

Mar Bela

Metro: Line 4  Yellow  Poble Nou station

Another great beach in Barcelona is Mar Bela. 

The large beach, a half-mile walk from the metro station, is Barcelona’s nude beach. 

Half of the beach is clothed, the other half is for naturists, with a large gay section as well.

Camp Nou

The stadium of Legendary Football Club Barcelona seats 99,345 and opened in 1957, and has been home to superstars such as Johan Cruyff, Ronaldinho, and Leo Messi until very recently. 

It is the largest stadium in Europe, and has hosted all of the world’s major tournaments.

Check the website for guided tours and the possibility of game tickets.

Camp Nou | FC Barcelona Official Channel

Package trips including Lisbon and Barcelona

Gate One Travel

Gate one travel offers a whirlwind 13-day Affordable Portugal and Spain tour.

All international flights are included. Spend two nights in Lisbon, two nights in Sevilla, two nights in Spain’s Costa Del Sol, two nights in Barcelona, and two nights in Madrid.

15 meals are included.

A driver, an air-conditioned vehicle, and local tour guards are all provided.

Highlights include the Lisbon Cathedral, Evora – one of Portugal’s oldest towns, the cathedral of Seville, the Cliffside town of Rhonda, leisure time on the Costa del Sol beaches, the Alhambra in Granada, Madrid Prado Museum, and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Prices for this tour range from $1999-$2729.

Gate one travel offers a 15-day Classic Spain and Portugal tour.

All international flights are included.

First-class accommodation is provided in Lisbon for two nights, Seville for two nights, three nights at the Costa del Sol, one night in Granada, two nights in Madrid, and three nights in Barcelona.

Transfers and high-speed train are included, as well as a driver and air-conditioned vehicle and local guides in major cities.

19 meals are provided on this tour. All entry fees are covered.

Highlights include Lisbon Cathedral, the city of Seville, the Cliffside town of Rhonda and Spain‘s oldest building, the Alhambra, the church of San Tomé in Toledo, the Prado Museum in Madrid, and Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. 

Prices range from $2779-$3579.

Gate one travel offers a 15 day Spanish and Portuguese Heritage tour.

The package includes all international flights.

First class accommodations with two nights in Lisbon, one night in Evora, two nights in Seville, two nights in Rhonda, one night in Grenada, two nights in Madrid, and three nights in Barcelona.

All transfers, train tickets, entrance fees are provided. You are also provided with an air-conditioned vehicle, a driver, and local English-speaking guides.

24 meals are included.

Highlights of this trip include Lisbon Jerónimo’s Monastery, the mountain town of Sintra, Portugal with its stunning castles, and a visit to the medieval town of Evora.

In Spain, go flamenco dancing in Sevilla and visit the gothic cathedral. Tour the town of Rhonda on the cliffside plus enjoy a wine tasting at a local winery.

See Spains biggest sites – the Alhambra, El Prado Museum in Madrid, and a tour of Toledo.

Also, you will have a look at Gaudí’s works in Barcelona, and the old Catalan city of Girona, plus the Salvador Dali Museum.

Prices for this trip range from $4199-$4939.

https://www.gate1travel.com/europe/spain

Discovery Nomads

Discovery Nomads has a Seven day Spain and Portugal tour for €1399.

On this tour you will explore four cities: Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, and Barcelona.

Highlights include visiting Lisbon’s Barrio Alto, as well as the city’s oldest neighborhood – Alfama, and riding Tram 28 in Lisbon.

In Porto, view the Crystal Palace Gardens, and the Luis I bridge. Maybe float down the Douro River on a short cruise.

Tour Madrid with a local guide and visit El Prado Museum.

In Barcelona, tour Sagrada Familia with a guide.

The trip includes six nights in four-star hotels, with complimentary breakfast in some of the hotels.

Flights from Porto to Madrid and Madrid to Barcelona are included. The train from Lisbon to Porto is included.

Local transport is also included.

Discovery Nomads | Spain and Portugal Adventure Tour

Topdeck Travel

Topdeck Travel offers a nine-night tour package that includes Lisbon, Sintra, Porto, Madrid, San Sebastián, and Barcelona.

Included in the package are seven meals, a fado show in Lisbon, a walking tour of Porto, and a port wine tasting,

Take a walking tour of Segovia, enjoy views of the Segovia aqueduct. You will go on a walking tour of San Sebastián, and a stop in Zaragoza en route to Barcelona. 

This package starts at $2089.

https:://www.topdeck.travel/tours/europe/delve-deep-spain-portugal

Intercity Flights

If you are looking to do this trip on your own without a tour provider, Barcelona’s Vueling: vuelos baratos a las principales ciudades europeas airline makes the three hour flight between Lisbon and Barcelona for €39 at the moment.

Tap AirPortugal https://www.flytap.com/en-us/ offers one-way flights between Lisbon and Barcelona for Between $38 and $85. 

I also highly recommend TAP for the best prices on flying between North America and Europe. 

For more information on where to find TAP AirPortugal in North America see my webpage, How to get a free Lisbon stopover on TAP AirPortugal

Conclusion

Lisbon and Barcelona are two fantastic vacation destinations. If you have time, it is worth visiting both!

Prices may vary. I am not affiliated with any of the businesses mentioned on this page.