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Spain vs. Portugal: which Iberian nation should you visit first?

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Spain vs. Portugal, the battle of Iberian countries of your dreams! If you like feeling the sun beating down on you, fresh flavours with a kick of spice, the smell of the mountains and sea breeze, and so much more, then this corner of Europe is for you.

That being said, Spain and Portugal are different places entirely (despite their similarities). So picking which one to go to first can be quite a headache. Luckily, you have us, the travel experts, and we’ve devised this super helpful quiz which will help you decide where to go first (with the other to follow soon after).

Think the quiz isn’t scientific enough? No worries, here’s a full Spain vs. Portugal breakdown below.

Culinary affairs

Flavour and ingredient-wise, the foods of both Spain and Portugal are quite similar. There is a deep love of seafood in both countries due to their proximity to the coasts, and, being so close to Africa, both local cuisines carry influences from many Islamic dishes and cultures, seen mainly in the rice dishes of the Iberian countries. 

If you’re looking for an incredibly varied palette, Spain will be the place for you. Having both seas and mountains, and having such diverse cultures throughout its mainland, the flavours of Spain span a wide range. You’ll find classics like paella and seafood dishes throughout, as well as hearty meat-heavy stews, refreshing gazpachos, French-inspired charcuterie and pâtés (specifically in the Northern Catalan regions), and of course the famous churro. 

In Portugal, seafood reigns supreme (though the mainland regions love a bit of slow-cooked pork). Portugal’s national dishes are salted cod and sardines – simple, but effective, and when the food is seasoned and drenched in olive oil, how can you possibly turn your nose up at it? Portuguese food is influenced by the Age of Discovery, and African and Brazilian flavours feature heavily. For desert, there’s of course the gorgeous Pastel de Nata: decadent without being overly sweet.

Cultural treasures

Portugal is a very welcoming country and the people are said to be extremely hospitable and open-minded. Interestingly, Portugal has stronger religious values than most other western European countries, and the main religions are Christianity and Islam. As such, you’ll find beautiful churches, cathedrals, and mosques that you can admire on your travels. Portugal is most known for port wine, which you absolutely MUST try, and of course the delicate Azulejo artistry which is synonymous with the country.

On the other hand, Spain is very vibrant and the people are known to be fiery and passionate. This is seen in their cultural festivals and traditions such as La Tomatina, a festival in which citizens are pelted with tomatoes, and Las Fallas, another festival in which intricate wood statues are lit on fire and burned down! 

But both countries like to take life slow and easy: punctuality is not necessarily expected as people prefer to honour the friends and family they are with rather than rush off elsewhere. So if you’re needing a break from the mundane 9 to 5 or your otherwise hectic life, this is the place to get away from it all. 

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Regions

Well, we don’t have to say much here, we all know that Spain and Portugal are some of the most beautiful countries in the world (duh).

North, east, south, west, Spain is incredibly diverse, so each region that you visit will have its own charm. Mountains in the North, coastlines to the South and East, white-washed villages in the Andalusian region, and even the dry and sandy deserts of Tabernas which feel out of this world. Not to mention cities filled with culture and life whether it be the trendy Barcelona, Michelin-star-studded San Sebastian, or the regal looking Seville.

Sunseekers unite because Portugal’s coasts are the one! It’s said that Portugal experiences 300+ days of sun a year, which is A LOT, and the Algarve region is the best to take full advantage of. Golden beaches, rugged cliff sides and turquoise water, and adorable fishing villages in between – Portugal has all the iconic scenery you think of when you think ‘I need a holiday’. Plus, the Douro Valley which runs between Spain and Portugal showcases the latter’s lush terraced vineyards, and the verdant forests and hills of Sintra and Alentejo will captivate those outdoorsy explorers.

Algarve coast, Portugal

Image source:Contiki

Solo travel

Whether you want to take on the Iberian Peninsula solo or enjoy it with friends and family, both are viable options here. The locals of Spain and Portugal are friendly and welcoming hosts, and this means they are safe travel destinations for those that enjoy a solo holiday. 

Plus, both countries have really well-connected and easy-to-use public transport options which range from city-only options to cross-country ones. Buses and trains will help you get around with ease!

Travelling in a group is the best of both worlds though: you get all the independence of travelling alone, with included friends when you want them, and the added bonus of not having to plan anything yourself.

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Saving or splurging

To be honest, Spain and Portugal don’t differ that much in terms of prices. Both countries use the Euro and you’ll be spending approximately €120 a day depending on your specific activities that day.

A few things to keep in mind is that the major cities will be more expensive than other lesser known rural towns as they’ll want to be collecting that tourist dollar, and the largest cities of Spain, like Madrid and Barcelona, are slightly more expensive than Portugal’s largest cities.

Both countries have a deep culture of fine-dining as well, so if you want to try one of these famous restaurants then you can expect to pay a little more, but we have a guide to fine-dining on a budget so don’t worry too much. 

All in all, Spain and Portugal are priced similarly, so you won’t be saving or splurging on either one. The best tip to budgeting on your travels is to plan what you’ll be doing in advance and be as prepared as possible so you don’t end up spending on avoidable things. 

Plaza de Espana, Seville, Spain

Image source:Contiki

Still don’t know which to choose?

Well, luckily with Contiki, you don’t have to! Our Best of Spain and Portugal trip takes you through the shining gems of the Iberian Peninsula in 20 days so you can really soak up all that culture and sun. You’re welcome 😉 

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