Day by Day Itinerary

Travel to Spain, a country that conjures images of rocky plains and whitewashed villages, rugged castles looming from distant hills, the windmills that taunted Don Quixote, bullrings, the fiery flamenco, and the strum of the guitar. Portugal brings to mind bold explorers, colorful ceramics, and close ties to the sea. You'll find all this and more on this escorted tour of Spain as you sweep from the vibrant modern capital of Madrid through the olive-tree-filled hills of Andalucia and on to Portugal's Atlantic coast, following a route traced first by the Romans and Visigoths and, later, by the Moors.

Madrid Lisbon Expand All
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    Fly from one of several U.S. gateway cities to Madrid, Spain.

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    Arrive today in Madrid to begin your escorted tour of Spain. You are met at the airport by a Grand Circle representative and transferred to your hotel. You have the balance of the day to relax after your overseas flight. This evening, join your Program Director and fellow travelers, including those who took our pre-trip extension to Barcelona, for an orientation walk to get to know your surroundings.

    Dinner is on your own this evening. Your Program Director will be pleased to share dining suggestions with you.

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    Vibrant Madrid—the highest capital city in Europe—may put you in mind of the paintings of Velazquez, with clear blue arching skies that gave rise to the phrase, "De Madrid al cielo" ("Madrid is the next thing to heaven"). One of the few European capitals not settled by the Romans, it became Spain's capital city in 1561, when Philip II moved his court from Toledo to the city in which he had been born. Located at the geographic center of Iberia, Madrid was a crossroads of the peninsula and remains a thriving cultural and artistic center, with the liveliest nightlife in the country.

    Set out this morning to discover its highlights on an included panoramic tour. Among the sights are the exterior of the 18th-century Palacio Real (Royal Palace), an opulent, 2,800-room complex inspired by France's Versailles. You'll also admire the Plaza de Espana, Madrid's main square. After your city tour, you'll have the remainder of the day to do as you please.

    Lunch is on your own today, and your choices are endless. Make your own discoveries this afternoon. Perhaps you will visit one of the city's greatest attractions: the Prado Museum. Intended as a natural science museum when it was conceived in 1785, it evolved into the repository of the royal art collection by the time it was completed in 1819, and is now one of the world's most renowned art galleries.

    Or, if you prefer, return to the Royal Palace to explore its ornate royal apartment, banquet hall, Royal Armory, and Royal Library with its first edition of Don Quixote. Stroll the austere Plaza Mayor, one of Europe's largest public squares; or simply relax at a cafe and encounter the legendary friendliness of this welcoming city, melting pot for all the varied regions of Spain.

    Savor an authentic taste of Spanish cuisine and get acquainted with your traveling companions over a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

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    Make your own discoveries this morning, or join us on an optional tour of the imposing El Escorial, a 16th-century architectural masterpiece completed in 1584 as a residence for the King of Spain and a monastery for the Hieronymite monks. Designed at the height of Spain's international power, the structure's floor plan was actually inspired by descriptions of the Temple of Solomon. Set at the foot of Mount Abantos, the enormous gray granite complex is the resting place of 500 years' worth of Spanish kings.

    The afternoon is yours to spend as you wish. Dinner is on your own tonight.

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    • Meals included:
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    After breakfast this morning, you will begin your transfer to Granada. Just an hour along the route, however, lies a stop that is bound to be a highlight of your trip: medieval Toledo—a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and capital of Spain until the 16th century.

    Picturesquely set on a hill overlooking the Tagus River, Toledo proudly preserves its 2,000-year history in more than 100 buildings and monuments. At its peak, between the eleventh and 13th centuries, it was known as the "City of Three Cultures" for the harmonious co-existence of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.

    Breathe in this remarkable history as you embark on a walking tour along the narrow, cobbled streets of Toledo's center, enjoying the striking blend of Moorish-Mudejar-Jewish, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture. You'll view El Alcazar, the 16th-century Moorish citadel, which stands at a point originally fortified by the ancient Romans and which dominates the city skyline, as well as Toledo Cathedral, which you'll have the opportunity to enter and view the stunning artistry contained within.

    After your tour of Toledo, you'll continue on your way to Granada, arriving at your hotel this evening, where dinner is included.

    Please note: Select departures will view the exterior of the cathedral only if it is closed.

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    This morning, you’ll tour the mighty Alhambra, one of Granada’s greatest sights. When the Moors crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in AD 711, they claimed a hillside city that had been founded by the Romans and later settled by Visigoths, yet whose history dates to pre-historic times—Granada, which is believed to mean "great castle." The Moors chose Granada as the site to build their own mighty citadel—one of the great architectural wonders of all time: the Alhambra.

    Even from a distance, the Alhambra is a breathtaking sight, sprawling over a hilltop overlooking the city. Construction of the Alhambra began during the 13th century and continued over centuries, resulting in a mix of surfaces and styles. Enjoy an included tour of this complex of palaces and courtyards, a deliberate effort to create a paradise on Earth. Pass by patios, graceful arches, cupolas, fountains, and pools, the Royal Palace, the harem, and more.

    After your tour of the Alhambra is concluded, you’ll depart for Salinas, where you'll get a taste of typical Spanish life as you join a local family in their home for an intimate visit and a freshly cooked meal, accompanied by wine.

    Together, you'll improvise a way to share conversation and learn more about one another—this usually involves the international language of hand signals and smiles! During this exclusive Discovery Series event, you'll enjoy an authentic and unique interpersonal exchange and come away with a deeper understanding of the local culture.

    Following your lunch, you’ll return to your hotel in Granada, where the rest of your day is at leisure. Dinner is on your own tonight.

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    Begin your journey to Torremolinos after breakfast, stopping along the way for an included panoramic tour of beautiful Cordoba, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once capital of the Western world, Cordoba was founded by the ancient Romans at the highest navigable point of the Guadalquivir River, where it was easiest to ship olive oil, wheat, and wine back to Rome. It was after its conquest by the Moors in AD 711, however, that the city grew to become the largest in the world.

    Today, Cordoba is best known for its most famous landmark, the Mezquita (Great Mosque)—the third-largest mosque in the world. When the Mezquita was built, during the tenth century, Cordoba was in its glory as the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus, one of the wealthiest and most powerful cities in Europe, and an important center for science, education, and the arts.

    In AD 929, the Cordoba region broke away from the Islamic center, Baghdad, and formed its own independent kingdom, falling into anarchy shortly afterward. The city was conquered in 1236 by King Ferdinand, a Christian who had the mosque consecrated and constructed a cathedral in the middle of it, while still preserving the remarkable beauty of the original structure.

    During your escorted tour of Spain's historic cultural capital, you'll find that Cordoba is often a study in contrasts: Moorish and Christian, old and new. You'll pass by a reconstruction of the original Roman Bridge and enter the synagogue—the only ancient synagogue still standing in Spain outside Toledo. You'll also stroll through the Juderia (Jewish Quarter), admiring the famous Andalucian patios of pretty ceramics, iron grilles, and plants.

    Your tour culminates at the Mezquita. Here you'll stroll through the courtyard filled with orange trees and fountains to the entryway, where you are greeted by 850 stunning colored granite and marble arches, illuminated by sunlight streaming through the cupolas. At the center of the mosque, find the 16th-century Renaissance cathedral with its mahogany pulpits and choir stalls. Surrounding the cathedral, the mosque remains almost untouched since the eleventh century, revealing some of the finest Islamic architecture in Spain.

    After your tour, you’ll have a little time to find lunch on your own and make your own discoveries in Cordoba before moving on to Torremolinos. You’ll arrive at your hotel later in the day. Dinner is on your own tonight.

    Please note: Select departures will view the exterior of the synagogue only if it is closed.

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    You have the day free in Torremolinos. Perhaps you'll take a walk to La Carihuela, the original fishing village that was once all there was to Torremolinos. Today, its many cafes and restaurants are still the best places to go for fresh local seafood. Try pez espada (swordfish), pescaito frito (fish fried in olive oil), or the local specialty, pescado a la sal (bream or sea bass baked in a crispy coating of sea salt).

    Or you can join an optional tour across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco. When you dock in Africa, your Moroccan guide meets you at the port, and you'll enjoy an orientation tour of Tangier, visiting the Kasbah and souk, or marketplace. Next, you'll savor Moroccan cuisine and experience local culture during an included lunch.

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    In the morning, enjoy a tour of the Old Town of Malaga. Malaga is the main city of coastal Andalucia, and retains a distinctly Spanish flavor, with twisting, narrow streets and a lovely waterfront promenade. Tall palm and plane trees, bougainvillea, aloes, and geraniums make a luxurious tropical paradise alongside the clean, modern port. This is Picasso's birthplace, and was a popular winter holiday site for the 19th-century wealthy. A leisurely walk then takes us past the ruins of an ancient Roman theater, built more than 2,000 years ago.

    After your tour, you'll enjoy an included lunch at a local restaurant before returning to your hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure.

    For dinner on your own tonight, perhaps you'll sample tapas, which are said to have been invented here. These small sampler plates allow you to taste a wide range of Spanish specialties.

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    Visit Ronda en route to Seville today. One of the oldest cities in Spain, lovely Ronda—nicknamed the "Dream City" by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke—enjoys a lofty setting on a promontory overlooking El Tajo, a spectacular 360-foot-deep river gorge. Readers of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls will recognize El Tajo as the place from which Fascists were thrown to their deaths during the Spanish Civil War.

    Though its roots are in pre-historic times, Ronda is like many Andalucian cities in that it saw its glory days under Moorish rule. Conquered by the Christians in 1485, Ronda was one of the last strongholds of the Arabs, and Arab architecture dominates the old city, set on one side of the ravine. On the other side of El Tajo stands El Mercadillo (the "new" city), constructed mostly during the 18th century. Connecting the two halves of the city is the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge), an amazing architectural feat built between 1755 and 1793 and spanning a dizzying drop over the gorge.

    You'll get a sense of both facets of the city during an included tour. Admire the whitewashed houses with charming balconies that line the winding streets of the old town, and view Santa Maria la Mayor, once the city's Great Mosque and later rebuilt as a Gothic Christian church. You'll also see the Palace of Mondragon, where Moorish kings and later King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella took up residence.

    After your tour, enjoy time for lunch on your own.

    Lovely views of the Spanish countryside do not end in Ronda today. This afternoon, you'll embark on a transfer to Seville along the Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos—the "Route of the Whitewashed Villages." You'll see several of these classic Andalucian villages tucked into hillsides and framed with greenery during your scenic ride.

    Arrive in Seville later this afternoon and settle into your room.

    Gather with your fellow travelers this evening for an included dinner at your hotel.

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    Located on the banks of the Guadalquivir River, Seville is fabled to have been settled by Hercules, and its wealth of magnificent monuments and buildings attest to its long and storied history. Founded by the Tartessians, the city was later settled by the Romans, and two of Rome's great emperors, Trajan and Hadrian, were born here. Seville was occupied by the Moors from AD 711 until 1248, and many of its most fascinating monuments date to that period. Today, Seville occupies a special place in Spanish culture, with its fiestas, bougainvillea, strolling musicians, and Gypsies. The fourth-largest city in Spain, Seville is also renowned as the birthplace of flamenco and Don Juan.

    A half-day included tour this morning reveals the city's highlights, including the Barrio de Santa Cruz, a lovely neighborhood known for its maze-like cluster of narrow streets. Your Program Director will help you wind your way amidst the whitewashed homes, impressive mansions, and charming plazas, such as Plaza de Santa Cruz and Plaza de las Cruces. Admire—and smell—the flowering pots adorning the private patios that you pass. You'll also take in the architectural feat that is Seville Cathedral on this tour. Please note: Official ceremonies may prevent entrance into the cathedral at certain times.

    The remainder of the day is yours to explore at leisure. Visit the Alcazar, official Seville residence of Spanish royalty. Explore the exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts, whose collections include works by Murillo and El Greco. Browse the shops along the Calle Sierpes, Seville's main shopping venue. Or simply relax at a cafe and enjoy the colorful whirl that is Seville.

    Tonight, enjoy an included dinner performance of the flamenco, the intensely emotional dance that was created here.

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    Today, you'll ride through the sweeping Portuguese countryside on your way to Lisbon. Along the way we'll stop in the region of Alentejo, where you'll visit a working horse farm and enjoy an exclusive opportunity to chat with the owners. You'll learn the wrenching story of how many families here lost their lands to the communists and the difficulties they encountered regaining their holdings. A horse presentation in the arena will give you the opportunity to learn the differences between breeds of horses raised here.

    After an included lunch at the farm, transfer to the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, where you'll check into your hotel this evening. Dinner is on your own tonight.

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    After breakfast, discover Lisbon on an included tour. Built on seven hills, Lisbon has been Portugal's capital since the 13th century, and the area around the steepest hill, Sao Jorge, was first settled by Phoenicians in the twelfth century BC. They were followed by Carthaginians, Romans, several Germanic tribes, and Visigoths. In AD 714, the Moors captured Lisbon, and held it for the next 400 years.

    Portuguese explorers began colonizing parts of Africa and Asia at the beginning of the 15th century. Vasco da Gama set sail for India from Lisbon in 1497, and the city became a center for successful voyages of discovery throughout the East and the New World for the next 300 years. The immense riches brought back by these explorers and navigators ushered in a period of building and expansion that gave birth to the new Manueline architectural style, with its ornately carved decorative motifs. You'll see the best example of this style of architecture in the historic section of Belem. Here you'll see the 16th-century church of the Jeronimos Monastery, containing Vasco da Gama's tomb, the ornate Belem Tower, and the Monument of the Discoveries. Please note: On select dates, the interior of the Jeronimos Monastery may be in use for official purposes and will be closed to visitors—on these dates, only the exterior of the building will be viewed.

    The rest of the day is yours in Lisbon. Spend some time in the Alfama district, and enjoy the winding alleyways where the city's Moorish heritage thrives. Venture to St. George's Castle, constructed by the Moors on the site of a fifth-century Visigoth fort and once the residence of Portuguese kings. Admire the elegant carpets and crafts at the Museum School of Decorative Arts. Visit Chiado, a fashionable shopping district. Enjoy lunch on your own at Lisbon's wide array of restaurants and cafes. Dinner tonight is included at a local restaurant.

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    This morning, embark on an included excursion to Sintra and Cascais. Begin at the Royal Palace in Sintra, dating back to the Middle Ages. During time on your own in Sintra, you’ll see why well-traveled English poet Lord Byron called the town “the most beautiful in the world.” Then continue to Cascais, a one-time humble fishing village that has grown into a lively coastal resort town.

    Enjoy the afternoon, then gather with your fellow travelers for a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.

    Please note: On days when Sintra Palace is closed for holidays or official celebrations, we will visit the Queluz National Palace instead.

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    Early this morning, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Or begin your post-trip extension to The Island of Madeira.


Traveler Reviews

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Questions and Answers

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Questions and Answers

Want to know more about one of our vacations? Now, when you post a question, travelers who have been on that trip can provide you with an honest, unbiased answer based on their experience—providing you with a true insider’s perspective.

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

Currency Cheat Sheet: Submit

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect


  • 5 locations in 14 days

Physical Requirements

  • Walk 4 miles unassisted and participate in 3-4 hours of physical activities daily, including stairs
  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids must travel with a companion who can assist the then
  • Program Directors reserve the right to modify participation or send travelers home if their limitations impact the group’s experience

Terrain & Transportation

  • Uneven walking surfaces, unpaved paths, steep hills, stairs, and cobblestones
  • Travel by 45-seat motorcoach


  • Daytime temperatures range from 51-85°F during touring season
  • June-August are the warmest months
  • November and December weather can be unpredictable and change quickly


  • Meals will be based on the local cuisine

Travel Documents


Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.


U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips


Main Trip

  • Hotel Husa Princesa

    Madrid, Spain

    This Superior First-Class hotel is located in Downtown Madrid and is within walking distance of some of the city’s impressive landmarks, like the Royal Palace, Opera House, and Temple of Debod. The building offers wireless Internet access, laundry service, and an on-site restaurant. Each air-conditioned room includes a private bath with hair dryer, in-room safe, cable and satellite TV, and a reproduction of a famous painting from the Prado Museum behind the headboard of each bed.

  • Hotel Carmen

    Granada Spain

    Located in Granada’s historic city center, with easy access to shopping and dining, the Moderate First-Class Hotel Carmen features free wireless Internet throughout the hotel, an on-site restaurant and lounge, and a panoramic terrace for scenic city views. Each air-conditioned room includes a flat screen TV, safe deposit box, telephone, and private bath with hairdryer.

  • Hotel Melia Costa del Sol

    Torremolinos, Spain | Rating: Superior First Class

    Located along the seafront, the Hotel Melia Costa del Sol provides up-close views of Torremolinos’ golden beaches. Amenities include two restaurants, cocktail lounge, fitness center, outdoor swimming pool, and beauty salon. Each room includes a telephone, satellite TV, Internet access, radio/alarm, safe, minibar, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Hotel Sevilla Center

    Seville, Spain | Rating: Superior First Class

    Built in 2003, this centrally located, Superior First-Class hotel offers travelers panoramic views of the city and easy access to local landmarks, including the Seville Cathedral and La Plaza de Espana. Hotel amenities include a bar and restaurant, an outdoor pool, currency exchange, laundry/dry-cleaning services, and gift shop. Your air-conditioned room features a telephone, TV, safe, and minibar.

  • Hotel Mundial

    Lisbon, Portugal | Rating: Moderate First Class

    The Moderate First-Class Hotel Mundial is located in the Baixa Pombalina district of the city center. It is close to the historic Praca do Rossio, one of Lisbon’s main squares since the Middle Ages, making it a good base for exploring the city. The hotel features two restaurants—one of which offers a panoramic view of the Old Town—and a bar. Your air-conditioned room includes telephone, satellite TV, radio/alarm, safe, minibar, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.


  • Hotel Barcelona Center

    Barcelona, Spain

    The Hotel Barcelona Center is within walking distance of the Passeig de Gracia, featuring many of Antoni Gaudi’s finest architectural works. The hotel features an on-site restaurant, serving authentic Mediterranean cuisine, as well as a solarium terrace bar. Each room includes air-conditioning, satellite TV, Internet access, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Hotel Melia Madeira Mare

    Funchal, Portugal

    The Hotel Melia Madeira Mare is located on the scenic Madeira coastline. The hotel offers five restaurants and bars, heated swimming pools, a library, game room, salon, and spa. Your air-conditioned room features a telephone, TV, safe, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

Flight Information

Customize Your Trip

Whether you choose to take just a base trip or add an optional pre- and post-trip extension, you have many options when it comes to customizing your trip—and creating your own unique travel experience:

Purchase Flights with Grand Circle

  • Choose the departure city and airline that works best for you
  • Depart from one city and return to another
  • Upgrade your air itinerary based on your travel preferences
  • “Break away” before or after your trip to explore independently or re-energize
  • Combine two or more trips to make the most of your value—and avoid another long flight
  • Extend your discoveries with pre- or post-trip extensions

Make Your Own Arrangements

  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline
  • Purchase optional airport transfers to and from your hotel
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent flyer miles

OR, leave your air routing up to us and your airfare (as well as airport transfers) will be included in your final trip cost.

Estimated Flight Times

We understand that international travel has unique challenges including fewer airline choices and limited flight schedules. The chart below provides estimated travel times and the typical number of connections from popular departure cities to help you plan for your trip.

Please note that traveling to Madrid, and from Lisbon, will require multiple connections, and these flight rigors should be taken into consideration.

What Makes This Trip Unique

Exclusive Discovery Series Events

  • Home-Hosted Lunch. Share local cuisine and hospitality as you gather in the home of a Spanish family in Salinas.
  • Horse-breeding farm visit. At a horse-breeding farm, you'll talk with the owners about the nature of their work, the different types of horses bred there, and the role of horses in Portuguese culture.

Enjoy the opportunity to visit 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • El Escorial
  • Historic Center of Toledo
  • Historic Center of Cordoba
  • The Alhambra
  • Gothic Cathedral of Seville
  • Lisbon’s Belem Tower
  • The Palace of Sintra

10 reasons to experience Spain & Portugal in Depth—in the words of our travelers

We often find that the best endorsements of our discovery-rich vacations come directly from our travelers. The extravagant architecture, exotic flavors, and vibrant traditions of Iberia surprise and delight those who travel to Spain and Portugal with us. Here are some of memorable experiences they've shared.

"Many of the synagogues and cathedrals were beautiful inside and harbored a wealth of history. The city sites that seemed to stand out were: Santo Tome and Sinagoga de Santa Maria in Toledo; Mezquita and the Roman bridge in Cordoba; Alhambra in Granada; Majas, Marbella and Malaga near Torremolinos; and Ronda."
A first-time traveler from Seattle, WA

Program Directors
"Antonio, our Program Director, was amazing as well. In fact, he has set such a high standard that it will be hard for others to match him. Antonio was always considering the needs of others and went 'beyond the call of duty' to ensure that each and every need of his flock was met. He was amusing, approachable, extremely knowledgeable, and a terrific leader."
A 2-time traveler from Boston, MA

Portuguese horse farm visit
"The meal at the horse farm was very memorable ... besides the food being outstanding, the owner was extremely nice and had an interesting background which she shared. The display, by her son, of the trained horses was special."
A 13-time traveler from Leavenworth, WA

Home-Hosted Lunch
"The Home-Hosted Lunch provided an interactive Spanish cultural experience which was memorable. We like the smaller group activity. It provided a break from the larger group. This is a 'must' activity to really feel the culture."
A first-time traveler from Seattle, WA

Local History
"Our lecture within the throne room of the Alhambra, where Isabella gave Christopher Columbus his final approval to find a westward route to India and its spices, was a truly moving experience. We were emotionally overwhelmed by the realization that our country’s earliest origins began in that very room!"
A 3-time traveler from Gulf Breeze, FL

Local culture
"The interactions we had with a matador at a bull breeding farm, a horse breeder at her ranch, and a dancer before the flamenco show, gave us a deeper insight into their cultural and historic backgrounds. We came home feeling we'd learned a lot and were richer for the experience."
A 2-time traveler from Soquel, CA

Optional Morocco tour
"The optional tour to Tangier was fantastic! I am so glad that I took advantage of this opportunity to visit Africa! Got to go on a camel ride and mark that off my bucket list!"
A 2-time traveler from Land O’ Lakes, FL

Lisbon, Portugal
"In Lisbon, be sure to visit the Gulbenkian Museum ... it is not an overwhelming museum, but it has a collection of the best of everything, and a good layout, so you won't miss anything. The last room has an excellent Lalique jewelry collection. It was the best free time we had, and it was on the last day of our trip!"
A 32-time traveler from Eugene, OR

Barcelona, Spain pre-trip extension
"Be sure to take the pre-trip extension to Barcelona. There are wonderful things to see like museums and Antoni Gaudi's influence everywhere. Wear walking shoes!"
A 2-time traveler from North Fort Myers, FL

Madrid, Spain
"On the first tour day, you saw Madrid and then had the afternoon off and had a choice of getting off the bus in town and seeing the Prado Museum or staying on the bus and going back to the hotel. We did the latter and walked over to the Royal Palace and saw its fabulous interior that afternoon. At the time it was built, the royal families were competing with each other on how ostentatious they could make their homes. It competed with France (Versailles), Austria (Hapsburgs), and the Russia Royal Palaces. It is well worth the visit."
A 7-time traveler from Troy, MI

Want to travel to Spain and Portugal? Call us toll-free at 1-800-221-2610 for reservations and information.

First trip to Iberia charmed a new Vacation Ambassador

By Philip McCluskey for Grand Circle Travel

Discover Iberia through the eyes of Azucena Grainer, who embarked on Spain & Portugal in Depth as her first Grand Circle vacation, and see why this Land Tour is one of our most popular.

Azucena Grainer laughs as she describes the change in her husband John. “He used to travel for work all of the time,” she says. “So for a while he wasn’t as excited about travel as I was.” Once Azucena, of Cerritos, California, introduced him to a Grand Circle Land Tour, though, John’s perspective changed. “I don’t hear any complaining any more! I think I changed his mind about traveling. Now he enjoys it.”

"Her zest for seeing the world—with Grand Circle in particular—has convinced others as well, including her brother. “[My brother] was asking me about my travels with Grand Circle, so I told him what a great experience I’ve had,” she says. “Now he’s taking his first trip with them, and he’s so excited. His trip isn’t until October and he keeps telling me ‘October is too far away!’”

Azucena's infectious enthusiasm is one of the reasons she’s such a successful Vacation Ambassador. The program allows her friends, family, and acquaintances to save $100 when they reserve, and she earns cash rewards in the process. It’s a win-win scenario—and it’s a natural extension of her tendency to tell her friends about her trips. “Overall, I don’t even know how many times I’ve recommended Grand Circle.”

When asked what trip she mentions most to potential travelers, her answer is quick— her first, Spain & Portugal in Depth. Besides providing a traveler good value, “I think it’s a good place to start," she says. "The culture, the food … and there is so much to see and do there.”

That’s not the only reason the Grainers, 8-time travelers, loved Iberia. “My husband and I are history buffs—especially him, because he’s always watching the History Channel.”

The whole trip was enjoyable for Azucena, but one destination stood out—Granada. “I had expected to see Catholic churches, but to see the Alhambra and hear about when [the Moors] took over Spain was very interesting,” she says. “It made me look back and read more about the seventh century, when the Arabs took over, and want to learn more about Charlemagne. Going to places like that, you say to yourself: ‘It’s all connected. I can see why that happened.’ It makes you interested in learning more.”

When she thinks about what makes trips like Spain & Portugal in Depth so enjoyable, the first thing that comes to mind is the Program Directors. “They are very, very good. They always know the place very well, and are helpful in answering questions and offering suggestions,” says Azucena.

“Every one we’ve had on a Grand Circle trip has been good, but our Program Director on the Spain and Portugal trip outshined them all. She was outstanding … very accommodating and so knowledgeable. She gave us so much background information.”

The pacing of the trip is another advantage Azucena touts to potential travelers. “I like the way the schedule is arranged for the trips. It’s not too hectic,” she said. In fact, that’s one of the reasons John appreciates Grand Circle the most. “We have done traveling on our own. And I said to him ‘Let’s try the professionals.’ After traveling with Grand Circle, I don’t he even thinks of doing it on our own anymore.” In fact, they have already reserved three more Grand Circle trips for this fall.

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Photos From Our Travelers

On location in Europe

Here’s how Grand Circle travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our Spain & Portugal in Depth vacation. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite Grand Circle Travel trip photos.


Judy Massey, an 11-time traveler from Fort Worth, Texas, takes a moment with fellow travelers to enjoy "just another day in paradise" in Torremolinos, Spain.

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How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to:

Please be sure to include the name of your Grand Circle vacation, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.

History, Culture & More

Bring this trip to life and learn more about the region’s history, art, culture, delicious cuisine, and more by reading the special features below.

Flamenco: Heart of Spanish Dance

Discover the iconic dance that embodies the heart and soul of Spain’s passionate people.

Read More »

Lisbon: City of Discovery

Monuments to the Age of Exploration are just one of Lisbon’s ample delights …

Read More »

A Culture of Ham Connoisseurs

Do you think you know ham? Learn more about how the Spanish have perfected this savory delicacy.

Read More »

History, Culture & More

Flamenco: Heart of Spanish Dance

A national culture displayed through fiery movements & a pulsing beat

by Carley Thornell

The resounding chords of a furiously strumming guitarist keep the precise rhythms of compas, Spanish metre and time signature. An impassioned vocalist claps and walks to the beat. The vibrations from a cajon drum box beat like a collective heartbeat. And a dancer assumes the spotlight.

This woman with dark bun, swirling ruffles, fringed shawl, ruby lips, and nails to match, has come to symbolize the very essence of flamenco. This lined yet beautiful face, this body that is no longer slender but still lithe, belongs to one of the art form’s most recognizable women: Matilde Coral.

This septuagenarian embodies the essence of the duende, or soul of flamenco. Unlike other forms of dance, where dancers turn professional early and youth is often the most valued quality, flamenco dancers don’t peak until they’re in their 30s—or beyond. It’s an art form that embraces wisdom and experience, all channeled into passionate, and at times plaintive, movements. The Spanish Civil War-era poet, dramatist, and theater director Frederico Garcia Lorca wrote of this essence:

The duende, then, is a power … I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘The duende is not in the throat, the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.”

For Matilde, this spirit was cultivated from the time the soles of her feet learned to walk on the Andalusian terrain. Born in 1935 in Seville—credited as the birthplace of flamenco dance (baile), guitar (toque), and song (cante)—she started dancing in clubs at age 16, borrowing the ID of her 18-year-old cousin to work legally. At age 20, she was hired to work at El Guajiro, the seminal club that pioneered the phasing in of tablao flamenco establishments in lieu of cabarets nationwide. There, amidst the mirrored walls and bullfighting posters, she met her husband, Rafael El Negro.

Though she has found fame in her footwork, Matilde’s experience isn’t uncommon in that her training started in her mother’s small living room; likewise for Rafael, often referred to as a “gypsy dancer.” Traditional flamenco artists rarely received formal training, instead learning by listening and watching relatives, friends, and neighbors. In its most authentic form, flamenco can be seen danced informally at Gitano (gypsy) weddings and gatherings in Spain, and etymology of the dance and its eponymous music is, in the eyes of many historians and countrymen, synonymous with this nomadic people.

Those many different forms have evolved, flamenco puro, with hips moving and arms curving around the head and body, is considered to be closest to these Gitano origins. This dance is performed solo, improvised rather than choreographed. Voluminous, commercialized costumes are discouraged, and props like castanets and fans are sometimes frowned upon. There have been no greater proponents of puro than Matilde and the late Rafael, whose Seville School of Andalusian Dance, founded in 1967, promotes these traditions.

Throughout the rest of Europe, where ballet uses academies and encourages precision and grace, its tutu-clad primas never outshine the choreography, each move executed as planned. Romance-language words ballet and baile sound similar, but they are worlds apart, the latter a poor man’s dance, of and for the people.

History, Culture & More

Lisbon: City of Discovery

by Pamela Schweppe, for Grand Circle

According to legend, Odysseus vowed to protect the beautiful Helen of Troy, even after she decided to marry another man. That commitment marked the beginning of a ten-year journey, during which he invented the Trojan horse and battled sea monsters, giants, and other fearsome creatures. On one particular day during his journey, he saw a bolt of lightning burst into flame in a distant land. It was there that Zeus, the God of thunder and lightning, instructed him to build a city named Olissopo. We know that city today as Lisbon.

Certainly, Lisbon is a city that seems to have been favored by the gods. The westernmost of all mainland European capitals, it enjoys a stunning location on one of the most beautiful bays in the world, at the point where the Tagus River empties into the Atlantic. It is said that the Tagus, the largest river in Iberia, is so wide in Lisbon, it could contain all the warships in the world. Lisbon also boasts a mild Mediterranean climate, with the warmest winters of all Europe’s cities. It has been called the “White City” for its natural clear light and average of 2,900 to 3,300 hours of sunshine a year.

A city steeped in history

With more than 20 centuries of history behind it, Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, having been settled even before Rome, London, and Paris. It is believed to have been founded by the Phoenicians around 1200 BC. Attracted by its setting on the Tagus, the Phoenicians dubbed the city Allis Ubbo—translated variously as “Safe Harbor,” “Friendly Bay,” and “Enchanting Port.”

The Romans were the next to control the city, naming it Felicitas Julia after Julius Caesar and building an underground complex of chambers, rooms, bridges, and corridors (though this network still exists today, it is rarely open to the public, due to safety considerations). The Romans were followed by Germanic tribes beginning in the fifth century AD. During the eighth century, the city was conquered by the Moors, who named it Lissabona and declared it the capital of the region. The Moors ruled here for 450 years, leaving an indelible mark on the city’s architecture—most prominently in the form of Castelo de Sao Jorge (St. George’s Castle), built on the ruins of Roman and Visigoth fortresses high on a hill overlooking the Tagus.

In 1147, the city was captured by the Christians in one of the most important battles of the Second Crusade. At that time, the Kingdom of Portugal was confined to the northern part of the territory we know as Portugal today, and it was Portugal’s King Afonso I (also known as Afonso Henriques) who pushed the boundary of this kingdom beyond the Tagus River. Interestingly, although Lisbon has served as the Portuguese capital since 1255, it is unusual in that it has never been granted that official status.

Monuments to the Age of Exploration

Of course, Lisbon’s rise to prosperity and prominence on the world stage occurred during Portugal’s great Age of Exploration, when legendary explorers set out to discover a New World. At the time, Europeans depended on spices to disguise the flavor and aroma of meat that spoiled over the long winter months, and traders were also eager to gather stores of gold from the great continent of Africa. By the 14th century, the Portuguese fleet had begun sailing into the waters around North Africa searching for a trade route that would help them avoid the northern Mediterranean ports that were controlled by the northern Italian city-states of Venice and Genoa. In 1415, the Moroccan trading port of Ceuta fell to Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator, who founded a School of Navigation in the city of Sagres and launched the Age of Exploration.

The turning point in this great age of exploration occurred in 1498, when Vasco da Gama first charted a course to India. Portuguese explorers became the first Europeans to cross the Equator, round Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, establish trade with China and Japan, visit Australia and Newfoundland, and even circumnavigate the globe. As a result, Portugal became the wealthiest country in Europe, and the riches of this heyday may be seen in the Manueline style of architecture that survived the earthquake that devastated Lisbon in 1755.

Among these are two monuments that, together, have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery. Both have also been named among the Seven Wonders of Portugal by the Ministry of Culture.

The icon of the city, Belem Tower was built in 1515 as a fortress to guard the entrance to the Tagus River and as a commemoration of Vasco da Gama’s expedition. Although it has been used as a prison for political prisoners, a telegraph post, and a storage site for ammunition over the course of its history, it is best remembered as the last image seen by sailors setting off on their voyages of discovery and as an excellent example of Manueline architecture.

Also an excellent example of this style, and a monument to the Age of Exploration is the Jeronimos Monastery, which began construction in 1501 and which was established to celebrate the success of Portuguese explorers. Set on the banks of the Tagus River, the monastery became the home of the Order of St. Jerome (Hieronymites, or dos Jeronimos), who were charged by King Manuel I to celebrate daily mass in perpetuity for himself and his successors, as well as Prince Henry the Navigator. Largely restored since the 1755 earthquake, the monastery was turned over to the state in 1833 and is now home to a collection of museums.

Welcome to the neighborhood

Today, Lisbon remains one of the leading cities of Europe, playing an important role in a number of industries, including international trade and finance, education, tourism, entertainment, and the arts. Lively and cosmopolitan, embracing both the old and the new, Lisbon has also been named the most livable Portuguese city in an annual survey published by a leading Portuguese newspaper.

Part of the city’s charm is to be found in its many neighborhoods, each with its own identity. The Belem neighborhood is home to Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery, boasts several monuments in addition to those cited by UNESCO, as well as attractive gardens and parks.

The heart of the city is Baixa, whose reconstruction after the earthquake is a fine example of urban planning and a forerunner of earthquake-resistant architecture. Today, it offers the city’s best shopping, as well as Terreiro do Paco (Black Horse Square) and Praça do Rossio (Pedro V Square).

Lisbon’s oldest district is the Alfama neighborhood. Because this area was largely unscathed by the earthquake, many vestiges of the city’s Moorish heritage still survive here. Its name is derived from the Arabic word for “fountains” or “baths” (al-hamma), in honor of the public baths that were popular here from the 17th to early 20th century. Fado, Portugal’s unique form of the blues, is often heard in bars and restaurants throughout this neighborhood.

Other popular districts include Bairro Alto, an eclectic and multicultural neighborhood known for its youth culture and vibrant music scene, and Chiado, a cultural enclave whose pretty, black-and-white cobbled streets—symbolic of the city’s long-ago Christian conquest—are a tribute to the rich and storied history of this beautiful city.

History, Culture & More

A Culture of Ham Connoisseurs

by Alison Rohrs

Each year, Spain produces some 40 million dry-cured hams. That’s nearly one leg for every citizen. It’s no surprise that the country consistently emerges as the world’s biggest producer and consumer of ham. One of the country’s most famous and highest praised chefs, Ferran Adrià, has even claimed that jamón is “a cultural thing. It’s very Spanish.”

To get a better sense of the nation’s obsession, visit one of Madrid’s many branches of the Museo del Jamón. In a place this passionate about cured meats, a simple deli transforms into a sophisticated museum, and the exhibit displays hundreds of hanging pork shanks, cured to salty perfection.

Or you could explore the rows of Madrid’s San Miguel Market, where you’ll find stall after stall like Mas Gourmet, adorned with rows thick jamónes. Each leg comes from a specific region and pig diet: cereal, grass, acorns, or a combination. Even if the signs had English translations, it would still feel like a foreign language to a novice gourmand.

Luckily, many vendors are connoisseurs. They can shave off paper-thin slices and offer the kind of tasting notes you might expect at an upscale winery. A cereal-fed foreleg (paleta) is light in color and taste and somewhat grainy in texture. Meanwhile, you can detect earthier notes in a slice from the grass-fed pig. For a more expensive portion, a hind leg (jamón) from an acorn diet should be marbled with smooth—almost creamy—fat and have slightly nutty flavor.

The majority of the market selection is jamón serrano (mountain ham), made from white pigs traditionally raised in high, arid places. The practice of curing ham dates back to the Roman Empire, when highland villagers used salt and dry mountain air to preserve and enrich their pork. Today, jamón serrano can be produced anywhere in the country in special sheds, but it must pass rigid quality standards to earn the serrano designation, including at least one centimeter of fat cover and an aging period of no less than 252 days.

Over the years, the Spaniards have streamlined the curing process into a science. First, the fresh, cleaned ham gets a coating of sea salt, which only stays on for a day or two. After the initial coating is removed, the remaining salt gradually migrates inward toward the bone, drawing out moisture. The aging process lasts an average of twelve months and determines the final flavors and texture of the ham.

Like many fine wines, the complexity of jamón depends in part on where it’s from and how long it ages, and the Dom Pérignon of cured meats is jamón ibérico (Iberian ham). A single leg once sold for upwards of $2,500 in London, making it the most expensive ham in the world. Most foodies describe it as smoother, more nuanced, sweeter, and slightly gamier than jamón serrano. International top chefs tend to wax poetic the pricey delicacy: The Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain once called it “enlightenment in a mouthful.”

Jamón ibérico only comes from pata negra (black-footed pigs) from Southwestern Spain and Southeastern Portugal, originally descended from wild boars. These Iberian pigs are allowed to roam freely, foraging for herbs, roots, and holm-oak acorns, which are sweeter than most. Regulations mandate that no more than two pigs can share two-and-a-half acres of grazing land, so they get plenty of food and exercise. A fully grown pata negra can weigh more than 400 pounds, but its acorn-centered diet leaves its fat high in good cholesterol and low in harmful cholesterol, like olive oil. Locals praise the meat’s health benefits and joke that the round pigs are “olives with legs.” Curing the meat to the right texture and flavor can take up to four years.

Whether you splurge on a few slices of dark red ibérico or opt for the popular serrano, eating jamón is sensory experience. Don’t be afraid to pick it up with your fingers and smell its aroma before you taste it. Served at room temperature, its silky fat practically melts on your tongue. You can try it on an open-face sandwich with fresh tomato spread or paired with a robust Rioja or a dry, white Albariño wine. But like many Spaniards, you’ll probably find that the jamón is so rich and multifaceted that it’s best unadorned—the perfect afternoon snack or palate-piquing appetizer.

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