When you plan your first trip to Europe, it’s tempting to try to do everything; to fit every single highlight into a whirlwind tour. The reality is, you can’t do it all. Unless you’ve got years up your sleeve, you’re going to have to edit your wishlist.
But even if you only have a few days to spend, you can still experience a slice of life in Europe. This is what Pentravel expert, Lisa Cloete, suggests for a 10-day trip.
What destination combination would you suggest for a 10-day trip to Europe?
Spain and Portugal. These two neighbouring countries offer a great combination as the gorgeous northern cities of Spain can be seamlessly combined with the essential sights in Portugal without wasting time travelling great distances.
The cultures and cuisines vary quite a bit even from town to town, so you definitely feel like you’ve been to more than one destination. The two countries also share a substantial amount of history, so the stories of the one feed into the stories of the other.
What are the top experiences in Spain and Portugal?
For Portugal, you can’t miss the capital on the coast, Lisbon, nor the gorgeous medieval old town of Porto. The entire coastline between the two is absolutely stunning as well, making for great insta-worthy photo stops and days at the beach in summer.
If you then continue north, you can visit the fabulous Santiago de Compostela before turning south again for Madrid and end in the iconic (and my personal favourite) Barcelona. Each of these places has its own culture, architecture and attractions, and there are simply too many to mention. You could very easily eat your way through them all, enjoying Port and cheese, Jamón ibérico, churros con chocolate and, during Christmas, Turron (Spanish nougat). That’s not to say there isn’t more than enough history and culture for even the most scholarly of travellers.
When is the best time to travel to Spain and Portugal?
I’ve visited in summer before and I’ve just been at the start of winter and I can honestly say there is something magical about almost any time of year – think “Sangria Summer” and “Hot chocolate winters.” I think the best time to go though, to get a good combination of weather and fewer crowds, would be the shoulder seasons, so May/June and then again September/October. A quick visit just before Christmas should also be on everyone’s list, as this is such a magical time of year when each town comes to life with twinkly lights and festive cheer.
Would you suggest a guided tour?
Most definitely. There is a lot of insight when visiting a place with a guided holiday like Trafalgar. The tour directors are worth their weight in gold and add so much background and texture to your holiday. They share information and stories about each place you visit that you would never have known, even if you had studied all the guidebooks. They have a hand’s on experience that is hard to beat, and it really is like having a local friend everywhere you go.
The other huge plus to a guided holiday, and one people don’t consider often, is that you make stops every two hours. A guided tour really does squeeze in as much as you possibly can into the time you have. I know a lot of people are terrified of spending half a day on a coach when travelling between places, but I think this is one of the highlights. The coaches are very comfortable, with Wi-Fi and charging points so you can brag on social media a bit or catch up with family. In addition, they have to stop every two hours for a comfort break, so the tour directors plan the routes in such a way that your ‘comfort break’ often includes a visit to some little town you would have otherwise missed whilst following your GPS instructions, or being on a fixed rail journey.
Any insider tips to make the most of your time in Europe?
- Learn basic phrases in the local language. Everyone is friendlier when they can see you’ve tried. Know how to greet people, say thank you, and oddly, how to order coffee! Spain has many ways of serving a coffee, and you need to order it correctly from the beginning!
- Seriously consider a guided holiday, you cannot get the same value for money and more importantly, value for your time, doing it yourself.
- If you decide to go it alone, book a hop-on, hop-off tour in each destination – it really makes a huge difference to get that basic orientation in each city, and then decide what you’d like to see more of.
- Don’t be afraid to try new things, often those new things become the highlight of your trip and a memory to cherish forever.