3 weeks in Spain and Portugal in late August

Hello, I’d like to ask for some feedback on a trip to Spain and Portugal in August for 20 nights (the last 3 weeks of August). Some of the details are incomplete (like destinations surrounding our lodging location, how best to travel between Lisbon/Nazare/Coimbra/Porto). I would be very appreciative of all your help!

I am aware that August is not typically advised, but that is a constraint of our trip. I am also aware that many users on this forum recommend sticking to just Spain or Portugal. However, I am willing to make some sacrifices (see less places) to see a good variety of destinations. I would also like to minimize the number of disruptive traveling days, etc. We thought to avoid Sevilla/Granada due to the heat and to instead visit the Basque Country.

To make the itinerary below more manageable (and to add 1 night to Central Portugal and to Porto), I am thinking of also combining Coimbra with Central Portugal, but I do not know where it is preferred to stay during that time. Or, perhaps I should skip Barcelona altogether for a less rushed trip. I would add those nights to Madrid/Toledo and Portugal.

—————- Format = Destination, # of Nights, Travel in, Travel Out

Lisbon, 0, (we have a long layover of 8 hours here on the way to Barcelona)

Barcelona, 3, flight, high-speed train

Madrid (maybe day trips to Toledo/Segovia), 5, high-speed train, drive

Basque Country (San Sebastian), 3, drive, flight

Lisbon, 3, flight, ?

Nazare/Central Portugal, 2, ?, ?

Coimbra, 2, ?, ?

Porto, 2, ?, flight

Thank you for your feedback! We are most interested in generally exploring cities, food, and local culture. We would like a mix of high-energy cities and low key towns/villages.


  1. First, yours a nicely presented itinerary, compared to a lot of the itineraries we get on this forum. It’s especially helpful that you have timed your trip by nights, rather that by days. (Other readers, please take note.) A few comments:
    First I would do the entire trip by train. (Though I can see how, with your time being short, a flight from San Sebastian to Lisbon could be justified.) I don’t know how much experience you have had driving in Spain or Portugal — the open highways are usually fine; the trick comes in driving into, through, and out of old medieval cities that were built long before anyone was thinking about cars, or convenient parking.
    Second, your plan seems to start out better than it finishes — two nights seem a bit skimpy tor central Portugal, or for Porto, though they will probably do.
    I realize you are open to any advice, but I would recommend not subtracting from the nights you have allotted to your respective destinations. In other words, I would resist adding more to an itinerary that is already borderline-packed. I suspect some people will insist that you “must see” Seville and Granada, and I know those are great destinations, but as you know August will bring in the heat and the tourist hordes, and I would urge you to stick to your decision to skip them. (I haven’t seen those two cities myself, yet I’ve had several rewarding trips to Spain that were focused on aesthetic, interesting, historic but less-touristed towns.)
    Finally, I suspect someone will eventually recommend nixing Coimbra in favor of somewhere else, but I would advise against doing so, though I admit it’s only because Coimbra was a personal favorite of mine. If your stated interest in local culture extends to Portugal’s traditional fado music, you may want to take in a friendly, early-evening performance at that city’s “Fado ao Centro” (though check their web-site to make sure Covid hasn’t affected their schedule).

  2. Everything makes sense for the first legs, if you want to do 1-2 day trips from Madrid – Segovia and Toledo the obvious choices

    Barcelona 3, Train to Madrid
    Madrid 5, Train to San Sebastian
    San Sebastian 3, Fly to Lisbon

    For her, though, you will have some things to think about and choices to make. You are spending 9 nights in 4 locations, with three deuces in there, so logistics will be important if you don’t pare that down.

    it is probably easier to drive to Nazare and Coimbra than it is to take the train. You can get to them by train/bus but it is not faster and only a selected few departures each day don’t have connections. To complicate that, getting between Nazare and Coimbra is a mess (3 – 4 1/2 hours by train) unless driving. If it were me, I would probably drop Nazare and take the train to Coimbra, then on to Porto. That would give you 3 nights in each of Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto. You could get to beaches on the coast by taking a train from Coimbra to Figueria de Foz (about an hour) or better yet, Aveiro (40-60 minutes) for a day trip.

    If Nazare is really on your list, then you should consider a car, or dropping Coimbra, I think.

    Lisbon 3, Train to Coimbra
    Coimbra 3, Train to Porto
    Porto, 3

  3. Thank you both for your very helpful advice. I have decided to revise my itinerary slightly and will skip the car rentals in favor of trains. Do you have any further comments on the itinerary? I realized that I would prefer to spend more days in fewer places.

    Barcelona – 4 nights
    Madrid – 4 nights (day trip to Segovia or Toledo)
    San Sebastian – 4 nights
    Porto – 3 nights
    Coimbra – 1 night
    Lisbon – 4 nights (day trip Sintra)

    I am slightly concerned that my nights in San Sebastian will be during the Semana Grande festival and might be overwhelming? Perhaps 2 full days of the festival there is enough and another day is better spent in Madrid or Coimbra.

  4. I had a plan similar to the one you referenced about getting off the train to spend a couple of hours in Coimbra. It didn’t work! My train was late, as they often are in Portugal (although if you’re coming from Lisbon the train may be more likely to be on time; I was coming from Caldas da Rainha). From the Coimbra A train station you have to switch to a local train that goes to the Coimbra B station, from which you can access the city. I assumed those would run every 10-15 minutes and it was more like every 30-45 minutes. So with my late arrival, plus the wait time for the local train, plus the time it would take to reverse that process to arrive back at Coimbra A for my train to Porto, I wasn’t left with enough time to actually see Coimbra.

    So, it could work if you’re aware if all of the connections and the schedules and if everything is running on time, but there are a lot of variables there.

  5. Why that extra night in Porto? Very subjective on my part, but we really enjoyed Porto – we spent five nights there and only made a day trip to GuimarĂ£es. There’s certainly enough to keep you busy in Lisbon too, even without day trips – so an extra night in either won’t go amiss – we spent five nights in Lisbon too, and three nights in Sintra. Here’s the subjective part – we just weren’t taken with Lisbon and the crowds didn’t help (it was packed in Sintra btw). We just much preferred Porto over Lisbon. Your experience may vary of course.

    As far as visiting Coimbra in route – I assume that would work if you left early and planned well (check operating hours for library, etc, tickets are timed), but not sure what you’d do with your luggage. Check to see if there are luggage lockers at the train station – I didn’t notice any, but I wasn’t looking either.

    As for side trip from Porto, GuimarĂ£es is a popular option. I think Braga is a possibility too, but we didn’t make it there.

    AFWIW, Coimbra is very much a city – we were surprised at how big it felt.

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