22 Days in Spain & Portugal: Rick's Favorite Itinerary
By Rick Steves
Day 1: Arrive in Barcelona (2 nights).
Day 2: Enjoy Barcelona's sights.
Day 3: Sightsee Barcelona, then take afternoon AVE train (or flight) to Madrid (2 nights).
Day 4: Sightsee Madrid.
Day 5: Pick up your rental car and drive to El Escorial palace and Franco's monumental Valley of Fallen on your way to Segovia (1 night).
Day 6: Sightsee Segovia before driving to Salamanca (1 night).
Day 7: See the sights in Salamanca, then cross the Portuguese border and head for Coimbra (2 nights).
Day 8: All day for Coimbra.
Day 9: Visit Batalha and/or Fátima en route to Nazaré for the afternoon and night (1 night).
Day 10: Sightsee Nazaré, then visit Belém on the way into Lisbon (2 nights).
Day 11: All day for Lisbon.
Day 12: Morning in Lisbon, then head to Portugal's south coast, the Algarve. Sleep in Salema (2 nights).
Day 13: Enjoy a beach day, and consider a side-trip to Cape Sagres.
Day 14: Head east across the Spanish border to Sevilla (2 nights).
Day 15: All day for Sevilla. Consider a flamenco show tonight.
Day 16: Follow Andalucía's Route of White Villages to the hill town Arcos de la Frontera (1 night).
Day 17: See Arcos, then head south to Jerez (sherry bodegas and horse shows), and on to Tarifa (2 nights).
Day 18: Use Tarifa as a home base for a day trip into Morocco.
Day 19: Visit Gibraltar and drive to Granada (2 nights).
Day 20: All day to enjoy Granada and visit the Alhambra.
Day 21: Leave early and drive through la Mancha to Toledo (1-2 nights).
Day 22: Spend the day in Toledo. Sleep again in Toledo or move on to Madrid for another overnight or a late flight home.
While this itinerary is designed to be done by car, it works by train and bus. For three weeks without a car, I'd simplify it by starting in Barcelona and finishing in Lisbon. From Barcelona, fly or take the speedy AVE train to Madrid (see Toledo, Segovia, and El Escorial as side-trips); take the early, direct train from Madrid to Granada (leaving at about 9:00 a.m.); bus along Costa del Sol to Tarifa (day-trip to Morocco); bus to Arcos de la Frontera, Sevilla, and Algarve; and take the train to Lisbon. This skips Salamanca, Coimbra, and Nazaré, and assumes you'll fly "open jaw" into Barcelona and out of Lisbon. If you're taking the train from Lisbon back to Madrid, you can sightsee your way in three days (via Coimbra and Salamanca) or simply catch the night train straight to Madrid.