The Iberian countries of Spain and Portugal share a peninsula, climate and common history and are popular travel destinations, both for mass tourism and for solo travellers. I have travelled to both countries on multiple occasions, from the rolling hills of Andalucía to the crayon-coloured houses of Lisbon, and would find it tricky to choose between them.
In this article, I will unpick why these two countries are great destinations in Europe for those travelling alone and, with the help of a few fellow travel writers, recommend the best places to visit in Spain and Portugal as a solo traveller.
Why visit Spain & Portugal as a solo traveller?
Let’s start with the landscape and climate of these countries.
Portugal is defined by its long beach-lined coastline, mountainous north and arid plain in the south. Spain is also blessed with beautiful beaches but is mainly a highland plateau, straddled by mountain ranges.
Both countries have a temperate climate, allowing year-round travel.
The big cities of both countries have a buzzing nightlife and a vibrant cultural scene.
The infrastructure in both countries is well developed. Both have large train networks that reach major cities. Smaller towns and villages are covered by buses.
Mass tourism is well established in both countries. Therefore, it is unlikely that you will be the only foreigner in town. You just need to ask yourself if that is a good thing.
Language is a common barrier when travelling, and can be especially daunting to deal with when travelling solo. But fear not. English is widely spoken in the tourist hubs and amongst the younger generation in Portugal and Spain
Spain and Portugal have a rich historical heritage, much of which is shared. The Roman Empire, the Goths and the Umayyad Caliphate have all left their mark on both countries. Spain is second only to Italy in the number of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Both Spaniards and Portuguese are friendly and laid-back people.
Your taste buds will be well and truly satisfied in either country. Fresh seafood, fragrant olive oil and spicy chorizo are the staples of both countries’ cuisine. And let’s not forget the wine and tapas.
Safety is one of the most pressing concerns of solo travellers. Therefore, it will come as good news that Portugal has been ranked as the third safest country in the world. Spain ranks in the top 10% of the safest countries in the world. But, as ever, watch out for petty crime such as pickpocketing in the cities.
Spain vs Portugal. Which country is right for you as a solo traveller?
Although Spain and Portugal have similarities, there are a few distinguishing factors that might help you choose which country is the right solo travel destination for you.
Portugal tends to have a more laid-back vibe and is one of the cheapest countries in Europe (although it may cost you more to fly there). Although not as budget-friendly as Portugal, Spain is relatively affordable as a Western European solo traveller destination.
Portugal is a relatively small country, making travel more manageable if you only have a few weeks to spare.
However, Spain has a better travel infrastructure and more to offer in the way of historic sites and artistic accomplishments.
Both Spain and Portugal are wonderful solo travel destinations that you can explore independently. However, if you prefer, you can visit the main hubs on a group tour.
Solo travel in Portugal: Best places to visit
By Linn of Brainy Backpackers
Lagos, on the Algarve coast, is one of the best places for solo travel in Portugal.
It is a quaint town with multiple hostels where you can meet other travellers. Many of the hostels organise group tours and activities so you can easily hang out with others if you prefer that. However, there are also hostels for more independent travellers that prefer doing their own thing.
There are tons of things to do in Lagos and surroundings! Its proximity to coastal hiking opportunities, pristine beaches, and unlimited water sports makes it an adventure traveller’s paradise. You can learn how to surf, go scuba diving, paddleboard along the giant cliffs, and discover magnificent sea caves both over and underwater.
Not far from Lagos, you find Ponta da Piedade with some of the most incredible cliff formations in the Algarve Coast. This is just before Sagres which sits on top of enormous dramatic cliffs. A short trip in the other direction and you can enjoy a kayak trip to the most famous cave in Portugal, Benagil Cave.
By Marie of A Life Without Borders
Lisbon is a city that will immediately steal your heart. From the gorgeous azulejo-clad architecture and beautiful mosaic sidewalks, to the amazing food and friendly people, Lisbon is simply incredible.
The capital of Portugal, Lisbon is one of the safest cities for solo travellers. A relatively small city, it is easy to navigate on foot to see the major sights. Obviously, you’ll need to take the same precautions as in any big city, but I had no problems exploring Lisbon, by day or night.
Transportation in Lisbon is efficient with trains, buses, trams and taxis available from early in the morning until late in the night.
Most Portuguese speak English, so communication isn’t an issue. Also, Lisbon has plenty of dining options where solo females can feel comfortable eating alone, such as at the fabulous Time Out Market.
With plenty to see and do in the city itself, including easy day trips or a Lisbon to Porto road trip, you’ll enjoy Lisbon’s laid-back culture.
Get a sense of the city’s rich history at the Sao Jorge Castle or the Lisbon Cathedral, before exploring the historic Alfama district.
Don’t forget to stop at one of Lisbon’s amazing viewpoints, such as the Miradouro das Portas do Sol overlooking the city’s red-tiled roofs, or the Santa Justa Lift overlooking the Baixa district. Stroll the Praca do Comercio, one of Lisbon’s popular squares, before an evening out in Bairro Alto for its restaurants and bars.
By Bridget of The Flashpacker
Giving Lisbon a good run for its money, Porto is a great solo travel destination in Portugal.
With its UNESCO-listed, azulejo tile-fronted buildings, riverside setting and vintage trams, Portugal’s second city has an immediate charm.
Due to its compact size, Porto is a very walkable city and offers many different activities for those travelling alone. Potter around its neighbourhoods, including the districts of Ribeira and Gaia, punctuating your day with cups of excellent coffee. Browse the city’s markets and check out the historic São Bento train station. Or simply laze on one of Porto’s beaches.
As you might expect, with the Douro vineyards on the city’s doorstep, Porto has a first-rate foodie scene and quaffable wines and ports. Meet other solo travellers by joining a food tour or going wine or port-tasting. If you want to venture further afield, take the day trip to explore the valley’s port lodges (many visitors take a day trip that combines wine tasting with a riverboat cruise along the Douro River).
Solo travel in Spain: Best places to visit
By Jennifer of World On A Whim
Barcelona is such a great city for solo travellers and an essential part of any Spain itinerary.
There are attractions and accommodation options for every travel style! If you’re looking to experience some of the best nightlife in the world, plant yourself in the lobby at a hostel in Gracia or any of the Hostel One properties located throughout the city.
If you are a solo traveller looking to stay in your own space, you’re in luck! Barcelona has a huge supply of hotel properties making it actually possible for solo travellers to stay in 3-star accommodation for around 50 euros a night.
If you prefer to stay alone but are eager to meet others during your time, be sure to join a free walking tour of the city. You’ll get a fabulous overview of Barcelona, its Gaudi architecture and its Catalan culture. Explore the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo, Parc Guell, and the Gothic Quarter more in-depth.
You can join a cooking class where you learn to make tapas or paella or participate in one of the many enticing Airbnb experiences available to you in Barcelona.
Finally a word of caution. Barcelona does have a high amount of pickpocketing in the city, although it’s generally not violent. It’s important as a solo traveller wherever you visit to always remain vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Only take with you the essentials as you explore this incredibly vibrant city!
By Paulina of Paulina on the Road
Are you looking for a travel destination for solo travellers! Well, you should take a look at Cadiz, Southern Spain.
Why? Because not only does the city boast numerous historic buildings, museums and quaint plazas, but there are also countless bars and restaurants for you to enjoy.
Another great feature of Cadiz is its warm temperatures and safety. You can roam the city at night or day without feeling insecure. Besides that, there are plenty of night clubs and free activities such as city walks that you can join.
Recently, as many hostels have opened, there are plenty of options for budget travellers too.
If you want to get active, plan a day trip to Tarifa which is famous for its surf spots. There are plenty of things to do in Tarifa and it’s easy to connect with people from around the world here.
By Darek of Darek and Gosia
Nowadays, going alone to the cinema, to a restaurant or theatre is not seen as something unusual. So why should travelling alone be any different? But what is the best destination in Spain for solo travellers? Probably, one of the best solo travel destinations in Spain is Lanzarote!
This beautiful Canary Island, known for its all-year-round warm weather, is one of the most visited destinations in winter months. It is considered as one of the safest destinations too, so whether you are a solo female traveller or a guy looking for a perfect place to spend a holiday on your own, Lanzarote will be perfect for you.
The island of Lanzarote is full of amazing places to see. From spending a relaxing day in Playa Blanca or Playa del Papagayo; to exploring Timanfaya National Park and Cueva De Los Verdes. There are also many organized tours so you can join a group in case you feel a bit lonely.
By Joanna of Andalucia In My Pocket
Malaga is a fantastic destination for a solo traveller. This old city in the South of Spain has a youthful spirit, being very popular with young crowds who come here to enjoy the sun, the culture and the nightlife.
Firstly, Malaga is a very budget-friendly city when it comes to solo travelling. A weekend in Malaga can easily cost as little as 50 euros if you choose to stay in hostels and eat at local tapas places or at the gorgeous Atarazanas food market.
There are also a lot of free things to do in Malaga. Even the most important touristic attractions, such as the Picasso Museum, the Pompidou Centre or the Alcazaba, have free entrance on Sundays.
It’s impossible not to make a friend among the locals in Malaga. There are plenty of free activities organised by the local travelling communities, such as volleyball or yoga on the beach, drinks and tapas in the old town or hiking trips in the nearby mountains.
There are so many things to see and explore in Malaga.
The Moorish fortress and the Roman theatre are amazing sites for history lovers. The beaches are practically in town, with Malagueta being a stone away from the old centre.
The restaurants and cafes in the old town and on the maritime promenade offer an array of cuisines and cheap local beer. No matter what time of the day or the night you pass by the city centre, there will always be cheerful people around. It’s like Malaga never sleeps!
By Jiayi of The Diary of a Nomad
Seville, Spain is one of the best solo travel destinations in Europe, let alone Spain, for a lot of reasons. It’s safe, very walkable, and the sunniest city in Europe!. Plus, as the birthplace of tapas and flamenco, you’re in for a highly cultural and tasty experience.
Some of the top things to do during a 3-day trip to Seville are: exploring the gorgeous Plaza de España and all the beautiful azulejos there; visiting the civil palace of Casa de Pilatos; watching a flamenco show, relaxing at Metropol Parasol, learning about Spain’s Moorish influence at the Royal Alcázar, and of course, climbing up the iconic Giralda Tower for a bird’s-eye view of the city.
Make sure to also taste lots of traditional tapas — two of the best restaurants for that are El Rinconcillo and Espacio Eslava!
The local drinks in Seville are also delicious and very refreshing in the hot weather. To get the true local experience, forgo sangria and try tinto de verano instead; it’s very similar to the first drink but much more authentic to Seville!
By Bridget of The Flashpacker
Look beyond the sun-and-sangria beach resorts of Tenerife, to discover a perfect solo travel destination in Spain which is so much more than a refuge for sun-starved Northern Europeans.
The largest of the Canary Islands has a rich and proud cultural heritage, colonial towns to match any in Central or South America and dramatic forested landscapes. Thanks to a safe, modern, extensive and cheap bus network, getting around Tenerife without a car is a breeze.
Thanks to decades of mass tourism, the island’s infrastructure is well developed, and you’re unlikely to be reliant on shaky schoolgirl (or schoolboy) Spanish. Accommodation is plentiful and whilst this is mainly large hotels, AirBnBs in characterful properties have sprung up in recent years.
Basing yourself in the delightful town of Puerto de la Cruz, during a week in Tenerife pay a visit to the colonial towns of La Laguna, La Orotava and Garachico. Seek out the island’s largest dragon tree at Icod de Los Vinos.
For a more cultural day trip, take the bus to Santa Cruz, Tenerife’s elegant capital.
Blessed with abundant natural beauty, Tenerife is popular with hikers and there are easy day hikes in the Anaga Forest and around the island’s most popular tourist attraction, Mount Teide.
By Or of My Path in the World
The 3rd largest city in Spain often gets less attention than Barcelona and Madrid, but it is a wonderful destination where anyone can find something to enjoy. From the most amazing landmarks and museums to exquisite food to relaxing beaches and parks, this city is exciting and laid-back both at the same time.
Valencia is considered a very safe city, which makes it perfect for solo travellers (though you should always follow basic safety rules). It’s also a lot more budget-friendly than people think; there are plenty of free things to do in Valencia, you can find accommodation for every budget, and you can eat great food at any price. As for getting around, the city centre can be explored on foot, and other neighbourhoods are easily reachable by bus or Metro.
One of the best things to do in the city is to wander through its old town district, Ciutat Vella. Apart from the maze of enchanting streets and alleys, you’ll find important historical landmarks like the 11th-century Valencia Cathedral (where the Holy Grail is kept), the Palace of the Marqués de Dos Aguas, and the Silk Exchange which is a UNESCO site.
Other things you must do in Valencia include visiting the jaw-dropping cultural complex of the City of Arts and Sciences, going street art hunting in the neighbourhood of El Carmen and feasting on authentic paella.
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