Centuries ago, Spain and Portugal ignited the Age of Discovery, which led to the exploration of the Americas, along with many other important trade routes and islands. Had these explorers not left their homes, civilization would never have expanded to the world we know today.
Make 2017 your year of discovery, and where better to start than in the countries that began it all. Here are 14 gems in Spain and Portugal where you can begin your personal Age of Discovery.
1. Wander through Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal.
Lisbon is the oldest city in Western Europe, predating Paris, London, and Rome. Many believe the Phoenicians founded the city as a port, but many other cultural groups took charge of Lisbon before the Portuguese, including the Romans and Muslims of North Africa (Moors).
Moorish architecture can still be seen today throughout the city dotted between the styles of the Portuguese homes and buildings. Although it is a waterfront city, Lisbon is also situated upon rolling hills. Trolleys transport people up and down the streets to make traveling through the capital a bit easier. Whether you prefer to walk or ride, see all that Lisbon has to offer.
2. Climb Belem Tower, built in the early 16th Century.
Lisbon sits on the Tagus River, the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula that runs from Spain across the border into Portugal, and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Between 1514 and 1520, the Torre de Belem, or Belem Tower, was constructed to protect Lisbon from river assailants.
The tower was used primarily for military purposes; the main bulwark has two levels for firing cannons at different lengths. However, the tower also contains different rooms, including the Governor’s Hall, where the first governor’s office was located, as well as a chapel on the fourth floor.
3. Visit the Monument to the Discoveries.
Lasting from the 15th Century to the 19th Century, the Age of Discovery brought about many revelations such as the trade route to India by sea and the exploration of the Americas.
Prince Henry of Portugal became known as Henry the Navigator after leading many voyages in the 15th Century, which began the Age of Discovery. In 1960, 500 years after Henry’s death, the Monument to the Discoveries was completed in Lisbon to honor his accomplishments.
4. Explore Portugal’s ancient Alfama District.
The Alfama District is the oldest district in Lisbon. Walk through the narrow streets between ancient buildings or take in all of the sights from your seat on the tram.
Looking for a great Portuguese souvenir? Shops carry items such as hand-painted ceramic tiles, silver jewelry, embroidered linens, and more that make for wonderful keepsakes or gifts. Walk the streets and you may be lured into the Alfama cafes by the beautiful strumming of guitars playing fado melodies. You won’t want to miss this passionate music when you visit the charming Alfama District.
5. Enjoy a day seeing the sights of Seville.
Explore the many historical and cultural sights that Seville offers. Start your day by paying your respects to Christopher Columbus for discovering the Americas at his tomb in the Cathedral of Seville. Afterwards, stroll through Maria Luisa Park and admire its beauty, full of ceramic-tiled benches, fountains, monuments, and more. There you will also find the massive Plaza de España, built in the late 1920s for the Ibero-American World Exhibition. Magnificent towers flank the semi-circle shaped complex and showcase the beautiful architecture of designer Aníbal González. Don’t miss the ornate ceramic tiles dotted along the structure or the Vicente Traver fountain found at the center of the plaza.
6. Spend an evening relaxing in Seville.
While visiting Seville, Andalucia’s largest city, enjoy nightlife as the Spaniards do (this is especially great if you’re an empty-nester and can stay up past bedtime!). Dinner is served late, usually not until around 9 or 10 o’clock. It is also a smaller meal, unlike the siesta-inducing lunch.
Enjoy dinner tapas-style, that is with a couple of small appetizer-like plates that can be shared with friends. Converse, eat up, and enjoy supper in Seville.
7. Be mesmerized by the romantic Flamenco dance.
The Flamenco is a traditional Spanish dance style that many describe as emotionally intense. Danced to Spanish guitar, it is a deeply moving dance where the women are known to have their back in an arched back position, a stiff torso, and ballerina-esque arms.
Dancers often make use of props during their dance, including fans or castanets, which add to the drama. The precision dance movements match the strumming of the guitars for what is sure to be a memorable, musical evening.
8. Discover Jerez, where love for wine and horses meet.
While still in the south of Spain, stop in Jerez and enjoy its most famous exports: sherry and the noble Andalusian horse.
Sherry is produced from white grapes grown right outside of Jerez. Sherry tastings can be found at bodegas, or wine cellars, around the city.
After sampling the white wine, head over to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art to see Andalusians. Bred as war horses, the breed became increasingly popular throughout the world, but in the 19th century the population was threatened as many wars (and the opposition) diminished their numbers. Thankfully, these magnificent horses have made a comeback so the world can enjoy them.
9. Stand less than 9 miles from the coast of Africa - while still in Europe.
The Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea meet at the Strait of Gibraltar, a narrow waterway that separates the coasts of Spain and Morocco. At its narrowest, the strait is only 8.9 miles in width, which means that Europe and Africa are only separated by less than 9 miles!
The name of the strait comes from the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, a peninsula that shares its northern border with Spain and juts out into the Mediterranean Sea. Located on Gibraltar is the Rock of Gibraltar, which the Romans referred to as one of the Pillars of Hercules.
10. Shop, swim, and sip at Costa del Sol!
When visiting Costa del Sol, or the Sun Coast, it’s important to follow the three “S’s” - shop, swim, and sip!
Shop along the beachside avenidas, where you will find Mallorca pearls, gold jewelry and Lladro figurines. Swim in the Mediterranean Sea, an ancient body of water that touches Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
And finally, sip sangria on the beach to cool off or in the evenings when socializing with your friends and travel mates. Whether you’re into history, the sights, or the nightlife, the Sun Coast has something for you!
11. Enter the pages of Don Quixote by traveling through La Mancha.
If you’ve read Don Quixote by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, you may remember that our protagonist encounters giants he must slay …which in reality are only windmills. While the story of Don Quixote may not be real, the windmills and terrain that inspired the story are! Travel through La Mancha on your way to Madrid. Be sure to see the impressive Monument to Cervantes, with figures of Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza, which stands on the Plaza de Espana in Madrid.
12. Transform yourself into a Spanish Royal while walking the halls at the Madrid Royal Palace.
Madrid, the capital city of Spain, is full of many museums, captivating sites, stores with world-class shopping. Make sure you allot enough time to see it all, including the Royal Palace of Madrid.
The palace is the residence of the Spanish Royal Family. It is known for its baroque and Moorish architecture. Here you can see many pieces of art and other relics, including the world’s only complete Stradivarius quintet. You’ll feel like royalty when visiting this palace of splendor.
13. Appreciate Spanish art, such as the Guernica by Pablo Picasso.
You’ll definitely want to take in all of the culture when you visit Spain—and Spanish art is a huge part of it. No place is better to see Spanish masterpieces than the Reina Sofia Museum.
Here you can see many works of art, including Guernica by Pablo Picasso. One of the founders of the Cubist movement, Picasso painted Guernica to show his anti-war sentiments after the bombing of Guernica in 1937. You’ll also see striking sculptures and other art forms when visiting the museum.
14. Travel back in time while visiting Toledo, the Imperial City.
Toledo differs from many other cities in the world in that three very different cultures coexist - Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. Together, these different worldviews have created a diverse and beautiful city full of museums, churches, synagogues, and mosques. Walk the cobblestone streets and see the medieval architecture, traveling back in time to another world.
Discovering Spain and Portugal can be much more than just a sight-seeing excursion. Experiencing in person how people of the past combined different cultures to create beautiful art and architecture can teach us many things about our current times.
If you’re interested in your own Age of Discovery in Spain and Portugal this year, why not get in touch today?