Madrid is the original cultural and artisan city of Europe. Its galleries, museums and historic monuments are unrivalled, but beneath this serious exterior is a passionate and exciting city, just waiting to be discovered. The true allure and magic of Madrid is frequently the small details; the family-run tapas restaurant, the underground bar or genuine welcoming attitude of the locals.
The people who rave most about Madrid are the long-stay visitors and permanent residents - a short trip will provide a packed and enjoyable itinerary, but may miss the real appeal of the city. Just avoid visiting Madrid in August.
About this guide: We understand that selecting a destination is challenging and sometimes overwhelming, especially when every web guide or travel book makes each city seems so incredible and memorable.
Choosing a destination is not just about the famed sights of the city, it is also the ambience of the city, the suitability of the weather and if it aligns with your passions and interests.
For Madrid, the length of stay greatly depends on how much you would like to visit the three big museums (Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía), and immerse into Spanish culture. The city itself can be seen in two days of sightseeing, and a third day is often devoted to the museums. There are many outstanding day trips from Madrid, which include medieval Segovia, charming Toledo, and magnificent El Escorial.
Lisbon is a varied city with many fascinating districts and sights, and we suggest three days to explore. This could be extended to five days, by including the excursions to the scenic town of Sintra and the pretty coastal town of Cascais. There are sufficient day trips and beaches within the Lisbon region to easily fill a one-week holiday in the Lisbon region.
Related articles: 3 days in Lisbon
The season to visit Lisbon is in the Spring and Autumn. Lisbon is now very popular in the summer months, especially the day trip to Sintra and Belem district. Lisbon is starting to become a year-round destination, but be warned that the winter months can be overcast and wet. Our favourite time of year to visit Lisbon is the first two weeks of June, when there are street festivities called the Santos Populares.
The major consideration for Madrid, is to avoid August, when the entire city shuts down (most restaurants, cafes and independent shops) and everyone heads to the coastal towns. Late spring and early autumn (Jun/July and September) are the best seasons. Madrid can be surprisingly chilly in the winter, but is comparatively dry to the rest of Europe. As Madrid is in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula it tends to get more extreme weather than the coastal cities.
Madrid is one of the finest cities in Europe. The city may not have the iconic monuments and attention-grabbing tourist attractions, but in reality, there is a lot to see during a city break.
Much of Madrid’s tourist literature focuses on the museums and galleries (which are world-class), but this should not deter you; this is a fun-loving city, which has the best nightlife in Europe. No matter your style of trip, there will be something to love about the Spanish capital.
Madrid excels as a long-stay destination, and if you are able to work here, the city offers perfect work/life balance.
Lisbon has a wide appeal; there are numerous cultural sights, great nightlife and a blossoming artisan scene. The city will appeal to young or old, either for a cultural trip or as a fun weekend away. In the summer (May-Sep) the beaches can be visited and there are many enjoyable day trips to an extended trip. There is little to fault Lisbon and most visitors leave with fond memories of the city.
There’s a lot to squeeze in for 48 hours in Lisbon.
Below is an interactive map of this tour - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights and section in grey.
Most tours begin in the Baixa district with its grand avenues and magnificent plazas, such as the Praça do Comércio. In the later part of the day start to climb hills into the Alfama district, which is a maze of narrow streets leading to the castle. Take in one of the viewpoints close to the castle for a romantic sunset and then ride the quaint number 28 tram as it rattles through the city.
For dinner head into the Baixa district and then for nightlife its Barrio Alto, with its funky bars and socialising which fills the streets.
The Torre de Belem once guarded the Tejo Estuary and Lisbon
For the second day head to the Belem district, which contains the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, and Torre de Belem, along with views across the Tejo Estuary. For the second part of the day discover the stylish Príncipe Real and Avenida da Liberdade districts or visit the ultra-modern side of Lisbon, the Parque das Nações.
48 hours in Madrid is not just the sights but also the atmosphere of the city.
Begin in the Puerta del Sol, then wander through charming streets of the El Madrid de los Austrias, which is the oldest section of the city. This leads to the Palacio Real, surrounded by its formal gardens and the Catedral de la Almudena to the south. For the last part of the day explore the La Latina district and have a delicious tapas meal at one of the restaurants along the Cava Alta or Cava Baja. La Latina boasts numerous bars and is always a great place to start a night in Madrid.
The Gran Vía is the bustling main avenue of Madrid
The morning of the second focuses on the three art-museums, the Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía. Close to the museums is the pretty the El Retiro Park. For the afternoon head down the Gran Vía, the main shopping street of Madrid, and visit the Malasaña district, with its artisan vibe, independent shops and trendy nightlife. For sunset watch it at the Templo de Debod, and then head back to Malasaña for a memorable meal and evening.
Lisbon is cool and fashionable, and has suddenly exploded on to the travel industry/market. If your friends have recently been, they will be raving about, but if you’re the first to visit, you’ll soon be passionately encouraging them to go in the future.
Madrid has been cool forever, and somehow this
Lisbon score 4/5 - Madrid score 4/5
The nightlife of Lisbon is exciting, vibrant and with a pleasant mix of locals and foreigners. Lisbon specialises in stylish, intimate bars, which are found throughout the Alfama and Bairro Alto districts. At the weekend the revellers of Bairro Alto spill out on the streets, where at 2am everyone heads downhill to the nightclubs of Cais de Sodre and Pink Street, a recently transformed red light district. Lisbon nightlife has much more of a focus on socialising than drinking excessively, as the Portuguese tend not to be big drinkers but love to chat!
Madrid nightlife is legendary, it may start late but it will continue for as long as you are still standing. Madrid nightlife always has the perfect balance of Madrileños and foreigners, and the locals are generally social and fun. There are the artisan and fashionable bars of the Malasaña district or the mega clubs of Kapital or Barco. Popular nightlife districts include Lavapiés and La Latina. For something slightly different there a flamenco clubs and performances. Madrid’s nightlife is diverse, social and as wild as you want it, and certainly will not disappoint.
Lisbon score 4/5 - Madrid score 5/5
The standout museum of Lisbon is the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, with its vast, private collection of art and antiquaries. The Portuguese national gallery and museum is the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, and has an equally varied collection. Both museums are outstanding and are rarely busy, with peaceful ambience for enjoying the art and exhibits
Lisbon also has some fascinating niche museums, such as the National Tile Museum (specialising is painted Azulejo tiles) and the Museu Nacional dos Coches, with the world’s largest collection of horse-drawn carriages.
Lisbon score 4/5 - Madrid score 5/5
Madrid is a city were mealtimes are the focus of the day, and a two-hour lunch is the norm. Madrid is famed for is tapas, but traditional food is much more heart such as Cocido Madrileño (Spanish stew), and a regional favourite is roasted sucking pig. There is decent seafood in Madrid and is surprisingly one of the world’s largest consumers of fish; this can be appreciated in the daily Mercado de Pescados (the fish market). Eating out in Madrid is always a pleasurable experience. There are so many outstanding family run restaurants in Madrid, most are never mentioned in any guide, and are just waiting for you to discover them.
The culinary experience of Lisbon is rapidly evolving and improving, gone are the days when a meal had to include bread, white rice and chips. Bacalhau (salted cold fish) is always a favourite of Lisbon, with its many different ways to serve; from Bacalhau Assado (lightly roasted) to the delicious Bacalhau à bras (potato crisps, scrambled eggs and Bacalhau). Lisbon is also famed for its café culture savouries, cakes and sweet pastries. Dinning in Lisbon is a mixed affair, there can be unexplained long waits or elusive serving staff, while other locations have attentive and enthusiastic staff. The evening meal is never rushed.
Lisbon score 4/5 - Madrid score 4.5/5
Madrid is a social and vibrant city, which generally safe and suitable for solo travellers. There are cases of pick-pockets and opportunistic thefts, but no more than in any large city. Madrid is an important business and cultural centre, which attracts numerous solo travellers, many who may not even class themselves as solo travellers, as they are travelling for work or business. The city is not unfamiliar to solo travellers, and there are always many about.
Lisbon always attracts a lot of solo travellers, as it is a comparatively safe destination with a lot of sights and activities. There is a large freelance and digital nomad working community, who will be seen frequently working in the cafes and bars. As there are so many transient workers and solo travellers, it is common and the norm to see people eating alone. The nightlife is very social, and the city is generally safe.
Madrid score 4/5 - Lisbon score 5/5