Lisbon’s trolleys can get unbearably crowded, so have a plan if you want to ride one. (Rick Steves’ Europe)

Lisbon’s trolleys can get unbearably crowded, so have a plan if you want to ride one. (Rick Steves’ Europe)

What’s new for travelers in Spain and Portugal for 2019

It’s important to travel with the latest information to get the most out of your experience.

Like many travelers, last spring I visited Barcelona dreaming of seeing Antoni Gaudi’s breathtaking Sagrada Familia church. When I got there, the ticket office was closed, with a posted sign: “No more tickets today. Buy your ticket for another day online.” Thankfully, I knew to book tickets in advance.

Along with Sagrada Familia, Spain’s other sights to book ahead include the Picasso Museum, La Pedrera, Casa Batllo and Park Guell in Barcelona; the Palacios Nazaries at the Alhambra in Granada; and the Royal Alcazar Moorish palace, Church of the Savior and cathedral in Sevilla. Barcelona’s Casa Amatller and Palace of Catalan Music and Salvador Dali’s house in Cadaques all require a guided tour, which also must be booked ahead. Advance tickets for the Dali Theater-Museum in nearby Figueres are also a good idea. While it may be technically possible to buy tickets on-site, in my guidebooks I simply say you must reserve in advance.

Here are more things to know if you have plans to travel to Spain and Portugal in 2019. Barcelona continues to evolve. After a long renovation, the Maritime Museum has reopened, displaying 13th- to 18th-century ships (restoration continues on the later-century ships). The El Raval neighborhood is rising up as the new bohemian zone. While this area has rough edges, its recently reopened Sant Antoni market hall, new Museum of Contemporary Art and pedestrian-friendly streets contribute to its boom of creative shops, bars and restaurants.

In Spain’s northern Basque country, San Sebastian’s old tobacco factory has been converted into the free Tabakalera International Center for Contemporary Culture, hosting films and art exhibits — and knockout views from its roof terrace. In Pamplona, a new exhibit gives a behind-the-scenes look at the town’s famous bullring.

In the south of Spain, the cathedral in Sevilla now runs rooftop tours, providing a better view than its bell tower climb. In nearby Cordoba, you can now climb the bell tower at the Mezquita, the massive mosque-turned-cathedral. But its 14th-century synagogue is closed.

Spain’s transportation is also improving: Uber is now available in Barcelona and Madrid. Madrid’s Metro has a new rechargeable card system: A red Multi Card (tarjeta) is required to buy either a single-ride Metro ticket or 10-ride transit ticket. Spain’s high-speed Alvia train now runs between Segovia and Salamanca in about 75 minutes, making it faster than driving.

Portugal has fewer blockbuster sights than Spain and nowhere near the crowds. The only sight where you might have a crowd problem is the Monastery of Jeronimos at Belem outside Lisbon (buy a combo-ticket at Belem’s Archaeology Museum to avoid the ticket line at the monastery).

Riding in Lisbon’s classic trolley cars — a quintessential Portuguese experience — can also be frustratingly crowded (and plagued by pickpockets targeting tourists). A less-crowded option is trolley line No. 24E. Although this route doesn’t pass many top sights, you can see a slice of workaday Lisbon.

On my last visit I realized that Lisbon’s beloved Alfama quarter — its Visigothic birthplace and once-salty sailors’ quarter — is salty no more (except with the sweat of cruise groups hiking its now-lifeless lanes). The new colorful zone to explore is the nearby Mouraria, the historic tangled quarter on the back side of the castle. This is where the Moors lived after the Reconquista (when Christian forces retook the city from the Muslims). To this day, it’s a gritty and colorful district of immigrants — but don’t delay — it’s starting to gentrify just like the Alfama.

In other Lisbon news, the Museum of Ancient Art finished its top-floor renovation, and plans to renovate its second floor in 2020. One of the city’s leading restaurants, Pap’Acorda, has moved to the first floor in the Ribeira market hall (aka Time Out Market). It’s recommended and serves Portuguese cuisine.

In the pilgrimage town of Fatima, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in 1917, the new Fatima Light and Peace Exhibition run by the Roman Catholic Church complements a visit to the basilica.

In Coimbra, ticket options for the University of Coimbra sights, including the beautiful Baroque King Joao library, now cover the nearby and impressive Science Museum — go there first to buy your university tickets and book your required timed entry for the library.

In Porto, the Bolhao Market is closed for a much needed renovation until mid-2020. In the meantime, vendors are in the basement of a nearby department store.

Spain and Portugal have a continually evolving sightseeing scene, so it’s important to travel in 2019 with the latest information to get the most out of your experience.

Talk to us

More in Life

Local artist Gabrielle Abbott with her mural "Grateful Steward" at South Lynnwood Park on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 in Lynnwood, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood mural celebrates the Earth and those who care for it

Artist Gabriella Abbott will discuss “Grateful Steward,” her mural at South Lynnwood Park, in a virtual event April 22.

Peter Rivera and his band will perform April 24 at the Historic Everett Theatre. Rivera was the lead singer for 1970s hitmakers Rare Earth. (www.peterrivera.com)
With Everett gig, Peter Rivera celebrates another day of living

The Rare Earth lead singer and drummer headlines a show Saturday at the Historic Everett Theatre.

Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record
Ron Rois, left, and his partner, Stefen Bosworth, are transplants from the Chicago area with roots in the Pacific Northwest. They are the owners of Langley's newest restaurant, Savory.
New Whidbey Island restaurant serves ‘eclectic comfort food’

Owners Stefen Bosworth and Ron Rois offer cozy dining overlooking Saratoga Passage.

The beer is flowing again at Snohomish County breweries as COVID-19 restrictions ease. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)
Drink This: Raise a pint to breweries that survived COVID-19

The Herald’s beer aficionado enjoyed a beer crawl from Everett’s At Large Brewing to 5 Rights in Marysville.

Shrimp scampi -- paired with an islandtini -- is a best seller at The Kitchen at the new Quil Ceda Creek Casino. (Quil Ceda Creek Casino)
Taste of Tulalip: Pair shrimp scampi with an islandtini

The Italian-American seafood dish is a best seller at The Kitchen at the new Quil Ceda Creek Casino.

Fattoush is a chopped Levantine salad made with stale pita. This includes shredded chicken tossed in a citrusy tahini-sumac dressing. (Gretchen McKay/Post-Gazette/TNS)
Eat This: Fattoush with chicken and tahini-sumac dressing

The Mediterranean salad is made with chopped lettuce, cucumbers, radishes and fried or baked pita bread.

When Transient Global Amnesia strikes, the past three months become hard to remember. (Jennifer Bardsley)
The Friday I forgot is one to remember

A sudden — thankfully, temporary — episode of memory loss gave me an opportunity to reflect.

John D. Osterman at 98 years old. (Jeanne-Marie Osterman)
An Everett native pays a poetic tribute to her father

“Shellback” is a collection of narrative poems honoring John D. Osterman, a lifelong Everett resident and WWII veteran.

Horizontal double headlights and an enormous grille are key players in the 2021 Genesis G80 redesign. (Manufacturer photo)
Genesis gains ground with 2021 makeover of G80 luxury sedan

It offers two new engines, top-notch design, zesty performance, blue-ribbon build quality and value.

Most Read