Touring the rock of Gibraltar via cable car.
Heidi Sarna

Spain and Portugal: What to See and Do in Port

Shore Excursions: Exploring Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga, Cadiz, Lisbon & More
By Heidi Sarna

Compared to other European cruise itineraries, Spain is still a relatively off-the-beaten-track place to cruise -- and prices tend to be cheaper.

Of the popular Spanish ports, Barcelona sees the most cruise traffic because it's a major embarkation port for itineraries that head east toward Italy and those that head south around Spain to Lisbon. Even so, it's possible to never share the docks of Barcelona with more than one or two ships.

If your cruise sails between Barcelona and Lisbon, don't miss these unforgettable experiences in those port cities as well as in Valencia, Malaga, Cadiz, and Gibraltar.

While many ships include one or two ports in Spain, far fewer hit four. Cruise lines that do hit four ports include Crystal Cruises (, Regent Seven Seas (, Azamara Cruise (, Silversea Cruises (, Royal Caribbean (, and Holland America ( Want more time in port? Often these cruise lines spend two days each in Barcelona and in Lisbon -- plenty of time to book shore excursions or explore on your own.

Photo Caption: Touring the rock of Gibraltar via cable car
Barcelona bicycle tour.
Heidi Sarna
Bike in Barcelona.
To see as much as possible in an afternoon, sign up for a guided three-hour city tour with Cruising Barcelona ( At €29 per adult, you'll pay about one quarter of what many cruise lines charge for a similar bike tour in Barcelona.

You typically cover about 6 or 7 miles at a leisurely pace, riding through the Raval and L'Eixample neighborhoods. At the waterfront, have a look in front of the 200-foot-tall Columbus Monument, the spot where Christopher Columbus returned to Spain after his first voyage to the Americas. Then bike to the beach for a glass of cava at a café before heading along leafy side streets into the Parc de la Ciutadella (Barcelona's version of Central Park). Continue on under the city's massive red brick Arc de Triomf, and then peddle to Gaud&iacuate;'s masterpiece La Sagrada Família.

Photo Caption: Enjoying a Barcelona bicycle tour
FC (Football Club) Barcelona Stadium, behind the scenes tour.
Heidi Sarna
Enjoy a behind-the-scenes soccer tour in Barcelona.
Are you a huge fan of soccer (or football)? Spend a few hours at FC Barcelona Stadium, Spain's version of Boston's Fenway Park. Though not as old, it's certainly as revered. The stadium is easily accessible via taxi from the port (about €10) or via the blue line of the city's hop-on/hop-off
Picasso Museum, Barcelona.
Duncan Rawlinson
Visit the Picasso Museum in Barcelona.
Few artists are as famous and few museums as well-curated. Barcelona's Picasso Museum (¬11) contains more than 3,800 works focused on Pablo Picasso's formative years. The artist and his family moved to Barcelona when he was a child, and he spent his youth there developing as an artist. Admire the bronze sculptures, clay pieces, drawings, and oil paintings that represent Picasso's early realistic portraits and landscapes as well as his later -- and more famous -- Cubist-style work.

The museum building itself is also impressive, occupying five large stone Catalan Gothic palaces dating from the 13th to 15th centuries on the street Carrer de Montcada. Located in the Bari Gothic, or old quarter, the museum is between the Parc de la Ciutadella and Barcelona's stunning 11th-century Gothic Cathedral, both worthwhile stops before or after a museum visit.

Photo Caption: Picasso Museum, Barcelona
Tapas in Cadiz, Spain.
Laura Suarez
Sample tapas in Cadiz.
Historic Cadiz is considered the oldest city still standing in Western Europe. Today, the old city's narrow cobblestone streets are filled with late 19th-century buildings with large windows and intricate wrought-iron doors leading into tiled courtyards, often with Moorish motifs and flourishes. Walking tours take you to beautiful plazas and old cathedrals, including the gold-tiled dome of the 18th-century Cadiz Cathedral.

On a recent Crystal Serenity cruise, the Taste of Tapas by Foot tour in Cadiz (US$86 per person) was the perfect combination of history tour and excuse to drink wine and eat. Of the three tapas restaurants you'll visit, the famous El Faro was by far the best (if you don't want to do the tour, consider going to El Faro on your own; If you get there just before the early afternoon rush, stand at the bar and enjoy tapas such as potatoes marinated in olive oil and spices, and also fish pot stickers with chili sauce. Top it off with a light white wine from Spain's Antonio Barbadillo vineyards.

Photo Caption: Enjoying tapas in Cadiz, Spain
Catedral de Valencia in Valencia, Spain.
Climb to the top of Valencia's El Miguelete bell tower.
Spain's national hero, El Cid, fought his famous battle against the Moors in Valencia, an ancient seaside city founded by the Romans. Valencia's Old Town is the place to go to enjoy centuries of history and a mix of architectural styles. Valencia's Cathedral is about a 15-minute walk from Plaza Porta de la Mar at the edge of the Old Town, where many cruise ships shuttle their passengers from the docks.

This l3th-century cathedral faces the Plaza de la Virgin, which is lined with cafés and even more pigeons. Enter the cathedral and admire the domed ceilings, stained glass, and gilded religious paintings, then climb the 200 steps of the cathedral's Miguelete bell tower for panoramic city views. (Overhead is a giant bell that is still rung on the hour.) From the top, you can easily spot Valencia's giant white space-agey Arts and Sciences culture center.

Photo Caption: Catedral de Valencia in Valencia, Spain
Flamenco in Malaga.
Heidi Sarna
Be mesmerized by flamenco in Malaga.
There's nothing quite like witnessing an authentic flamenco performance. Flamenco is made up of four elements -- the singer, guitar player, dancer, and the jaleo (roughly translated as "hell raising") -- and involves handclapping, foot stomping, and shouts of encouragement to get the dancers going. A typical show starts with guitar playing, then a singer joins in, and then finally, when they feel inspired, the dancers start dancing.

The Crystal Serenity's Malaga Highlights & Flamenco tour (US$105 per person) includes a drive up to the 13th-century castle crowning Gibralfaro Hill for city views. You'll look at ancient Roman theatre ruins and the Our Lady of Incarnation Cathedral, then visit the small Picasso Museum (Picasso was born in Malaga, and his relatives donated some 200 works). After a day of touring Malaga, the grand finale is the flamenco performance at the city's Flamenco Museum.

Photo Caption: Flamenco in Malaga
Touring Gibraltar, with a view.
Heidi Sarna
Admire views from the Rock of Gibraltar.
The rocky peninsula of Gibraltar has been a coveted piece of strategic real estate for centuries. It was first fortified in the 12th century when the Moors built a castle there and during World War II, a 52-mile-long system of tunnels was cut through the rock in case of attack.

Cruise lines offer guided 1½- to 2-hour tours in vans to several points near the top of the rock, zipping up and down the winding roads. The typical tour stops at several viewing points where you can see both the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans. If you're lucky enough to visit on a clear day, you may also see the coast of Africa, which is only 12 miles away.

Other highlights include a walk in St. Michael's cave, a natural grotto used as a hospital during WWII; a walk through the tunnels blasted through the rock with gun powder in the late 1700s, creating a fortress within a fortress; and a stop at the "Ape's Den," where Gibraltar's so-called Barbary Apes hang out (they're actually macaques). They're very tame and cute, but be careful -- they're not shy about stealing food, so don't carry any.

For more flexibility and usually a better price than what most cruise ships offer (depending on how many people are in your group), flag down a taxi driver guide or call one directly to make arrangements beforehand (only licensed taxi driver guides are allowed on the rock considering its narrow cliff-hanger roads). Jose Luis Caruana (tel. 00 350/56903000) can take up to eight passengers (typically the price is about €25 per person, with a minimum of four people).

Photo Caption: Touring Gibraltar, with a view
Tram number 28 in Lisbon, Portugal. Community
Ride Lisbon's Tram 28 like a local.
Built into the steep seaside hills of the coast, Lisbon's narrow streets run up and down between old buildings covered in Portugal's famous painted tiles. To help Lisbon's citizens and visitors get around without pulling a hamstring, a system of trams has been in operation for more than a century and is used by both tourists and locals. There are also four century-old funiculars, or elevators, as well as plenty of stairs.

There's no need to sign up for the ship's tour; just hop on Tram Line 28. Head to one of the tram stops (there's one near the main tourist area along the boulevard of Avenida da Liberdade). For just a few euros that you can pay to the driver, you'll rumble along the city in an old-fashioned wood-panelled car that seats just about 30 passengers and as many straphangers. Vie for a window seat and enjoy the views of city life and well as Lisbon's historic highlights, including the 6th-century St. George's Castle. It takes close to an hour to do the full line, which runs between Praca Martim Moniz and Campo de Ourique (Prazeres), with some 30 stops in between.

Photo Caption: Tram number 28 in Lisbon, Portugal
The Castle of São Jorge (Saint Jorge), Lisbon, Portugal.
Heidi Sarna
Explore St. George's Castle in Lisbon.
With classic turreted edges, giant cannons, and pine-fringed courtyards, Lisbon's St. George's Castle is a must-see. Perched high on one of Lisbon's seven hills, it can be seen from just about anywhere in the city. From the top, you'll be able to see the port and all of Lisbon.

Though much of it has been destroyed over the centuries due to attacks and a major earthquake in the 18th century, there are still 18 towers and a long extension of walls. Climb the towers and walk along the ramparts for breathtaking city views, or relax in the gardens or at one of the cafés where peacocks, geese and ducks strut around (entrance fee is €7.50 for adults or €16 for a family of four).

Photo Caption: The Castle of São Jorge (Saint Jorge), Lisbon, Portugal
View of La Barrosa Beach from rooftop of Tartessus Hotel in Cadiz, Spain.
Soak up the sun on Cadiz's La Barrosa beach.
Spain is full of beaches -- the Canary Islands and the party island of Ibiza are legendary --- but its city beaches are pretty darn good, too. Barcelona's Barceloneta beach is a wide stretch of white sand that was reclaimed from the sea for the 1992 Olympics held here. Today, it's one of the world's best urban beaches. Another great sprawl of city sand is Cadiz's La Barrosa at Chiclana de la Frontera, a short taxi ride from the pier. It has fine white sand and stretches for more than five miles. It's patrolled by lifeguards during the summer, so it's a great option for families. You can also rent water sports equipment.

Stroll along the bustling promenade and pop into one of many bars for tapas and a cold drink. At the far end where there are sand dunes, drop a towel and catch up on a good book -- or simply snooze.

Photo Caption: View of La Barrosa Beach from rooftop of Tartessus Hotel in Cadiz, Spain