Separated from France by the Pyrenees, the countries of the Iberian Peninsula have a distinct character from their European neighbours. Taking a cruise of significant destinations in Spain and Portugal will reveal the further differences between these 2 historic nations.
Opening to the Atlantic Ocean, the peninsula produced many of the world's greatest explorers, including Cortez and Magellan, and modern explorers will find plenty of inspiration in the colourful cities of Barcelona, Lisbon and Seville.
Iberia is a major draw for sun-seekers too, and a cruise holiday is the best way to soak up the laid-back atmosphere of the Atlantic Coast, Costa del Sol and Balearic Islands.
- Currency - both Spain and Portugal use the euro, so you won't have to change your money between countries or when arriving from France, Italy and most other destinations in Europe. The notable exception in the region is the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, which uses the pound sterling, however euros are still accepted by some businesses and can be exchanged widely. Coin denominations include: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents. Note denominations include: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros.
- Population - Spain occupies most of the Iberian Peninsula and has the largest population at 46 million, compared to Portugal's 10 million. Coastal regions have higher population density than inland areas on average, due to the favourable climate.
- Language - Spanish and Portuguese are related languages, so even learning just 1 will make it easier to speak to locals in both countries. Other major languages in the region include Basque, Catalan and Galician. English is widely understood as a second language, especially in Portugal, and is the official language of Gibraltar.
- Time Zone - Portugal occupies the time zone UTC+00:00, while Spain and other territories in the region observe UTC+01:00.
- Weather - the peninsula enjoys hot summers and mild winters, with areas such as Andalusia staying warm all year round. The spring and autumn months bring more frequent showers.
Did you know..?
The Spanish and Portuguese languages have expanded beyond their countries' borders to become the second and sixth most common languages in the world respectively.
A legacy of the colonial period, Spanish is the official language of 31 countries and spoken by 414 million people (39 million in Spain). Of the 204 million Portuguese speakers in the world, just 10 million live in Portugal.
Who goes there?
Cruise lines operate routes around the Iberian Peninsula to destinations in the Mediterranean and further afield.
Crystal Cruises and Oceania Cruises offer an upper premium cruise experience for long-distance journeys between Barcelona to Miami, complete with a ballroom and luxury facilities.
MSC Cruises and Swan Hellenic provide in-depth tours of Spain, Portugal and other destinations, with longer stops in major cities such as Barcelona and Lisbon.
Best time to go?
The high cruise season lasts from May to September, with August being the most popular month. If you prefer to avoid the crowds and the summer heat, May and September offer very comfortable cruise conditions, and southern destinations such as Andalusia and the Balearic Islands are suitable for cruises all year round.
- Lisbon - Portugal's cosmopolitan capital has become one of Europe's most fashionable cities, offering access to beaches, mountains and spectacular coastal scenery. With its strategic position at the western extreme of Europe overlooking the Atlantic, Lisbon has a long and proud maritime heritage that can be explored at the city's numerous museums and is celebrated by the intricately detailed Monument to the Discoveries.
- Barcelona - another must-see Iberian city, Barcelona is the capital of Spain's Catalonia region and one of the major ports for cruises around the Mediterranean. Barcelona is a favourite of art lovers, with its world-leading art museums and the distinctive organic architecture of Antoni Gaudi that makes the city centre an open-air art gallery. Don’t miss the UNESCO World Heritage listed La Sagrada Familia church. The long strip of beaches along the Mediterranean coast has also earned Barcelona recognition as one of the world's leading beach cities.
- Gibraltar - connected to Spain by a sea bridge but defiantly British, Gibraltar offers a sharp contrast to other destinations in the region, while still benefiting from the Andalusian climate. Few visitors can resist making the trip up to the summit of the Rock of Gibraltar, which is easily reached by cable car or road. Along the way, you'll have the chance to encounter the native Barbary macaques.