12 Top Tips for the Iberian Peninsula: Fado Music, Seafood, Museums & More

Landscape in Douro ValleyThe Iberian Peninsula offers fine wine, wonderful cuisine, and remarkable art and architecture. Academic Arrangements Abroad will visit Portugal and Spain during our “Enchanting Douro River” cruise from May 5 to 14, 2014. Here are a few travel tips for major cities including the Portuguese capital of Lisbon; Porto, which is Portugal’s second-largest metropolis; and the Spanish capital of Madrid.

LISBON

Best museum you’ve probably never heard of: Located in the Madre de Deus Convent, the fascinating National Tile Museum is renowned for its blue and white glazed panels that depict the life of St. Francis.

Fado at OceanarioMost unusual place to listen to traditional fado music: The Oceánario de Lisboa has live fado music at the aquarium on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The price is 60 Euros person (without dinner) and 80 Euros per person (with dinner).

Great spot for art lovers: If you love art, be sure to check out the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, an extraordinary collection that includes masterpieces Mr. Gulbenkian brought from the Hermitage in the 1920s.

Amazing seafood restaurant:  Cervejaria Ramiro serves up specialties including grilled giant tiger shrimp, crayfish, rock crab or spider crab, which you can wash down with a Sagres beer or glass of fine Portuguese wine. To avoid a long wait at this unpretentious spot, go early or after 10 p.m.  Closed Mondays.

PORTO

????????????????????????????????????????Must-see attraction: The Casa de Música concert hall, home to the city’s three symphony orchestras, was designed by Rem Koolhaas. In 2005, the building was inaugurated by singer and songwriter Lou Reed, who played the first concert at the new venue. Today the Casa de Música is a space for all types of music ranging from classical to fado to rock.

A lofty place to take a photo: Climb the Torre dos Clérigos for great views of the entire city as well as across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia. The Baroque tower is open daily from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

A fun way to get around: Consider taking one of Porto’s trams, most of which date from the late 1930s. The tram network’s three different lines pass by many of the city’s major landmarks. A single ticket (valid for one trip) costs 2.50 Euros. 

Spot for a unique souvenir: Porto Signs sells items such as shoes, belts and handbags crafted from cork. The store – which specializes in products of Portuguese origin – also has ceramic art, traditional toys, gourmet foods, wines and more.

MADRID

Cibeles Fountain in MadridReasonably priced comfort food: Specializing in Galician cuisine, Taberna Maceiras (Calle de Las Huertas, 66, 28014) is fun and lively.  The menus are handwritten on wooden palettes, and the walls are loaded with nautical themed decor. Wine is served in small ceramic bowls. The restaurant is known for its delicious pulpo (octopus).

Sweet place for a treat: Established in 1855, El Riojano (Calle Mayor 10, 28013) has lots of charm. The café has to-go pastries and candy in the front and a cute seating area in the back.  Relax over a café con leche and one of the fabulous pastries such as the napolitana de chocolate (similar to a chocolate croissant).

Lesser-known museum: If you’ve already been to the Prado, check out Museo Sorolla, which was once the home of Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla.  Explore the beautiful tiled fountains and gardens in front of the house before continuing inside to admire the excellent collection of Post-Impressionist and early 20th-century art. It’s a small museum, but worth visiting for a couple of hours.

Market you shouldn’t miss: In the heart of the posh Salamanca neighborhood, Mercado de la Paz (Calle de Ayala, 28, 28001) is full of breads, cheeses, wines, olives and all other manner of delicacies. It’s a great place to pick up some edibles to take on a picnic to Retiro Park.

To find out more about Academic Arrangements Abroad’s upcoming Douro River voyage, visit our website or call us at 800-221-1944.

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Meet Chelsea Bryant

Chelsea at VersaillesChelsea Bryant began working at Academic Arrangements Abroad in July 2012. As an Assistant Tour Coordinator, she focuses on facilitating reservations and helping passengers on the firm’s travel programs. 

Right now, she is working on programs to Thailand and Cambodia, Chile, and the Baltic capitals, among others.

Hometown: Amherst, Massachusetts

City I would recommend to friends: I know the most about Madrid as I lived there for several years, but I highly recommend Lisbon, Portugal, as well.  I didn’t know what to expect when I first went, but it enthralled me–the scenery, the food, the people.  It’s relatively cheap, many people speak English, and the Pastéis de Belém (egg tarts) are to die for.

City I would drop everything to see: Tokyo, Japan.  It’s #1 on my list!

Most recent tour: I traveled to Cuba in January 2013.  My next trip with AAA will be a cruise on Sea Cloud II from Rome to Naples in May.

Special skills: Playing the piano and speaking Spanish

Favorite travel book: It isn’t a travel book per se, but I love Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.  His stories about living abroad and learning a new language are hilarious, and I really identify with them, having gone through a similar situation.

Most visited websites: Tastespotting (looking for recipes is my guilty pleasure), Pinterest for inspiration, Buzzfeed for sloth-related posts.

Chelsea at Zion National ParkSomething that surprises people: I did not own a smart phone until three months ago.

Three things I can’t travel without: snacks, a journal, iPod

Number of trips: Many, especially in Europe, but there are large areas of the earth I have yet to cover…