The Age of Discovery began in the early 15th century. Initially sparked by Portuguese voyages to the Atlantic archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores, it set a course which would ultimately change the world forever. This pursuit of exploration would continue for more than three centuries, mapping the globe and resulting in a new world-view with distant civilisations coming into contact.

Seafarers returned with bountiful riches which proved a powerful factor in redefining European culture, while ultimately laying the first foundation of globalisation.

Many lands previously unknown to Europeans were discovered during this period, though most were already inhabited. From the perspective of many non-Europeans, the Age of Discovery marked the arrival of invaders from previously unknown continents. The coast of Africa, and the discovery of the sea route to India was created in 1498 shortly before the famous trans-Atlantic Voyages of Christopher Columbus between 1492 and 1502, and the first circumnavigation of the globe in 1519–1522.

These discoveries led to numerous naval expeditions across the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, and land expeditions in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Australia that continued into the late 19th century, and ended with the exploration of the polar regions in the 20th century.

From the shores of Iberia, the race for overseas exploration began.

It led to the rise of global trade and the European colonial empires, with the contact between the Old World (Europe, Asia and Africa) and the New World (the Americas and Australia). It produced the Columbian Exchange; a wide transfer of plants, animals, food, human populations, including slaves, communicable diseases and culture between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. This represented one of the most-significant global events concerning ecology, agriculture and culture in history.

Today Iberia retains immense maritime importance, as the gateway to the Mediterranean with a rich and vibrant marine economy diverse in commercial, naval and leisure activity.