Over the years I met various people planning their travels to Portugal, if bound for time they liked to know which of the country’s 2 key cities would be nicer to visit; Lisbon versus Porto… in case they have more time they like to know where to spend more time, Lisbon or Porto?… Of course, it is a matter of taste, and if you have the time definitely do visit both! However, let’s do a quick comparison on what suits your travel style and taste most!…
Let’s get right to it: I personally love Porto. It is perhaps even one of the most scenic cities in the world in my opinion… The city is situated on the steep hill sides flanking the Douro River, connected by various marvelous bridges… Just a marvelous setting…
Top Tip: One of the best ways to enjoy this city is to take one of the many boat rides over the Douro River providing spectacular views of the city and its connecting bridges! Let’s dive into the details:
Try port wine
Port wine, also known as vinho do Porto, already says it all… This fortified wine that is named after Porto. Only the product from the Douro Valley in the Northern Provinces can be called Port, or Vinho do Porto. Obviously Porto is the place to try as much of it as you can!… Or better said, it is hardly impossible to not taste this… I especially liked the various taste shops on the hillside next to Jardim do Morro (from where you have excellent sunset views!). Just wander the streets and immerse yourself in Port wine!..
Small town feel of Porto
Even though Porto is the 2nd largest city of Portugal, with more than 2 Million people living in the suburban area. The old city center still has a small town feel. I therefore also strongly advise to stay in the old city center, which offers accommodations for any budget!..
Apart from the great scenery and its port wine, Porto tops it off with its many Mosaic houses. Just wander the streets and look up at the blue beautiful tiny tiles, most depicting the rich history of this city! Great pieces of art!…
Oke, we did a sneak peak into Porto, but what about Lisbon? Don’t get me wrong this too is a great city to explore!…
When comparing Lisbon to Porto, Lisbon is the larger city when city, with around 3 Million people living in the urban area. But Lisbon also ‘feels’ like a large European city, complete with large parks, wide boulevards and massive constructions. Examples are the Eduardo VII Park, Avenida da Liberdade, Vaco da Gama bridge and 25 de Abril Bridge (the latter closely resembling the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco).
In addition, Lisbon hosted the World Exhbition of 1998, which structures are adding a large modern section to the capital. Still a nice (half) day trip to explore.
Lisbon is great for shopping and exploring, but just a lot more ‘vast’ than Porto, keep this in mind when choosing between the 2. Then again, Lisbon is a lot less steep than Porto, which makes it more suitable if less physically fit to climb the hills… Good to take into account if choosing between the 2 for that weekend getaway…
Top Tip: Do as the locals do, and take the traditional Lisbon tram to explore the city and cover larger distances… A fun way to explore the city!
Try pastels de Nata (in either Porto or Lisbon)
Where Porto has its port wine, Lisbon has its Pastels de Nata, also known as Portuguese custard tart. It is an egg tart pastry dusted with cinnamon. Outside Portugal, they are particularly popular in former Portuguese colonies, such as Brazil and Macau.
These pastries are also called Pastels de Belem, after monks in the 18th century started selling these to earn some additional revenue out of Lisbon’s civil parish of Saint Mary of Bethlehem.
Lisbon’s view points
In my opinion the views over Porto and the Douro river, from its high bridges and hill tops are just stunning, and hard to compete with!… Nevertheless Lisbon does have its fair share of hilly viewpoints (miradouros) and are certainly a must-do when in Lisbon… Just climb up the hilly neighborhoods (yes, some are still as steep as Porto’s streets) and enjoy…
A few miradouro tips:
- Miradouro da Graça
- Miradouro das Portas do Sol
- Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara
- View from the São Jorge Castle
Conclusion: Lisbon versus Porto
So which city to pick Lisbon or Porto? It is hard to really choose between the 2 cities! However, if travel logistics (flight timings, costs, etc.) are similar I would recommend Porto!… This city just has a different type of feel then Lisbon, which has various similarities to other large South European cities.
Other sights in Portugal: Coimbra and Faro
The easier answer and better solution is obviously to travel to both Lisbon and Porto! And while you are at it, do combine it with Coimbra (At time of writing, unfortunately not visited yet myself, but heard great stories)! I did however, with a few friends combine this trip with Faro in the south, for a few relaxing days at the beach! We travelled outside of the season, but in summer this place is a real party destination! A sneak peak of our trip extension below…
Top Tip: Travel by train! I travelled with a Brazilian, so he arranged this travel logistics in his native language… However, it is an easy, non-expensive way of travelling from city to city. In addition, you do not have to bother with parking your car during your city-trip(s).
And that brings us to an end of this Portuguese Ghost around the Globe comparison… Take my advice, go to both cities and take your time by exploring much more of this amazing country!…
Living on the other side of the world but still want to experience some ‘Portuguese flavors or heritage’? Go to Brazil in Latin America or visit Macau! The old town of the latter is a stunning resemblance!…