Having visited Portugal a few times over the last few years, I have explored it from north to south. I have visited its most popular cities – Lisbon and Porto. The first is the capital of Portugal and the second is a historical city in the North.
Are you looking for a city break in Portugal and wondering which city to visit?
Lisbon and Porto are both major cities in Portugal. I have enjoyed both of them and they both have so many similarities and yet so many differences. They are both interesting in their own way and I hope to help you decide which one to pick between Lisbon vs Porto for your next holiday.
Table of Contents
Lisbon is Portugal’s capital city and is built on seven hills. It faces the Atlantic Ocean and the river Tagus goes through the city. It is called “Lisboa” in Portuguese, the city is historical and yet has a contemporary culture.
Lisbon is my favorite of all the European capitals not only because of its beauty but also the culture, the food, the weather, and its many viewpoints.
Porto is known as the “Unvanquished City” and is built along the hills overlooking the Douro River estuary. Porto was called Portas Calle by the Romans and the city center has been continuously inhabited since the 4th century. Porto was never conquered!
Porto’s city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site and that’s what makes it so special because you will feel like you’re walking in a museum when you visit.
Getting in Lisbon vs Porto
Both Lisbon and Porto have international airports. Whether you fly to Lisbon Airport or Porto Airport – these two Portuguese cities are just a 3-hour train or bus ride away from each other.
More international airlines fly to Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado Airport and it caters to more international carriers as compared to Porto’s airport.
A lot of airlines from within Europe and other nearby countries fly to Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport in Porto.
So if you are flying from within Europe, then both these cities are good but in case you are flying in from a faraway country like India, then Lisbon is the best city for you to start your travels in Portugal.
Winner: Lisbon (if you are traveling from far-off countries) and a tie (if you are flying in from within Europe)
Portugal is located in western Europe and Lisbon is located in the middle of Portugal on the coast.
If you want to explore a section of Portugal like just the South (Lisbon and then Algarve road trip) then it makes more sense to start from Lisbon.
Porto is located in Northern Portugal, and also on the coast. If you want to explore Portugal from North to South, for that purpose Porto is the perfect place to start that trip.
You can rent a car from Lisbon or Porto for a road trip in Portugal.
Overall beauty of Lisbon vs Porto
Both Lisbon and Porto are very pretty and it feels wrong to compare their scenic beauty but I’d still do it to give you an idea.
Lisbon has colorful buildings that are pastel-hued, iconic yellow trams, slanted streets, and a sunny vibe even in winter. Lisbon’s beauty is more like a Wes Anderson movie
Porto on the other hand has more of a Gothic vibe with its dark architecture that’s highly ornate. Porto’s beauty is more like a Harry Potter movie set.
Even though I’m a big Potterhead, I prefer Lisbon’s pastel hues as compared to Porto’s gothic beauty. So in my mind, Lisbon wins. But I do know of many people who consider Porto more beautiful than Lisbon.
Winner: It all depends on what you are looking for. I find Lisbon more beautiful but many other people find Porto better in terms of the scenic beauty.
Lisbon is the largest city in Portugal with an area of 100.05 square kilometers. Porto is less than half of its size with an administrative area of 41.42 square kilometers. So, Lisbon is bigger than Porto.
Both Lisbon and Porto are walkable but be prepared for a workout because both these cities are built on steep hills. Both have super pretty narrow streets that you will fall in love with.
In both Lisbon and Porto, you can get on Uber for really cheap but I usually saw a bigger traffic jam in Porto as compared to Lisbon.
Lisbon and Porto both have an amazing network of public transportation. Both of these cities have buses, metro, and historic trams. Although Lisbon’s yellow trams are more famous Porto has them too.
It isn’t easy to get on the yellow trams of Lisbon because of the long lines of tourists but the metro is an amazing option. In Lisbon, a metro ride costs about €1.90 from the airport to any place in the city center.
The metro ticket system in Porto is a little more complicated than in Lisbon because you have to buy a card “Andante” based on the zone and pay for the duration of the ride – one hour, one day, or even more. The one-hour card can be from €1.25 to €2 depending on the zone. Porto’s metro is newer and better than Lisbon’s.
Like most of the important cities on the planet, both Lisbon and Porto are also situated along a river. Lisbon is situated along the Tagus River and Porto is along the Douro River. Lets compare Porto vs Lisbon and see which one is better.
Lisbon’s riverside area that’s close to Augusta Arc has a nice walking area. If you walk here in the evenings and sit on the marble steps, you will love the vibe. In the evenings in summer, you will also see some cocktail stands.
The bridge Ponte 25 de Abril which looks like San Fransisco’s Golden Gate bridge goes over this river. You can also get on a ferry to the other side of the river, which is called Almada. Christo Rei is a famous landmark of Lisbon that’s in Almada.
Porto’s riverside area is the Ribeira District which is the oldest part of the city. Ribeira is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the waterfront area comes alive at night as the lights glow here and reflect on the water. You can cross the Dom Luis I bridge to go to the other side – Vila nova de Gaia.
Because of the Ribeira district, Porto’s riverside area is definitely more beautiful than Lisbon’s and has a lot of character. You will also find the world’s most beautiful MacDonlad restaurant here in Porto’s Ribeira.
The Food Scene
Both Lisbon and Porto are amazing destinations for food, but Porto is said to have more finer restaurants than the rest of Portugal. I actually had really good food in both Porto and Lisbon. Let’s talk about it in detail here.
Eating lavish meals in both Lisbon and Porto won’t burn a hole in your pocket and the cost of a meal with a drink was typically EUR 15 per person, except that one time when we ordered a lot of seafood and then it was just double. The main courses are from EUR 7 to EUR 15, depending on what it is. Seafood is obviously more expensive.
Food in Lisbon
In Lisbon, one of the most popular things that you can eat is Pastel de Nata and the most famous bakery for this is Pastéis de Belém. Other famous things are Bacalhau (salted codfish cooked in many ways), bifanas (pork sandwich), ameijoas a bulhao pato (saucy clams), caldo verde (green soup), and Polvo a lagareiro (octopus) to name a few.
The best places to enjoy a variety of food are definitely small family-run restaurants in Chaido, and Bairro Alto. But you can also visit the famous food court – Time Out Lisboa or Mercado da Ribeira which has a collection of carefully curated restaurants from some of the best chefs in Lisbon.
Another amazing place for trying different foods and drinks in Lisbon is LX Factory, which has some fun and quirky restaurants.
Be sure to try Ginjinha, a traditional liquor made with sour cherries. Lisbon’s food was also featured on Netflix’s “Somebody Feed Phill” and he raved about the “Ponto Final” restaurant in Almada for the food and the view.
Food in Porto
Porto’s most famous food is Francesinha, a multi-layered sandwich that’s topped with cheese, egg, and Francesinha sauce. This sandwich was too much for me and I couldn’t have more than just a few bites. I think it would make a good hangover meal for some but it didn’t work out for me.
To be honest, I didn’t enjoy Francesinha but I had the most amazing seafood dinner in Porto in a restaurant called Adega Bebe-Se Mal where I was with two other girls and we ate a lot of seafood and drank wine. We ordered the biggest seafood meal of our trip and drank a lot of wine but it was under EUR 60 for us three.
If you are visiting Porto in July, then visit Matosinhos for the fish festival to eat super fresh seafood. They will prepare it for you on the grill on the side of the street.
Apart from food, be sure to drink Port wine at Douro Valley in Porto, after all, it comes from here. When the grapes come out of Douro Valley and the wine is produced and bottled in Porto then it is called Port Wine. You will find many wineries all around Porto. Check the day trips section for more info.
Nightlife in Lisbon vs Porto
Lisbon’s most famous area for nightlife is Bairro Alto but also the nearby Pink Street. Porto’s most popular nightlife street is Rua da Galeria de Paris.
Both Bairro Alto and Rua da Galeria de Paris are pretty similar because there is a prominent street that’s lined with bars, pubs, and dance clubs. There are all sorts of places to party – some have live music and others have DJs.
Bairro Alto is definitely much bigger than Rua da Galeria de Paris. It is more than just a street but has side streets and is an entire neighborhood.
I had a better time partying in Lisbon as compared to Porto but I’d like to give Porto’s nightlife another chance when I visit next.
Lisbon and Porto both have restaurants and bars with the Fado show, but Lisbon is a better destination for this music genre. Fado is traditional Portuguese blues music. There are two major Fado subgenres in Portugal – one from Lisbon and the other one from Coimbra. So Lisbon’s Fado is distinctive and unique.
The Old Town
Let’s talk about the old towns and the oldest districts of both Lisbon and Porto.
Lisbon’s Old Town Alfama
Lisbon’s old town is in Alfama – which is Lisbon’s oldest district. On one side of Alfama is the Castelo de São Jorge (São Jorge Castle) and on the other side is the lovely Rio Tejo – Tagus River on the side is Graça and São Vicente districts.
Alfama is unlike any old town that I have seen because it is mostly residential. There are old buildings, narrow streets, viewpoints, old cathedrals, and historic trams that move on these slanted roads.
Alfama has a lot of character and if you visit Lisbon, you should try to get a room in this neighborhood. Walk around Alfama and get lost in the labyrinth of old streets. Follow the route of Tram 28 and enjoy the sights.
Porto’s Old Town Ribeira
Porto’s old town is Ribeira, a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s a historic district that faces the Douro River and streets out to the hills behind. On the other side of the Douro River is Ribeira de Gaia.
Just like Alfama, Ribeira also has a maze of narrow streets, crumbling residential buildings, old churches, and towers.
Lisbon’s Historical Buildings
Both Lisbon and Porto have their own set of historical buildings that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lisbon’s most famous historic buildings and iconic structures are:
- Castelo de são Jorge,
- Jerónimos monastery,
- Belem tower,
- Christo Rei Statue,
- Santa Justa Lift,
- Augusta Arc,
- Sé de Lisboa – Lisbon Cathedral
- Monastery of São Vicente de Fora
- National Pantheon
Porto’s Historical Buildings
Porto’s famous historic buildings and structures are:
- São Francisco church,
- Torre dos Clerigos,
- Palácio da Bolsa,
- Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto)
- São Bento Train Station
Both Lisbon and Porto have a lot of historical buildings. The key difference is that Lisbon’s historical structures are spread out, whereas Porto’s old buildings are all near to each other in the historical city center.
If you have read a few of my posts already on my website then you would have noticed that I have a thing for viewpoints. No matter where I go, my travel revolves around finding the perfect places to eat drink, or sleep with a view. Both my posts for Lisbon and Porto have many viewpoints because both these cities have loads of amazing miradouros.
A miradouro is a Portuguese word for a viewpoint and both these cities are full of them because they are built on steep hills.
For the best viewpoints in Lisbon, go to the Alfama district and the nearby Graça. Alfama’s Miradouro de Santa Luzia is absolutely stunning and you can also go to the nearby Miradouro das Portas do Sol and drink a cocktail right there with the views because there’s a stand right there. Another amazing viewpoint in Lisbon is Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, which is higher than the others.
Porto’s famous viewpoint is Jardim do Morro and it is much better than any viewpoint in Lisbon. Another famous one is Miradouro da Serra do Pilar, which is next to Jardim do Morro. One can just walk on Dom Luís I Bridge in Porto for fantastic views in every direction.
Even though I prefer Lisbon’s pastel houses that show from the viewpoints, the reason why I think Porto’s viewpoints are better is because of the curve of the Douro River.
Winner: Porto (but only slightly)
Both Lisbon and Porto are warm cities, have enjoyable winter months that aren’t extreme, and are all year-long destinations. Let’s talk about the average temperatures.
Weather in Lisbon
In the summer months, the daily mean temperatures range from 21.2 °C (70.2°F) in June to 22.1°C (71.8°F) in September.
The average high temperature in summer can go as high as 28.3 °C or 82.9°F in August, which is the hottest month. Remember, this is the average mean – it means that the hottest part of the day will be definitely hotter than the average. The night will be definitely cooler than the average.
The average high in summer is 25.7 °C (78.3 °F) in June to 26.5 °C (79.7 °F) in September. The record high in summer was 44.0 °C or 111.2 °F in August
In winter months, January is the coldest with the daily mean temperature being 11.6 °C or 52.9 °F. The record low was recorded in February being −1.2 °C or 29.8 °F.
Even though Lisbon is a year-round destination, I’d still say that the best time to visit is in late spring or early. Peak summer is also good to enjoy a nice warm summer day but it is usually super crowded.
Weather in Porto
The weather in Porto is almost the same as in Lisbon but only slightly cooler. In the summer months, the daily mean temperature ranges from 19.0 °C (66.2 °F) in June to 19.5 °C (67.1 °F) in September. The average high in August can go as high as 25.7 °C (78.3 °F) and the record high was 40.9 °C (105.6 °F).
The average high in summer was 19.0 °C (66.2 °F) in June to 19.5 °C (67.1 °F) in September.
The record low was −3.3 °C (26.1 °F) in January but the daily mean ranges from 10.7 °C (51.3 °F) in December to 10.4 °C (50.7 °F) in February.
Winner: Tie – both these cities have pleasant temperatures that are warm with Porto being just a bit cooler. I do remember wearing jackets in Porto in August and still feeling cold but
Day Trip Options
Let’s compare the day trips from Porto versus Lisbon and figure out which option is better.
Day trips from Lisbon
There are many day trip possibilities from Lisbon but the most famous ones are to Sintra’s Pena Palace, Cabo da Roca, & Cascais. Sintra is the name of the mountains, the region, and also the city.
Sintra’s Pena Palace is a multicoloured building which is a sight you will remember for life. It is a castle perched on top of the mountains in Sintra that overlooks the ocean. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the seven wonders of Portugal.
Cabo da Roca is the Cape of Roca and is a beautiful spot with high sea cliffs where you can walk and enjoy nature. Cascais is a traditional fishing village near Lisbon which is now a high-end holiday destination because of the lovely beach.
The good news is that you can combine a visit to all these places in one day on a day trip from Lisbon. Obviously, it is better to spend more time in each destination but that isn’t always possible.
Yes, you can also visit other places from Lisbon but the best day trips are to the Sintra region, and beyond that, it makes more sense to make it longer than just a day.
If you have a rental car, then you can also include Praia das Azenhas do Mar in Colares in this day trip itinerary from Lisbon, which is also a beautiful beach destination and isn’t on some tours that you see online.
Day trips from Porto
Let’s talk about the day trips from Porto now. Some of the best day trips from Porto are to Douro Valley with wine tasting, a visit to the wine cellars, and a river cruise. These day trips also include a stop at Pinhão, where you will see a beautiful viewpoint.
Another option for a day trip from Porto is to Guimarães and Braga, where you will pass through the beautiful natural landscapes of the Minho region and see the religious city of Braga which is one of the oldest Christian cities in the world.
Adventure lovers will love this day trip suggestion from Porto – Paiva Walkways and Arouca 516 Footbridge where you will walk on the longest suspension bridges in the world.
If you compare both Porto and Lisbon – even though it may appear that Porto has more day trip options, Lisbon also has the same amount of options and you can see them in just one trip instead of splitting them.
Nearby Beach Destinations
Beach Destinations near Lisbon
If you want to visit beach destinations near Lisbon and Porto, there are many options. Let’s talk about Lisbon first.
We already mentioned the beaches of Sintra in the day trip post, but do you know that you can arrive in the Algarve region in just 3 hours from Lisbon?
I’m actually in love with the Algarve because the beaches are absolutely stunning with a perfect backdrop of rock formations. Moreover, the water quality is clean and the sand is soft. The world-famous Marinha Beach is right here in the Algarve and so is the hidden Benagil Cave Beach.
Algarve isn’t just one destination but has many amazing beach destinations within and they all have something special to offer. I have spent a week in both Lagos and Carvoeiro and I highly recommend them both.
Beach Destinations near Porto
The beach destinations near Porto are Nazare, Matosinhos, Aveiro, and Figueira da Foz to name a few. Out of these, I have visited Nazare and Figueira da Foz – although they are both nice destinations with amazing beaches they don’t come even close to Algarve’s awesomeness.
So, for a beach vacation in Portugal with a bit of city break, I suggest you pick Lisbon over Porto.
Where to Stay
Lisbon Hotel Suggestions:
Having stayed in three different hotels in Lisbon, the best experience was when we stayed right in the Alfama / Graça neighborhood. Here are the places I suggest you consider:
- Olissippo Castelo – Click here to book,
- WHome – CSA18 Premium Design Apartment – Click here to book,
- Costa do Castelo Terrace – Click here to book,
- Lisbon Gambori – Click Here to Book.
Porto Hotel Suggestions:
Try to find a hotel in Porto’s Ribeira to be close to the river and the viewpoints. Here are a few hotels that I have shortlisted for you for every budget. Click on the link to book.
Conclusion: Lisbon vs Porto
Both Lisbon and Porto are amazing destinations for a city break. In fact, unlike most of the cities in Europe, I suggest a higher duration in Lisbon and Porto because they offer so much more. Plus, unlike many other cities in Europe, Lisbon and Porto are both affordable in comparison.
So between Lisbon and Porto which one is better? My personal preference is Lisbon but I have compared them both in many aspects so that you can find your own personal favorite.
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