Portugal is the ultimate quintessential place to be in. A country with staggering views, nestled by the ocean, a country where traditions runs deep and a laid-back lifestyle permeates throughout its cities. Gorgeous red roofs juxtapose gritty neighborhoods, history juxtaposes modernity and countless of different attractions await you. Portugal is also the perfect backpacking destination, since every city boasts a completely different experience, thus ensuring you actually get a full-rounded experience. From water activities, mouth-watering cuisine, medieval churches, winding alleys and little trams – Portugal is the dream. But of course, before you go, you need to figure out which cities you want to go to and maybe people want to go either Porto or Lisbon?
Two of the most famous cities in Portugal are Lisbon and Porto, and often they are put against each other in itineraries. They are only 3-hours away by train, or an hour away by flight, so it would be perfect to visit both! If you, however, don’t have time, you’ll need to figure out a way to choose between both.
Luckily for you, they are considered different in terms of attractions and natural scenery, so it will depend on your preferences in the end of either going to Lisbon or Porto.
Which type of public transit to use?
You could get around both Porto and Lisbon using taxis, metros, buses, and trams and both have cheap and easily navigable stations. You should research which card to buy before going, but the Viva Viagem card is usually recommended.
Do you want to visit historical attractions?
Both Porto and Lisbon have historic neighborhoods that can be explored, but it depends on what type of attractions you want to see at either Porto or Lisbon.
For attractions and monuments: Head to Lisbon. Lisbon boasts dozen of medieval and historical attractions that will quench your historical thirst. From the Castel do Sao Jorge, to the gorgeous medieval muchers, to miradouros and cathedrals, there is practically everything you may want to see there. There’s also an entire historical neighborhood called Alfama where you can explore winding little alleys, learn about the rich history of Lisbon and take the most postcard-worthy pictures!
Some of the attractions include:
For historical neighborhoods: If you’re just there for pretty historical neighborhoods, then you might love the Ribera district. It’s right by the river, and has a bustling square and is the perfect place to just stroll around and unwind. A glass of wine, the river views, the sunset and the history in the atmosphere make it a beautiful place to cheat the intensity of life! Walk your way through the colorful quirky houses and make sure to speak with the locals – you might learn a thing or two!
Where to drink?
The short answer of either Lisbon or Porto? Everywhere in Portugal! Portugal is blessed with fine wine all over and people drink pretty much all the time (in moderation).
Lisbon: In Lisbon, you can try out the local drink which is a type of cherry liquor. It’s made of ginja berries and Portuguese brandy along with sugar and some more add-ons. You’ll pretty much find it everywhere, and you can even find yourself a homemade version in the historic district of Alfama.
Porto: Go to Porto for the wines. The Douro river is known to harvest some of the most incredible wine-making grapes, and it’s peppered with wine cellars and vineyards. Go to Porto for its incredible wine cellars brought from Gaia, or tour around Cockburn’s.
Where to go for better food?
The food around all of Portugal is incredible so for this it shouldn’t be different for Porto or Lisbon. You’re bound to have an incredible gastronomic journey with the incredible seafood, the wine, and the little taverns that offers delicious food.
For sweet treats: You have to try the pastel de nata found everywhere around Portugal.
Lisbon is known for…the bifana. The bifana is one of those sandwiches you simply cannot miss when you’re in Lisbon. Made from sliced pork, sautéed in garlic and served warm, you will love this infamous sandwich. Their prices start from 2 euros and they have to be tried. Definitely try the Casa de Bifanas.
Lisbon is known for …francesinha which is basically a type of sandwich that is filled with steak, ham hotdog and a lot more. You will love it if you’re if a meat lover, but your heart won’t love you for it!
For gorgeous buildings go to Lisbon, for more rugged styles head over to Porto.
The thing about Lisbon that intoxicates people the most is its buildings. There is such an incredible diversity to the style of the buildings that it will cater to every traveler’s interests. If you’re interested in large Neoclassical buildings, you’ll find them. Modern squares and contemporary buildings? Also check! Gothic and medieval churches? Check! Ancient elevators that lead up to medieval attractions? You got it!
From colorful buildings that perfectly contrast one another, to white-washed marble buildings, the facades of Lisbon are renowned around the world and are enough to keep you entertained for months on end. The city also boats incredible rooftop scenery. Check out the neighborhoods of Coimbra, Algarve, Barrio Alto, Alfama and much more and you’re bound to fall in love.
Porto is older than Lisbon when it comes to the buildings and the architecture. That’s because the city was not destroyed by the earthquake, and thus has a more authentic cultural vibe. The architecture is still beautiful but it’s “more rugged”. If you want a more authentic vibe of Portugal, then definitely head to Porto. You’ll be getting hands-on experience with the culture.
For a bustling atmosphere, go to Lisbon. For a laid back vibe go to Porto
The thing about Lisbon is that it’s bustling with life. There is so much going on in its bustling alleys, the hilly neighborhoods are filled with trams going up and down the hills, hundreds of shops, sidewalk cafes, tourists and much more. There are so many attractions scattered around the city so you also get to see the most important attractions in Portugal. It’s modern, rich and more developed than all other Portuguese cities. If you’re looking for a fixed plan and a fixed trip with no hassle, then head over to Lisbon. It’s cleaner, more modern and caters well to tourists.
If you want the laid back hipster traveler life, then definitely head over to Porto. Think gorgeous beach backdrops, the effortless contrast between orange buildings and the blue of the ocean, the quintessential port, the incredible wines waiting to be tasted…It’s where you go to completely unwind. You’ll find a lot of backpackers there, all going for that wanderer vibe offered by the city of Porto and you will love the peace of food that comes with being there.
For better nightlife, go to Lisbon!
The thing about Porto is that it doesn’t really focus on its nightlife scene. The city is small, quaint and quintessential and is great for chilling. Lisbon is definitely where you go to Party.
The notorious Barrio Alto is a neighborhood that bustles with life everyday and even more in the weekend with thousands of people drinking, socializing and ready to go out. The streets start to get lively at 2 am and people party into the wee hours of the morning. There are dozens of clubs that sprawl with life, bars and people who are ready to party.
For pretty strolls around the town, go to Lisbon.
Lisbon’s sidewalks are a sight to behold. White limestone and marble stones give the streets an unmistakable quintessentially Portuguese vibe to them and add a hint of elegance to the air. They make the city look ten times more picturesque and you’ll get to enjoy the pretty strolls around the town.
Porto is more rugged when it comes to the streets and they are mainly made of dark grey granite, so the walks may not be as picturesque.
For the best rivers go to Porto
Lisbon boasts wide rivers that snake their way through the city and are a sight to behold. You can go to certain neighborhoods that will let you explore the different places the river goes to. Check out Doca do Jardim do Tabaco and Docas Santo Amaro where you’ll be met with incredible views.
Of course, Porto, as mentioned above is more laidback. And its rivers are just as laidback as its atmosphere! They are intimate, boast gorgeous bridges and reflect all those colored houses beautifully.
The Douro river is the 2nd longest river in the Iberian peninsula and you can have an extraordinary trip along the river. Sail to wine regions. Travel to the Duroour valley. Explore. Wander! It’s romantic, and peppered with rococo facades and medieval buildings, giving it the ultimate atmospheric charm.
You could pretty much take day trips from every city in Portugal, so Porto or Lisbon doesn’t really matter here. The country is small and compact and very easily navigable so a day trip is almost essential
Some of the top day trips:
- Sintra – Sintra should be on everyone’s bucket-list. Boasting incredible fairytale-like palaces, lush gardens and gorgeous medieval wells, you will fall in love with the little city up on the hill. The palaces will keep your day busy and you’ll come back feeling like you’ve just fallen into a storybook.
- Cascais – Transparent azure waters, water activities, beaches and gorgeous scenery is what Cascais is all about.
- Obidos – A little town known for its azulejos.
- Evora – This is entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, due to its ancient ruins. Apart from chapels and cathedrals, you’ll find an ancient Roman temple that you can explore.
- Guimaraes – A medieval town and also a UNESCO world heritage site.
For big SanFran-like bridges go to Lisbon, for architecturally gorgeous buildings, definitely head over to Porto.
Lisbon has the incredible 25 de Abril bridge. Every postcard of Lisbon will most probably include that bridge that soars proudly from the water and gives the city an unparalleled atmosphere. It stands as a backdrop to the city and is well worth checking out. You can also check out Vasco de Gama, the longest bridge in Europe! It is created as an ode to the Portuguese explorer, and is a great place to walk around and explore so you can learn a little bit more about the history.
Porto boasts bridges that were created by Gustave Eiffel, so they definitely win the picturesque award. They are gorgeous wrought-iron masterpieces and are attractions in and of themselves. They are also bustling with life around them and one is even open to all types of traffic: cars, trams, people, and bikes!
If you’re interested in pretty hilly streets, go to Lisbon.
Lisbon is renowned around the world for its 7 hills that boast different attractions and different vibes, and it’s an incredible chance of exploring the city through its hills. You get to explore diverse neighborhoods and everywhere you go you’re bound to be met with incredible rooftop scenery and staggering panoramic vistas. Porto does not really have any hills, the city itself is a hill!
Which has closer beaches?
Both Lisbon and Porto offer day-trip options to beaches nearby and choosing where to go completely depends on your preferences. You can go to Cais de Sodre and take a train trip to any of the nearby beach places.
Porto and the beach is more convenient, as you don’t have to take a train station or wait for over 30 minutes. In 10 mutes you can be by the sprawling beaches outside of Porto, so it’s a lot more convenient.
For drier weather go to Lisbon, for milder weather go to Porto.
Lisbon enjoys a mild climate throughout the entire year with over 2000 hours of sunshine a year. Whether you go in January or in June, you’re bound to be met with incredible sunshine and very little cloudy days. Of course, in summer, the rates are much higher, and the tourists hoard everywhere you go. The best time to visit is during off-shoulder season, so September and October and also April and May.
Porto has similar weather but is usually cooler, and definitely wetter than Lisbon. Try checking out the weather forecast before you go so you don’t have to be stuck in cold, wet weather.