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Porto vs Lisbon: which one is better?

Are you organizing your vacation in Portugal and you can't decide? If the flight has the same cost, you are faced with a complicated choice.

Matteo Gramegna

Matteo Gramegna

10 min read

Porto vs Lisbon: which one is better?

Porto, Portugal | ©Magda Ehlers

If the Portuguese capital is much more renowned, Porto's reputation continues to grow. To help you in your choice, we have prepared a small guide that summarizes the main features of both destinations.

What will I see in Porto vs. what will I see in Lisbon?

Porto| ©António M.L. Cabral
Porto| ©António M.L. Cabral

Even if you have never been to Portugal, when you mention the country, you will almost certainly think of Lisbon. The capital is the best known city and has been a renowned tourist destination for decades. Thousands of tourists choose it over its northern cousin because it has a greater number of monuments. However, Porto has a lot of charm and even if it has a smaller number of sights, it is becoming more beautiful every year to attract visitors.

The two Portuguese cities have always been rivals and each has its own peculiarity. In Porto, the most famous attractions are the Ribeira ( a picturesque riverside promenade between the Dom Luís I and Arrábida bridges), the Lello e Irmão bookstore (an elegant store in a 1906 neo-Gothic building) and the Igreja e Torre dos Clérigos, a baroque temple designed by architect Nicolau Nasoni on whose summit is located the best panoramic point of Porto.

On the other hand, the main attractions of the Portuguese capital are the seaside neighborhood of Belém, (where the best examples of Manueline architecture are located: the Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower), Praça do Comercio (the heart of Lisbon and a symbol of the Renaissance after the Great Earthquake of 1755) and its picturesque viewpoints that are located in several points of the city of Camões, from Alfama to Bairro Alto.

Book a tour from Lisbon

Porto architecture vs. Lisbon architecture

Pena Palace| ©laredawg
Pena Palace| ©laredawg

Lisbon is a little gem. Although there is no lack of monuments and majestic buildings, its charm lies in its picturesque streets that insinuate themselves among old and colorful buildings. Although these examples are also found in Porto, this city is better known for its modern buildings signed by local and foreign archistars.

The two cities are similar in style: most of the buildings in the center date back to the colonial era, when Portugal ruled the seas and wealthy merchants built elegant buildings to demonstrate their power. You'll see Gothic palaces and tiled facades in both destinations.

On the other hand, the Manueline (a 100% Portuguese style) is more present in the capital and yet, there is no lack of examples in the northern city. The Pelourinho (an old pillory in front of the Cathedral) and the Igreja de Santa Clara (Largo Primeiro de Dezembro) are two clear examples.

Porto is known for contemporary architecture. If you like the theme, you absolutely must see the new Vodafone headquarters (a futuristic structure designed by the Barbosa & Guimarães studio, Avenida da Boavista 2949), the Faculty of Architecture (a set of buildings facing the Douro River, Via Panorâmica Edgar Cardoso), the Casa do Cinema Manoel de Oliveira (commemorating Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira) and the Fundaçao Serralves, Porto's contemporary art museum.

In the Portuguese capital, modern architecture is concentrated in the Parque das Nações. However, the well-known architects Álvaro Siza Vieira and Eduardo Souto Moura have left a more significant mark on Porto.

Porto location vs. Lisbon location

Belen Tower in Summer| ©Maxim Sinelshchikov
Belen Tower in Summer| ©Maxim Sinelshchikov

The two locations share the coastal location but do not have the same climate. Porto is about 300 km further up the coast and this is reflected in the weather. Read on and discover their characteristics.

Porto is located in the north of the country at the mouth of the Douro River in the Atlantic Ocean. Being located by the sea, its winters are not usually very cold and the only drawback may be the rain. Statistically speaking, November is the month with the highest rainfall, while July is the driest. During the summer, it is pleasant to visit Porto as the maximum temperatures do not usually exceed 30º.

As in Porto, November is the month with the highest number of rainfalls but, unlike the other city, summer is not the best time to travel there. Don't get me wrong, the Portuguese capital is always worth a visit but, between June and the beginning of September, the heat and humidity are noticeable.

If this were not enough, tourists often fly here to enjoy the longer days and the light that floods its streets. In any case, I recommend you to read the post about the 10 things to do in Lisbon in the summer.

Gastronomic offer of Oporto vs. gastronomic offer near Lisbon

Belen Cakes| ©André Luís
Belen Cakes| ©André Luís

The most important cities of the neighboring country share many dishes: both are located on the coast and Portugal is not very large. However, there are recipes that are very typical of Porto and others that originate from the capital. Read on, we have prepared a small list with the typical dishes of each one:

Porto

Porto dishes are usually more hearty if compared to those from the south. The first recipe perfectly demonstrates this statement:

  • Francesinha, a sandwich that won't leave you hungry. The two slices cover a pork tenderloin steak, cooked ham, cheese and spicy beer sauce. If you want to finish it, it's best to share.
  • Tripas à Moda do Porto, a stew made with beans and beans. The inhabitants of Porto are nicknamed "tripeiros" because during the past centuries, the best meats left the city and its inhabitants had to eat the leftovers. However, this dish is very tasty and I encourage you to try it.
  • Bifana, a roll stuffed with marinated pork and served with tomato sauce. In Porto, the best ones are eaten at Conga, a traditional bar near the Rivoli Theater (Rua do Bonjardim 318, 4000-115 Porto, Portugal).
  • Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá, a recipe developed in the 19th century at O Lisbonense restaurant in Porto. It is cod marinated in hot milk and cooked with potatoes, olives, parsley and egg.

Lisbon

The city of Camões is a very appreciated destination for its food. The best known are the pastéis de nata but the gastronomic offer is much wider. If you are an inveterate glutton and you have decided to travel to the Portuguese capital, I recommend you to read the post about the best gastronomic tours in Lisbon.

  • Bacalhau à Brás, a dish that was born in the Portuguese capital itself by the hand of Senhor Braz, a tavern keeper in the Bairro Alto. This recipe uses crumbled cod with potatoes and egg. It is usually garnished with black olives.
  • Sardinhas asadas, very typical of Lisbon, especially on the occasion of the feast of St. Anthony (June 13).
  • Pastéis de Belém, the famous cream tartlets that are still prepared according to the original recipe of the 19th century. The temple of this dessert is located at Rua de Belém 84
  • Bolos de arroz, muffins made with rice flour.

Portugal has a rich gastronomy and during your vacation you will have the opportunity to taste many tasty dishes. Cod alone has thousands of variations and some recipes are popular all over the country. In both cities you can taste Chicken al Piri Piri (with its delicious spicy sauce brought from Mozambique) or the traditional Pataniscas a la bacalhau (cod fritters). If you travel to Lisbon in winter I recommend you to try two soups: Caldeirada de bacalhau and Caldo Verde.

Book a gastronomic tour in Lisbon

How to visit Porto vs. how to visit Lisbon

Train in Lisbon| ©André Marques
Train in Lisbon| ©André Marques

The Portuguese capital is more extensive compared to its northern cousin. Although its size is much smaller than other European capitals, it is quite complicated to get around without having to take the metro or a streetcar. If you limit yourself to the old town neighborhoods you can visit a good number of monuments but, if you don't want to walk too much, you can resort to an electric bike tour or a tuk tuk tour. These tours leave from a central location and touch the most emblematic points of the capital. As for the price, it is usually around 30 €. If you have little time and want to visit the essentials, I recommend reading the post Lisbon in a day.

Oporto is even more tiny and if you have a weekend, you can easily walk around it. In any case, if its steep slopes put you off, there is a solution: a few tour operators offer segway tours, bus tours and river cruises. The cheapest option is the tourist bus, which usually costs around 20 €.

Book a seat on the Lisbon tourist bus

What photos can you take in Porto and what photos can you take in Lisbon?

The viewpoint of Portas do Sol| ©Vitor Oliveira
The viewpoint of Portas do Sol| ©Vitor Oliveira

Both cities are a paradise for instagrammers and fans of this noble art. Their decadent buildings and ubiquitous tiles are perfect for a stylish photo shoot. However, each one has its own magical corners. Read on, let's get started with the must-see places in Porto!

  • Livraria Lello, the most beautiful bookstore in the world. It is said to have inspired J.K. Rowling while writing Harry Potter (Rua das Carmelitas, 144).
  • Capela das Almas, a church whose walls are entirely covered with white and blue tiles. It was built in the 18th century but the tiles were added in 1929 (Rua de Santa Catarina 428).
  • Rua de Cabo Simao, from this street one enjoys an incomparable view over the Douro River and the Luís I Bridge. It is located on the opposite bank of the city.

The Portuguese capital is not far behind. There are many places where you can immortalize the best moments of your vacation. Below you will find the top 3 Lisbon:

  • Belem Tower, a splendid watchtower in neo-Manueline style. Its original decorations will leave you open-mouthed. It is located on the banks of the Tagus and has a unique charm. To see it from a different perspective, you can opt for a cruise along the Tagus (Avenida Brasília).
  • Mirador Porta do Sol, perhaps the best panoramic viewpoint of the city of Camões. It is located in the Alfama district and enjoys a splendid view over the red roofs of the center, the churches and the National Pantheon (Largo Portas do Sol).
  • Streetcar 28, the most famous line in the old town. The convoy departs from Campo Ourique and ends its journey at Praça Martim Moniz. The most beautiful part is the Alfama district. Follow the rails and find the most picturesque spot. At some points, the streetcar passes through some very narrow streets.

Book a guided tour in Lisbon

Crowds in Porto vs. crowds in Lisbon

On the streets of Porto| ©igorre1969
On the streets of Porto| ©igorre1969

Portugal is a highly sought-after tourist destination. The country's architecture, gastronomy and affordable prices attract thousands of travelers. Being larger, the capital hosts a larger number of tourists, yet Porto can seem more crowded. In Lisbon, people are spread out over a wider area while in Porto they are concentrated on the riverbanks and in the nearby old town.

Near Porto's riverside promenade you will find the main attractions such as, for example, the wineries of Vila Nova de Gaia. In this area you will find many tourists who usually have a glass of Porto in the famous Calém Winery (Avenida de Diogo Leite 344) or the Sandeman Winery (Largo Miguel Bombarda 3) which you will recognize by its typical figure retracting a man with a cape and a hat.

Visiting Lisbon and visiting Oporto, choose according to your travel plan

Parque Eduardo VII in Spring| ©Svetlana Cekic
Parque Eduardo VII in Spring| ©Svetlana Cekic

Beauty is subjective and any destination can be more or less appreciated depending on the characteristics of each person and what a traveler is looking for in a vacation. The list below will help you decide your next destination.

  • If you want to take good pictures: Lisbon. Without taking anything away from the monuments and views of Porto, the Portuguese capital has a greater number of scenic spots and traditional neighborhoods that are a paradise for any instagrammer.
  • If you want a quiet visit: Porto. Although it's an up-and-coming tourist destination, most visitors choose the city of Camões. Porto is a more traditional city and if you go a bit further away from the Ribeira, you won't find many travelers.
  • If you are short on time: Porto. This city in the north of Portugal is more diminutive and can be easily covered on foot. On the other hand, the Portuguese capital is more extensive and if you want to explore it thoroughly, you will have to take a bus or a streetcar.
  • If you are on a budget: it doesn't matter. Both locations are affordable and prices are generally lower than in Spain or other European countries.
  • If you want to have a drink during your visit: Lisbon. Being a large city, it has a more varied leisure offer. Bairro Alto is the favorite place for young people while Docas (under the 25th of April Bridge) is the most select area.
  • If you are interested in the old: Lisbon. Not even the 1755 earthquake could erase its historic buildings.
  • If you are interested in the modern: Porto. The northern city gave birth to two internationally famous architects: Álvaro Siza Vieira and Eduardo Souto Moura.
  • If you want to visit the nearby towns: it doesn't matter. If in Lisbon you can visit Cascais, Sintra and Evora (just to name a few), in Porto you can easily reach Braga, Guimarães and Aveiro, the Portuguese Venice.

Book an excursion from Lisbon

Conclusions

Commerce Square| ©Francisco Anzola
Commerce Square| ©Francisco Anzola

No need to sing Lisbon's praises, the city of Camões has a unique charm and a rich history that derives from the fact that it is a capital. If you are looking for a destination with good gastronomy, interesting museums and amazing viewpoints, Lisbon is the city for you. Here you can relive history, see the traces of the 1755 earthquake and imagine the Portuguese caravels as they leave the port of Belém, right next to the iconic tower.

On the other hand, if you prefer to explore a slightly different, more modern destination, Porto is the ideal choice. Street art has revolutionized the northern city as works by local artists adorn the Trindade metro station, Rua de Sá de Noronha and other downtown streets. Contemporary architecture is another irresistible attraction, as is the Parque da Cidade, a green area of rare beauty designed by landscape architect Sidónio Pardal.