Lisbon or Porto?
Updated: Feb 20
Two Portuguese cities are among the most touristic in the country. These cities attract more and more visitors every year and for good reason, they have a lot to offer. Porto and Lisbon have many things to see and do, two cities ideal for spending a weekend or a week with friends, family or lovers. We will also see that visiting Porto and Lisbon on a low budget is possible.
The essentials of Porto
Let's start our visit to the city of Porto. Porto is the smaller of the two cities, it is located in the north of Portugal and is crossed by the Douro, a river that separates the city in two. Porto is located in the Douro Valley at the mouth of the river. The valley is famous for its production of Porto.
Here are some of the must-sees in the city of Porto:
The famous São Bento train station with azuléjos
The impressive Sé Porto Cathedral
The unmissable Dom Luís I Bridge
One of the many Port wineries of Porto wine in Vila Nova de Gaia
La Igreja de Clérigos
The garden of the Crystal Palace
Lello e Irmão bookstore
Pérgola da Foz
Avenida dos Aliados
Cais da Ribeira
Estádio do Dragão, home of FC Porto
University of Porto
Porto is a pleasant city with parks, numerous cafes and restaurants. Porto is for me an ideal destination for a romantic weekend. Porto is a city on a human scale and 2-3 days will be enough to see most of it.
The essentials of Lisbon
Now let's move on to visiting Lisbon. Capital of Portugal, Lisbon is a much larger city than Porto. It is also located at the mouth and the river (Tagus or Tejo).
Let's go over some Lisbon must-sees:
The Alfama district, a historic site in Lisbon with the Castle of São Jorge
Lisbon's lively Bairro Alto district
The famous Santa Justa elevator
Lisbon's main square, Praça do Comércio
The 25 April Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril) which will take you to one of the largest statues of Christ in the world, Christ the King (Cristo Rei)
Visit Belém, it is a famous tower, Hieronymites monastery(or Jerónimos Monastery) which houses the tomb of Vasco da Gama and a delicious Pastel de Belém
Estádio da Luz, home of S.L. Benfica
Estádio José Alvalade XXI, home of Sporting Clube de Portugal
Parque das Nações
Lisbon Orient Station (Gare do Oriente)
The Beauty of the City
Lisbon is the capital. So necessarily, it throws. Many beautiful buildings, beautiful avenues mingled with more typical neighbourhoods like Alfama. However, there is something more authentic about Porto. When you walk there, you get the impression of a dilapidated city, but strangely enough for Porto, this term is not pejorative. It gives it a crazy charm. The colours are brilliant white in Lisbon, darker in Porto. Both are coloured with azulejos. Some say that the azulejos are more beautiful in Lisbon. I didn’t find that those in Lisbon impressed me less. Both have a very impressive bridge. The one in Porto looks like the Eiffel Tower (since made by a disciple of Eiffel), the one in Lisbon makes you feel like you are in San Francisco. The two cities are beautiful but their charm is different (personally I was nevertheless more sensitive to the authentic side of Porto, and its magnificent azulejos on the churches!).
Porto is much more authentic! What struck me during this stay were the trades that were to be found there. Around the fabric, for example. Convenience stores seem important there. Depending on the neighbourhood, we see scenes of life, because some live with the door open. There is a charming vintage side to it.
In Lisbon, this authentic local side can be found in Alfama. Otherwise, the city appears to be an open-air museum for tourists.
To Visit at a Weekend
Before going on a trip, I always prepare a Google Maps with all the points I want to visit/see. For Porto and Lisbon, I noted a lot of things.
In Porto, we did a good part of the city in one day, without forcing too much (even if it goes up so it always seems longer). We did everything on foot. In a day and a half, we had had a very big overview of the city, and we had already passed some places several times.
Larger Lisbon (at least it's much more extensive) has more to visit. Metro or bus ride is good for the legs because it climbs even more! The weather was so beautiful that we just walked around but for a future trip, there are quite a few nice museums including those on the Belem side and the Berardo Museum, of modern art.
Let's say that on this occasion, Lisbon wins the match because the visits to be made require 3-4 days on the spot against 2-3 days in Porto.
In Porto, top restaurants as beautiful as they are good, super cool bars, really cool concept stores/boutiques/galleries. I liked everything! In Lisbon, disappointments with food addresses, no shop that struck me more than that, cool places to have a drink that said. It was nice but nothing more. (This paragraph is subjective! But I still had to give my opinion/experience!).
Portugal is around 300 sunny days a year. The oceanic climate protects from the cold but does not prevent good rainy periods. In Porto, I had only had very thick fog in the morning, super sunny days. In Lisbon, not a cloud over 5 days! Both times were in January. All this to say that Portugal is the perfect place to admire the sunset and that it is an integral part of the trip to Lisbon.
Lisbon is considered one of the most festive cities in Europe! Porto as being a student city therefore very active at night too. We are not going to lie to each other, on a city break after walking dozens of km, the evening is not night either. However, I had written down quite a few places to have a drink & go to a club (including one in an old cinema!) in Porto. A lot of cool spots in Lisbon too. Also note, many places are open all week (unlikely thing when in Montreal you can go nowhere before Thursday evening because otherwise, it's closed). I imagine that in the summer these two cities hardly ever stop living.
Lisbon and Porto are the most popular destinations in Portugal because they are cities and because there is an airport. However, Portugal is definitely worth an in-depth visit. These two cities can be the starting point for a nice road trip if you go for a week. But let's focus on the 3-4 day city break. In Porto, as the city can be visited quickly, we took the opportunity to take the old tram to the ocean and a train to the beach at the church. I have great memories of it! Being able to escape the city so quickly is cool.
In Lisbon, you can go all the way to Belém, of course, or to the other side of the 25 Abril Bridge. But very nice points of interest like Sintra or Cascais are less accessible. For a short stay, if you also want to enjoy the surroundings without having to rent a car and not only visit the city, Porto is more suitable.
Portugal is too good, it is not expensive, it costs nothing to find accommodation. So it is fine for Porto, but not for Lisbon. In Porto, we did 3 accommodations in 4 days so I could not make up my mind that all the hotels and Airbnb looked cool and were super affordable. I have fond memories of the charming and designer hotel in Porto, above my usual budget, but in Canada, the night would have been twice as expensive! In Lisbon, much more difficult to find the rare pearl. The hotels are well around 50/120 € per night. Many with a swimming pool. It is nice but in winter it is no use and the price is not lower. For accommodation, I found that the offer was much more interesting in Porto, both in terms of price and in terms of great places to sleep, whether in a hotel or Airbnb.
We compare here the price of accommodation and the price of outings. As for accommodation, you already have my opinion, Lisbon is more expensive than Porto. On the restaurant side, Porto is also cheaper. We have done some very nice restaurants where, in Canada, the dish would have cost $ 30-40 compared to € 12 in Porto. In Lisbon, we are on a lunch dish between 12 and 14 €. Pasteis are € 1, though, that's cool. I will qualify my comments anyway because most of the typical Portuguese restaurants were cheap. Cocktails are much cheaper than in Canada. But nothing obvious to the point of saying that Lisbon is cheap!
Save on your trip to Portugal
Now let's go over some little tips that will save you money on your trip to Portugal.
The first saving will, of course, be on the plane ticket. Lisbon and Porto are two cities connected to the rest of Europe via many low coast companies.
The second saving can be made on accommodation. This is often the main source of expense while travelling. Lisbon, like Porto, has many types of accommodation of all kinds, including youth hostels. Youth hostels still have a bad reputation for many, although over the past several years they have transformed into accommodation that is sometimes more comfortable than many hotels for often lower rates. Hostels do not only offer dormitories (contrary to popular belief), they often offer single, double or triple rooms with or without a private bathroom.
Moving away can be a good way to reduce the cost of housing. It is possible to find accommodation slightly outside the city centre but close to the metro or tram station which will allow you to quickly reach the places of interest in the cities.
In the specific case of Lisbon and Porto, another way to save on your trip may be to combine these two cities.
Even after visiting Porto and Lisbon, it's hard to choose one of the two cities. Both cities are truly worth exploring. Visiting both cities on the same trip is a good way to save money.
The price of the trip from Porto to Lisbon is between 20 and 40 euros and lasts between 2:30 and 3 hours. You will arrive at Oriente station in Lisbon.
My opinion: Porto or Lisbon?
For my part, I enjoyed each of the two cities. I liked Porto very much, I found the city very pleasant to visit. You never get bored there and get around very easily.
Lisbon, for its part, really looks like a capital. Much larger, much more extensive, there are many things to do. The city has many neighbourhoods that are very different from each other. However, I found Lisbon to be an equally pleasant city, although it will sometimes be necessary to take public transport to get around certain parts of the city.
If you are looking for a big city with cultural richness and magnificent viewpoints, Lisbon will seduce you. If you are looking for a more authentic, imperfect but touching charm, choose Porto.
My heart is in Porto. I thought Lisbon was beautiful too, but it did not touch me in the same way. It is ultra touristy side even in winter has something to do with it. Now the choice is yours! And don't do like me, take the time to explore Portugal better!