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What are the differences between Spain and Portugal?

Updated: Jun 18, 2023

Find out what the differences are between these two countries that share the Iberian Peninsula.

Spain and Portugal are neighbours, yet they have very different cultures and ways of living. It is precisely these nuances that we have studied.


The two countries share an area on the Iberian Peninsula, exude an ancient European atmosphere, and are renowned for their delicious cuisine.



People


Opposing personalities


The Spaniards are more the type to familiarize with people, while the Portuguese prefer the address. Indeed, referring someone to Spain can be very badly taken. The reason is simple, the Spaniards are more extroverted, tactile and talkative, while in Portugal the population is more formal, reserved and very sensitive to politeness. The Portuguese also attach great importance to studies and so-called "prestigious" professions.



Lifestyle


What is glaringly obvious are the timetables. Indeed, when noon has struck, the Portuguese begin to put their feet under the table, while in Spain it is out of the question to eat at this hour! For them, lunchtime is around 2 p.m., followed by a traditional nap. Another big difference is punctuality. The Portuguese will rarely set a specific meeting time. Thus, it will be frequent to hear "rendezvous around noon" rather than "rendezvous at noon sharp".


In Spain, it is common to have lunch around 3 p.m. and dinner after 10 p.m. Restaurants in Portugal are usually crowded around 1 p.m. In the evening, locals are less inclined to have a drink with friends before a late dinner, even though there are more and more places to do so.


Although these differences are present, whether in their habits, way of living or in their cultures, they make these two countries unique places as we love them.



Nightlife in Spain and Portugal


Madrid and Barcelona are both known for their nightlife that attracts revellers of all ages. So whether your party idea includes endless tapas and glasses of wine at a street cafe in Barcelona, ​​or cocktails and champagne on the stylish rooftop terrace of a hotel in Madrid (try The Principal), Spain will likely exceed your expectations for nightlife. And these aren't the only two cities in Spain that are worth your nighttime attention. For an eclectic and increasingly sophisticated scene, including wine bars in historic mansions and craft beer bars, head to Picasso's hometown of Málaga. Antigua Casa de Guardia, a bar where local wines are poured straight from the barrels, has been around since 1840 and is said to be one of the artist's favourite haunts.


Meanwhile, Lisbon also has one of the liveliest nightlife scenes in Europe. Things don't start early here (travellers will find they often have restaurants if they show up for dinner before 9:00 p.m.). After dinner, have a drink at a local bar. Better yet, Lisbon has no laws against open containers. In the Bairro Alto District, you'll make your way through the crowds of revellers holding all kinds of beers and cocktails in take-out mugs. On weekends, the party heads to nightclubs around 2 a.m. Do not show up earlier, otherwise, you will feel very lonely.

Food


Many culinary practices differ between the two countries, but two things are certain: contrary to what some crude clichés convey, Portugal is far from being only the country of cod and the Spaniards do not just eat tapas.


Moreover, if there is a practice that changes completely between the two countries, it is indeed the consumption of coffee. In Portugal, locals tend to consume between two and four espressos per day, compared to a mixture of roasted and weaker coffees in Spain.


Spain and Portugal offer excellent food and wine scenes, and visitors looking for savoury snacks will be in for a treat. Don't expect too many veggies in either country, although you do tend to see them popping up on tapas or side dishes (caldo verde soup from Portugal and grilled Padron peppers from Spain worth tasting). More often than not, you will find tomatoes, potatoes, and onions in the main roles of the main dishes. Spain and Portugal, however, share an exceptional delicacy: Iberian ham. This expensive and highly coveted smoked ham is produced from Iberian pigs that roam freely in the forests of the central and southwestern regions of the Iberian Peninsula, right between Portugal and Spain.


Eggs, rice, and pork also appear frequently in Spanish dishes. Popular meals include paella in Valencia, shellfish such as clams and barnacles in Galicia, and octopus, fried croquetas, or a potato and egg omelette called tortillas. For dessert, the national treat is hot churros dipped in a cup of melted chocolate.


In Portugal, dishes tend to be higher in protein, with a high proportion of pork and seafood, especially cod. The country is characterized by a long coastline. Expect to see tasty dishes like grilled sardines in salt, bifana (simple pork sandwiches), Francesinha (ham and cheese sandwiches soaked in port juice), and suckling pig. The national dessert here is pastel de nata, a hot cinnamon and egg custard tart. Don't be surprised if you see people queuing for hours at Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon.


When it comes to wine, Portugal is best known for its white wines, especially Vinho Verde, although Porto wine also attracts a lot of people. Meanwhile, most Spanish wines come from red grape varieties.



A different approach to foreign languages


Due to extremely rich phonetics, the Portuguese would have more facilities than the Spaniards to assimilate foreign languages. Besides, films and series are broadcast in the original version of Portugal, which will come in handy if you want to make yourself a canvas to escape the heat. In Spain, most programs are dubbed.


Either way, whether you get lost in a Spanish or Portuguese street, be sure that someone will come to your aid and help you find your way back. If such a situation arises, the language barrier will not be a problem.


The Spaniards speak a bit louder and faster than the Portuguese.


Spain has more marked regional differences than Portugal. The regional languages are Castilian, Basque, Andalusian, Galician, and Catalan. In Portugal, although the accents vary between the north and the south of the continent, the language is the same. The biggest differences in European Portuguese are those between the islands and the mainland. Besides, it is believed that it is easier for Portuguese and Galicians to communicate in their respective languages than for a Portuguese to communicate with a Spanish person from another region.




Quality of life: health, safety, pollution


To choose a destination that's a good place to live, all you have to do is choose one that's safer and offers a more accessible healthcare system.


As a general rule, Spain and Portugal are safe countries, with a fairly low crime rate and a good place to live. But while Spain is better known for its many small-time hustlers, Portugal is more dangerous if we refer to the high rate of traffic accidents due to the state of the roads and aggressive, harried drivers on the highways (motorways) and main roads.



Climate


As Portugal and Spain share the same peninsula, they have similar landscapes and climates. Geographically, Portugal is defined by its long coastline, which makes it rich in beaches. The north of the country is mountainous and wet, while the south is drier and features rolling plains with numerous beaches near the Algarve. There is a desert near the Alentejo, and the country has no large natural lakes. Spain is mainly a mountainous plateau crossed by mountain ranges. In addition, coastal plains and river valleys crisscross the outskirts. The biggest geographical difference between Portugal and Spain is size; Spain is around five times bigger than Portugal.


Both countries have a Mediterranean climate, which means they are generally temperate, with warm summers and mild winters. In Portugal, the average temperature in Lisbon is 24 °C in July and 11 °C in January, while in Spain the average temperature in Barcelona is roughly the same: 24 °C in August and 10 °C in January. This similarity makes sense, as both countries are known for their beaches and for attracting travellers during the colder months.



Infrastructure


In terms of infrastructure, both countries are well-developed. Portugal has a vast rail network that is affordable and easy to travel on. Spain also has a large network of high-speed trains, the AVE Alta Velocidad, which links all the major cities. Smaller public transport systems, by train or bus, cover the distances between major cities. As far as driving is concerned, Portuguese roads have improved in recent years, but overall Portugal continues to have poor road conditions and a poor reputation for road safety. Highways (Motorways) are in better condition in Spain than in Portugal, but you should opt for public transport unless you plan to travel by car on your trip to Europe. Don't forget that Sundays and public holidays are not very busy.


On the whole, Portugal will cost less, but Spain has a higher level of infrastructure. Either way, it's a small compromise.



Reference Points


Like so many European nations, Portugal and Spain are both rich in cultural and historical sites. Portugal's capital, Lisbon, has many sights that would be the envy of other cities. Perhaps the most iconic is the Belém Tower, the sixteenth-century fortified tower that stands on the water, but you'll also see Sao Jorge Castle and the Jeronimos Monastery. In Sintra, you'll find the romantic Pena Palace and the medieval Moorish Castle.


In addition to the historic sites, you'll find the Dom Luis Bridge, which spans the River Douro between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. For natural wonders, you'll also find one of Europe's best caves in Portugal, the Benagil Sea cave, which has an incredible natural skylight in its ceiling and a secluded beach cut off from the rest of the Algarve. The Algarve as a whole, with its many breathtaking beaches and rocky coastlines, is also an extraordinary place.


Spain has no shortage of historic sites either. For ancient wonders, there's the Segovia aqueduct, probably the best-preserved Roman aqueduct in the world. For the medieval period, you'll find the Moorish city of Cuenca and the Mezquita of Cordoba, once the Great Mosque of the Iberian Peninsula. Better still is the Alhambra, a grand palace built in 889 AD and once home to the Emirate of Granada. The era of the Spanish Empire brought the Royal Palace to Madrid, as well as El Escorial, located in San Lorenzo de El Escorial.


For more modern sights, you'll find the works of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, such as the Sagrada Familia. In the Mediterranean, you'll find the popular islands of Mallorca and Ibiza. For natural spots, in San Sebastian you'll find La Concha Beach, which is essentially the ideal of beach. And in Pamplona, you'll find the annual nine-day running of the bulls festival.



Conclusion


In conclusion, Spain and Portugal may share geographical proximity on the Iberian Peninsula, but they are distinct countries with their own unique cultures, histories, and traditions. While both countries have a rich heritage and offer diverse experiences for travellers, there are notable differences that set them apart.


One of the main differences lies in the language. Spanish is the official language of Spain, while Portuguese is the official language of Portugal. Although they are both Romance languages and share some similarities, the pronunciation, vocabulary, and even certain expressions can vary.


Culturally, Spain and Portugal have their own distinct traditions, cuisine, and artistic influences. Spain is known for its flamenco dancing, bullfighting, and vibrant festivals like La Tomatina and San Fermín. On the other hand, Portugal is famous for its traditional fado music, azulejo tiles, and unique culinary delights such as bacalhau (salted codfish) and pastéis de nata (custard tarts).


Historically, the two countries have had separate paths. Spain was once a powerful empire with vast colonies around the world, while Portugal had its own period of exploration and maritime dominance during the Age of Discovery. These historical events have shaped each country's identity and left a lasting impact on their cultures and architecture.


When it comes to landscapes, Spain boasts diverse regions, from the sunny beaches of Costa del Sol to the rugged mountains of the Pyrenees. Portugal, on the other hand, offers stunning coastlines along the Algarve, picturesque vineyards in the Douro Valley, and charming cities like Lisbon and Porto.


While there may be similarities and shared influences due to their shared history, it is important to appreciate the unique characteristics and differences between Spain and Portugal. Each country offers its own distinct charm, attractions, and experiences for visitors.


In the end, whether you choose to explore the vibrant streets of Barcelona or wander through the historic neighbourhoods of Lisbon, both Spain and Portugal have much to offer. Embrace the diversity, immerse yourself in the local cultures, and savour the experiences that make each country special. So, when planning your next trip, consider these differences and embark on a journey that will allow you to appreciate the richness of both Spain and Portugal.



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