For this article I did some major digging: Why choose Lisbon over Porto, and vice versa?
I have my own opinion, but I dredged all of social media to gather as many perspectives from real people as possible.
So let’s dive into it!
Lisbon or Porto: The Basics
Once I had long pros and cons lists for both cities written out, the difference jumped out at me.
Lisbon lovers have a long list of objective reasons that Lisbon is an awesome city, and way better (in their opinion) than Porto. (Better restaurants, airport, etc.)
Porto people have an even longer list, but their reasons are by and large “feelings” and not actual amenities. (Its melancholy, the people have a twinkle in their eye, etc.)
Isn’t that interesting?
At the end of the day, Lisbon is for those looking for a cultural hot spot, and Porto is for vibe seekers.
First Impressions of Lisbon and Porto
I might just be the best person to weigh out Lisbon vs Porto, because the first time I headed to Portugal I was sure that Porto was the place for me.
I love grungey Eastern European feels, and Porto is definitely the edgier of the two cities.
Then we arrived.
If you want more opinions than just mine, feel free to skip this section, because it is just my experience. After this I will take you through what others have to say.
Porto First Impressions
We started our trip with a visit to Lisbon and Sintra before taking the train up to Porto, which was sure to be my hipster heaven.
C’est la vie.
The weather was truly awful: Pouring rain every day in cool November temperatures. We were sore from hiking in Sintra, and the hotel clerk pretended she didn’t know what wi-fi was.
I won’t rehash everything from my “Is Porto Worth Visiting?” post, but basically, I didn’t get the vibes I sought.
That’s the thing about a feeling, we aren’t all the same and we won’t all “get it.” So like most of the pro-Porto list, your experience might be a coin-flip.
I would totally give Porto a second chance, but based purely on first impressions, these are my thoughts:
If you don’t have the initial chemistry with the city, then you won’t be impressed.
None of the architecture in Porto is more spectacular than in Lisbon or the rest of Portugal. The only one-of-a-kind experiences that you should be in Porto for, are the river cruise and port tasting.
(And often you can combine the two!)
Lisbon First Impressions
I won’t lie to you, Lisbon is quickly becoming an overrated destination. I like Lisbon – really I do – but a huge part of the draw used to be the lack of crowds and affordability. Both of these advantages are evaporating.
(Not to worry! If you don’t vibe with Porto, and Lisbon is overrated, Portugal itself is still one of our favorite and most liveable places!)
Anyway! First impressions:
Lisbon has a somewhat typical “European” feel (in a good way) with nice architecture, awesome weather, and modern conveniences.
The thing I like most about Lisbon, is the thing that others like most about Porto: It’s a nice place to just be.
(There are objectively far more days suited to sipping coffee on a terrace in Lisbon though. Just saying.)
Now for what other visitors have to say about the Porto vs Lisbon dilemma, and some unbiased ranking factors.
Cost to Visit Lisbon Verses Porto
Getting right into it with one of the biggest ranking factors: Which city is cheaper to visit?
Food, accommodation, and activities, will all make a trip to Lisbon more expensive than Porto.
Lisbon and Porto High Season Hotel Prices
I hesitate to share actual hotel prices with you, because they are so unpredictable, but I did a quick search to see the price difference.
For one week in an average city center hotel, with an 8+ review score (always gotta go with 8+) and free cancellation, in August, it will cost you:
- Lisbon: $925 to $1235 USD
- Porto: $850 to $1080 USD
Not a huge difference at the end of the day. You can find deals in either city that may be below that figure.
Lisbon and Porto Off Season Hotel Prices
Running the same filters (8+ review score, free cancellation, city center) for a week in November, here are the results:
- Lisbon: $775 USD
- Porto: $465 to $775 USD
These are just the average numbers. Lisbon varied wildly in prices, but the figure I saw most often was around $775.
In the off season there are great deals to be had in Lisbon, because there are just so many more places available.
Cost of a Restaurant Meal in Lisbon vs Porto
Estimating the price of meals is tricky, because a cafe breakfast or sandwich lunch will be pennies in comparison to dinner at an upscale restaurant with wine.
In general, the cost of a meal in either Lisbon or Porto will be between 10 and 25 euros per person.
Money Saving Tip: Breakfast is always the easiest meal to save on, because a coffee and pastry will be much less than a proper restaurant meal. It’s also an easy meal to have in your hotel room, even if you don’t have a kitchenette.
I did not personally find the prices to be that different between Lisbon and Porto. However, Lisbon may seem more expensive because there are so many more sit-down options in the city center. A touristy place will always be more expensive than something further afield.
The cost of eating out shouldn’t factor into your decision, because you can always find something on budget in either city.
Porto Airport vs Lisbon Airport (OPO vs LIS)
Porto and Lisbon each have an international airport. If you are a stressed traveller, your airport experience may help you decide which city to visit, or at the very least, which city to fly to.
Portugal Airport Delays: Lisbon vs Porto
Recently the Lisbon airport has become notorious for extreme delays on both the departures and arrivals side, but primarily at arrivals.
This is not flight delays, but rather delays on the ground processing passengers through immigration and security.
While some travelers hit the right time and breeze through in under an hour, many have reported lines from 3 to 5 hours long.
You should prepare for a long and patient wait when you arrive, and you will need the recommended 3 hours at the airport prior to your departing flight.
Hopefully these issues will soon be resolved. Sounds like it is a combination of striking workers and new protocols.
At the Porto airport, most arriving passengers say that they were through in about 10 – 15 minutes!
There are a couple of reasons that arriving in Porto is so much faster:
- Fewer flights making for less backlog
- Arriving flights from other EU countries in the Schengen area do not have to go through passport control
Most US and Canadian passengers will fly to Lisbon either direct, or connect outside of the Schengen zone, that means that they have to go through passport control when they arrive in Lisbon.
Here are a few tips to avoid airport delays on arrival in Portugal (for either airport) :
– Book your flight into a different Schengen country and purchase a connecting flight separately. You will not have passport control on arrival if you are already in the Schengen area. (To understand the difference between the EU and Schengen, I cover it in this post.)
– Book your flight into London where a smaller aircraft will take you to Portugal. London is outside of Schengen, but you will hopefully arrive on a slightly different schedule than the huge planes. (At the very least, you know you are with a crowd of 100+ rather than 400+.) This is usually the cheapest way to book your ticket anyway.
– Start your trip to Portugal in the Azores. These less-traveled islands offer cheap commuter style flights to the mainland.
If you have a newer passport with the ability to use the electronic gates, you will have a faster time in arrivals. Children can’t use e-gates unfortunately, so for families this is not an option.
Obscure Tip: If one person in your family has an EU passport, you may all use the EU line to go through passport control.
(Our daughter has a Bulgarian passport, and I kiss it every time we arrive at Heathrow!)
Lisbon and Porto Old Towns: Which is Better?
Most of your time in either Lisbon or Porto will be spent wandering the Old Town city center, so which is the better wander?
Getting Around in Lisbon and Porto
Can something like accessibility be a matter of opinion? Apparently yes.
Lisbon objectively has the better transit system. You can easily get from A to B anywhere in Lisbon and the language barrier isn’t an issue. The metro system is super user friendly.
Fellow travelers have shared that they felt Porto was compact and therefore more walkable.
The Porto Old Town is smaller and technically less walking from A to B.
I personally found that between walking and the metro, most of the tourist area in Lisbon can be covered comfortable without actually having to climb major hills. Porto on the other hand, may be smaller, but the hills are really unavoidable.
For the average fit adult, the hills of Porto won’t be an issue, but for small kids and those with mobility problems, Lisbon is the easier stroll.
(Also I don’t mean to imply that Lisbon isn’t hilly. It’s actually known as “The City of Seven Hills,” but you can traverse the hills easily via streetcar, bus, or metro.)
Things to See in Old Town Lisbon vs Porto
I actually think that there are equally good things to see in both Lisbon and Porto.
Lisbon Hot Spots:
– Santa Justa Lift
– Oriente Station
– Carmo Convent
– Pink Street
– Praça do Comércio (and Arco de Rua Augusta)
– Sao Jorge Castle
– Belem Tower
– Jeronimos Monastery
Porto Hot Spots:
– Sao Bento Station
– Porto Cathedral
– Ribeira Neighbourhood
– Imperial McDonald’s (yes really!)
– Clerigos Church
– Igreja do Carmo
– Igreja de Santo Ildefonso
– Port Tasting
– Douro River Cruise
Granted Lisbon has a wider variety of sights, where Porto has a lot of churches/cathedrals.
On the other hand Porto has the port tasting tours, which is a quintessentially Portuguese experience. Sao Bento Station, which tops the list in Porto, is also one of the best places to see really perfect azulejos (the famous blue and white tiles).
Lisbon vs Porto Restaurants and Activities
This category is a bit unfair because Lisbon is a bigger city than Porto, so of course it has more restaurants and activities, but even taking size into account, there is a bit more to do in Lisbon.
Lisbon has been enjoying its position as the hub for Portuguese tourism for far longer than Porto has been a popular place to visit. As a result there are just a lot more “extras” that cater towards leisure.
Tourism aside, Lisbon also has a buzzing foodie scene, and boasts TEN Michelin Star restaurants. Porto does have three as well, not to be left out.
Fellow travelers have said that Lisbon has more of a “city” feel than Porto. It’s a bustling urban center. Lisbon also wins when it comes to nightlife. The city is full of clubs that stay open well into the early morning hours.
Porto vs Lisbon Climate and Weather
Lisbon enjoys 300 sunny days per year, and no surprise, this stat is tossed around liberally!
It’s not as easy to find out how many days of sunshine Porto usually gets, but on average it’s about 2 hours less per day than Lisbon, which over the course of a year really adds up.
Most people consider the climate of Lisbon to be much better, but it depends on when you plan to visit. Hotter isn’t always better!
Porto does enjoy sunny summers, and is much cooler than the blistering summer heat of Lisbon. Winters in Porto are cool and very wet, where Lisbon still has mild weather.
Enjoying a Day at the Beach in Lisbon vs Porto
Neither Lisbon or Porto is a beachy destination, let’s get that clear from the beginning.
If you are looking for sun, sea, and sand, head to the Algarve for the Portugal you have seen in pictures.
From Lisbon, the beautiful beaches of Cascais are about a 40 minute train ride away. There you can choose from several beach clubs and enjoy a day with very likely good weather.
Lisbon is actually on the seaside, so while there are not sandy beaches in the actual vicinity of the old town, ocean views are just steps away from the old town.
You may be surprised to hear that Porto is not really on the seaside at all.
The city lies very close to the coast, but the majority of the city is actually built around the Douro River. Add to that the fact that Northern Portugal is very different from Southern Portugal, and Porto is just not the place for beaches.
You can take a train (approx 45 minutes to an hour) further north to the community of Vila do Conde. There you will find a nice sandy beach and another riverside old town.
Lisbon has to win the beach category though, because there are so many more options, and the weather is more predictable.
Meeting the People of Lisbon and Porto
I really think that the Portuguese people of both Lisbon and Porto are equally open and friendly.
On both the Lisbon pro list, AND the Porto pro list, travelers said that the people were friendlier in each respective city.
Where there is a big difference, is that Lisbon is home to a much larger expat, tourist, and digital nomad community. That can be a major pro or con, depending on your school of thought.
If you hope your visit is full of seeing “the real Portugal” and mingling with locals, you are far less likely to be doing so in Lisbon.
To be honest, the Old Town area has gotten so expensive that few locals are even left.
In contrast, if you are seeking a like-minded community (for example you are planning a longstay with kids and would like to meet other families) then the familiarity of Lisbon may appeal to you.
Even though travelers liked the people in both cities, the people of Porto were praised more often than the people of Lisbon. Here are some of the specific comments:
– More Locals in Porto. It feels safe and friendly
– Friendlier and cozier
– There’s a certain twinkle in their eyes
Is Lisbon or Porto “Nicer”
This whole post is designed to help you decide for yourself, but in case you were after physical appearance, I thought I would toss in some extra info.
A lot of North American tourists express surprise at the amount of graffiti and litter in Lisbon. It is a much more “Western” city now than it used to be, but it’s still not squeaky clean like Vienna. Porto is even more run down, and that may catch you off guard.
If you want an immaculate well-kept city, Porto probably isn’t it, but you may not be impressed with Lisbon either.
The Greater Lisbon Area vs The Greater Porto Area
Come for the city and stay for the villages! The areas around Lisbon and Porto are both hopping with happening little towns that you need to visit.
Let’s take a look!
Towns and Villages to Visit from Lisbon
Lisbon is definitely more central in Portugal. From Lisbon it is easy to get to the Algarve, up north, or to head inland. Even if you don’t fall in love with Lisbon, there are many convenience reasons to base yourself there.
Of course Sintra is the first town near Lisbon that will spring to anyone’s mind! It is a short 45 minute train ride away to see the most famous castles in Portugal.
Many people lump Sintra in with Lisbon, but it is completely separate, and worth budgeting time for.
Besides having the best beaches close to Lisbon, Cascais boasts a charming old town, a fortress, and cliff caves.
Setubal is about an hour and 15 minutes from Lisbon’s central Rossio station. There are beaches nearby, but it is more famous for the 70 square mile Arrabida Natural Park, which is a stunning place to go hiking.
The sleepy village also boasts a nearby castle and fort.
Lisbon is the closest major airport for anyone arriving internationally that wants to explore the Algarve. From Lisbon to Tavira is the most popular stretch of the region, and you will not be disappointed.
The sandy beaches of Portugal’s Algarve region have to be some of the best (if not THE best) in the world! Each town typically has its own old town and picturesque pedestrian are to explore.
A two hour train ride from Lisbon, headed East towards Spain, will land you in the UNESCO city of Evora. There is too much architecture to list everything here, but Evora is most famous for the Chapel of Bones and Roman temple.
Don’t let the location fool you! (It kind of looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere.) There is lots to see and do here.
Towns and Villages to Visit from Porto
Porto may not be as central as Lisbon, but there are plenty of places to explore in the region, almost all of which will be less touristy than those further south!
Guimaraes is my favorite spot in the north of Portugal. The Old Town here is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a truly medieval feel. Stay for a few nights to soak in the magic! Day-trippers will leave the town empty in the evenings for you to wander.
Braga is a bit like the big sister of Guimaraes. Also old and beautiful, but on a larger scale. Better news for accommodation, but a little less charming.
Braga is home to several famous churches, a famous water-powered funicular, a palace, and of course, an old town.
An hour and a half south of Porto is the “Venice of Portugal” – Aveira.
Aveiro is famous for its canals and stunning facades. There are also sandy beaches just a few minutes away by car. Technically Aveiro is only a little closer to Porto than Lisbon, because a 2.5 hour train ride from the capital will get you there too.
Next to Guimaraes, the Douro Valley is probably the most well-known area near Porto. The valley is for nature and wine lovers. Take a cruise along the river or have a hilltop picnic hike.
The Vibes of Porto vs Lisbon Vibes
Big fans of Porto with undoubtedly think this post skews too much in Lisbon’s favor, so I have to include a section on vibes.
Here are the less-quantifiable things that people said about each city when I was researching:
Magic in the air
Much cooler vibes (multiple people)
You will fall in love
Pretty and interesting
Melancholy and regal
A twinkle in people’s eyes
Quaint and Cozy
Typical sunny “Southern European” feels
The best place to eat fish by the sea
Feels more “city”
Have I done it justice? Clearly Porto evokes a lot more feelings than Lisbon!
Porto is also more often recommended in my travel groups than Lisbon, by a long shot.
What’s the Better Place to Visit?
Time for you to decide! I’ll do you a solid and recap.
Go to Lisbon for:
- Predictable year-round weather
- More restaurants
- Proximity to the Algarve, Sintra, and beaches
- Easy navigation on foot or via transit
- A slightly more polished experience
Go to Porto for:
- Mystical, magical, melancholy vibes
- Port tasting
- Proximity to Guimaraes, Braga, and the Douro Valley
- Cooler summer weather
- Faster airport experience
You might also save a few bucks by staying in Porto, but there are a lot of variables on that one. I think you can stay on budget in either city, especially if you plan ahead.
At the end of the day you aren’t stuck with your choice! You can easily see both on the same trip as long as you have more than a few days free.
Lisbon or Porto for a Short Break or Long Weekend
Speaking of only having a few days, which city is better for a quick trip?
For a relaxing trip with no plans, spent exploring on foot, Porto/Guimaraes is the perfect place to unwind and see where the weekend takes you. If it rains, all the better excuse to take a spa day or spend the afternoon sipping port!
For a weekend of lively nightlife, gastro delights, and a day at the beach, choose Lisbon.
Portugal is a great place to see where the journey takes you, so I recommend not planning your trip beyond what you need to anyway!
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