Battle of the Portuguese Cities: Visit Porto or Lisbon?

Which to Visit: Porto or Lisbon?

If you simply can’t visit both cities, this list will help you make a choice. Porto or Lisbon? Let the battle of the Portuguese cities begin.

Going to Portugal and can’t decide if you should visit Porto or Lisbon? I totally understand because I had this struggle as well when I was planning my Portugal trip last year. From the outside looking in, the two largest cities of Portugal both offer a myriad of opportunities: vibrant ambiences, rich history, fascinating architecture, and amazing sceneries.

So, I ended up visiting Lisbon AND Porto! It was an unforgettable trip – hands down one of my best holidays in Europe. But for those of you who have enough time only for one city, here is my “Porto vs. Lisbon” battle results to help you make your final decision!

Quick tips:

  • If you’re into architecture and museums, choose Lisbon
  • If you want great nightlife, choose Lisbon
  • If you like big city vibes and beaches, choose Lisbon
  • If you’re looking for authenticity and character, choose Porto
  • If you enjoy wandering around by foot, choose Porto
  • If you’re a wine and gastronomy lover, choose Porto

Best sightseeing

Image credit: Shadowgate

Both cities have endless hills that will work your legs, that’s one thing I can tell you. But in terms of sightseeing, Lisbon offers many more interesting museums and historic landmarks that will blow your mind: the downtown Baixa area, Alfama and Belem districts are all must-visits. A ride around the city with Tram 28 is also one of the biggest highlights for me; it brings you back in time and shows the more local areas of Lisbon.

The city of Porto is relatively smaller and has fewer sights to see, but it has the best city views over the Ribeira area! Porto is a city to be explored on foot so if you’re like me and enjoy walking around aimlessly, this is the place for you.

Best architecture

If you love admiring architecture from another time, then definitely choose Lisbon. There is no shortage of monuments to visit: the world’s most expensive chapel Igreja de São Roque, the magnificent Monastery of Jerónimos, the UNESCO-listed Torre de Belem and so much more. There’s surely something for everyone here.

Monastery of Jerónimos | Image credit: Kostas Limitsios

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Torre de Belem | Image credit: Paulo Valdivieso

Best river

Rio Douro and Ribeira | Image credit: Alain Rouiller

Lisbon has the Tagus and Porto has the Douro. However, unlike Lisbon’s river, Rio Douro plays an important role in the city’s life. Called the “River of Gold” in Portuguese, Rio Douro is flanked by pavement cafes and restaurants. You’ll also find yourself frequently travelling between the riverfront and the city centre, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the riverside.

Best Old Town

visit porto lisbon portugal

Muro das Bacalhoeiros | Image credit: Guillen Perez

I know that a lot of people rave about the Alfama district in Lisbon, but I much prefer the old charm of the Ribeira area in Porto: the buildings are old, narrow and not as colourful as those in Alfama, but I just love how it retains its edgy authenticity! I mean, there is a reason why the Ribeira Square was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Best people

Portuguese people are in general very warm and welcoming, but I felt particularly at home when I was in Porto. Whenever I took out my map and looked like I was lost, a friendly stranger would appear out of nowhere and help me out with a big smile. I’ve had a street performer who brought me back to my hostel, a restaurant owner who secretly left a glass of Porto wine on my table, and an old woman who took me by the hand and showed me the way to the flea market. Truly, I’ve met so many wonderful locals during my stay!

Best beaches

Lisbon seaside | Image credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes

Both cities are close to the Atlantic Ocean and are blessed with beautiful beaches that are just a few miles away. Porto’s beaches are slightly easier to reach; for instance, the resort of Foz sits just within the city limits, where Rio Douro meets the ocean. However, in general, Lisbon enjoys sunnier days and warmer temperatures than its northern sister so most surf travellers tend to go there.   

Best nightlife

Lisbon’s party scene is definitely much bigger than Porto’s – it is the capital city after all. I remember taking a stroll in my hostel’s district at 2am and seeing people everywhere on the streets, drinking and laughing away. Bar-packed neighbourhoods like Bairro Alto and riverside clubs like Luz and Urban Beach are the most popular hangout spots for night owls.

Best food

Francesinha | Image credit: Nelson Alexandre Rocha

Pasteis de nata | Image credit: Daniel

I’m telling you, Portuguese food is THE best comfort food: most restaurants are small and cosy, and every meal I had in Portugal made me feel like I was back home eating at my parents’ house. Porto is especially known for its unique gastronomy: you mustn’t miss the francesinha (Portuguese sandwich covered with melted cheese), bacalhau (salted cod) and pasteis de nata (custard tarts). They are absolutely delightful and not expensive at all!

visit porto lisbon portugal

Wine cellar in Porto | Image credit: Guillen Perez

As for beverages, Porto has a clear edge. Port, from the city name Porto, has been valued as one of the great wines for several centuries now. Port wine is made from grapes grown in the stunning Douro wine region (which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site by the way), and travellers are strongly recommended to visit the wine cellars where tours and tastings are offered. I’ve been to one myself and it was such a fun and unique experience. I got to try a variety of regular wines and a small sample of the vintage ones at an extra price. If you’re a wine lover, this will be totally worth your time!

Enjoy Lisbon, Porto, or both

I hope this has helped you in your decision making. Have a great time in Portugal!

About Author

Skye Hsiao
Skye Hsiao

From a small beautiful island called Taiwan, Skye is a 23 years old full-time travel addict and sucker for anything blue. She grew up in 4 different countries and have been to more than 30 so far, still chasing stories to tell when she’s old. Follow her steps on Instagram @ballerina12111

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