June 19, 2024

Which one will you pick – Porto or Lisbon?

You have made the decision to go to Portugal. Great job!  Now, where do you land and focus your time? I’m going to base this article on the fact that you will focus on one or the other. You get to pick.  It might be harder to pick than you think! Both cities are a paradise for photos. The decadent buildings and artsy tiles are perfect for a stylish photo shoot. However, each one has its own magical corners. Which one is better? Porto or Lisbon?

I’ve been to both and at the end I will tell you which I prefer.  

Porto or Lisbon: which one is better?

If you have never been to Portugal, you have probably heard of the city of Lisbon talked about the most.  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, Porto, because it has a greater number of monuments. However, Porto has major charm and even though it has fewer sites, every year it becomes more beautiful to attract visitors.

PORTO, PORTUGAL

Porto is in the north of the country at the mouth of the Douro River in the Atlantic Ocean. The two locations share a 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. Since it is by the sea, its winters are not very cold but there is a bit of rain. 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.

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 the richest merchants built elegant buildings to demonstrate their power. You’ll see Gothic palaces and tiled facades in both destinations.

Porto provides a slightly different look and feel than Lisbon. I tends to be a more modern destination. 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.

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What to see in Porto

Porto is known for contemporary architecture. You should 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.

The cities have been rivals for ages. Each of them has their own special things to see and do. Porto showcases the most famous attractions. 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 at the top of which is Porto’s best panoramic viewpoint.

The Pelourinho (an old pillory in front of the Cathedral) and the Igreja de Santa Clara (Largo Primeiro de Dezembro).

Great Pictures

  • Livraria Lello, the most beautiful bookstore in the world. It has been 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.

Near Porto’s riverside promenade you will find the main attractions such as the wineries of Vila Nova de Gaia. In this area you will find many have a glass of Porto at 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.

The Food in Porto

Porto dishes are usually more hearty compared to those from the south.

  • Francesinha, a sandwich that will not leave you hungry. The two slices 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. 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. I encourage you to try it.
  • Bifana, a roll stuffed with marinated pork 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, PORTUGAL

There is no need to sing Lisbon’s praises, the city of Camões has a unique charm and a rich history that comes with being a capital city. 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.

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. There is no shortage of the Manueline (100% Portuguese style) in Lisbon.

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 relevant mark on Porto.

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.

Great Pictures

  • 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.
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The Food in Lisbon

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, you need to try the soups – Caldeirada de bacalhau and Caldo Verde.

The city of Camões is a destination prized for its food. The best known are the pastéis de nata but the gastronomic offer is much wider. If you are a foodie and have decided to travel to the Portuguese capital. 

  • 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.

Getting Around

Lisbon is more extensive in transportation compared to Porto. Although its size is much smaller than other European capitals, it is quite difficult to get around without taking the subway 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 also go on an electric bike tour or a tuk tuk tour. These tours leave from a central location and touch the most interesting points of the capital.

Porto is even smaller and if you have a weekend, you can easily walk around it. However, if its steep slopes put you off, take a tour, but tour, segway tour and even a reiver cruise. The cheapest option is the tourist bus.

Transportation in Lisbon

Lisbon offers a more extensive transportation network compared to Porto. Despite its smaller size as a European capital, it can be challenging to get around solely on foot without using public transportation like the subway or streetcars (known as trams). If you stick to the old town neighborhoods, you can visit many monuments, but if you prefer to minimize walking, there are other options like electric bike tours or tuk-tuk tours. These tours typically start from a central location and cover the most interesting points of the city.

Transportation in Porto

Porto is even smaller than Lisbon, and if you have a weekend to explore the city, walking is a convenient option. However, the city’s steep slopes might deter some visitors. In that case, there are various tour options available, such as guided walking tours, segway tours, and even river cruises. Another option is the tourist bus, which offers a convenient way to see the city.

Scenic Spots and Photography Opportunities in Lisbon

If you’re looking to capture beautiful pictures, Lisbon has the upper hand. While Porto also boasts stunning views and monuments, Lisbon offers a greater number of scenic spots and traditional neighborhoods that are a paradise for any photographer.

A Quiet Visit in Porto

If you prefer a more peaceful and tranquil experience, Porto might be the better choice. Although it’s becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination, it still sees fewer visitors compared to Lisbon. Especially if you venture a bit further away from the bustling Ribeira area, you’ll find a quieter atmosphere in Porto.

Time Constraints and Sightseeing

If you have limited time for your visit, Porto might be the more manageable option. The city’s smaller size allows you to explore it easily on foot. On the other hand, Lisbon is more extensive, and to thoroughly explore its many attractions, you may need to rely on public transportation like buses or streetcars.

Budget Considerations

Both Lisbon and Porto are generally affordable destinations. Prices for various services and amenities are lower compared to other European countries. So, whether you choose Lisbon or Porto, you can enjoy your visit without significant budget concerns.

Nightlife and Entertainment in Lisbon

If you’re looking for a vibrant nightlife and a variety of entertainment options, Lisbon has more to offer due to its larger size. The Bairro Alto district is particularly popular among young people, while the Docas area, situated under the iconic 25th of April Bridge, is known for its more upscale and select venues.

Interest in Historical Buildings

If you are interested in exploring historical buildings, Lisbon has an advantage. Even the devastating 1755 earthquake couldn’t erase its rich history, and the city still boasts an impressive array of historic architecture and landmarks.

Interest in Modern Architecture

If modern architecture piques your interest, Porto is the city to visit. It is the birthplace of two internationally renowned architects, Álvaro Siza Vieira and Eduardo Souto Moura, and you can find some outstanding contemporary designs in the northern city.

Exploring Nearby Towns

Both Lisbon and Porto offer convenient opportunities to explore nearby towns. From Lisbon, you can visit charming places like Cascais, Sintra, and Évora. In Porto, you have easy access to towns like Braga, Guimarães, and Aveiro, often referred to as the “Portuguese Venice” due to its picturesque canals.

Conclusion

Portugal is a highly sought-after tourist destination. And you will find that many Americans and Britons are flocking to this lovely country to live. The people are wonderful and you will feel welcomed straight away. The architecture, gastronomy and affordable prices attract thousands of travelers to the country. Lisbon also 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. Either one you pick you will have a wonderful time in Portugal!

My favorite is Porto!  I like a little less of everything, so it was a perfect fit for me.  I have been to both and found both offer a wonderful experience so which ever you choose you will have a nice holiday.

Safe Travels!

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