Planning a trip to Portugal and debating Lisbon vs. Porto? Luckily, I've visited both cities multiple times. I'll take you through what each destination has to offer and which will be best for your trip!
Lisbon is often the first city tourists flock to when visiting Portugal. Understandably so considering it's the capital, is easy to get to with non-stop flights from around the world, offers several worthwhile day trips, and has some of the most popular sights and attractions in Portugal.
While Porto was once overlooked, it's gained momentum in recent years. Porto is the entrance to the stunning Douro Valley wine region, is home to a famous bookshop Harry Potter fans will swoon over, offers an excellent hotel and restaurant scene, and boasts breathtaking views.
Since you're researching Lisbon vs. Porto, I'll assume you either don't have time to visit both cities or are trying to decide which place warrants more of your precious vacation days. I get it! I was in the same position on my first trip to Portugal.
Sadly, there wasn't much information comparing the two cities at the time and I left wishing I had flip flopped where I focused my time. I don't want you to make the same mistake.
This post is meant to give an honest take on both Porto and Lisbon. I'll discuss which is best depending on what type of traveler you are and what kind of trip you're looking for. If you find yourself Googling Porto vs. Lisbon…continue reading below so I can help steer you in the right direction.
Why decide between Porto or Lisbon if you can do both?
Before I go into my opinion on Porto vs. Lisbon, let's first discuss trying to do both. It's absolutely possible (and easy) to do both cities, even on the shortest of itineraries. Each place has something unique to offer and a different vibe. To get a well-rounded experience of Portugal, it makes sense to try to visit both places.
Ideally, I'd recommend three or four nights in Lisbon (in order to do a day trip to Sintra) and two nights in Porto. On the shortest itinerary I would plan on two nights in each city. Fly into one city and out of the other.
It takes three hours to travel between Lisbon and Porto via car or train.
You could technically do Porto as a day trip from Lisbon. This is what Jake and I did our first trip to Portugal. Since we had heard very little about Porto, we hadn't included it on our original itinerary.
After 3 days in Lisbon, we were ready for a change in scenery and decided to visit Porto for the day. While it was a lot of time on the train, we both felt it was worth it.
After a few hours exploring the city, we both left preferring Porto to Lisbon and 100% certain that we would focus more of our time in Porto than Lisbon the next time we visited Portugal.
The short and sweet answer to Porto vs. Lisbon
Since you’re reading this post on Lisbon vs. Porto, I'll assume you are either short on time or would like to explore one city to the fullest. Therefore, fitting both destinations into your itinerary is not an option.
If you want the quick answer on Porto or Lisbon, I would say Porto should be your first pick. Yes, Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, and more well-known, but Porto packs a lot into a small city.
It's 100% walkable, is the entrance to the stunning Douro Valley wine region, has better restaurants and hotels (in my opinion), feels safer, and offers a lot more old-world charm.
I'm not the only one who thinks this. I recently did an Instagram poll on Porto or Lisbon and 73% chose Porto. Lisbon is cool but Porto is more unique and memorable.
Lisbon vs. Porto - who should pick Porto
Porto is a top pick for travelers who appreciate a walkable city, lovers of Port wine, those hoping to explore the Douro Valley, and Harry Potter fans.
When asked if I prefer Porto or Lisbon, my answer is whole heartedly Porto. My first trip to Portugal I allotted 5 nights for Lisbon. I didn’t know anyone who had been to Porto and there wasn’t much information or opinions on the city.
After several nights in Lisbon, Jake and I both decided we had seen enough of Lisbon and ended up doing a last-minute day trip to Porto. Which, under normal circumstances, I don’t recommend since it’s a minimum of 3 hours each way.
After our quick day trip, we both felt we made a huge mistake by focusing our time on Lisbon and agreed that we liked Porto better. I wasn’t 100% convinced Porto was actually my favorite because I don’t like to make final opinions on a city until I’ve visited twice.
Our second trip to Porto confirmed that Porto fits our travel style more so than Lisbon. It's safe to say I would be fine skipping Lisbon on future Portugal trips, but would want to revisit Porto.
Porto is 100% walkable and packs a lot into a small footprint
Porto is smaller than Lisbon and 100% walkable…though…get ready for some hills and steps. If you appreciate smaller cities that aren't overwhelming, you'll love Porto.
Porto offers incredible views paired with old world charm
The views are spectacular in Porto. The city is split into two sections by the Douro river. The buildings seem to shoot straight up from the river, lending for some unique backdrops.
Porto actually reminds me a lot of Edinburgh and has a similar layout with the city rising steeply from a valley (river in Porto’s case), buildings squeezed next to each other, lots and lots of steps, and the feel of being in a very very old city.
Unlike Lisbon, Porto was not destroyed by the 1755 earthquake and therefore maintains many of its historic buildings and original layout.
LUXURY HOTELS AT A GREAT PRICE AND AMAZING FOOD
Porto seems to have a bit more luxury than Lisbon. Porto has some incredible luxury hotels...and the prices aren't bad. Maison Albar Le Monumental, a 5-star hotel that exceeded all expectations, was $320 a night. Though, it now runs around $390 on Booking.com. To give some perspective, this hotel would easily go for $1,000 a night in the US.
My personal opinion is that the dining scene is better in Porto vs. Lisbon. Possibly because this is the wine region. Cities focused on wine always seem to appreciate good food. From Michelin star multi-course experiences to Portuguese sandwich stalls, there’s something to fit every preference and budget.
In general, your dollar with get you a better experience in Porto vs. Lisbon. When compared to Lisbon, I found that for the same price you’ll find both higher quality hotels and restaurants in Porto.
Lisbon used to be more affordable, but the last few years I’ve found it difficult to find a decent hotel in an ideal location at a good rate. Lisbon is NOT the ultra-cheap destination it used be.
Harry Potter fans will love Porto
Porto also wins the Porto or Lisbon debate for Harry Potter fans. JK Rowling spent two years in Porto. She frequently visited the bookstore, Livraria Lello, and says it served as inspiration for the Hogwarts library.
Though the bookstore is now crowded with tourists, it’s magical to visit.
Porto feels extremely safe
When discussing safety, Porto easily wins when comparing Lisbon vs. Porto. Lisbon is known for its party scene and nightlife. There were many times Jake and I would be walking home at night and I had to make a mental note to avoid that area when on my own.
Sidewalks and streets would be overflowing with massive groups of people out for a night of drinking. I would have felt uneasy walking these streets if I was traveling solo.
Another odd thing about Lisbon is how often you’re asked if you want to buy drugs on the street. I can’t tell you how many times we were approached while walking around the city.
I was later told by a local that these are gypsies selling bags of flour with crushed Tylenol or questionable medications. Not only was this an annoyance, it made me feel uneasy.
Porto makes for a wonderful romantic getaway
Lastly, Porto wins the Porto or Lisbon discussion for a romantic getaway. The old-time feel of the city, excellent dining scene, choice of luxury hotels, wine and port tasting rooms and terraces, and incredible viewpoints, make Porto an ideal choice for a memorable trip with your plus one.
And did I mention you’re at the doorstep of the Douro Valley…one of the most breathtaking places I have ever experienced?!
Port, wine, and the Douro Valley
I can't talk about Porto and not mention Port! Port drinkers and wine enthusiasts will appreciate the Port lodges and tasting rooms. Many have adorable patios and terraces offering memorable views. Visit big labels like Taylor's and Graham's or discover a new/lessor-known favorite!
If you're in Porto, a visit to the Douro Valley is a must. This region blew my mind. To this day it's one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. You could easily rent a car and spend the day in the Douro Valley or join a tour.
It takes about two hours to reach the heart of the Valley. This may seem long, but the drive is stunning and part of the fun.
Better yet, stay one or two nights at a wine estate, or Quinta. We stayed at Ventozelo Hotel and Quinta and couldn't recommend it more. The food was fantastic, it was afterall voted one of the best gastro hotels in the world by National Geographic Traveler. I will never forget our breakfast on the terrace overlooking the valley...truly breathtaking.
A Quick Summary of who Should Choose Porto
As a summary, Harry Potter fans, couples looking for a romantic getaway, solo travelers focused on safety, port and wine enthusiasts, and visitors who value walkability, scenery/views, and smaller cities packed with character will prefer Porto.
Book your Porto tours:
Lisbon vs. Porto - who should pick Lisbon
Lisbon is a top pick for urbanites who appreciate a vibrant city and a realistic experience (i.e. not everything is shiny, sparkling, and new). Lisbon has several day trip options nearby, a lively nightlife scene, and neighborhoods with varying and distinct personalities.
Lisbon is easy to get to and base yourself
Lisbon is easy to get to with non-stop flights from around the world including Europe and the United States.
There is plenty to keep a first time visitor busy for four or more days with several worth while day trips. If you're extremely short on time and want to base yourself in one city and have a high likelihood of flying non-stop, Lisbon will be your best bet.
Lisbon has more tourist attractions, sights, and museums
Lisbon offers some of the most popular tourist attractions, museums, and sights in Portugal. While Porto has some worthwhile cathedrals and sights (like the Harry Potteresque bookstore), Porto is more about enjoying the city, strolling the streets, taking in views, and tasting Port wine at the Port lodges.
Lisbon wins the Lisbon vs. Porto debate If you like to cram your itinerary with museums, historic buildings, cathedrals, and castles.
A few popular options are Sao Jorge Castle, Gulbenkian Museum, TimeOut Lisboa food market, Lisbon Cathedral, Museum of Ancient Art, and Jerónimos Monastery (my personal favorite).
A VARIETY OF NEIGHBORHOODS
Lisbon day trips
Lisbon also offers a number of worthwhile day trips. Sintra is home to one of my favorite and most colorful castles in Europe, Pena Palace! The retreat and summer home of the royals and Portugal's wealthiest residents. It’s an easy day trip from Lisbon being a quick 40 minute train ride from Rossio station.
Cascais is a great day trip from Lisbon when the weather is nice. This resort town boasts beautiful ocean views and sandy beaches. It's a popular vacation for Lisbon residents during the summer months. Cascais is a quick 30 minute train from the Cais do Sodre station in Lisbon.
Those looking to escape the crowds will enjoy a day trip to Evora. A university town complete with a Roman aqueduct and bone chapel. This is a bit more out of the way at 1.5 hours each way by train or bus from Lisbon. It's a charming town and enjoyable to wander.
LISBON IS KNOWN FOR IT'S NIGHTLIFE
If you're looking for a party and a good nightlife scene, Lisbon should be your top pick when deciding between Lisbon or Porto. In fact, Lisbon has gained a reputation for being one of the best party capitals in the world.
Barrio Alto is THE neighborhood for bar hopping with over 100 bars packed into a tiny area. You'll find the streets overflowing till the early morning hours.
Whether you're looking for an evening of nursing drinks and people watching or all out clubbing till dawn...Lisbon has you covered.
Lisbon gives a look into Europe before the tourist dollars came in
A QUICK SUMMARY OF WHO SHOULD CHOOSE LISBON
Lisbon is easy to get to with plenty of non-stop flights, offers some of the most popular tourist attractions and museums, can keep a tourist busy for a minimum of four days with it's day trip options and neighborhoods to explore, is known for it's party scene, and has a healthy dose of gritty reality.
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Summary of Porto or Lisbon
If you value a walkable city, enjoy Port and wine tastings, and are looking for a romantic getaway, Porto is your best pick. Porto offers a good number of luxury hotels at a great price and incredible food (both fancy and casual). Harry Potter fans will love visiting Livraria Lello. Porto is also your entry point to the Douro Valley.
Choose Lisbon if you're looking to party, appreciate the urban hustle of a large city, enjoy visiting museums, cathedrals, castles and other typical tourist attractions, and like to explore neighborhoods with varying personalities. Lisbon is also a great place to base yourself for four or more days with a number or incredible day trips.