Lisbon or Porto, the southern capital city or it’s smaller neighbor to the north? If you have time, there is no “tiebreaker,” because both should be visited. This post is about comparing and contrasting, and if you unfortunately have to choose between the two, which to choose. The good news is you really cannot go wrong with either Lisbon or Porto!
Hi there, I’m Carolyn. I’m an American in my late 30s and I work in the medical field. I love adventures, traveling, being active, eating great food, and enjoying a killer cocktail or glass of wine. I’ve lived all over the US and was lucky enough to live in Ecuador and Chile in my 20s. I’ve traveled, hiked, and snowboarded all over South America, Europe, and of course, the US.
Lisbon is to Porto as LA is to San Francisco, both geographically and culturally. Its quite funny actually, how similar the feel of Portugal is to parts of California. Even my travel buddy who grew up in northern CA agreed. The smells of the ocean and eucalyptus trees evoke a feeling of being stateside but the people, architecture, history, and culture are uniquely Portuguese and I felt like I was discovering something special at each turn throughout our journey.
Lisbon is a tiled labyrinth of streets, stairways and secret alleyways that lead you to magnificent churches, vistas, and restaurants. The tiled colors of the city are vibrant and play wonderfully with the river as their backdrop. The cobbled streets climb higher and higher until the entire city pops into view. It is sure to bring out the romantic in anyone. There is plenty of good food and bevies to help take in your surroundings. I highly suggest anything that comes from the ocean. Seafood is a must.
PROS: Very walk-able, friendly people, trendy, gorgeous beaches
CONS: Lots of hills, more expensive, touristy, affected
Porto, the northern sister of Lisbon, is special in its own right. It has a more insular and cozy feel to it as the city is centered inward. There is a local pride to being a northerner and this love shines through in the local food and wine selections. Its streets, sidewalks and buildings are tile-clad as well, but the colors are more muted than its glitzier southern sister. It has a more traditional, academia vibe to it, but that’s not to say the nightlife is lacking.
PROS: less touristy, close to wine country (Douro Valley), cheaper, friendlier people with that small city vibe, authentic
CONS: smaller city, aesthetically less interesting, less tourism (less options across the board)
All in all, I loved both Lisbon and Porto and what they inherently brought to the table. I think both cities are a must, but if I HAD to choose it would have to be Lisbon. Its romantic streets and bright tiled buildings tugged at my heartstrings a bit more. Mostly because of similarities to another city far away (Valparaiso, Chile) that I hold dear to my heart. I do think Lisbon is a bit more vibrant than Porto and offers more options across the board. I still say, if it’s Lisbon or Porto, GO TO BOTH. And check out the Travel Honey itineraries for both Lisbon and Porto!
TIE BROKEN. NOW, WHERE TO STAY IN LISBON AND PORTO?
If you want to be in the heart of Lisbon near most bars and restaurants, stay in Barrio alto, Chiado or Baixa. If you want something quieter with good river views, try Alfama. Be warned, Lisbon is full of steep hills, so the farther you are from the river to the north and east, the longer your uphill walk will be (or take advantage of the trams or cheap Ubers!).
Hotel Barrio Alto ($$$$) Luxury boutique hotel in the center of Barrio Alto and a stunning terrace and rooftop bar.