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Lisbon or Barcelona; a city comparison and tourism travel guide

Lisbon is a progressive and liberal city, which still retains its rich seafaring history and distinctive Portuguese heritage. The city effortlessly blends history, vibrant culture and exciting nightlife into one charismatic tourist destination.

Lisbon is a city of compact variety; you can get lost in the maze of narrow streets in the Alfama district, be wowed by the grandeur of the plazas in Baixa or join the hipsters and fashionistas in the Principe Real. Close to the city are glorious sandy beaches, and Lisbon boasts one of the finest climates in Europe. This is an amazing city, which you must visit.

About this guide: We understand that selecting a destination is challenging and sometimes overwhelming, especially when every web guide or travel book makes each city seems so incredible and memorable.

Choosing a destination is not just about the famed sights of the city, it is also the ambience of the city, the suitability of the weather and if it aligns with your passions and interests.

High-level summary

Summary
Which city would I go to? Lisbon
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Lisbon
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Both amazing for him, but Barcelona
Which for my food obsessed friend? Lisbon
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)

The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city. We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip.

Destination details

How long to spend in the city?

Lisbon is a varied and fascinating city, which takes three days to fully explore. Often, people like to visit Sintra as part of their stay, but at a minimum, we recommend you dedicate two days to Lisbon itself.

For a longer stay, there are many enjoyable day trips, all of which can be reached via the inexpensive public transport. These include, the palaces of Sintra, the beach resorts of Cascais and Sesimbra and the historic towns of Obidos and Evora. In the summer, a holiday to Lisbon can also include visiting the beautiful beaches along the Estoril or Costa Caparica coastlines.
Related articles: 3 days in Lisbon48 hours in Lisbon

Barcelona can be fully seen with two intense days of sightseeing, but if you include the beaches, the mountain viewpoints and a more leisurely pace, this leads to the conventional four-day visit.

A trip could be extended by visiting the picturesque Montserrat Monastery and mountains or the attractive coastal town of Sitges. Barcelona is much more suited for a short city break than a longer holiday, and does lack the diversity of day trips as with other destinations.

When to visit?

Barcelona is almost a year-round destination, and the best time of year to visit is either early spring or later autumn as this is outside of the peak season, but the weather is still pleasant.

The peak tourist season is July and August, and we suggest Barcelona is best avoided, as it is just too hectic and crowded. The weather is suitable for spending time on the beaches from May until October. The winter months are cooler and possibly wet but there is a less hectic pace around the city.

The recommended time to visit Lisbon is in the late spring and early autumn, when the city is sunny and warm, but without the summertime crowds. Lisbon is subject to the pressures of over-tourism at times, most notably being incredibly crowded during the summer months in the popular tourist areas, such as the Belem district and Sintra.

Due to the increased popularity of Lisbon, it is becoming a year-round destination, however, be warned that the winter months can be wet and chilly. Our favourite time of year to visit Lisbon is during the first two weeks of June, when the whole city celebrates the Santos Populares festivals with street parties and traditional dances.

Is it for me?

Lisbon has a wide appeal; there are cultural sights, a buzzing nightlife and a blossoming artisan scene. The city will appeal to young or old, either for a cultural trip or as a fun weekend away.

In the summer (May-Sep) the beaches make for a really good extension to your trip and are easily accessible from the city. There is little to fault Lisbon and most visitors leave with fond memories of the city.

Barcelona is flashy, energetic and modern. The city has vibrant tourist attractions and is without the stuffy atmosphere of many other historic destinations. It generally appeals more to the younger visitor with its heady mix of nightlife, beaches and Instagram ready tourist attractions.

It should be noted that Barcelona is not a cheap city, being the most expensive city in Spain. Barcelona great for a short stay or a one-day visit, such as from a cruise ship.

The perfect 48hours

There’s a lot to squeeze in for 48 hours in Lisbon.
Below is an interactive map for what we recommend doing in a 48 hour tripto the city; day 1is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights in grey.

Most tours begin in the Baixa district with its grand avenues and magnificent plazas, such as the Praça do Comércio and Rossio. In the later part of the day, start to climb the hills into the Alfama district which is a maze of medieval streets leading up to the castle. Take in one of the viewpoints close to the castle for a romantic sunset and then ride the quaint number 28 tram as it rattles through the city.
For dinner, head into the Baixa district and then for a night out, head to Barrio Alto, with its funky bars and social scene which fills the streets.

Torre de Belem lisbon

The Torre de Belem once guarded the Tejo Estuary and Lisbon

For the second day, head to the scenic Belem district, which contains the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, and Torre de Belem, along with views across the Tejo Estuary.
For the second part of the day discover the stylish Príncipe Real and Avenida da Liberdade districts or visit the ultra-modern side of Lisbon, the Parque das Nações.

Barcelona
Barcelona is a tremendous destination for a 48-hours, and excels as a short-stay destination. Below is an interactive map for 48 hours in Barcelona; day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked grey.

The first morning would start on the La Rambla the authentic shopping street, which is so popular with tourists and locals alike. For the middle of the day explore the Gothic Quarter, which contains the cathedral and Picasso museum.
For the final part of the head towards the harbour and the lively Barceloneta district, that lies the beaches. For the evening both Gothic Quarter or Barceloneta boasts restaurants, atmosphere and entertainment.

Barcelona cable car

The cable car up to Montjuïc Castle provides wonderful views over Barcelona

For the second day begin by visiting the awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia basilica, with is whimsical towers, intricate carvings and masterpiece of Antoni Gaudí. The theme of Gaudí continues with the next sight, the Parc Guell, which was designed by him and includes delightful mosaic-covered buildings and wonderful views of the city.

The final area to discover is Montjuï, where you can ride the cable car to a stunning or visit the MNAC museum housed in the grand Palau Nacional.
The finale for your time in Barcelona is the inspiring Magic Fountain light show, held at the fountain near the MNAC museum (Wed-Sun peak season).

Tourism Practicalities

When exploring the city, all of the main tourist areas are centrally located and can be reached on foot,he only exception is the Belem district, to the west. There are a lot of steep hills in Lisbon, and sightseeing can be very draining in the intense summer sun.

The wow you’re going to…… factor

Lisbon is cool and fashionable, and has suddenly exploded on to the travel industry/market. If your friends have recently been, they will be raving about, but if you’re the first to visit, you’ll soon be passionately encouraging them to go in the future.

Everyone knows of Barcelona and its iconic monument, the La Sagrada, is instantly recognisable, along with its football team. Your friends and family will be impressed that you’re heading there, but by an age, everyone has been to Barcelona so it’s hardly unique.
Lisbon score 4/5 - Barcelona score 4/5

Nightlife?

The nightlife of Lisbon is exciting, vibrant and with a pleasant mix of locals and foreigners. Lisbon specialises in stylish, intimate bars, which are found throughout the Alfama and Bairro Alto districts. At the weekend the revellers of Bairro Alto spill out on the streets, where at 2am everyone heads downhill to the nightclubs of Cais de Sodre and Pink Street, a recently transformed red light district. Lisbon nightlife has much more of a focus on socialising than drinking excessively, as the Portuguese tend not to be big drinkers but love to chat!

Barcelona nightlife is buzzing, lively and the whole city parties during the summer season. Being an international and tourist heavy city expect many of the most popular venues to be crammed with foreigners and tourists instead of locals. The nightlife of certain areas can be a touch tacky and excessive, that said it’s always fun! For funky bars head to the El Born district or alley of the Gothic Quarter. Barcelona is full of big night memories, but expect a significant chunk of your budget to blown, as it’s not a cheap city.
Lisbon score 4/5 - Barcelona score 4/5

Museums and galleries?

The standout museum of Lisbon is the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, with its vast, private collection of art and antiquaries. The Portuguese national gallery and museum is the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, and has an equally varied collection. Both museums are outstanding and are rarely busy, with peaceful ambience for enjoying the art and exhibits Lisbon also has some fascinating niche museums, such as the National Tile Museum (specialising is painted Azulejo tiles) and the Museu Nacional dos Coches, with the world’s largest collection of horse-drawn carriages.
Lisbon score 4/5 - Barcelona score 3/5

Foodie trip, regional cuisines and eating out

The culinary experience of Lisbon is rapidly evolving and improving, gone are the days when a meal had to include bread, white rice and chips. Bacalhau (salted cold fish) is always a favourite of Lisbon, with its many different ways to serve; from Bacalhau Assado (lightly roasted) to the delicious Bacalhau à bras (potato crisps, scrambled eggs and Bacalhau). Lisbon is also famed for its café culture savouries, cakes and sweet pastries. Dinning in Lisbon is a mixed affair, there can be unexplained long waits or elusive serving staff, while other locations have attentive and enthusiastic staff. The evening meal is never rushed.
Barcelona score 3.5/5 - Lisbon score 4/5

For a budget traveller?

Barcelona is not an easy destination for a budget traveller, especially during the summer when hostels and inexpensive accommodation sells far in advance. If you are a savvy traveller it is possible to eek a decent stay in Barcelona, but lots of walking, eating at locals’ restaurants and limited nights out.
Barcelona 2/5

Solo travel

Lisbon always attracts a lot of solo travellers, as it is a comparatively safe destination with a lot of sights and activities. There is a large freelance and digital nomad working community, who will be seen frequently working in the cafes and bars. As there are so many transient workers and solo travellers, it is common and the norm to see people eating alone. The nightlife is very social, and the city is generally safe.

Barcelona is a worldly and forward-thinking city, which is a great destination if you are planning solo travel. The city attracts a diversity of nationalities and ages, and is well set up for soling. The city is safe for female solo travellers, but as with everywhere, common sense should be used. The only concern is the persistent nuisance of pickpockets and snatch thieves.
Lisbon score 5/5 - Barcelona score 4/5

Family and children

Barcelona is a great destination for children and a family trip. Hotels and restaurants will be very supportive of families, and there is a lot to see and do in the city, along with the beaches. The L'Aquàrium, with its 80m-long underwater tunnel, is an outstanding attraction, while children will love the Parc Guell and the Montjuïc cable car.
Score 4/5

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