Porto is the surprise of western Europe. This hardworking and unassuming city seems to have stumbled into tourism without even realising its own potential. The variety of historic sights, personable atmosphere, along with a glass of sweet Port wine, creates a wonderful tourist destination.
Porto may be comparatively small and virtually unknown, but it can rival any of the more established tourist destinations. The unique appeal of Porto is that it is not swamped by tourists in the summer season, and is ideal for a summertime city break.
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.
Which city would I go to? Lisbon
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Porto
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Lisbon
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.
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 Lisbon – 48 hours in Lisbon
Porto is a compact city, and if rushed, all of the major tourist areas can be seen in a single day. Typically, we would recommend two days, which would include a short cruise along the Douro River and time for port tasting.
If you wished to extend your trip further, there are some great days out to the historic towns of Guimarães, Braga and Aveiro. During the summer (Jun-Sep) there are beautiful beaches along the Costa Verde coastline, and you could visit the resort towns of Espinho, Vila do Conde or Matosinhos.
Related articles: 2 days in Porto – 1 week in Porto
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.
Porto is one of the best European cities for a summer city break. While the rest of southern Europe swelters under the unbearable summer heat, Porto experiences pleasant weather and is not completely overrun by tourists.
Winters are mild and wet, and there is a high chance of rain from October through to May. The middle of June is the best time to visit the city when the Santos Populares festivals are being held.
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.
The characteristics of Porto traditionally appealed to the older visitor; it is very safe and there is a pleasant unhurried ambience, with a slightly conservative attitude. This mature opinion of Porto is often compounded by the most popular activities; Douro River cruises and Port tasting (which is great fun!).
This demographic of visitors to Porto is rapidly evolving, as younger travellers realise it is actually a progressive city, with a lot to see and do. Porto will appeal to those looking for somewhere slightly different, but who want a hassle-free trip with decent tourist facilities. Being one of the safest cities in Europe makes it ideal for solo/female travellers.
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.
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.
Considering the size of Porto there is a lot to see, and you can pack in a lot in a 48 hour visit.
Below is an interactive map of where we recommend to go in 48 hours in Porto; day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked in grey.
A tour of Porto typically starts in the Se district, with the gothic cathedral and ancient city walls. Next is the Baixa district, where you can find the Avenida dos Aliados, and enjoy the view from the top of the Clérigos Tower.
For the latter part of the day and evening visit the ancient Ribeira district, which lines the banks of the Douro River. For the evening, join one of the boat cruises along the river or to party head to the Vitória district.
The Avenida dos Aliados is the grand plaza of central Porto
On the morning of the second day, ride the traditional tram to the Foz district, which is positioned at the mouth of the Douro River and extends along a rocky coastline to the beach of Matosinhos.
In the afternoon, and the highlight of Porto, are the tours of the Port cellars and Port tasting. Lining the southern banks of the Douro River are eight of the major Port producers, each with their vast cellars and tasting tours. You’ll happily leave Porto a Port connoisseur and a little tipsy…
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.
Lisbon score 4/5 - Porto score 5/5
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.
Porto has somehow managed to slip under the radar of most travellers and tourists, and this is a good thing. Few people even consider Porto, and consequently is hardly a bucket list location.
Lisbon score 4/5 - Porto score 1/5
For Porto, the nightlife reflects that of the size of the city; Thursday, Friday and Saturday are lively and late-night, but early in the week is more tame. Porto’s nightlife is much more Portuguese focus and many venues are designed to accommodate the large student population. Porto is not really a destination to choose for extreme nightlife, but it is more about late dinners, socialising over a glass of Port.
Porto may be the second city of Portugal but still boasts a couple of interesting museums. The Museu Serralves is a contemporary art museum, with the art extending to the tranquil gardens. Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis exhibits Portuguese art of the 19th and 20th centuries and is housed in an elegant palace. The Museu da Misericórdia do Porto, has a wide selection of religious art.
Lisbon score 4/5 - Porto score 2/5
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.
Lisbon score 4/5
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.
Porto is one of the safest large cities in Europe. With its personable atmosphere and compact centre make it great for solo travellers. Porto may not attract the diversity and number of solo travellers as other destinations, but the safe setting makes it ideal as a trail for solo travel. Eating out along in a quiet restaurant, will often end up listening to tales and advice from the waiter or owner.
Lisbon score 5/5 Porto score 5/5