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Lisbon or Porto; a city comparison and tourism travel guide

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 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.

High-level summary

Destination details

How long to spend in the city?

Lisbon is a varied city with many fascinating districts and sights, and we suggest three days to explore. This could be extended to five days, by including the excursions to the scenic town of Sintra and the pretty coastal town of Cascais. There are sufficient day trips and beaches within the Lisbon region to easily fill a one-week holiday in the Lisbon region.

Porto is a compact city, and if rushed, all of the major tourist areas could be seen in a single day of sightseeing. Typically, we would recommend two days, which could also include a short cruise along the Douro River and time for port tasting. If you wished to extend a stay by a further two days, there enjoyable day trips to the historic towns of Guimarães and Braga.

When to visit?

The season to visit Lisbon is in the Spring and Autumn. Lisbon is now very popular in the summer months, especially the day trip to Sintra and Belem district. Lisbon is starting to become a year-round destination, but be warned that the winter months can be overcast and wet. Our favourite time of year to visit Lisbon is the first two weeks of June, when there are street festivities called the Santos Populares.

Porto is one of the best European cities for a summer (and August) city break. While the rest of southern Europe swelters under the unbearable summer heat, Porto experiences pleasant weather and not completely overrun by tourists.

Winters are mild, but very wet, and there is a high chance of rain from October through to May. During the middle two weeks of June are the Santos Populares festivals and this is a great time to visit the city.

Is it for me?

Lisbon has a wide appeal; there are numerous cultural sights, great 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 can be visited and there are many enjoyable day trips to an extended trip. There is little to fault Lisbon and most visitors leave with fond memories of the city.

The characteristics of Porto traditional appealed to the older visitor; it is very safe and there is 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 visitor to Porto is rapidly evolving, as modern travellers realise it is actually a progressive city, with a lot to see and do. Porto will appeal to travellers looking for somewhere slightly different, but want a hassle free trip with decent tourist facilities. Being one of the safest cities in Europe makes it ideal for solo/female travellers.

The perfect 48hours

There’s a lot to squeeze in for 48 hours in Lisbon.
Below is an interactive map of this tour - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights and section in grey.

Most tours begin in the Baixa district with its grand avenues and magnificent plazas, such as the Praça do Comércio. In the later part of the day start to climb hills into the Alfama district, which is a maze of narrow streets leading 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 nightlife its Barrio Alto, with its funky bars and socialising 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 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.

Porto: Considering the size of Porto there is a lot to see, and will provide an enjoyable 48 hours.
Below is an interactive map of this tour - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights and section 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 is found the Avenida dos Aliados, and the view from 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.

porto Avenida dos Aliados

The Avenida dos Aliados is the grand plaza of central Porto

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.

The afternoon, and 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…

Tourism Practicalities

Lisbon score 4/5 - Porto score 5/5

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.

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

Nightlife?

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.

Museums and galleries?

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

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.
Lisbon score 4/5

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.

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

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