Porto or Lisbon – Which one is better
Portugal has two major cities, but which one works best to visit or even live there?
It’s really hard to say if you should stay in Porto or Lisbon because it really depends on the type of trip you plan to take or life you want to have.
There are certain elements of each city that make one stand out over the other right away. For sure, both have the own unique appeal.
I have created this comprehensive comparison of Porto vs Lisbon to help you decide which of these two popular cities is best for you.
My preference? Probably Porto for a weekend and Lisbon for a long stay. But there is more to be added.
It is time to get deeper
Table of Contents
- 1 Porto or Lisbon to visit
- 2 Porto or Lisbon beaches
- 3 Lisbon or Port in winter
- 4 Porto or Lisbon to live
- 5 Lisbon vs Porto for expats
- 6 Porto vs Lisbon nightlife
- 7 Where to stay in Porto or Lisbon
- 8 Is Lisbon or Porto cheaper
- 9 Is it better to fly into Porto or Lisbon
- 10 Conclusion on the battle Lisbon vs Porto
Porto or Lisbon to visit
Porto is the winner for a brief stay, meanwhile Lisbon is probably better for a long stay.
It all comes down to the size of the two cities. Porto is a smaller city.
Lisbon is roughly twice as big as Porto, actually 2.5 times to be precise, with roughly the same relationship in population too.
Lisbon has more neighborhoods to get around, with the own character and style.
Porto has more of a town feeling, with most of the attractions and experiences to have within walking distance
If you are planning a city break for just a weekend, then Porto is the place to go.
You can easily visit the main destinations as Baixa, the city centre with historic buildings, the Ribeira district (he picturesque riverfront neighborhood now UNESCO World Heritage Site), Cedofeita (the art district) or Vila Nova de Gaia, for the spectacular views.
You can easily reach every single area with a 10-20 minutes walk.
Although with plenty of hilly streets, Porto is not as bad as Lisbon, a city based on 7 steep hills (yes, lots of hikes there), and it won’t exhaust you as much.
On the flip side of the coin, Porto may become too small if you plan a long stay there, and this is where Lisbon is the winner.
Lisbon, located on the Tagus River, has so many attractions to experience. You can literally spend a week by visiting the neighborhoods in the central area and other destinations as the beautiful Belem.
The public transportation is also better in Lisbon, with a much wider network and you will find always a Metro station close to your hotel if you stay in the central area.
Moreover, you will have also plenty of popular day trips possibility, with easy access, for example, to a few amazing beaches as the beautiful Carcavelos Beach, which is taking me to the next point.
Porto or Lisbon beaches
Lisbon is the winner here, but it’s only my personal position, and it’s very questionable too, I know.
You need to take here everything into consideration. Then you choose what interests you the most.
But before getting into it, if you are uniquely after the beaches, then you may want to consider travelling elsewhere, as, for example, the area of Algarve, with its amazing coastline.
The city beaches are lovely but they can be very busy on summer days, besides the traffic to get there, of course.
Porto is better positioned because the city center is very close to the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, one of the day trips I suggest is to bike there (around 12km).
Lisbon has better weather and warmer water. This is, of course, on average.
That means that the summer is very long in Lisbon and you will be very likely to have sunny, warm days.
Moreover, the water is a few degrees warmer, a better option for learning or practising surfing.
You will need at least an hour, though, to reach the beach from the city centre by public transportation.
You can also ride your bike there, but it is going to be a long one (probably around 50km return)
Carcavelos, Caparica, Portinho da Arrábida, Azenhas do Mar and Cascais are all good options for Lisbon
Leca, Espinho and Mindelo are all close to Porto
Lisbon or Port in winter
Lisbon is the winner here again.
Lisbon has a better weather in general, more so in winter.
Interesting enough, I have been always very lucky with Porto and I had mostly sunny days, but my last weekend experience was a bit of an eye opener.
I went to the biggest wine festival in Porto and most of the producers were highlighting the vast differences in temperature between the two cities and areas of Portugal.
Everyone was mentioning how foggy and rainy can be Porto, more influenced by the northerly wind.
The rain can give that romantic and nostalgic touch to the city, of course, especially if you have a glass of port wine in your hand.
Keep in mind, however, that in Porto it can rain continuously for a few days or even a week.
Moreover, those white tails/cobblestones used for the pavement are a killer as they become so slippery.
In fact, even in summer, they are slippery with the flip-flops.
Generally speaking, Lisbon has a shorter winter with a more temperate climate.
For both cities, the best time to visit is spring when the weather is becoming warm and you will not find so many tourists.
Porto or Lisbon to live
This is a close call for either Port or Lisbon to win.
Porto has more of a town feeling. It is more of a boutique city with all you need within walking distance.
There are areas like Bonfim, which have still a great local character and they are minutes from everything in the popular city.
There are some lovely day trips that you can take to explore the less visited north of Portugal of which the Douro Valley should be on top of your list.
You will also find some of the best wine cellars in Europe for some wine tasting, thanks to its weather that somehow resembles the Bordeaux area of France.
Who can say no to a lovely glass of port wine?
Beaches are also an easy ride trip from the city and the summer is not going to be boiling hot, with a nice sea breeze coming through the Douro river, where you can see the traditional Rabelo Boat.
On the flip side of the coin, Porto weather in winter may feel too cold, but that totally depends on your expectations and where you come from.
Lisbon is more of a real city, one of the European capitals, with the problems that come with that.
There is more traffic, it is more chaotic, but you will also have more neighborhoods to experience, more things to do, more places to see.
You will have a much wider choice of restaurants and bars, for any age and budget.
Not to mention the higher number of museums and art galleries.
True, in Porto, the art galleries are mostly concentrated in Cedofeita, the art district, so easy to explore them with a lovely walk in one of my favourite neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, the art scene in Lisbon is more scattered around the city, making a visit to the galleries a more disperse experience.
The weather in winter is much more temperate in Lisbon, making it the ideal city to be based.
In summer, however, you may experience some hot days there and the air condition is a must in any house.
I am personally more of a city person, and I do prefer Lisbon, but I am sure you get my point. It is a tough call.
Lisbon vs Porto for expats
Lisbon is the winner here
The expats community is much bigger in Lisbon, but that comes as no surprise considering the size of the city, of course.
One of the best sources for connections is Facebook and its groups. Nowadays, this is the go-to place to connect and get introduced to the new city, if you are moving there.
The Lisbon FB groups also tend to be more active, organise more events for any age too, not just for young blokes.
I have listed below the more popular groups to start following if you are already an expat there or thinking of moving there.
- Expats in Lisbon: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ExpatsClubLisbon/
- Lisbon Digital Nomads & Expats: https://www.facebook.com/groups/532696873566509/
- Another Expats group in Lisbon: https://www.facebook.com/groups/649214002237096/
- Brit Expats in Lisbon: https://www.facebook.com/groups/941785005955634/
- International Friends Lisbon: https://www.facebook.com/groups/internationalfriends.lisbon/
- Lisbon Expat Rooms, Flats & Roommates: https://www.facebook.com/groups/LisbonRoomies/
- Expat in the City Porto: https://www.facebook.com/groups/419355579191599/
- Porto Expats: https://www.facebook.com/groups/990684787655207/
- Porto Internationals: https://www.facebook.com/portointernationalmeetings/
Porto vs Lisbon nightlife
Lisbon is the winner here, if nothing else for its wide choice.
In saying that I find Porto more sociable, more likely that once out I will be meeting new people, I will be chatting around, I will have a long funny night.
And that probably comes with the town feeling of Porto, where everyone is interested to meet and get introduced to new people.
Of course, it may be just my personal experience, but Lisbon tends to have more of a city coolish feeling.
Lisbon has plenty of areas to have fun, and having a young blokes’ noisy party is more of an acceptable situation, especially in the Cais do Sodré.
This is certainly an area that you did not want to get mixed up with till a few years ago, with problems of drugs and prostitution.
But it is now all changed, and this is possibly one of the best place to be for the young crowd in Portugal, certainly not a place to book your accommodation if you want to have a quiet night.
For a more sophisticated drink, head instead to Bairro Alto, less noisy, where you can find also a few terraces, usually run by hotels for a cool cocktail, ideal in those warm summer nights.
In Porto, stay in Baixa district, the heart of the city, for the best nightlife, mostly concentrated along a few narrow streets like Rua de Cândido dos Reis and Rua da Galeria de Paris, which has extended now to Rua de José Falcão and Rua Das Oliveiras.
For the young crowd, head instead to the Jardim de João Chagas (Coreto da Cordoaria side) where you will meet mostly university students.
Beer goes at 1euro/plastic glass, which works great for travellers on a budget.
Where to stay in Porto or Lisbon
I will speak more about cost of accommodation in both cities in the next chapter.
My most important tip is to avoid the nightlife areas (listed before) if you want to have a quite night sleeping.
Keep in mind that, especially in summer, a lot of people tend to eat, drink and eventually party in the street.
I wrote a full guide about the best areas and places to stay in Porto and the top neighborhoods of Lisbon, where I also listed some of the best value hotels as well as some outstanding and picturesque options.
If you are running out of time, have a check to below options.
- Baixa (the old quarter, the historic centre, my favourite area): Mercado dos Poetas ($$), amazing value for money in a quiet part of the city, PortoBay Teatro ($$$), a boutique 4-star hotel and 7 Bridges Estúdios ($), the deal in the city centre with free wifi
- Ribeira (the most romantic and picturesque area): Pestana Vintage Porto Hotel ($$$$), one of the most lux hotel in Porto with amazing views to die for, Go2oporto ($$$) with a balcony on the Douro River
- Best view – Gaia: Vincci Ponte de Ferro, truly unbeatable, a unique experience
- Chiado (my favourite area): Lisboa Carmo Hotel ($$$$), the best for a lux stay, and The Lift Boutique Hotel ($$$), for a great boutique experience
- Principe Real (trendy quiet area): Casa do Jasmim by Shiadu ($$$), lovely hotel with fantastic breakfast, and Casa de Sao Mamede Hotel ($$), one of the best value places in Lisbon
Is Lisbon or Porto cheaper
Porto is probably the winner here, although the difference is minimal.
You need to compare apples with apples, and that’s why it is difficult to answer to such a question.
Let’s talk about Porto itself, for example, the food price you find in Baixa, the city centre, is probably 20% to 30% more expensive than in the nearby Bonfim where you hardly meet any tourist, even less in the Campanha area.
In saying that, if you compare Baixa Porto with Baixa Lisbon, then Porto is probably around 10% cheaper on average.
And that’s not only for food and drinks but also for accommodations.
In fact, in my opinion, you can find better value hotels and apartments in the city of Porto.
Is it better to fly into Porto or Lisbon
Lisbon has usually more choice, more competition and therefore cheaper tickets.
It must be said that it also depends on the airport you are flying from.
On my last trip, for example, I flew from Munich where there is no competition for direct flights and similar prices to both main cities.
From London, and from any city in western Europe with low-cost airlines, the situation is different as you will find cheaper flights to both international airports.
If you are flying from outside Europe, for example the United States, you will be very likely to have only Lisbon as an option.
The capital city is very well connected to the city of Porto.
There are multi daily departures with the high-speed Alfa Pendular trains, or by bus, at an inexpensive cost too if you travel with FlixBus.
You can also think of organising a road trip between the two cities and stop in 2 or 3 destinations along the way.
Flying between the two cities is also an option, but it takes roughly the same time (including a trip to the airport, check-in, etc) and it costs more, not to talk about the pollution level.
Both the Porto and the Lisbon airport are well connected to the city by public transportation.
A little tip here. In Porto try to make it to the Sao Bento Train Station, one of the most beautiful in Europe.
Conclusion on the battle Lisbon vs Porto
As you read through the post, I believe you started noticing how difficult is to choose one city over the over.
Many people make a comparison with the dualism Los Angeles / San Francisco and Lisbon / Porto. I am not totally sold on it, but it certainly gives some food for thought.
In an ideal world, if you have enough time, you should travel to both Lisbon and Porto, if you planned your holiday in Portugal.
If you are thinking about living in Portugal, then you should make your choice more about the fact that Porto is more of a town, meanwhile Lisbon is a real city.
This is probably the best way to come out with a decision
Either way, enjoy Portugal and leave a comment in case you need more information.
Always happy to help out!