Porto or Lisbon: Which Portuguese City to Visit?

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by Brittany Scott-Gunfield

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Deciding where to go on a trip to Portugal isn’t easy – especially if you’re short on time and can’t decide between visiting Porto or Lisbon. An incredibly beautiful country, famous for its long beaches, picturesque mountains, and great weather and cuisine, choosing between these two cities can really prove quite that conundrum.

In general, Lisbon is the place to visit if you’re after a bigger city with lots of activities and things to do. On the other hand, Porto is a great choice for those after a more quiet and laid-back vibe and generally cooler summer temperatures.

Ideally, you’d visit both Lisbon and Porto to find the best pastel de nata, but if you have to choose, consider how you’ll get around, what your budget is and which offers more activities for your personal tastes.


Porto is a small but charming city in Portugal on the northern coast with the river Douro stretching through the middle and cafes, bars and restaurants lining the riversides. Away from the river, the city is a labyrinth of windy streets leading past historic houses, chapels and cathedrals, the walls bursting with colour from the decorative tiles and street art.

Porto along the Douro River
Porto along the Douro River


Porto is very easy to get to from most cities in Europe, with Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport located approximately 11km from the city centre, which you can easily reach on the metro or by taxi.

Although there are six metro lines, Porto is a very walkable city, so unless you’re arriving from the airport, it’s likely you won’t need to use it at all. If you prefer not to walk, as some areas can be very steep, there is a great bus system to take you all over the city and along the riverside to the Carneiro beach.

Porto’s main train station, Campanhã, is located in the East of the city, with excellent transportation links into the centre with the metro or by bus, and there is a second station, São Bento located more centrally, however, this has fewer trains passing through and acts more as a tourist destination due to the decorative blue tiles that the city is known for.

The old tram system is still in place in some areas, with three working lines, however, this serves as more of a novelty for tourists rather than an efficient method of transportation.

You can purchase and top up Andante Cards at metro stations for use on the metro, bus, funicular and some local trains.

Porto Tram
One of Porto’s remaining trams


Portugal is one of the cheaper countries in Europe, adding to its popularity as a holiday destination, so, understandably, the price of a trip will be a deciding factor in choosing whether to stay in Porto or Lisbon.

As it’s a smaller city, you can expect Porto to be cheaper to visit than Lisbon, however, the time of year and what events are taking place will alter the prices of your trip.

In Porto, there are many options for a room for two people under €100 a night on booking.com and Airbnb, making it a cheaper place to stay compared to Lisbon. However, the transportation, if you choose to use it, is slightly more expensive.

You can buy a Porto card to have access to the city’s transportation as well as free entry to certain museums and discounts on river cruises and port wine tastings.

Without the card, you can assume you’ll spend around €15-30 each day for activities such as visiting the palace and the bookshop and going on a river cruise. If it interests you, you can also plan to spend around €20 to €30 for port tasting, at around €6 per glass depending on the vintage.

Other food and drink can be found at a very reasonable price across the city, with a typical Porto Francesinha costing about €10 and a Super Bock beer costing no more than €3.

Porto Cathedral
Porto Cathedral

Things to do in Porto

The main highlight of Porto, especially if you’re spending 2 to 3 days there, is the river Douro and its riverside known as the Ribeira district.

This is where many of Porto’s main attractions are, so you can reach them all easily on foot and spend a relaxed time in Portugal surrounded by beauty and indulging in delicious food and drink. You can book a walking tour to get more historical information about the city.

Move further away from the river to discover the winding streets and ornate buildings of Porto’s various neighbourhoods. You could also opt to go on a day trip from Porto if you have the time – perhaps to the famous wine region in the Douro Valley, the town of Coimbra or to Vila Nova de Gaia.

Douro Riversides: Port Houses and Cais da Ribeira

On the south side of the Douro river, below the remarkable 16th-century Serra do Pilar monastery which you can reach by cable car, is a row of port houses, offering tastings of their own version of the famous local alcoholic beverage.

As the only place in the world which can legally produce port, you cannot visit Porto without sampling this delicious, sweet, fortified wine.

Graham’s is perhaps the most famous, sat proudly on top of a hill amongst the copper-coloured roofs, however other notable names in port such as Sandeman’s and Taylors can also be found along the riverside.

Kopke is the oldest port house in the area and offers a great selection of ports paired with chocolates and fantastic service, not to mention the amazing views of the riverside.

Crossing the spectacular Dom Luis I Bridge, which is currently under construction, but still displays its huge metal beams, and taking in the views of Porto, you arrive at the Cais da Ribeira, a charming street along the north bank of the river, with colourful buildings housing restaurants, cafes and shops, providing a lovely setting to amble around.

From here you can also take a river cruise to see the city from another perspective and learn about the bridges over the Douro River, or if you’re visiting Porto in June, watch the regatta during the São Joã festival.

Iconic Buildings of Porto
Iconic Buildings of Porto

Porto Cathedral

It’s hard to think of a European city without a cathedral, but they all have their own story. Porto Cathedral, or the Sé do Porto’s construction began in the 1100s but was rebuilt many times, as shown by its Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic architectural styles.

The cathedral square is at a point of high elevation in the centre, so this is a great point to get a view of the city and river Douro.

Palacio da Bolsa

On the north side of the river, a short walk from the Cais da Ribeira, lies the Bolsa Palace, or Stock Exchange Palace, in a large historic square with a lush sloped lawn.

This enormous 19th-century palace served as the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce and is now available for private events, dining and guided tours of its intriguing rooms – including one designed by Gustave Eiffel.

In February and March the Essência do Vinho, a wine tasting event is held here.

Inside Bolsa Palace
Inside Bolsa Palace

Azulejo Tiles

The streets of Porto are bursting with colour, be it from the graffiti and street art than line tunnels, bridges and electrical boxes, or the iconic Azulejo, or blue and white tiles, that the city is known for. Wherever you wander, you’re sure to see something amazing.

As you approach São Bento Train Station, you can see the splendour of the architecture, however, inside the station, prepare to marvel at the incredibly detailed tiles lining the inside walls and ceiling.

A short walk away is the Igreja Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso, a large church on the edge of a square with an Azulejo-tiled façade, and a little further you can find the Capela das Almas, or Chapel of Souls, on the corner next to Bolhão metro station.

The small chapel is one of the most famous attractions in Porto, with two outer walls covered in blue and white tiles depicting the lives of saints.

Livraria Lello

Now famous due to Harry Potter, as it may have inspired the book’s magical wand shop, the Lello library is a little gem in Porto. It’s small inside but you’re sure to find it with the long queue outside – which you can skip if you buy your ticket online.

The interior is cosy and ornate, with a grand staircase, bookshelves on every wall and a delicate stained-glass window ceiling letting in a small amount of light.

Take in the brilliant design and come away with a book; they discount the ticket price if you buy something inside, and they have their own delightful collection of classic books in hardback for the perfect memento.

Where to Stay in Porto

House of Artists – Located in the centre of Porto, this boutique hotel is an excellent place to stay in this Portuguese city. They have a great location close to all that Porto has to offer along with plenty of great rooms to choose from.

In Porto Gallery Guesthouse – This hotel is perfect for those looking for a bit of luxury while visiting Porto. Centrally located within easy reach of the top sites of the city, they have an array of delightful rooms to choose from along with breakfast available each morning.

Onefam Ribeira – Those travelling solo or on a tight budget will love this If you’re travelling solo or on a budget, then this hostel is a great choice for you. They have both private rooms and dorms to choose from along with good common areas.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other Porto hotels!

Porto at Dusk
Porto at Dusk


As the capital city of Portugal, Lisbon has a diverse range of attractions, from historic buildings to cultural centres, riversides and charming neighbourhoods to large squares and panoramic views.


Lisbon has excellent transport which makes navigating the many hills of the large and diverse city much easier.

Humberto Delgado Airport is less than 20 minutes driving from the city centre, or just 30 minutes by metro, which is the main method of transport in the city with buses and trams.

If you enjoy walking, Lisbon is a great city to walk around as there are so many diverse areas and interesting buildings that you would otherwise pass too quickly, however, there are a number of hills that make getting lost in the city streets quite tiring.

Iconic Tram 28 in Lisbon
Iconic Tram 28 in Lisbon


Choosing whether to visit Lisbon or Porto may well come down to expenses, and Lisbon is more expensive than Porto in general, as you’d expect from a capital city.

However, this will change according to where in the city you stay, what you get up to and what other events are going on at the time of your visit.

When compared to Porto, average accommodation costs tend to be higher even for the same quality of porperty.

Fortunately, you can save money by staying further out of the centre and using the public transport system to get around Lisbon, by purchasing a 24-hour metro ticket for €6.80, or €1.80 for a single journey.

If you plan on visiting the attractions of Lisbon without going in, you won’t have to part with a penny, however, entrance tickets to most of the museums and historical sites will cost around €10, as well as €25 for a meal and drink in a moderately priced restaurant.

Buying a Lisbon Pass can save you money if you plan to visit a lot of attractions.

Castelo de Sao Jorge
Castelo de Sao Jorge

Things to do in Lisbon

As a big city, there’s plenty to do in Lisbon for all tastes, whether you stay in the centre, the Alfama or district, or wander all over. You can enjoy the nightlife in the Bairro Alto neighbourhood or even take a day trip to places like Cascais or to see the Pena Palace in nearby Sintra.

Castelo de São Jorge and Alfama

At the top of a hill in the South of Lisbon, is one of the most significant buildings in the city: the São Jorge Castle. With 5 towers holding treasure, arms, bedrooms and even two lions, and a tall outer wall protecting the castle’s perimeter, this fortification from the 1st century is a must-see spot on any Lisbon itinerary so you can learn about the city’s epic history.

In the winding streets around the castle, you can find many souvenir shops as well as small cafes serving pastel de nata and red port or pastel de bacalhau (cod fishcake) and white port, which you should indulge in to celebrate your hard work in reaching the top of the hill (no one will know if you took the tram up…).

Descending the streets from the castle through the Alfama district, you’ll find a number of impressive buildings, colourful houses with tiled walls and nice squares, making it a wonderful place to walk around.

However, the main point of walking down from the castle is to see the spectacular viewpoints, such as Praça da Alegria or Miradouro da Graça, over the city and river Tagus.

Alfama district
Alfama district

Praça do Comércio and Praça Dom Pedro IV

Down at Lisbon’s long yet narrow beachfront, is the picturesque square, Praça do Comércio. Lined by an arched building, housing small shops and cafes under the archways, a statue stands in the middle of the square, making it a wonderful place to stop for a coffee to enjoy the views or simply take some photographs.

A ten-minute walk or journey on the metro, will take you to another iconic Lisbon square, Praça Dom Pedro IV. Here, restaurants lined the cobbled pavement of the square which has two fountains located in the middle. It’s also one of the best places to try Portugal’s cherry liqueur, Ginjinha, such as Ginjinha Sem Rival.

Mercado da Ribeira

On Lisbon’s coast in front of the Cais do Sodré train and ferry station is a must-visit food hall on any Lisbon itinerary. Also known as the Time Out Market as each food stand has been specially selected by a panel of Time Out experts, this is the best place to try every flavour of Lisbon.

From salted cod, sardines and oysters, to croquettes, steak sandwiches and pastries, the Ribeira Market has it all. You can even do cooking classes there to really get to know the Portuguese dishes and learn from the best.


Although not in the city centre, I’ve never met anyone who’s been to Lisbon and not taken the 7-minute train ride out to Belém. It is also possible to go on a bike tour from Lisbon.

This small district has a bit of everything, from the small harbour and long walk along the waterfront to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a huge monument dedicated to the Portuguese age of discovery, to the spectacular 15th-century Jerónimos Monastery, now housing the National Archeology Museum and the Maritime Museum.

The best thing to do in Belém though is head to Pastéis de Belém for the best pastel de nata (you’ll know you’re there because of the long queue, but it’s worth the wait) before going to see the famous 16th-century Belém Tower on the riverbank.

Torre de Belem
Torre de Belem

Basílica da Estrela

Not the most important, but arguably the most striking church in Lisbon is the baroque Basílica da Estrela with its two towers, sculptures and domed roof, all ornately carved in white stone.

It holds the tomb of Queen Maria I who ordered the construction of the church dedicated to the sacred heart of Jesus if she were able to conceive and continue the family line.

Where to Stay in Lisbon

Alegria A Lisbon Boutique Hotel – Mid-range visitors to the Portuguese capital will love this little boutique hotel. Located within easy reach of Lisbon’s top attractions, they have a number of wonderful rooms to choose from.

Lisboa Carmo Hotel – If you’re looking for luxury while in Lisbon, then this 4-star hotel is perfect for a plush stay. They have a number of elegant and chic rooms to choose from along with an excellent location for exploring the highlights of the city.

Home Lisbon Hostel – Budget and solo travellers will love this highly-rated hostel in Lisbon. Boasting a good social atmosphere, they have a range of dorms and some private rooms available along with social events organised for guests.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Lisbon hotels!

Beautiful Lisbon skyline
Beautiful Lisbon

Porto vs Lisbon: Which is Better to Visit?

Weighing either city is a difficult comparison to make as they share a lot in terms of culture, architecture and cuisine, and there’s plenty to see whichever you choose to visit.

However, if you want a bigger city with more activities, bigger neighbourhoods and lots of viewpoints, Lisbon is the place for you.

But, if you prefer a smaller, quaint city with artistic and characterful streets, then Porto is the best place for your trip.

Equally, if you’re less mobile, Lisbon may be a better option with more public transport and fewer hills. But if you want to get around on foot and don’t mind the hard work, then Porto is a great city to walk around with many beautiful areas close to each other, attached by winding cobbled pathways and streets.

If you want to avoid extreme heat in summer, Porto may be a better option than Lisbon as it has consistently lower average temperatures each month of the year than the capital whose average temperatures go up to almost 30 degrees (around 86 degrees Fahrenheit) in July and August, while Porto stays milder.

Likewise, if you want a mild Spring or Winter trip, you’ll find warmer temperatures in Lisbon.

Overall, if you’re choosing Porto or Lisbon to visit for a weekend, Porto is your best choice as most of its attractions are located along the riverside where you can also dine and taste the local ports and Portuguese wines in the delightful port houses and restaurants in Cais de Ribeira.

If you’d prefer a full itinerary of history, food, art and architecture, while you can still explore more of Porto, Lisbon offers the most.

With its famous castle, squares and museums, Lisbon also has a host of unique attractions such as the Santa Justa lift from 1902, its significant squares and the historic monuments of Belém.

Both Porto and Lisbon are beautiful and dynamic cities to visit with different things to offer visitors. No matter which you end up choosing, you’re sure to fall in love with these Portuguese cities.

Are you wondering whether to visit Lisbon vs Porto? Have any questions about visiting either city? Let us know in the comments!

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Brittany Scott-Gunfield

Brittany is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Colchester, England, she is slowly but surely travelling the world as a digital nomad. She loves to hike around different landscapes and has a deep love for travelling around France (and elsewhere in Europe).


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