Lisbon vs Porto

Lisbon vs Porto

  Portugal is prized among travellers for its authenticity and simplicity. Head south for a short break or a longer holiday. The charm of the country's traditions, its feel-good Movida atmosphere, prices that will bring a smile and lovely sunny weather all make Portugal a fave among Brits.  


Porto and Lisbon may be neighbours but they've always been rivals. On the one hand you have His Majesty Lisbon (almost 600, 000 inhabitants) the capital of Portugal and the birthplace of the Golden Age, when its sailors raised anchor and set out to conquer the world. On the other hand, Porto (barely 250,000 inhabitants) is as discreet as it is modest, with its own traditions and simple lifestyle. 192 miles separate the two and each offers an enchanting experience.


Getting There

Both are served by daily flights from London. There are slightly more connections to Lisbon. Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport is about nine miles from downtown Porto. Taxis cost around 25 [EUR]. There is also a direct metro. With 22 million passengers in 2016, Lisbon's Humberto Delgado airport is clearly the largest in the country. By taxi, you reach the centre (four miles) for less than 20 [EUR]. There's also a metro that will take you there. So Lisbon or Porto?

The winner: Lisbon

Lisbon bridge

Lisbon - Olivier Romano


At a glance

Lisbon stands out as a true city, stretching over almost 39 square miles. Giant bridges, the most famous spans the Tagus for more than 1.25 miles, sky-scraping towers (475ft high for the Vasco de Gama tower, on the Tagus), the successful mix of historic facades and modern architecture, a permanent buzz, the crowd that rushes along the narrow alleys of the old neighbourhoods... The capital proudly enjoys its status and clearly rivals other great European cities.

Change of scenery things are much more peaceful in Porto. The six bridges that span the Douro, the river flowing through Porto, are modest, the biggest is less than 1312ft long. Facades lined with azulejo tiles, two-hundred-year-old buildings, old-fashioned cobblestone streets, wooded squares ... nothing is missing from this picture-postcard.

The winner: Lisbon

Lisbon from the air

Lisbon - Olivier Romano


In good company

The current tourist success of Portugal has generated a flourishing hotel business. In both cities, beside the classics (Four Seasons in Lisbon, Intercontinental in Porto), many charming establishments have opened, small units with modern comforts, guaranteed connectivity, up-to-date decor, laidback service, etc. Of course, there are more hotels in the capital.

So it's a draw

Memmo Principe Real Hotel

Lisbon- Memmo Principe Real Hotel


Time to Eat ?

Portugal has a rich heritage of culinary excellence. Cod, mussels in tomato sauce, local pork-based stew or ragout are everywhere. Lisbon has many trendy restaurants (on the docks as well as in the Bairro Alto district) that rival their counterparts in Paris or London, at much more reasonable prices too.

Porto has more modest ambitions. Two Michelin-starred establishments and a multitude of family-style addresses where sardines are grilled proudly. Accras (codfish cakes), stews and soups complete the menu. Simple, friendly, excellent and reasonably priced.

The winner: Lisbon


Savvy visits

The status of capital gives Lisbon a head start in architectural terms:  Place Dom Pedro IV, walk along the Tagus, the do Carmo church, the splendid monastery of Jeronimos (15th century), the Bairro Alto district in general, ancient or modern museums, the Calouste Gulbenkian, and even those of the Orient, the Fado, azulejos... The same for buildings such as the Belem Tower. The city's emblem, the monument of Discovery set on the edge of Tagus, the river spanning the two spectacular bridges, the 25th April suspension bridge, and the Vasco de Gama. Plenty to keep you busy for a full week !

Porto, is much smaller, and does not offer such a range. But there are still some impressive buildings on show, such as the Se Cathedral, as well as the church of Sao Francisco (15th century) or the grandiose azulejo tilework of Sao Bento station, as well as the amazing World of Discovery, an amusement park themed on the great Portuguese conquests or, on the similar note, the military museum too is worth a visit.

The Winner: Lisbon


Belem Tower

Lisbon - JosT Elias/Getty Images/Hemera


After hours

In Porto, the fisherman's schedule is traditional: early to bed, early to rise. This does not mean that there is no night life in the city. There's plenty of live traditional music (fado) to be found across the city. It's best to avoid the tourist traps. For a really authentic local fado experience, our concierge has a number of excellent suggestions.

Lisbon, on the other hand, offers a wide range of shows and entertainment, from fado to opera, and rock and classical music.

In both cities, you won't be able to forget football. FC Porto and Benfica Lisbon  are among the great teams of Europe.

The winner: Lisbon


Culture and People

In Lisbon there are buzzing places to meet-up, trendy locations, cutting-edge exhibitions and hip roof-top bars, delicate cuisine, and the Lisbon jet set club scene.

In Porto, spend quiet mornings reading a newspaper, endless discussions around a glass of vinho verde, family cuisine, and architecture that time forgot.

So it's a draw


The bill, please !

Overall, Portugal is very good value. However, as Lisbon starts to compete with the other major capital cities of Europe, this is pushing prices higher. Architects, decorators, celebrity chefs, star DJs, refined lounges, all add up. But, for now, it is still cheaper than London or Paris, but the margin is gradually shrinking.

On the other side of the scale, Porto is not under the same pressure, and prices are particularly reasonable. An example : The central five star hotel is affordable at around 150 EUR per night.

The winner : Porto


Local Area

About 12 miles from Lisbon is Estoril, a chic resort renowned for its beach, casino (the James Bond Casino Royale one), sumptuous properties, the Formula One Grand Prix and a pleasant climate throughout the year. Its neighbour, Cascais, has the same atmosphere with a still-active fishing port too, so you can enjoy seafood including freshly-caught shellfish. Finally, about 19 miles inland is Sintra. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and bona fide architectural treasure. The city was created in the 15th century and is home to castles, extravagant palaces, historic mansions, cobblestone alleys and elegant shops.

Offshore from Porto, there are two possible destinations. One leads due west to the sea which is only 11 miles away. Green coast to the north, silver coast to the south. Immense beaches, small resorts with good public transport and invariably chilly water. To the east, the magnificent Douro which begs a visit. The banks of the river are lined with terraced vineyards, growing the grape to make port, and sprinkled with villages curled up around their churches, elegant estates that herald the presence of a vineyard ... The journey between Regua and Pinhao is a treat. So Lisbon or Porto?

The winner: Porto



Jean-Pierre Chanial