Porto or Lisbon for a Portuguese Weekend Getaway?
So you’ve decided on the guaranteed warmth of Portugal, but are unsure whether you should focus your limited time on Porto or Lisbon. How do they compare as tourist destinations? Which should you choose for that perfect weekend getaway you’ve been looking forward to so much. Both offer easy to find cheap flight tickets from multiple direct destinations and an equal amount of things to do, history and culture, but before making your city choice make sure to read this comprehensive comparison.
Things to See and Do
Porto is by all accounts a smaller city than the Portuguese capital, with all its points of interest close to one another, making it easy enough to explore on foot if you’re happy to tackle the hills. The riverside Ribeira district, a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site, is one of the main highlights, having been a hub for trade and commerce since the middle ages. A tightly-packed, intimate, and authentic experience can still be had here.
The Alfama area of Lisbon, the equivalent of Porto’s Ribeira, cannot compete with the authenticity of the second city’s historic centre. Souvenir stalls and tourist-orientated bars have mushroomed in recent years, forcing the last traditional grocery store to close in 2016. The rise in popularity of privately-owned holiday rentals is also pushing locals out of the area making it feel sanitised when compared to the Ribeira.
However, Lisbon does has a lot more going on, whether you’re interests lie in museums, nightlife, or both. Although some areas are as hilly as Porto, it’s still possible to walk around much of Lisbon, between the main sights. You won’t, for one thing, want to miss the grand Praca do Commercio square, constructed after the earthquake that ravaged the city in 1755.
Food and drink
The whole of Portugal can lay claim to being a food-lovers paradise, with adoringly-prepared dishes such as bacalhau (salted cod), and pastries such as the heavenly egg tarts known as pasteis de nata. Despite this, the food styles between Porto and Lisbon are noticeably different. As the capital, Lisbon holds the crown for hosting the country’s best restaurants, however, those in the know believe the simpler no-nonsense approach of Porto’s chefs results in fuller-flavoured cuisine overall.
Porto is home to one of Portugal’s most intriguing dishes, francesinha, a sandwich of ham, sausage or roast meat topped with melted cheese and served in a tomato and beer sauce. It’s one that shouldn’t be missed.
Porto is also home to the sweet red fortified wine which takes the city’s name: port. The Porto wine tours are a huge drawer for wine aficionados. The wines that form the basis of port are shipped along the city’s river to wine lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia where they are mixed with brandy and left to mature for years. Lisbon’s drink of choice is the cherry-based liquor known as ginjinha, served in shots from tiny establishments that are no more than holes in the wall around Rossio Square.
Accommodation and Prices
Accommodation is not difficult to find in either city, with everything from hostels to five-star hotels on offer. Accommodation options are generally cheaper in Porto than in Lisbon, but also tend to have received less modernisation in recent years and as a result, some places can feel rather old-fashioned and lacking in amenities.
Lisbon is much more on trend when it comes to the needs of the modern traveller, even in the stunning historic district of Alfama, which comes with a higher price tag attached. Lisbon is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most expensive city to visit in Portugal. Having said that, the country’s prices on food and goods are the lowest in Western Europe and are a steal for anyone used to eating out or shopping in London, Paris or Berlin. An espresso will set you back just half a euro, while one euro will get you a bottle of beer in a local bar.
So we’ve already mentioned that there are ample cheap flight tickets available to both Portuguese cities, especially if travelling from another European destination so getting to either shouldn’t need be a consideration in this comparison.
Both cities stand on the banks of mighty rivers that reach their end at the Atlantic Ocean. Lisbon’s Tagus forms a large expanse of estuary on which the city has been built, with districts on opposite banks connected by orange commuter ferries.
The Douro in Porto, meanwhile, flows through steep hills on which the city rises, forming an even more beautiful spectacle. Although the historic wine-producing centre of Gaia is technically a separate city, it forms part of the wonder of Porto’s landscapes. Another UNESCO listed World Heritage Site, the best way to enjoy the valley’s natural beauty is probably by taking a river cruise, while a visit to a wine cellar is also a must. Check out this handy quick guide to the Duoro Valley.
There are also some other cities with fascinating histories that are easily reached by hire car, train or bus from Porto. Braga, for instance, dates right back to the time of the Roman Empire and boasts an amazing medieval castle and perimeter fortifications. For those seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of Lisbon for the day, you need to go no further than Sintra. Known for its Atlantic beaches, the green hills there are also a great getaway from the city, with magical castles, palaces and historic monuments dotted throughout the town.
Those in need of some beach time to top up their tans can do so very easily in Lisbon, with some beautiful beaches close at hand. You only need to go as far as the mouth of the Tagus to reach their start. Nearby you’ll find the small resort town of Cascais, coves of golden sand towards Sintra, and up-and-coming surfer beaches that take advantage of the huge Atlantic breakers that wash inshore.
Believe it or not, Porto’s beaches are even closer, with the resort of Foz set within the city limits. As urban beaches go, they are some of the best in Portugal, with clean sands intermingling with rocky outcrops. Not much visited by tourists, it has some great authentic bars and restaurants too.
For a small country like Portugal to have such contrasting cities so close to one another is less of a problem and more of a boon for the traveller, although it can make it difficult to decide where to base yourself. Lisbon is the country’s bustling heart, as full of bars as sights, and from which trends tend to emanate. Porto meanwhile displays much more of a traditional Portuguese ambience and is where strangers will talk to you on the street as if they have known you all their lives.
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