Porto or Lisbon: Which City is Right For You?

porto or lisbon

A popular destination for travelers worldwide, Portugal has seen record-breaking tourism in the past few years. Teeming with charming beach towns, bustling cities, and adventurous coasts, Portugal is a prime location year-round.

So, you’re in the midst of booking your trip and torn between whether or not to choose Porto or Lisbon? In reality, there’s no right answer, it just depends on the vibe you’re looking for. Most travelers tend to visit Lisbon as their jumping off point to exploring the rest of Portugal, as it offers direct flights, historic attractions, and many hotel options. 

The city of six bridges, Porto is often overshadowed by its popular capital neighbor. Thanks to its affordable prices, charming atmosphere, and Harry Potter sites, Porto has begun gaining attention and is increasing in tourism each year.

Porto or Lisbon: Quick Logistics 

If you want a quick answer without scrolling through, I’d suggest visiting both cities if you can. Lisbon is an ideal hub to get a taste of Portugal and also do a day trip to Sintra, while Porto overall feels a lot safer for solo travelers, is more homey, and is more charming. The gateway to the Douro Valley Wine region, there’s plenty to do here for a week or so.

porto or lisbon

Porto or Lisbon: Why Choose Porto?

5 minutes in Porto and you’ll feel as though you’re at home. A compact city with narrow side streets lined with local restaurants and bars- it’s difficult to leave. As a solo traveler myself, I’ve spent over a month in Porto, and typically spend anywhere between 4-7 days here at a time. Boats sailing on by, flocks of people at Jardim de Morro hoping to catch a sunset, and musicians along the river, no matter where you are in the city, its charm draws you in. 

Discover Porto; the best neighborhoods and things to do!

Porto Feels Very Safe

As a solo traveler, I’ve never felt unsafe in Porto myself. Of course, like anywhere in the world, it’s important to remain vigilant especially in touristy areas and when walking home at night, but for the most part you shouldn’t have any issues here. 

A compact city, most of the streets are pretty busy through the evening, so there’s usually always someone around any time of day. A lively backpacker scene with hotels to match, Porto also has many opportunities to meet people if you’d rather have a friend or two with you!

Porto is an Extremely Walkable

If you ignore the steep streets and narrow steps, Porto is actually very easy to walk around. From Villa Nova de Gaia across to Porto, it’s actually possible to walk through most key neighborhoods at ease. If the summer heat gets the best of you, there’s always the option to rent a bike, bus, or take the popular funicular trams over the river and up the hills.

Porto Offers Old-World Charm and History

The first time I ever visited Porto, I just stood admiring the pastel buildings and action along the river-front. With over 30 main churches in the city, history is woven throughout. Almost every viewpoint along the river offers a beautiful backdrop. 

Harry Potter fans rejoice, many of the sites around Porto have been said to have inspired the magical series. J.K Rowling spent a few years in the city, so it’s difficult not to notice a few similarities here and there. Be sure to visit Livraria Lello Library and Porto Cathedral to decide for yourself..

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Porto has a Slew of Accommodation Choices at Reasonable Prices

As a solo traveler, two of my favorite hostels around Europe are in Porto. Sat above an old port cellar, House of Sandeman is a hostel with hotel amenities. At an affordable price, guests are treated to comfortable beds, privacy, communal spaces, unbeatable views of the river, and free breakfast. At OneFam Ribeira, guests are in the heart of the city near the new TimeOut Market. Weekly activities allow for travelers to easily make friends and get to know the city!

For some pool action to beat the heat, Catalonia Porto Hotel and Vincci Ponte de Ferro are excellent options. If you want to be near the action on a quieter street, Eurostars Porto Douro offers breathtaking views of the river with a rooftop bar. Some travelers enjoy the luxury of their own space, with the comforts of a hotel. Village by Boa is an apart-hotel in the Bolhao region of Porto, with apartment buildings in a quaint cul de sac. A store on site, gym, and front-desk, you’ll get all the amenities of a hotel but feel like a local living in the city. 

lisbon portugal

Porto or Lisbon: Why Choose Lisbon?

One of the first cities tourists think of when booking a trip to Portugal, Lisbon is a buzzing city that never sleeps. Though slightly more spread out than Porto, it still has a slot going for it in terms of history, local haunts, and charming streets to find.

Lisbon has an Abundance of Museums and Attractions

Want to cram your travels with castles, cathedrals, and museums? Then Lisbon is for you! While Porto is more for relaxing and sampling fine wines, Lisbon offers an array of sites to be explored. Sao Jorge Castle, TimeOut food market, Lisbon Cathedral, Museum of Ancient Art, and Jerónimos Monastery.. There’s a lot to do here over the course of a few days.

Lisbon’s Day Trip Options

Sometimes when you’re traveling, it’s nice to break the trip with a change of scenery. Under an hour from Lisbon, Sintra and Pena Palace should definitely be on any Portugal itinerary! Admire the yellow and orange tones of the Palace and stroll around the town in search of local crafts, it’s easy to book a day trip or make your way there via Rossio Station.

A favorite of mine, Cascais is a 30-minute train ride or 40 minute drive from the city. The Portuguese Riviera town is ideal for a day trip or 1-2 night stay. If you only have a few hours here, I’d recommend exploring the local restaurants, beach area, and renting a bike to explore the ocean-front paths. 

Lisbon has Diverse Neighborhoods

Though Porto does have various areas too, the neighborhoods in Lisbon can easily be told by the design, restaurants, and people. Each is known for something different, and often look very diverse in terms of architecture and overall vibe. The nightlife hub of the city, Bairro Alto is filled with steep cobblestone streets, trendy restaurants, and local haunts, while Alfama offers old-school charm, outdoor dining, a welcoming atmosphere, and hidden viewpoints. 

views of lisbon

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