Lisbon vs Porto
Which should be your next city break?
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What's the story?
Lisbon's tragic past makes for an interesting story – and a unique city vibe. Dating back to around 1200 BCE, it's one of Europe's oldest cities; however, a killer combination of earthquake and fire meant much of it was rebuilt after the 18th century. Still, it doesn't skimp on the classic markers of a European capital – cobbled lanes, crumbling castles, white-domed cathedrals and impressive palaces dot the seven hilltop districts – with some 'pre-earthquake' ruins (Carmo Convent is a must-see) and striking modern landmarks thrown in.
Portugal's second city is a slightly simpler soul, with ancient roots evident in its UNESCO-listed Ribeira District, which sits in a quaint jumble beside the Douro river. It's postcard-pretty, although some modern architecture is creeping its way onto the city skyline. Porto is also a playground for street artists, with exceptional murals breaking up the baroque churches and medieval houses.
Lisbon effortlessly combines olde worlde charm with its grander, shinier side. And behind all this hides a cool culinary scene and very healthy nightlife. Nowhere illustrates this better than the bohemian Bairro Alto, where the narrow cobblestone streets transform into party central at sundown. Lisbon also has a growing creative community, who are forming their own spaces across the city (look up Village Underground and LX Factory). The young, cool crowd are also attracted by the unspoilt surfing beaches that line the coast.
It may not be as obvious as Paris or Rome, but Porto has a distinctly romantic feel. It's happy to remain slightly rough around the edges, with its colourful, crumbling old town and quiet backstreets, and life moves at a slower pace than it does in the capital. That doesn't mean that Porto is any less passionate about food and art (street and modern art, especially) – although wine is obviously the hero here.
Lisbon's hilly layout means that incredible views over the city are easy to find. The Santa Justa lift is a wrought-iron gothic wonder that will transport you to one of Lisbon's best miradouros (viewing points), looking out to the imposing hilltop Sao Jorge Castle, across the river and out to sea.
The elegant riverside Belém district is crammed with important city landmarks, including the Jeronimos Monastery complex. You'll also find the intricately decorated 16th-century Belém Tower guarding the city amid a cluster of contrastingly modern landmarks, such as the mid-20th-century stone Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) and the triangular Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar (Overseas War Monument), and museums including the sweeping MAAT (modern art).
Porto can’t quite match Lisbon for landmarks, but it holds its own with an impressive collection of churches and cathedrals, including Sao Francisco Church, with its spectacular gilded interior. This sits just in front of the grand Stock Exchange Palace, in the city's medieval Ribeira district, just steps from riverside Ribeira Square, which is overlooked by a rainbow of tall, skinny historic houses. The square's two fountains – a three-storey 18th-century monument and a modern cube sculpture – provide a contrast that perfectly sums up this city.
Lisbon's seven hilly districts provide all the outdoor exercise you need, as you wander the narrow lanes of charming Alfama, originally a fishing village, or stroll the wide avenues of busy central Baixa, passing grand tiled houses to reach Lisbon's largest and liveliest squares, Restauradores and Rossio. To experience the city's more modern side, head to the Park of the Nations neighbourhood, which links to the incredible Vasco da Gama Bridge and is home to the Vasco da Gama Tower, for fantastic views over the bridge and river.
Lisbon's coastal position also puts you within easy reach of a huge variety of beautiful sandy beaches, making it a great choice for those who love to combine beach and city breaks in one.
Porto is also on the coast, with golden-sand gems like Miramar beach within a 10-minute drive (hire a car with LCY to make getting to the best beaches easier). The city's main park, Porto City Park, sits by the sea at the end of Boavista Avenue, which runs directly to the War Monument on the leafy Boavista Roundabout, at the heart of the city. The landscaped Crystal Palace Gardens are another must, especially in spring or summer.
Porto is known for its six bridges, and climbing them presents a fun challenge for active types. Take the cable car to the pedestrian-only top tier of double-decker Dom Luis I Bridge for the best views of colourful riverside Ribeira.
Lisbon is currently blazing a trail in the culinary world, adding some exciting new ideas to traditional Portuguese cuisine. Trendy LX Factory and Village Underground are hubs for great street food in the city, and Lisbon often hosts pop-ups through the year. You'll find plenty of independent cafés and restaurants in every district – try the pastel de nata custard tart in Belém's beautifully tiled Pastéis de Belém, visit Zé Varunca in Bairro Alto for tapas-style small dishes, or go high-end at one of the six restaurants in the elegant Palácio Chiado.
You can generally expect Porto's eateries to serve up heartier, more traditional fare. Its iconic francesinha sandwich being a good example! Try this huge ham, sausage and steak sandwich, which is drenched in melted cheese and tomato sauce, and topped with an egg, at Santiago f in Baixa, or Lado B downtown.
Drinking and dancing
Traditional fado clubs are everywhere in Lisbon. Enjoy this melancholic folk music at Clube de Fado or Tasca Bela, both in the Santa Maria Maior neighbourhood. Many prefer the alternative bars of the Bairro Alto district (Majong is popular), followed by a dance in one of the city's superclubs, like Lux or Kremlin.
Port wine is Porto's most famous export, so a visit to a port house is essential. You'll find these across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, with Cálem, Kopke and Sandeman being among the best for tours and tastings.
Choosing between Lisbon and Porto is a tough call to make. The similarities are striking, but there's enough difference between them to warrant visiting both – which is perhaps the most sensible solution!
If you can't choose, check out our current deals on flights with TAP Air Portugal to Lisbon and Porto to help make your mind up.