Porto versus Lisbon: which city to see first

written by Amanda Tomlin
updated 1/15/2021
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Porto versus Lisbon? Both Portugal's main cities have a lot in common. And they both make great city breaks. But which city should you visit first? Here’s the lowdown. The information in this article is taken from The Rough Guide to Portugal, your essential guide for visiting Portugal.

Porto versus Lisbon for most beautiful views

Of course both cities have fantastic views.

Lisbon is set on seven hills. And it's known for miradouros where people gather to watch sunsets. Don't miss tile-clad Miradouro de Santa Luzia. It looks over Alfama towards the river. And Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara gazes across the city centre to Castelo de São Jorge.

Porto has impressive viewpoints too. Start at the top tier of Ponte Dom Luís I. From here, look across historic Ribeira towards the port suburb of Vila Nova de Gaia.

Looking for rooms with a view? Try Downtown Residences in Porto. Or head to the heart of old Lisbon at Hotel Borges in Chiado.

Where to eat local in Porto and Lisbon?

Northern Porto serves hearty food. Tripe's a speciality. And locals love francesinha. A mighty sandwich of steak, sausage, ham and melted cheese with a tomato and beer sauce.

Lisbon's more refined. Here, the local delicacy is pastel de nata custard tarts. Try them warm with a sprinkle of cinnamon at Pastéis de Belem. This Belém bakery made the original tarts.

Both cities have great food experiences. Try a food and wine walking tour of Lisbon. Or take a delicious food tour in Porto.

Taste original Pastel de nata in Belém, Lisbon © Altan Can/Shutterstock

Where's best for fine dining in Porto and Lisbon?

Portugal's cooking emphasises fresh local produce. And surveys show the country eats the least processed food in Europe. So both Porto and Lisbon are good for fine dining. You can try innovative food in either. And you'll find it's very affordable too.

Porto's Michelin-starred Yeatman rivals its food with amazing views. And in Lisbon, Michelin chef José Avillez rules fine dining. Try his Portuguese classics at Belcanto. Or find him more playful at Mini Bar in Lisbon's Chiado district.

Prefer to leave planning and booking to experts? Have a look at some sample itineraries. Both Complete Portugal or Portugal Itineraries offer inspiration. All Tailor Made Trips can be modified together with your local expert, then booked for a stress-free holiday. Click 'Modify this itinerary' to contact a local Portugal expert.

Portuguese cooking emphasises fresh, local produce © Benoit Daoust/Shutterstock

Porto or Lisbon for big sights?

Lisbon and Porto score well on big sights. But the capital wins on numbers alone.

In Lisbon, don't miss:

Classic Porto must sees include:

  • Torre dos Clérigos.
  • World famous Livraria Lello bookshop.
  • Parque de Serralves.
  • Casa de Serralves Contemporary Art Museum.

What to see first? Take a guided tour of both cities. Try History, Stories and Lifestyle in Lisbon. Or go for a Tuk Tuk historical tour of Porto.

Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon's Belém district © Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock

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Which city is most fun to get around?

Both Lisbon and Porto are famous for trams. Try Tram #28 for sightseeing in the capital. Go for Tram #1 in Porto. And funiculars also feature in both hilly cities..

Porto's cable cars glide to Vila Nova de Gaia port wine lodges.

But Lisbon has the legendary Elevador de Santa Justa. This 19th century elevator links Baixa to Largo do Carmo. It was designed by a pupil of Gustav Eiffel. And it's now one of the city's most famous attractions.

Like someone else to organise transport? Take a full day tour of Lisbon with local guides.

Lisbon has elevadors but Porto does cable cars © ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Porto versus Lisbon for places to drink?

There are plenty places to drink in Lisbon and Porto.

Bars in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto are busy until dawn. But Porto has an entire suburb dedicated to one drink.

Discover Port at Vila Nova de Gaia in Porto. Stroll along the waterfront to see the port lodges. Most of them offer tours. And you can explore their cellars. Or you can go straight to tasting rooms.

Want to compare craft beer and wine? Book a craft beer secrets and wine tour of Porto.

Port wine barrels in Porto's Villa Nova de Gaia waterfront district © Sopotnicki/Shutterstock

Which city works best for a day at the beach?

Neither Porto or Lisbon are coastal. But both cities are close to beaches.

In Porto head for:

  • Foz do Douro resort
  • Riverside tram ride from Porto.
  • Upmarket and arty.
  • Long sandy beaches.

Want to hang on at the beach? Book Vila Foz Hotel & Spa in Foz do Douro.

In Lisbon make for:

  • Smart resort town of Cascais.
  • Commuter train from Lisbon.
  • Glossy marina, designer shops.
  • Pretty, sandy beaches.

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For more traditional seaside try Costa da Caparica. It's a ferry and bus ride from Lisbon for big Atlantic beaches. Book Hotel Maia if you want to stay longer.

Porto versus Lisbon for a day at the beach? Cascais, Lisbon © Jose Ignacio Soto/Shutterstock

Porto v Lisbon, what's the verdict?

Depends on how much time you have.

Porto is more compact. So it's a good choice for long weekends.

Larger Lisbon needs longer to explore.

Alternatively, do both. They're less than three hours apart by train.

Ready for a trip to Portugal? Check out the snapshot Rough Guide to Portugal. Read more about the best time to go to Portugal, the best places to visit and best things to do in Portugal. For inspiration use the Portugal Itineraries from The Rough Guide to Portugal and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there. And don't forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this does not influence our editorial standards - we only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

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written by Amanda Tomlin
updated 1/15/2021
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