Lisbon or Porto? 10 things to keep in mind before you choose!

Both Lisbon and Porto are super popular destinations among travellers to Portugal. Especially among the first visitors to the country. It’s indeed hard to choose between the two cities. The most obvious answer would be that you need to see both. But what if you need to choose? We are here to help! These two tourists magnet places are not so far from each other geographically & in terms of the quality of the services either. So let’s see, Lisbon or Porto? We list here some facts & places that you should review when you are about two choose between these two beautiful Portuguese cities.

Porto is in the northern part of the country while Lisbon is toward the south. There are many reasons to visit both cities because each has its own personality and distinct features and beautiful historical sites that are well worth exploring. For us – depending on the day or mood we would choose one or the other. They are both beautiful and worth to go. So if you have more than a week, just put both places on your itinerary. If not – the below lists will help to make your own decision!

Lisbon

Facts about Lisbon

  • Lisbon is the capital city with around 550,000 people.
  • It is known as the city of seven hills because there are seven hills contained within it.
  • The city lies next to the Tagus River, the largest river in the Iberian Peninsula.
  • Lisbon – in the southerly part of the country – tends to warm up more during summer.
  • The capital is the most expensive place in Portugal – on an average services are 10% higher than in Porto.

5 reasons why to choose Lisbon

The symbol of Lisbon: Torre de Belém

The most photographed building of Lisbon is the Belém Tower. It was built by order of Manuel I between 1515-1521. Its real beauty is given by the exterior decoration: the carved rope shape, the open balconies, the Moorish-style watchtowers. Beneath the terrace is a Gothic interior that functioned as a prison and armoury. It is a must-visit place if you are in Lisbon.

The home of Pastéis de Belém

However you name it – Pastéis de Belém, Pasteles de Belém, Pasteis de Nata or Pastel de Nata, you cannot miss the café and the store of Pastéis de Belém once you are in the neighbourhood. Undoubtedly the best Pastel de Nata that you ever will try, or already tried in your life. At the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, in Belém, next to Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (the Heironymite Monastery) there was a sugar cane refinery attached to a small general store. As a result of the 1820 liberal revolution, all convents and monasteries in Portugal were shut down in 1834, the clergy and labourers expelled. In an attempt at survival, someone from the monastery offered sweet pastries for sale in the shop, pastries that rapidly became known as ‘Pastéis de Belém’.

In 1837, the baking of the ‘Pastéis de Belém’ began in the buildings attached to the refinery, following the ancient ‘secret recipe` from the monastery. Passed on and known exclusively to the master confectioners who hand-crafted the pastries in the ‘secret room’, this recipe remained unchanged to the present day. In fact, the only true ‘Pastéis de Belém’ contrive, by means of a scrupulous selection of ingredients, to offer even today the flavour of the time-honoured Portuguese sweet-making.

The charming districts

  • Bairro Alto – the Upper Town has medieval origin. It’s a colourful and cozy world, where drying clothes are not uncommon in the stone-framed windows and lattice balconies. There are small shops on the ground floors of the buildings. Its cozy, winding, cobbled streets were once dominated by gamblers, and today are the home of bars and clubs. Here you will find the best Fado cafes that sound the tune of sadness and despair. It is representing the bohemian part of Lisbon, the favourite of many visitors.
  • Alfama – it is the oldest and most characteristic quarter of Lisbon. During Moorish rule, this quarter formed the center of the city. Today it is a small colourful and cozy village in the middle of the city. Its name comes from the Arabic word for bath or spring. The neighbourhood survived the massive earthquake of 1755. So the network of early medieval small squares and narrow alleys remained almost unchanged. Most of the original Fado houses are located in Alfama, where guests can attend live music performances.

The iconic public transport: Tram 28

The yellow tram 28 is one of Lisbon’s most iconic symbols. Anyone visiting Lisbon will stop and turn to the sound of a tram squealing its way on the rails. These antique electric vehicles are the city’s most photographed public transportation and Lisbon tram 28 is the star among them. It goes through all the center districts, via 30 stops from Praça Martim Moniz to Campo de Ourique (Prazeres). A single ticket purchased onboard the tram costs €3.

The amazing surroundings of Lisbon

The outskirts of Lisbon is extremely reach in sightseeing points & picturesque villages. This is definitely worth to keep in mind once you plan your itinerary to visit the Portuguese capital. Let us just name the most obvious ones:

  • Cabo da Roca: The westernmost point of mainland Europe. For a while, this was considered even the end of the world. You’ll see why, as there’s nothing but water for kilometres ahead. It is situated in the municipality of Sintra, in the southwest of the district of Lisbon. Notably the point includes a lighthouse that started operation in 1772. There are several tours that you can join to get there. Or of course you can do it by yourself too. The only watch-out to the Atlantic are the strong winds. Be careful while exploring and avoid standing too close to the edge!
  • Estoril: Estoril is one of the most expensive places to live in Portugal and the Iberian Peninsula. It is home to a sizeble foreign community and known for its luxury restaurants, hotels, and entertainment. The Casino Estoril inspired Ian Fleming‘s first James Bond novel Casino Royale. Moreover, Estoril has also the fame for having been home to numerous royal families and famous personalities. Also, for hosting numerous notable events, such as the Estoril Open and the Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival.
  • Sintra – Pena Palace: The Pena Palace of Sintra is a Romanticist castle from year 1854. It is on a top of a hill above the town of Sintra. We can easily spot it from Lisbon on a clear day. The national monument known for its architectural features and vast forested park welcomes thousands of visitors every year.
  • Cascais: Cascais is a municipality located on the Portuguese Riviera. It is an important tourist destination among locals and foreign tourists as well. Its marina hosts many great events such as the America’s Cup.

Best things to do in Lisbon

More tips for Lisbon

Porto

Facts about Porto

  • As for inhabitants, Porto has just about half the number of Lisbon. It is considered more compact and easier to visit.
  • In size as well it’s smaller, and Porto provides the chance to see many things within a relatively condensed space.
  • Porto is more like walking along one big hill – instead of severals.
  • Portugal’s second city was built overlooking the Douro River.
  • Porto can get more rain and the temperatures may be downright chilly in the winter.

5 reasons why to choose Porto

The symbol of Porto: Ponte de Dom Luís I.

The symbol, the icon of Porto, that you cannot find anywhere else: Ponte de Dom Luís I. Completed in 1886 by a student of Gustave Eiffel, the bridge’s top deck is now reserved for pedestrians, as well as one of the city’s tram lines. The lower deck bears regular traffic, as well as narrow walkways for those on foot. The views of the river and old town are stunning. If you want a really magnificent panorama then the top route is undoubtedly the way forward.

+1 tip: if you have enough of climbing stairs, you can easily go to Funicular dos Guindais that will bring you to the upper level of the bridge in just two minutes, close to the cathedral and you can get onto the bridge from there. The funicular was built in 1891, and was fully restored after more than a century of inactivity.

The most beautiful train station of Europe: São Bento

The São Bento Railway Station was opened to the public in 1916 on the site of a former Benedictine monastery. The structure emanates the city’s typical melancholy and nostalgic air. Although the train station is striking from outside, the real beauty lies inside. The main hall is breathtaking with over 20,000 tiles that reflect the history of Portugal. It is located in the city centre, so you’ll probably walk past it several times during your stay. Don’t miss discovering its main hall.

The taste of Porto: Vinho do Porto

The world famous Porto Wine, or Vinho do Porto in Portuguese – is coming from here. This wine is typically a sweet red type, often served with dessert, although it also comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties. The southern side of the Douro river in Porto is Vila Nova de Gaia. This is the home of Porto Wine and a place that you must not miss even if you’ve never cared for the wine. This waterfront is busy and usually it’s full with tourists. All the wine houses offer tastings and almost all offer cellar tours which are really the most interesting part.

If you are a book lover: Livraria Lello

Have you ever seen anything like this? Although, come to think of it, it probably reminds you of somewhere…yes, yes, this lovely bookshop inspired the Harry Potter’s library in Hogwarts. In fact, J.K Rowling lived in Porto teaching English in the early 1990s. From 1906 until the present day, Livraria Lello has been recognized internationally as one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. Visited everyday by thousands of people from around the world, Livraria Lello’s cultural heritage is in constant and perfect synchrony with its time, being more alive, more inhabited and more dynamic than ever. If you are a book lover, you simply cannot miss this place!

A local delight: Francesinha

The most popular Porto food is Francesinha, and funny enough it is basically a warm sandwich. The name literally means “little French girl”. According to the legend, an immigrant returning back from France brought it to Porto. This sandwich is an adaptation of the French sandwich, croque-monsieur. It is with bread, ham, sausages, and steak. They typically cover it with melted cheese and an egg on top. Though, what makes it unique is the secret sauce that each restaurant prepares with its own touch. It is a hot thick tomato and beer sauce to dip your sandwich in. Fortunately this sandwich is already available at many places in vegetarian and vegan versions too, so if you are not into meat, you can still try and enjoy it!

Best things to do in Porto

More tips for Porto

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