It has secured the top spot as Europe’s Best Destination, not once but three times in ten years
For a minute, let’s forget comparing it to Lisbon; the people have spoken (worldwide) and Porto is the best place to see in all of Europe. Since Portugal’s second largest city has claimed this title not only once, but three times (in 2012, 2014, and 2017), there is no doubt that it should be a must-see on any Portuguese travel itinerary. While Lisbon is also a wonderful place to visit, it didn’t rank in the top 15 overall European Best this year (though it did place as a popular beach destination).
During a short visit, Porto is easier to get to know inside-out
Both cities offer more than can be experienced in a few short days, but if a weekend visit is unavoidable, pick the city that will leave the greatest impression in the least amount of time. Since Porto is smaller, it’s easier to experience on a time crunch. Wine cellars, bridges, sunsets, gardens, and landmarks are practically all within walking distance of each other.
Porto is the better option for a true Portuguese experience
While Lisbon is becoming a melting pot, Porto has retained more authentic Portuguese charm. As the capital and a larger city with many opportunities, Lisbon attracts people from all around the world and it has done a good job making sure visitors feel welcome. English is spoken practically ubiquitously and certain neighborhoods, like Martim Moniz, are known for their diverse, multicultural nature. Porto is also very welcoming and many people speak near-fluent English, but the Portuguese culture is more of an integral part of the city than in the capital. The gastronomy in Porto attracts more people than Lisbon, and more of Porto’s neighborhoods have old-world charm, comparable to Lisbon’s Alfama.
Porto’s breathtaking views may outshine Lisbon’s
The Dom Luis I Bridge is a major attraction and photography lovers enjoy snapping images of both the city and Douro River from the top, especially during Porto’s gorgeous sunsets. Both cities have plenty of miradouros (or viewpoints) but popular opinion often favors Porto’s cityscapes.
Porto’s cuisine and wine win in popularity
Portugal, in general, is a great destination for foodies, but Porto’s dishes have received more attention. Known for hearty comfort food, it spotlights classics like cozido (boiled dinner) and the famous Francesinha sandwich (a much-loved calorie bomb). Porto is also the best place to try Port, the world renowned wine that’s delicious by itself, as a digestif, or as an extra ingredient in recipes. Where Lisbon’s sunnier days are more attractive for spending time by the water, Porto’s cooler and grayer weather is perfect for comfort food. Plus, who needs sunny skies when you have wine-filled cellars?
It’s more romantic
The lovely Foz do Douro (and it’s Pérgola, or walkway), the charmingly antique Ribeira district, and Porto’s winding roads all scream romance. Although Lisbon is also a tranquil city, Porto is much more laid back and invites lazy days for strolling, snacking on Portuguese treats, and sipping drinks by the riverside. The Ribeira is also an amazing spot for spectacular sunsets, in addition to the Crystal Palace Gardens, Porto Cathedral, and Clérigos Tower.
Crystal Palace Gardens, 4050-101 Porto +351 22 209 7000
Porto Cathedral, Terreiro da Sé, 4050-573 Porto +351 22 205 9028
Clerigos Tower, R. de São Filipe de Nery, 4050-546 Porto +351 22 014 5489
Livraria Lello & Irmão is one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world
Book-lovers will love Portugal, but the top spot to visit is the Livraria Lello. With its Neo-Gothic architecture, the iconic staircase, and its connection to Harry Potter writer JK Rowling, the bookstore does its fair share in attracting tourism to Porto. Although Lisbon has the Livraria Bertrand (the oldest continuously-running bookshop in the world), Porto’s Livraria Lello & Irmão may be even more popular.
Porto’s locals are known for being friendlier than Lisbon’s
Locals from both cities are incredibly friendly and welcoming, but Porto has that small-town charm. When asked for directions, locals from Porto (known as Tripeiros) don’t just tell you directions but they will guide you – possibly walking part of the way too. Also, it’s widely believed that friendships with locals from Porto are iron-clad, not fair-weather.
Porto is closer to more historical cities than Lisbon
True, Lisbon is closer to Sintra, which is one of the most beautiful cities in all of Portugal, but anyone into history can’t argue against the value of visiting Portugal’s northern region. Braga, Guimarães (the birthplace of Portugal), and the Peneda-Gerês National Park (which has ancient Roman landmarks) are all within an hour and a half of Porto, and more top locations aren’t much further.