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From the outside looking in, Lisbon and Porto may seem very similar. As the two largest cities in Portugal, they both attract a lot of attention and offer a myriad of opportunities. Both have unique cultures and their histories speak through their architecture.
Porto, the traditional north, is a great place to visit for jawdropping sites and unique gastronomy (like the Francesinha), and it is home to world renowned names such as the Livraria Lello & Irmão. Lisbon, on the other hand, is a diverse hub, and, as the capital, it offers many museums and historical landmarks unique to Portugal’s history that sit alongside international shops and flavors. Located towards the southern part of the country, Lisbon also enjoys sunnier days than its northern sister and generally warmer temperatures. While Porto is a destination everyone should see at least once, Lisbon is the place to see first.
Lisbon is a capital unlike many others. Unsurprisingly, the city center is one of the busiest areas, but venture off the main streets and suddenly the roads are a lot quieter. Sometimes, you may be the only person for a block or so. Anyone looking for a vacation or experience with a slower pace will have a hard time finding a more tranquil capital than Lisbon.
Don’t equate tranquil with boring, however, because there is plenty to do and see. The Baixa-Chiado area is full of commercial shopping in additional to many restaurants selling traditional Portuguese cuisine. Historic Belém is a short 25-minute bus ride away and home to the famous pastéis de nata, as well as the grand Jerónimos Monastery and Tower of Belém. Cute and old Alfama is full of souvenir shops and fado restaurants. Lisbon is certainly larger than Porto, with much more going on.
Lisbon is also welcoming to tourism and English seems to be the city’s second language. It’s easy to get around as a visitor, and if you get lost there is an excellent chance that someone can point you in the right direction – in English! Also, Portuguese food isn’t the only thing on the menu. While Porto may be more traditional Portuguese, Lisbon’s melting pot shows and the country’s culture blends nicely with the additions from migrants. One spot where this is strong is Martim Moniz, a multicultural square that’s surrounded by Brazilian and different styles of Asian shops and restaurants.
What about visitors looking for an inexpensive place to stay? Porto and Lisbon both have many budget-friendly accommodations, but Lisbon has lots more. Its hostels are among the best in the world, as voted on HostelWorld’s Hoscars. Lost Inn Lisbon, located in a renovated 18th-century building, and Home Lisbon Hostel, known for its “home-cooked meals” prepared by the owner’s mother, are a couple of the most comfortable, decorative and cost-friendly locations that have been recognized. Anyone who doesn’t mind splurging a bit will be pleased with the plethora of beautiful four- and five-star hotels too.
Of course, there may come a time when someone may want to venture from the city and see something different. Vila Nova da Gaia and its many wineries are a skip and jump from Porto. Porto is also close to the oldest cities in the country. Lisbon, on the other hand, is a short distance from some of the most beautiful cities in Portugal, namely Óbidos and Sintra. In Óbidos, visitors will experience a medieval village within castle walls, while Sintra’s castles and palaces belong in the pages of fairy tale books.