Every potential Portugal traveler has at some point asked the same question: “Lisbon or Porto?”. I asked it myself many months before and settled on trying Porto first, being the less expensive of the two. Although I was deathly ill the majority of the trip and remember it only as some sort of surreal fever dream (who were all those sinister-looking people in capes?), I had the wherewithal to surmise that Porto is awesome and by extrapolation, Portugal too.
A few months later, I set my sights on Lisbon and environs and booked a week to check it out. I intended to only stay a few days in Lisbon itself before moving on to the Algarve and its famed beaches but luckily I didn’t book anything in advance. Unbeknownst to me (but apparently well-known by everyone), it always rains like hell during that time of year leaving my rally cry of “I need beach time!” unrequited. Instead of stare out of a foggy bus window as we drive past the Algarve’s turquoise water, we extended our stay in our amazing Airbnb apartment which I nicknamed “the dream flat” despite the fact that I fell down the stairs twice in 5 days. I never regretted that decision. Lisbon is charming and has enough to last you for more than a few days of slow travel.
We spent our days enjoying the sunshine when it made a cameo and walking, walking, walking from one hill to the next in between fresh, simple, fish-based meals. One of my favorite places to chill was down by the river with steps leading in. If you like wind and pigeons, this place is for you! I’m not doing well on selling it but it really is a great place to sit and hypnotize yourself with waves.
Turn around and you’ll see the colorful main square, spacious and bright. Here, you can grab an overpriced coffee or get hit up by drug dealers every few minutes. I’d recommend just bringing a snack down to the steps instead.
To get an overview of the city, we took a tour by a company awesomely named We Hate Tourism (check out my review here) past parks, monuments and viewpoints that we definitely would have overlooked otherwise. Even though we were staying in Lisbon long enough to check all of these places ourselves, going on the tour helped us figure out where we wanted to go back to and where wasn’t worth the (always uphill) trek.
So, Porto or Lisbon? Here’s a quick guide:
You should go to Porto if… You’re a super budget traveler and want to fly in cheap, stay cheap and eat cheap. You love ruin porn. You don’t mind overcast weather. You prefer your food of the comforting variety: heavy, cheesy and covered in rich sauce. You want to go to a rocky beach and be the only one there. You love wine and everything about it.
You should go to Lisbon if… You love nightlife. You’re a budget traveler looking for prices only slightly less than average. You want to go on some awesome day trips (more on that later). You don’t mind a steep walk. You love fresh fish and simple dishes. You love history.
Have you been to Lisbon and/or Porto? Which did you prefer or do you love them both (like me)?