Portugal City Breaks, Which to Choose?
So, after so long inhaling only British air; and with your passport in hand and case packed; where are you heading to first? I mean, we’ve only had a couple of years to think about it, right?
We reckon a solid option is Portugal for many a reason. It’s generally hot, not too pricey and not too far away. Ideal for a city break, so you can save some of that annual leave for another trip later in the year.
Right, now that’s sorted, where do you choose within Portugal? City break wise, there are two obvious options - Lisbon and Porto. Both beautiful, both very different, so we’ll try and make it a bit easier for you.
Here, we will attempt to pick out the pluses and minuses of each destination depending on what type of traveller you are…
The Foodie Traveller
So, let’s get this straight, both cities are GREAT for foodies. But they both specialise in slightly different things.
Porto and Lisbon are coastal, so inevitably fish plays a big part of both region’s cuisine. Lisbon has some incredible shops championing tinned fish, which appears much more highly regarded here than on our shores. Many dishes also centre around bacalhau, salted cod.
Our favourite spot for fish in Lisbon is Cacilhas, a short boat journey across the estuary from Cais Do Sodre, where you can dine on patios overlooking the sea. There are a good few unpretentious restaurants here serving the freshest catch of the day.
Back in Porto, the waterside suburb of Matosinhos is where you should head for the best seafood. Small restaurants litter the streets one block back from the shore alongside industrial units where the catch is brought in and prepared daily.
Not a fish fan? Don’t worry, there are plenty of other top notch options in both cities. Particular favourites are Coyo Taco in Lisbon - a vibrant banger of a local Tacqueria in the upmarket (and uphill) area of Príncipe Real with a window serving cocktails onto the street and Cafeína in Porto - A slick and sophisticated, Michelin recommended restaurant in Foz do Douro with excellent food and service.
Verdict: Lisbon, just
The Snap-Happy Traveller
Whilst both cities are undeniably easy on the eye, they have quite a different aesthetic.
Lisbon is hilly, like really hilly. This means the opportunities for panoramic views are limited only by how strong the burning sensation is in your calves.
The city also has quite a unique look in that it is jam packed with breathtakingly handsome, brightly coloured and sometimes tiled period buildings. In most other places these would be immaculately looked after, with strict preservation orders in place. However, here, many look a little unloved and the worse for wear.
This may sound like a negative, but in reality it’s far from it. It gives Lisbon a “shabby chic” look that makes every tourist look like they could be taking pics for a Wallpaper guide book.
Then there’s the graffiti adorned trams, cobbled streets and distinctly independent enclaves that offer the visitor endless photo op’s.
Porto, aside from the the infamous (and much papped) centre around the bridge and over towards the Port distilleries, spreads out from the river in a more level fashion. However, this makes it no less photogenic.
It feels a little more preserved and untouched than Lisbon. The ancient, meandering buildings with terracotta roofs are plentiful. Once outside of the very centre then these are interspersed with multi-generational local businesses with plentiful Art Deco signage. This combo makes for a photographer’s wet dream.
It’s like you’d struggle to find a bad spot to take a photo in Porto.
The Culture Vulture Traveller
You could certainly pick bigger metropolises for your city break, but neither of these pocket rockets are short on culture.
In Porto you could start by taking in a couple of Port House tours - Taylors, Graham’s and Sandeman are just a few options of many. Sticking with alcohol, why not head outside the city to the Douro Valley for a vineyard tour or wine tasting session (or five).
To work off the hangover, why not head into town to check out Livraria Lello; undoubtedly one of the World’s most beautiful book shops, the cathedral and the stunning São Bento station. Then head back out to take in the views at Crystal Palace Park on the way to Casa de Serralves before heading to Foz for dinner and maybe a dip in the sea.
In Lisbon, why not start by hopping on a tram and taking in the Basilica da Estrela and the botanical gardens before heading over the estuary to see the Cristo Rei (Christ statue) up close.
After this, head out of town, which is where we feel the best culture is on offer here. Belém is first with Jerónimos Monastery, Torre de Belém and custard tarts. Then onto the beautiful coastline, Cascais is a great place to see it in all its glory.
Save the best to last and head to Sintra, it’s like something from another world. A steep incline above the ancient town leads to an array of fairytale-like castles amid pine forests and cloud cover. Unmissable.
Verdict: Willing to travel; Lisbon. Want to stay within the city; Porto.
The Hipster Traveller
As a hipster in Lisbon, you have nothing to worry about.
Order your morning flat white and pastry at Fabrica or Copenhagen Coffee Lab. Take in far reaching views with an expensive Aperol Spritz above a multi storey car park at Park. Have lunch at bustling Timeout Market. Get a trim or shave at Figaro’s. Have a Super Bock at one of the many bars in Bairro Alto, or anywhere for that matter, it’s on tap in most newsagents throughout the city!
In Porto, standard hipster happenings are a little thinner on the ground but still very much available.
Good coffee and brunch can be found at Bop. Pick up some swanky togs from La Paz. And some swanky soap from Claus Porto whilst your at it. Drink some craft beer at Letraria Beer Garden. Peruse the antiques and oddities at Armazem. Have a glass of port, then another, and another.
So there you have it. We hope this has helped you to choose which Portuguese city break to go for. However, if you still can’t decide, it’s only a three hour train journey between the two. And, unlike the U.K., the trains seem to be fairly reasonable on price and pretty reliable.
So, why not go for both?