After spending a month each in the two major cities of Portugal we invariable start to compare elements about them. So here are some of the comparisons that we made and how we feel about the two places for a long stay.
Open / Green Space
One of the most important elements of a stay for us is the ability to get out and have a walk or run in some open or green space. Being in cities means lots of people, lots of traffic, and lots of noise - so having somewhere to escape all of that and feel part of nature again is important.
Porto was very disappointing in that regard with minimal open or green space available, and those that were there often were neglected and looking very sad. Once you got out of the city and to the beach side suburb of Foz then you suddenly had a different experience, but it took us about 5 or 6 kms to get there, so not ideal for just a daily walk.
Lisbon on the other had has plenty of open spaces and parks that are easily accessible from the center of the city, as well as some grand tree lined streets that gave a nice canopy of green. The winning part was the riverfront. Even though the Tagus is not a terribly attractive waterway, and large sections of the waterfront are still working docks, there are long nice sections between Parque das Nacoes and Cascais which is over 35kms! This walk is getting upgraded and I imagine that at sometime in the future it will be a beautiful continuous multi-use pathway.
We like places to be their authentic self, but we also like them to be relatively clean and have a sense of pride.
In that respect again Porto was a letdown. It felt a very gritty dark city, without much sense of pride or joy. The huge number of abandoned buildings was depressing, many of which were run down, and there was an incredible amount of graffiti everywhere.
Porto has an incredible large amount of construction going on in and around the city. The noise level is high pretty much everywhere you go during the day except on Sundays when the construction workers take the day off. The other consequence is dust which becomes worse when it's windy.
In contrast, Lisbon felt very clean and bright. The open spaces from the wider streets and squares combined with the well maintained buildings and colourful pastels gave it a sense of liveliness. Yes, there were areas with a lot of litter, graffiti and some abandoned buildings - but in no way comparable to the volume of them in Porto.
We were in Porto during September & October, and Lisbon for October and early November. Both cities had similar weather in those times where it was very comfortable, lots of blue sky and the occasional rainfall. It's splitting hairs, but we probably had more sunny days in Lisbon than Porto.
Both cities had some very impressive architecture, gorgeous old grand buildings and lovely terrace houses.
Lisbon edges out Porto here as well due to the majority of buildings being better maintained, as well as in how Lisbon has embraced some contemporary architecture to show a progressiveness while still maintaining the history of the old.
We have found the people in Portugal to be very friendly and welcoming in general. We have had no issues communicating or getting around and have felt comfortable and safe where ever we have been. So we can't comment one or the other about which city may be better in that regard.
Anecdotally though, we never met our Porto Airbnb hosts and they never touched base at all during the whole stay. In Lisbon our Airbnb host met us at the apartment and then kept regular touch with us including taking us out for coffee and pastel de nata and shots!
Of course as visitors we want to take in the sights, get some local experiences and generally have a good time.
Both cities have great tourism infrastructure with international airports, local trains & metros, trams, and intercity trams. Both cities have a great number of museums, old churches and other attractions. It's also true that both cities have plenty of day trip options out of the city to coastal towns, beaches and other great towns & cities.
Porto is a lot closer to the coast than Lisbon, and a few times we actually walked from our apartment to the beach suburbs of Foz and Matosinhos. These were fantastic areas with beaches and long open connected coastal walks as well as Porto's big City Park. If we were to return to Porto in the future for a stay it would 100% be that area, not in the city. Also from Porto were just over one hour train trips out to great places like Guimaraes, Aveiro and Braga not to mention getting out to wineries along the Douro River.
From Lisbon it's more of effort to get out to the coast with Cascais being a 45 minute train trip. But there is a fantastic coastal pathway that goes from the heart of Lisbon at Praca do Comercio all the way to Cascais. It's about 30kms long and is wide enough in most places for walkers, runners and cyclists to easily co-exist (the worst part is just getting out past the working dock area before you cross under the April 25th bridge). Lisbon is also great for other day trips like going the mountains in Sintra.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in both cities is pretty similar with things like accommodation, public transport, coffee, and groceries. Porto would come out slightly ahead with the cost of eating out where prato do dia (plate of the day) menus in local restaurants being between €5 to €8 and Lisbon generally starting at the €8 range.
In conclusion, for slow travellers looking for a longer stay in Portugal and choosing between Lisbon and Porto, Lisbon would easily be our recommendation.
For us, we feel that Porto is a great place for a three or four day weekend trip. That would give you enough time to see the sights, drink loads of port, do a day trip or two, and not get too deep into the city.
Lisbon on the other hand would be difficult to explore in just a few days. Having a longer period of time to explore all the neighbourhoods, take a few day trips, and simply wander around this stunning city is something that we would strongly recommend.