Porto Vs Lisbon Vs Coimbra: Which Portuguese City Is Best For You? (2023)

Learn if Coimbra Porto or Lisbon is best for you

So you’re planning on visiting Portugal? Great idea! This incredible country has an overwhelming amount of worthwhile places to explore during your vacation. But now you’re left wondering which of its beautiful cities deserves a spot on your vacation itinerary. Not to worry! This post compares visiting Porto vs. Lisbon vs. Coimbra so that you can pick the perfect destination for you!

We spent 5-weeks adventuring throughout Portugal, and we loved almost every second of it. That said, we know visiting Portugal for 5 weeks is impossible for most people. And sometimes, the difficult decision must be made to cut a city from your plans. That’s why we wrote this post exploring the pros and cons of each city to help you decide if Coimbra, Lisbon or Porto is your ideal destination!

Keep reading if you’re ready to finally get an answer to the questions wracking your brain: Porto or Lisbon? Coimbra or Porto? This post will guide you to visit the best Portuguese city for your vacation! We’ll even let you know which of these cities in Portugal was our personal favorite.

Vamos! (That means let’s go in Portuguese 😎)

Estimated reading time: 17 minutes

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Lisbon or Porto? Porto or Coimbra? Keep Reading To See Which City Is For You!

Which is for you: lisbon or porto or coimbra

Map Of Lisbon, Porto & Coimbra

Lisbon: The Timeless Classic

Beautiful Lisbon views of Alframa and Tagus river

What To Know About Visiting Lisbon

What can we say about Lisbon, Portugal that hasn’t already been said? This place is an absolute gem!

Lisbon is this country’s fantastic capital city. It delivers everything you would imagine from a capital in Western Europe. The colorful architecture and tiled buildings are gorgeous, the food is life-changing, there’s history around every corner, and the city’s vibrant energy is contagious. Add in that the locals are generally incredibly welcoming, and you can understand why Lisbon is considered a world-class destination!

This is Portugal’s most popular tourist destination. And when considering whether to visit Lisbon or Porto, or even Lisbon or Coimbra, it’s nearly impossible to find reasons why Lisbon shouldn’t be a traveler’s top choice. That being said, Lisbon might be too nice! One of the drawbacks is that you’ll likely be exploring the city with hoards of other people taking in all of the wonderful attractions.

Ola! Click here to discover 33 things nobody tells you about visiting Lisbon! Including travel tips, unmissable foods, and epic experiences!

Besides having more attractions within the city than you could ever imagine visiting in one trip, Lisbon also is an excellent base for exploring one-of-a-kind day trips and gorgeous golden-sand beaches. This is just another reason why we adore this place.

But just to be clear, Lisbon isn’t perfect. This is why you’ll want to read the upcoming pros and cons section to see whether visiting the most popular Portuguese city during your precious vacation time is the right move for you.

The famous trams you can ride in Porto or Lisbon

The Pros – Visiting Lisbon Is For You, If:

  • You want to experience the grandest and most iconic Portugal attractions out there. Lisbon is the capital of what was once the world’s wealthiest superpower. And walking around, you definitely get a sense of its former splendor. Lisbon’s beautiful avenues, gorgeous cathedrals and massive squares are second to none. The answer to Lisbon or Porto? and certainly Lisbon or Coimbra? are easy if what you’re looking for are Portugal’s most magnificent sites.
  • Adding epic day trips is part of your ideal vacation. Visiting the lavish palace at Sintra and the photogenic towns of Fatima, Nazare and Obidos are just a few of the wonderful Lisbon day trips you can make. In fact, you can base yourself in Lisbon for your entire visit to Portugal without running out of things to do.
  • You value the sophisticated characteristics that come with being the nation’s capital. Lisbon delivers the largest quantity of fine dining, shopping, art galleries, and museums out of these three Portuguese cities! No contest there.
  • Being part of the scene is important to you. This city is trendy and cool in ways that either Porto or Coimbra simply are not. No offense to these other two places, but they lack the hip cosmopolitan vibe found in certain Lisbon neighborhoods.
  • Access to beautiful golden-sand beaches is what you are looking for during your vacation! The beautiful beaches of Cascais and Carcavelos are only a short train ride away. And the hip beach towns of Comporta and Melides are accessible by car.
  • You want more of everything! More unique neighborhoods, places to listen to Fado music, sunset sailboat tours and incredible hotels to recharge during your stay. In Lisbon, you’ll find everything you could possibly want to level up your Portugal vacation.

The Cons – Leave Lisbon Alone, If:

  • What you are looking for is a quiet and chilled-out spot to enjoy during your vacation in Europe. Lisbon can be super crowded, especially during the summer months. This city drops in the Porto vs Lisbon vs Coimbra ranking for anyone that doesn’t enjoy exploring cities with a bazillion other tourists.
  • This is similar to the last point, but get ready to wait in line to enjoy many of the most iconic things to do in Lisbon. Want to ride the iconic tram? Get in line! Want to try the famous Pastel de Nata at Pasteis de Belem? Prepare to wait with hoards of other tourists with the same idea. In other words, this isn’t a place where you can just go with the flow.
  • Your ideal place to spend your days off is in a walkable town. To be fair, whether you choose Coimbra, Porto or Lisbon, you’ll always be faced with some steep climbs. However, Lisbon is so much larger and has much bigger hills that you’ll need to conquer when exploring on foot.
  • Going to the ‘it’ spot isn’t important to you. The other two places have a similar vibe but are far less touristy than Lisbon. The aesthetics are especially similar when comparing Porto vs Lisbon. So if you want to simply enjoy the easy living in a picturesque Portuguese city, Porto or Coimbra could be more comfortable options.
  • You want to discover the soul of the place you visit. The historical center of Lisbon exists for tourists. So much so that you will encounter few locals around the most famous sites in town. You’ll need time and curiosity to delve deeper into the city and appreciate it like locals do.

Click play to find out if a Lisbon vacation is for you!

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Porto: Portugal’s Emerging Star

visiting Porto portugal

What To Know About Visiting Porto, Portugal

Porto lived in Lisbon’s shadows for a long time. So much so that comparing Porto vs Lisbon would have been unthinkable ten years ago. That is definitely no longer the case. Porto is a town that has completely come into its own, becoming a world-class destination in its own right. In fact, it was named the World’s Best City Destination in 2022 at the World Travel Awards!

At first glance, Porto may feel like a miniature version of Lisbon. You would be forgiven for thinking that you’re in one of Lisbon’s historic areas when exploring Porto. Porto’s Ribeira neighborhood may remind you a bit of Lisbon’s Alfama district with it’s narrow alleyways and colorful buildings.

But even though these two places have some similarities, what we appreciate about Porto is that it is just an easier city to get under control. Porto is much smaller than Lisbon. And the number of sights that are considered ‘must-visit’ are very manageable. Meaning that it’s easy to enjoy this charming city at a leisurely pace.

We quickly fell in love with Porto’s lively, yet easy-going waterfront. The bustling promenade lining the Duoro River is packed with outdoor restaurants where you can just kick back and watch the world pass by. All while enjoying some delicious petiscos (Portuguese tapas).

And, of course, we can’t talk about visiting Porto without talking about all the delicious Port Wine that you can find in town. Crossing the famous Duoro River from the Ribeira neighborhood will bring you face-to-face with more tasting rooms and Port houses that you’ll know what to do with!

In summary, Porto makes finding a place to relax with a nice meal accompanied by a glass of delicious Port completely effortless. And it is this simplicity that makes Porto such a great vacation destination!

Porto or Lisbon - which is better to visit?

The Pros – Visiting Porto Is For You If:

  • You would like to check out a gorgeous Portuguese city without feeling the pressure to visit an intimidating number of famous attractions. Porto has the beautiful Porto Cathedral, the São Bento train station and a handful of other notable sites that can easily be visited at a relaxed pace in a day or two.
  • Wine (Port) tasting sounds like your kind of cultural experience while on vacation. Sure – it’s technically the town of Vila Nova de Gaia that’s home to all the Port tasting rooms. But this area directly across the famous Duoro River from Porto is essential to this city’s overall experience.
  • Spending your afternoons alongside a river while dining on great food and drinks is exactly what you’re looking for. Porto is all about taking it easy and living the good life! Go ahead and order another glass of Port, the cathedrals will still be there tomorrow 😎
  • You’re looking for a great base to explore some lesser-known Portuguese destinations. The city of Braga and the highly underrated Peneda Geres National Park are just a short drive from Porto. Trust us when we tell you that Northern Portugal is much more relaxed than other parts of the country. (Guess what? We made a video about Peneda Geres National Park and the surrounding villages.)
  • You want to learn how to surf at some of the best beginner-surfing beaches in Portugal! And unlike in Lisbon or Coimbra, you don’t have to travel a long way to get there. Porto’s beaches are located only 20 minutes from the historic center!

WOTW Tip: taking a river cruise into the Duoro Valley is one of the best things to do in Porto! The Duoro Valley is one of the most beautiful places we visited in Portugal, and taking a scenic boat ride from Porto is one of the best ways to experience Portugal’s stunning wine region.

The Cons – Leave Porto Alone If:

  • You dream of visiting a quaint town without the crowds. The recognition that Porto has received from the travel world has made it a major tourist destination. Visiting Porto in the high-season will feel just as crowded and intense as being in Lisbon during the summer months.
  • You want more action from the Portuguese city you choose to visit. Even though Porto can be busy, the crowd that tends to visit are mostly interested in relaxing while taking in the atmosphere… and wines. It’s not a place where you’ll find cool bars and restaurants filled with trendy locals. Not one hipster was spotted while visiting Porto 😂
  • The famous Port wine doesn’t excite you. Let’s be real, visiting the beautiful Port houses in Gaia is an essential thing to do while in Porto. But what’s the point if you don’t care about wine???
  • You are looking for the party! No doubt, Porto has it’s fair share of fantastic tasting rooms and bars. But Porto attracts more of the history and culture crowd than the night owls.

See why this city is a major contender in the Porto vs Lisbon vs Coimbra showdown!

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Porto or Lisbon or Coimbra pros & cons

Coimbra: The Under-The-Radar Contender

Choosing between Porto or Coimbra
Views of historic Coimbra across the Mondego River.

What To Know About Visiting Coimbra, Portugal

Did you know that Coimbra was Portugal’s first capital city? Or that this city is home to its own nostalgic brand of beautiful fado music? Or that it has the country’s oldest and most prestigious university with major Harry Potter vibes!

Well – did you???

In this competition against Portuguese heavyweights, it’s hard to see how this city can compete in the showdown of Coimbra vs Porto vs Lisbon. After all, Coimbra certainly lacks the grandeur and the wealth of options of Lisbon or Porto. That said, there is certainly a type of traveller that would be extremely comfortable in this more bite-sized town.

Coimbra is the smallest and least touristy town of the bunch. And after visiting either Porto or Lisbon, Coimbra my attract visitors looking for a less hectic Portuguese city to visit. In a way, visiting Coimbra is similar to Porto minus the developed riverfront. You can just kind of hop in an old church or two and then you convince yourself that an 11 am happy hour is totally legit. No judging from us!

But seriously, just because it lacks the size and splendor of Lisbon or Porto, Coimbra is definitely worth visiting. It features a picturesque historical center with winding alleyways that bring you to the city’s heart and soul – Universidade de Coimbra.

This 700+ year old university is steeped in tradition. And if you visit at the right time you’ll get to see new students taking part in wonderful initiations that are all part of the University’s great traditions.

Porto or Coimbra - Coimbra old city

The Pros – Visiting Coimbra Is For You If:

  • You have a preference for smaller towns than either Porto or Lisbon. With about 150,000 residents, Coimbra is nearly half the size of Porto. And there is definitely a much more relaxed vibe to this town. Coimbra wins the head-to-head between Porto vs Lisbon vs Coimbra when it comes to being the most chill Portuguese city to visit.
  • Getting a taste of Portugal’s university life sounds like a great time! The University of Coimbra is rife with wholesome rituals and folklore. Think upperclassmen dressed in black cloaks, freshmen clanking around town with empty cans tied to their ankles, and sorority students raising money in the main avenues to by playing live music. Visit in October for the best chance to experience all the ways the University adds its charm to Coimbra.
  • You want to live your Harry Potter dream. Touring the University’s fit-for-royalty exam rooms and the straight-from-Hollywood Joanina Library will make you feel like you’re walking through Hogwarts with Harry’s wizard gang. Fun fact: the University of Coimbra is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • You don’t mind taking part in slower-paced day trips. Visiting the historic town of Viseu or the ancient Roman settlement of Conimbriga are some of the most popular day trips to take from Coimbra. These relaxed stops might be exactly what you’re looking for in your Portugal vacation.
  • Getting a taste of a different style of fado music intrigues you. One can never get enough fado in their lives, and checking out the distinctive style that’s 100% Coimbra is totally worthwhile for music lovers.

WOTW Tip: comparing attractions in Lisbon vs Coimbra is only a fair fight when talking about Fado music. While Fado originates from Lisbon, Coimbra adapted it’s own style of this popular melancholic music that it can now call it’s own. Unlike in Lisbon, Coimbra Fado is sung only by men, and the themes often revolve around the city itself and its beloved University. The best place to listen to this beautiful music is Fado ao Centro.

The Cons – Leave Coimbra Alone If:

  • You want to experience this country’s indisputable highlights. Don’t expect the same quantity or quality of historic buildings, museums, high-end restaurants, and shopping as you would find in Lisbon or Porto. Coimbra just isn’t in the same league as these other two world-class destinations.
  • You want more attractions in town beyond Coimbra University and a few old Cathedrals. If we are being completely honest, many of the most popular things to do in Coimbra can be visited in 24 hours. But hey, some people like it that way!
  • Your ideal vacation spot includes having enough nightlife options to keep you going through the night. We noticed most tourists visiting Coimbra were on the older side, and the town doesn’t exactly rock through the night.
  • You prefer to be within reach of one of Portugal’s amazing beach towns. While the beautiful Mondego River does run through the center of Coimbra, you won’t be finding any sandy spots nearby when visiting this inland town. Either Porto or Lisbon is better suited for beach vacations.

See why visiting historic Coimbra, Portugal is totally worth it!

Final Thoughts About Coimbra, Lisbon or Porto: Which City Was Our Favorite?

We loved visiting every one of these incredible Portuguese destinations. But it is only right to end this post by telling you which one is our winner of the Porto vs Lisbon vs Coimbra showdown.

Are you ready for it?

Our favorite city that we visited in Portugal is… Actually, it depends on which one of us you ask. Sorry about the anticlimactic answer. But let me explain:

  • Aimara puts Lisbon in her top spot. Between its trendy neighborhoods and incredible food, the more cosmopolitan vibes here separated it from the pack. Lisbon is just an iconic destination that is a borderline must-visit.
  • I (Gordon) am more of a Porto guy. I found Porto and Lisbon to have a similar aesthetic but enjoyed Porto’s more manageable downtown area. And in my opinion, Porto does a better job of taking advantage of the beautiful waterfront.

Remember that Coimbra is an incredible city worth visiting despite not topping our personal lists. It just doesn’t have the diversity of attractions to compete with Lisbon or Porto. And to be clear, we’re only picking favorites because it’s kinda fun. In a perfect world, you could add at least two of these Portuguese cities to your vacation plans. Each one brings something extraordinary to the table!

We hope our review helps you decide whether Coimbra, Lisbon or Porto is the best fit for you! You’re all set to plan your perfect Portugal getaway 😎

Have fun out there!


Have questions about Coimbra, Lisbon or Porto? Reach out in the comments or DM us on Instagram!

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