As Lisbon’s cost of living surges, more foreigners looking to settle down are turning their attention to Porto. It’s not surprising, Porto is Portugal’s second-largest city with a lot to offer beyond its famous wines and gastronomy!
What makes Porto so unique?
- Its breathtaking city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Nestled along the Douro River, Porto was first established in medieval times 900 years ago. It’s filled with hilltop churches and cathedrals, many of them adorn in ceramic blue tiles (Azulejos) which Portugal is famous for. Walk along the cobbled streets and you’ll find countless little wine bars, bistros, and pastelerias to keep your glucose levels high for all the walking you’ll do in this city!
- A whopping 6 bridges connect the city. The most famous of these, Ponte de Dom Luis, appears as a massive rainbow with double decks, supporting the flow of tourists and locals from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. On both sides of the river, you’ll find some of the best seafood restaurants in the world with views that invite a leisurely pace of living.
- Festivals and Cultural Events. Annual festivals in Porto cover everything from boat races to cartoons and puppets! But many of them are filled with what you might expect from a city like Porto – wines, music, and the arts. Among the most famous of these celebrations is the São João Festival in June. With pagan origins as a harvest festival, silliness abounds at this 2-day beer and barbeque-stocked event – Bring your plastic hammer and prepare to get hit!
The architecture is so unique and varied here in Porto that at times I stop walking just to gawk. Here are some pictures taken on a recent stroll around Bonfim, a central area of Porto.
For those of you who didn’t know it, Porto is also home of The Lello And Irmao Bookstore, aka “The Harry Potter Bookstore.” With its unique, scaling design and perfect symmetry, it’s no surprise there’s also a line of tourists outside to sneak a peek.
Porto or Lisbon: Which Portuguese City is the Best to Live in?
There are a few key factors to consider when weighing the option of living in Porto or Lisbon – Climate, budget, and culture. Here’s my quick overview of each.
Porto is a windy city. Often rainy or foggy, and pretty much always chilly at night. There are nice beaches nearby Porto that you can enjoy, but you simply won’t have as many days to enjoy them as you will the beaches near Lisbon. That being said, many of the available and affordable apartments to rent in both of these cities are old. Don’t expect to find air conditioning or central heating.
In my experience, Lisbon is better if you want to be outside more, and Porto is better if you’re a house cat! In other words, you really don’t need AC in Porto. Look for an apartment that is renovated with improved insulation, and keeping it warm with plug-in heaters won’t be an issue.
Lisbon, on the other hand, will be too hot to stay indoors for many days in the summer. You’ll need to have some escapes available if you’re without air! But if you love being outside in the evening hours, it’s definitely nicer in Lisbon.
Food is definitely cheaper in Porto. I’ve noticed that a nice plate of fish (Dourada and veggies) is 2-4 euros less than a typical Portuguese tasca. For both cities, restaurant prices are cheaper outside the touristy areas. (I just think it’s easier to find those places in Porto.) Grocery stores are inexpensive in both cities for common items. My current roommate is from Lithuania and was astounded at the low cost of fruits and vegetables here. The local markets are also very good.
As for renting an apartment. I have seen listings at 750-850 euros a month (for a one-bedroom) here in Porto that are comparable to listings in Lisbon priced around 1100 – 1200. In both locations, the market is very competitive for renters right now. I’ve been told by a landlord in Porto that in October and throughout the winter it is easier to rent and prices are generally better.
These observations are purely my own, with some agreeance from other expats I’ve spoken with.
- Porto is a more conservative city. There is less diversity here, and many of the locals have never been outside the city or country. It’s a very proud city. In the words of my personal trainer at the gym, “Porto is the best city. I would not go to Lisbon even for 2 days!” I find that my conversations with Porto locals are a little more rigid.
- Conversely, it is easier to meet and befriend locals here in Porto. Because it is less of a melting pot than Lisbon, Porto seems to offer more opportunities to strike up conversations with locals (especially if you know a little Portuguese).
- I feel more hostility towards foreigners in Porto. Keep in mind that currently, the country is struggling with a housing crisis. The national minimum wage in Portugal is only 760 euros/month as of Jan. 1, 2023. Most one-bedroom apartments available in central Porto cost that or more. There are signs of protest hanging from buildings against the use of AirBnB. New laws may pass soon with further restrictions. The local people have good reason to demand this. Sadly, I sometimes feel an acute awareness that “we” (foreigners) are the problem.
- Liveliness. I actually think both cities are lively, but if I were a person in my 20s, I would probably choose to live in Lisbon, just due to the sheer size of the city and all the nightlife it has to offer. Lisbon also has fantastic city parks and green spaces that are hard to beat. “Kiosks,” which are the little snack bars located at the viewpoints and in parks throughout the city are truly special – I can’t imagine going back to happy hours without them! You will find them in Porto, too, but Lisbon wins in this regard.
- Remote work. One of the things I recently discovered in Lisbon is that there are many libraries that one can work from for free. (Biblioteca Camões is my favorite, and a hidden gem in downtown Lisbon.) Porto has fewer public libraries and fewer coworking spaces. However, new coworking spaces are popping up as Porto’s remote work population grows.
- Quiet life. Throwing this in as a final point. If you like your vibes a little more low-key and your streets a little less crowded, Porto is the way to go. You can find the party when you want it, but in Lisbon… sometimes you just can’t escape the crowds, especially in the summer months.
Both cities are unique in their own right and good places to call home. I am currently torn in deciding for myself! Have you been to these cities? What are your thoughts?