Everyone loves Europe.

Backpacking the many European countries is how many travelers catch the travel bug to begin with.

From Paris to London, Europe is full of exciting and drastically different cities, scattered throughout the continent. Spain is a big destination, but its small neighbor to the south, Portugal, can often be overlooked.

I backpacked both Spain and Portugal in January of 2019 and fell in love with both countries. However, if the two were compared against each other, who would come out on top?

 

Tourist Destinations

I’m personally not huge on cramming every single tourist attraction during a trip. I prefer to wander a city to get to know it before ticking off tourist attraction boxes.  I do love to discover different sights in countries. Both Spain and Portugal have plenty to offer tourists who love sightseeing!

Spain is much larger than Portugal, with more big cities offering different tourist attractions. In sheer numbers, Spain definitely has Portugal beat. Destinations in Spain include:

  • The Palacio Real (Royal Palace) in Madrid
  • The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
  • Real Alcázar in Seville
  • Mezquita of Cordoba
  • Art museums in Madrid

 

inside the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona

Inside the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona

 

Portugal is much smaller than Spain but does not lack incredible sightseeing opportunities, including:

  • Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon
  • The Palácio Nacional and other palaces in Sintra
  • The Prazeres Cemetery in Lisbon
  • Torre de Belém in Lisbon
  • Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga

I will have to award Spain for the number of tourist attractions over Portugal.

With Madrid’s golden trio of art museums and Gaudi’s famous Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain is chock full of tourist sights. Not to mention, Real Alcázar in Seville and Girona were both used as shooting destinations for Game of Thrones!

Spain vs Portugal Tourist Destinations Winner: Spain

 

castles in Sintra, Portugal

Colorful castles in Sintra, Portugal

 

Beaches

I visited Spain and Portugal in mid-January, so I did not do any beach or water-related activities. However, I can definitely comment on what I saw advertised, and the feeling of the coastlines in each country.

Spain is more known for its islands, such as Ibiza and Tenerife. The islands are full of tourism and resorts and are best for beachgoers looking for a relaxing vacation. The beaches on these islands, as well as in Barcelona, get remarkably crowded during the season.

The majority of Portugal is along the coastline, so beautiful beaches can be found everywhere. The beaches range from relaxing resorts like in Spain to empty beaches covered in massive rock formations and sand caves. Cliff jumping, hiking, and surfing are all very common activities in Portugal. The Atlantic Ocean definitely gets better waves on the Portuguese coastline!

Depending on what you look for in a beach, you may disagree with my decision. However, I get bored lying on the beach doing nothing, and large crowds irritate me on the beach.

Therefore, I award Portugal with the better beach scene!

Spain vs Portugal Beaches Winner: Portugal

 

beaches of Barcelona

The beautiful but crowded beaches of Barcelona

 

Nightlife

The nightlife in both Spain and Portugal are outstanding.

In Spain, Barcelona is known as a huge party city in Europe. My favorite bar there: Espit Chupitos! This bar has hundreds of different house shots that will definitely entertain you. Rooftop bars are popular in Madrid, and late-night tapas bars will have you eating and drinking your heart out in Seville.

In Portugal, most of the big-city feel nightlife will be in Lisbon. Lisbon has some pretty incredible bars and clubs, but nowhere near to the number found in Barcelona and Madrid.

Spain definitely has a larger variety of nightlife!

Spain vs Portugal Nightlife Winner: Spain

 

street car in Lisbon

Streetcar on the winding roads of Lisbon

 

Safety and Friendliness

Both countries are incredibly safe. I never felt unsafe in either country, even at night and by myself.

While there is very little serious crime in Spain, pickpocketing is HUGE. Barcelona is actually the worst city in the world for pickpocketing crimes, and police can do little about it unless you catch the culprit. I was constantly checking my bag and pockets, especially after a little kid tried to steal my phone on a metro in Madrid!

The people in Spain, especially northern and mid-Spain, were fairly cold and unwelcoming to tourists as a whole. Language barriers are definitely something to think about as well.

In Portugal, I never had any problems. The people, in general, were much more friendly and open than in Spain. No one attempted to pickpocket me, and I was constantly striking up a conversation with locals. Every local I met speaks (nearly) perfect English as well!

Portugal definitely feels safer and friendlier than Spain!

Spain vs Portugal Safety and Friendliness Winner: Portugal

 

churros and chocolate in Spain

Spanish churros and hot chocolate

 

Food and Drink

The food in Spain and Portugal are fairly similar. Seafood is popular in both countries, and both countries have their signature drinks!

Madrid, Spain is where you will find the BEST drinking chocolate in the world. Thick, hot chocolate and churros are extremely popular with locals and tourists alike. Tapas restaurants are scattered around the country, with delicious plates of fish, cheese, bread, and meat. Whole smoked pigs can be seen in meat shops around the country.

My favorite coffee in the world is also in Spain: café bombón. It is made with espresso and sweetened condensed milk. I had one every day!

Portugal is a major lover of seafood. Lisbon’s tinned seafood culture is huge, and you can find some incredible, gourmet seafood in little tins around the city. Steamed octopus, fish soup, and mussels are also on nearly every menu.

Porto, Portugal is where Port wine is made. The city is full of wineries and restaurants that will let you try dozens of different kinds of wine! Lisbon’s signature liquor is delicious too: sour cherry liquor! The liquor is served in dark chocolate shot glasses and eaten whole. Delicious!

For dessert, Portugal’s Leite de Crème is incredible. These small custard tarts are sold all over for only a euro or two. Eat one with a latte, and you’ll be in heaven!

I definitely enjoyed the food and drink in Portugal more than Spain, overall.

Spain vs Portugal Food and Drink Winner: Portugal

 

ornate church on a hilltop in Barcelona

Tibidabo Church with a view in Barcelona

 

Overall Winner of Spain vs Portugal

I overall enjoyed my time in Portugal more than Spain. Although both countries are incredible, Portugal had an overall more laid-back vibe and fun atmosphere than Spain.

However, I highly encourage travelers to backpack both countries, as it is so easy to jump from one to the other!

Stacia runs the travel blog Stumble Safari and has a passion for adventure and animal tourism education. Check her out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for travel tips and inspiration!

 

This article is part of the EU Smackdown series. Read the rest below:

Norway vs. Sweden

England vs. Scotland

Italy vs. France

France vs. Spain

Then, check out the complete Country Comparison series for more showdowns from around the world!

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