Barcelona vs Lisbon Vacation: what's better?

Lisbon or Barcelona? Two cities with lots of similarities. But which one is the best choice for you? Today we want to help you decide where to spend your next European vacation (or maybe convince you to visit both!).

Lisbon and Barcelona are ancient cities great for history lovers. Lisbon was first founded by the Celts first. Then came the Phoenicians, the Greek and the Carthaginians. By 31 to 27BC it had become a Roman municipium, about the same time that the Romans founded Barcelona, who had been the land of the Iberian tribe of the Laietans until then.

Both cities are by the shore: Barcelona by the Mediterranean Sea and Lisbon by the Tagus riverside. Both have a similar surface, around 100km2 (some 39 sq mi) – although Barcelona is three times more populated than Lisbon (1.6 milion vs 500,000 inhabitants).

So how to tell which destination goes better to your personal travel interests? Let’s compare both cities from the point of view of a traveler!

These points will help you choose between Lisbon or Barcelona:

1

Distances

Both Barcelona and Lisbon are quite walkeable cities, with most sites located within walking distance from each other. In Barcelona places such as Park Guell, Sagrada Familia, the FC Barcelona Stadium and the Hill of Montjuic might be further but are easily accessible by public transportation. Whereas in Lisbon the must-sees that require a ride are those in the Belem district (Belem Tower and Monument to the Discoveries, for instance) or the Park of the Nations.

One important thing to take into account, though, is that Lisbon is quite hilly, whereas Barcelona is relatively flat. The city gently descents from the uptown districts at the foot of the Tibidabo mountain towards the beach, and it only becomes hilly as you approach Park Guell or Montjuic.

2

Fun Transportation Means

Lisbon is of course known by its old-fashioned tramways! In Barcelona there was only one left: the Tranvia Blau. However, at the moment the service is disrupted for repairs with no reopening date yet despite the neighbors complaints. We do have two modern tram lines connecting with the Northern and Southern suburbs, but they have little interest for visitors.

Besides trams, Lisbon is also famous for its 3 so-called elevators (Bica, Gloria and Lavra), which are really funiculars. They are old-fashioned and colorful. But did you know Barcelona also has 3 funiculars? All of them modern, though. There’s one in the hill of Montjuic, and two in the Tibidabo mountain (funicular de Vallvidrera and funicular del Tibidabo).

Finally, the Park of the Nations in Lisbon features a modern cable car. As for Barcelona… we have two cable cars! A modern one in taking you to the Montjuic Castle, and a vintage gondola crossing over the port. The port one beats Lisbon’s length by only 70m and by height (100m / 328f vs only 30m / 98f), but the Montjuic cablecar takes you to the highest point. The upper station is overlooks the entire city from 173m (567f) above sea level.

3

Architecture

The architecture is impressive in both cities. In Lisbon you can’t miss the impressive arch of the Praça do Comercio, nor the classic buildings around Rossio square. The Cathedral of Lisbon is a beautiful example of Romanesque style but the Gothic Monastery of Jeronimos is even more breathtaking.

The Castle of Sao Jorge totally beats the Montjuic Castle in Barcelona. And engineering lovers will be fascinated by the immense bridges over the Tagus river.

Modernism, the Art Nouveau of Barcelona, is the extreme opposite to classic architecture. Colorful, over decorated and funky, it takes you to a dream world rather than back to the time of old Empires. The works of the architect Antoni Gaudi is the biggest exponent, but there are other that will surprise you as well, like his competitors Puig i Cadafalch and Domenech i Muntaner.

We do have a remarkable cathedral, La Seu, and a delicate Gothic monastery tucked away in one end of the city that most tourists miss – the monastery of Pedralbes. But nothings beats visiting Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Basilica. It’s just out of this world.

4

Museums

Here is where Barcelona beats Lisbon the most. Lisbon might be one of the few European capitals without a decent art collection. Guidebooks tell you to visit the Coach museum and the Archaeology museum. But none is considered a world-class must.

Instead, in Barcelona you can visit the museums of two masters: Picasso and Miro. The Picasso Museum might not feature masterpieces, but it’s a quite inspiring view into the early and late years of the artist. The Miro Foundation was founded by Miro himself and offers a perspective of the entire artist’s evolution. Plus there’s the Museum of National Art of Catalonia. Think of it as a mini-Louvre dedicated to the last 1000 years of Catalan art. For hard-core museum-goers only.

5

Food

Would you believe codfish is a very popular ingredient in both Catalan and Portuguese cooking? The reasons are the same in both countries: salted cod lasted for months, what made it a convenient source of protein, and secondly fish was an acceptable type of meal during Christian Lent.

But if there’s one specialty Lisbon is famous for it’s the “pastéis de Belém”, a custard pastry. And do you know what? Custard is also big in Barcelona! Although not in pastry form, “crema catalana” is the local version of crème brûlée and it’s served as dessert in most local restaurants. At Escribà in La Rambla they burn the crust right in front of you. 

AND BONUS! Religious tourism in Barcelona and Lisbon

6

Fatima vs Montserrat

Christian pilgrims have good reasons to travel to both Lisbon and Barcelona and stay long enough for a day trip.

1.5 hour drive from Lisbon stands the imposing Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima. There in 1917 the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to 3 shepherd children and revealed them secrets, and that same year hundreds of pilgrims witnessed a miracle when the sun behaved in an abnormal way.

The Monastery of Our Lady of Montserrat is located less than 1 hour drive from Barcelona, half way to the top of an impressive rocky mountain. The views and the natural surroundings are worth the ride by themselves.

It is said that in the late 800’s some angels attracted a shepherd to a cave where he found a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, that became stubbornly heavy and impossible to lift when the  locals tried to move her into town. Hence they eventually built her first a chapel and later on an entire monastery.

The monastery is also famous to be the house of one of the oldest boys choirs in Europe, the Escolania. The kids live there on a boarding school regime and sing Marian anthems in public twice daily.

So, Lisbon vs Barcelona... What's your choice?

Marta

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