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Both Porto and Venice are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is an abundance of travel guides for both cities, but few actually comparing them, and advising you which is the better for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased and independent views of Porto and Venice, hopefully making your choice that little easier.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City ratings -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Ah, Venice – a bucket-list city if there ever was one! Famed for its myriad canals, vast plazas and grand churches, this is one of Italy's most visited destinations. Once the epicentre of its own trading empire that stretched right across the Mediterranean and even east to the Old Silk Road, it became rich on spices, precious metals, and cloth.
Porto is the surprise of western Europe. This hardworking and unassuming city seems to have stumbled into tourism without even realising its own potential. The variety of historic sights, personable atmosphere, along with a glass of sweet Port wine, creates a wonderful tourist destination.
Porto may be comparatively small and virtually unknown, but it can rival any of the more established tourist destinations. The unique appeal of Porto is that it is not swamped by tourists in the summer season, and is ideal for a summertime city break.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.
We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!
It's no secret that most people whiz in and out of Venice on big cruise ships, even if recent regulations are bringing a slow end to that.
Lots of weekenders also come on low-cost flights – Venice's Treviso Airport is a major hub for budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet. Those sorts of travellers can only ever really expect to scratch the surface of what's on offer.
The upshot? If you really want to explore this amazing city, you're going to need a little longer. If the budget allows, a week is perfect. That will be enough to see the mainstay sights, but also venture across to Murano and the Venice Lido, the party bars of Campo Santa Margherita, and the pathways of Giudecca.
Porto is a compact city, and if rushed, all of the major tourist areas can be seen in a single day. Typically, we would recommend two days, which would include a short cruise along the Douro River and time for port tasting.
If you wished to extend your trip further, there are some great days out to the historic towns of Guimarães, Braga and Aveiro. During the summer (Jun-Sep) there are beautiful beaches along the Costa Verde coastline, and you could visit the resort towns of Espinho, Vila do Conde or Matosinhos.
Related articles: 2 days in Porto – 1 week in Porto
Porto is one of the best European cities for a summer city break. While the rest of southern Europe swelters under the unbearable summer heat, Porto experiences pleasant weather and is not completely overrun by tourists.
Winters are mild and wet, and there is a high chance of rain from October through to May. The middle of June is the best time to visit the city when the Santos Populares festivals are being held.
We're almost tempted to say forget Venice in the summer entirely. During the Italian high season between May and August, the whole place is packed to bursting with tourists. You can barely swing a slice of pizza on the Rialto Bridge or down on Piazza San Marco.
What's more, the horizon is tainted with the outlines of huge cruise ships. Far better are the shoulder months of May and September. The crowds diminish considerably during those, but the weather still tends to be reasonable – think daytime temperatures regularly hitting the mid-20s.
The final weeks of February are also popular on account of the centuries-old tradition of the Venice Carnivale. Come then to join the revelry but be sure to bring along a flamboyant face mask (a must) and a good coat, because the winters can be cold.
It's probably a good idea to avoid the rest of the winter. Venice is one of the lowest-lying cities in the world, so flooding comes easy. In the last few years, there have been huge problems with water clogging up even the famous tourist hotspots around Piazza San Marco.
Venice is a perfect break for those keen to check off another bucket-list city. Yes, it might be over touristed, but there's still something truly magical about the canals and the gondolas and the great churches here.
It's simply unlike anywhere else on the planet. All that adds an edge of romance to boot. So, consider this one if you're searching for a city-based honeymoon.
On the flip side, Venice isn't for the budget traveller or the outdoorsy person. Yes, you can hop on a bus to go north to the Dolomites, but they are still several hours away.
There are beaches, but they are nowhere near the best on the Italian east coast. And you can expect to pay over the odds for virtually everything, from hotels to ice creams to pizza.
The characteristics of Porto traditionally appealed to the older visitor; it is very safe and there is a pleasant unhurried ambience, with a slightly conservative attitude. This mature opinion of Porto is often compounded by the most popular activities; Douro River cruises and Port tasting (which is great fun!).
This demographic of visitors to Porto is rapidly evolving, as younger travellers realise it is actually a progressive city, with a lot to see and do. Porto will appeal to those looking for somewhere slightly different, but who want a hassle-free trip with decent tourist facilities. Being one of the safest cities in Europe makes it ideal for solo/female travellers.
Considering the size of Porto there is a lot to see, and you can pack in a lot in a 48 hour visit.
Below is an interactive map of where we recommend to go in 48 hours in Porto; day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked in grey.
A tour of Porto typically starts in the Se district, with the gothic cathedral and ancient city walls. Next is the Baixa district, where you can find the Avenida dos Aliados, and enjoy the view from the top of the Clérigos Tower.
For the latter part of the day and evening visit the ancient Ribeira district, which lines the banks of the Douro River. For the evening, join one of the boat cruises along the river or to party head to the Vitória district.
The Avenida dos Aliados is the grand plaza of central Porto
On the morning of the second day, ride the traditional tram to the Foz district, which is positioned at the mouth of the Douro River and extends along a rocky coastline to the beach of Matosinhos.
In the afternoon, and the highlight of Porto, are the tours of the Port cellars and Port tasting. Lining the southern banks of the Douro River are eight of the major Port producers, each with their vast cellars and tasting tours. You’ll happily leave Porto a Port connoisseur and a little tipsy…
48hours in Venice
Delve into the secrets and the uber-famous sights of Venice with this 48-hour itinerary. It will take you from the legendary walks of the Rialto Bridge all the way to the hidden glass workshops of Murano, revealing some of the most enthralling corners of the iconic City of Canals.
Day 1: Rise early and race to the Piazza San Marco. Beating the crowds to the vast plaza is a great way to see it in all its glory. As the sun rises, watch as the light caresses the red-brick Campanile (a 98-meter belfry dating from the 12th century) and the bulbous domes of St Marks Basilica.
If you've managed to arrive before the queues start to form, be sure to duck into the latter. It's free to enter and has intricate Byzantine apses and frescos. Right next door is the Doge's Palace. Again, if it's too late you can certainly expect a queue. If not, head behind the Gothic frontispiece to wander the old palace of the erstwhile leaders of the Venetian republic.
Then head north through the narrow alleys of the San Marco district. It's a beautiful maze of little side streets, occasionally punctuated by a watery canal. You're sure to find a cafeteria there for lunch, before you go straight for the Rialto Bridge, made famous by Shakespeare and painters. Cross it and hit the buzzing markets of Ruga dei Oresi, which abut the small Campo Bella Vienna, a top spot to sit with a cold beer and watch elegant Venetian gondolas drift in and out of the canals.
If you choose not to ride one, you can push on to see the San Giacomo di Rialto (probably the oldest church in the whole city!) and then the neighbourhood around Campo Santa Margherita. That's a nightlife mecca, where you can unwind with a prosecco or ten.
No trip to Venice is complete without a gondolas ride
Day 2: Your second 24 hours in Venice is all about hitting the different districts. We'd recommend starting on the northern side of the archipelago. That's home to characterful Cannaregio; the old Jewish Quarter. These days, it's got canal-side cafés next to the fascinating Muso Ebraico di Venezia, which tells the story of Venetian Jews over the centuries.
From there, move west to Santa Croce. Within, you'll glimpse the lived-in city. It's the only place where cars can travel on the archipelago and it has newer churches and loads of bakeries and shops. Hop the Grand Canal ferry (number 3) from there to Murano.
Pastel-painted workshops meet the water on that island, in an area that's been famed for centuries for its glass making. If you're interested, the Museum of Glass is a great place to start.
Alternatively, enjoy a lunch on the lagoon and then get back on the boat, travelling all the way through the Grand Canal to the Dorsoduro. The zone has beautiful broadside views of Piazza San Marco at sunset. It's also home to plenty of lovely osterias with northern Italian wines and delicacies to get stuck into.
Venice is largely safe and easy to travel. However, there are some things worth knowing before you go. First off, the overload of tourists has seen a huge spike in pickpockets over the years. So, always keep an eye on your valuables, especially in uber-popular spots like the Piazza San Marco and Erbaria.
Second, be wary that Venice's side streets are rarely empty. You'll always need to dodge a crowd and watch where you're walking. When it rains, flooding is common, so pack waterproofs and wellies if you're visiting in the winter months. Also, keep an eye out for pigeons. They're a nuisance on the piazzas and can even carry disease.
There are two airports serving Venice and its region. The largest and the closest to town is the international hub at Marco Polo Airport. That's got connections going all around the world. It's linked to the city by the ATVO bus (arrives at Piazzale Roma) and to the train station in Mestre.
If you're flying low-cost, it's more likely you'll arrive at Treviso Airport. That sits some 20 miles to the north, with buses that link to the archipelago in around 70 minutes for about €10 each way.
Choosing where to stay in Venice is very important. Fly-in, fly-out tourists will want to be in the vicinity of Piazza San Marco. The area is laced with expensive and classy hotels, but also has some more affordable options, all within walking distance of the top sights.
If to save some cash and get somewhere a little quieter, you could sleep closer to Dorsoduro or the Cannaregio, or even out in Murano. The cheapest places of all will be on the mainland, in Mestre.