Spain vs. Portugal — what are the top differences for travellers

Spain vs. Portugal — what are the top differences for travellers

While there may be similarities and shared influences due to their shared history, it is important to appreciate the unique characteristics and differences between Spain and Portugal. Each country offers its own distinct charm, attractions, and experiences for visitors. Both nations share an area on the Iberian Peninsula, exude an ancient European atmosphere, and are renowned for their delicious cuisine. However, knowing the differences can help you plan your ideal Western European vacation.

Key Takeaways

  • Spain and Portugal share historical influences but offer distinct cultural experiences.
  • Spain tends to be slightly more expensive for travelers compared to Portugal.
  • Both countries boast beautiful beaches, but Portugal is particularly known for its stunning Algarve coastline.
  • Spain and Portugal offer rich histories with numerous museums and historical sights to explore.
  • While both countries provide excellent cuisine, each has its unique culinary specialties.

1. Beaches

When it comes to beaches, both Spain and Portugal offer stunning coastlines, but they each have their unique charm.


Spain's beaches are famous for their lively atmosphere and extensive amenities. The Costa del Sol and Costa Brava are particularly popular, offering long stretches of sandy beaches, vibrant nightlife, and numerous water sports activities. Ibiza and Mallorca are renowned for their party scenes and beautiful beaches.


Portugal's beaches are known for their dramatic landscapes and quieter, more intimate settings. The southern coast around Lagos, Portimao, and Albufeira features beautiful sea cliffs and unique beach coves. Praia da Rocha in Portimao is a major draw with its sandy shores and dramatic red cliffs. For a more serene experience, Praia de Alvor offers a family-friendly atmosphere with a boardwalk.

If you're looking for a mix of culture and beach time, Portugal's coastal towns like Sintra and Praia da Costa Nova offer historic sites along with beautiful beaches.


Feature Spain Portugal
Atmosphere Lively and vibrant Quieter and more intimate
Popular Destinations Costa del Sol, Costa Brava Lagos, Portimao, Albufeira
Unique Features Party scenes in Ibiza, Mallorca Dramatic sea cliffs, beach coves
Family-friendly Options Various water sports Praia de Alvor with boardwalk

Whether you prefer the lively beaches of Spain or the serene coves of Portugal, both countries offer exceptional coastal experiences for travelers.

2. Museums

brown cathedral during daytimer

Visitors can fill many days exploring the museums and attractions around Portugal. The big cities and smaller towns both offer plenty of museums of all types, from art and history to science and family-friendly museums. In Lisbon, don't miss the National Azulejo Museum to see the history and art of these unique glazed tiles. MUDE teaches visitors all about design, while MAAT covers art, architecture, and technology in a way that feels like a modern art museum mixed with modern science. For a local musical experience, check out the Fado Museum, or for international history don't miss the Maritime Museum which is dedicated to the famous Portuguese explorers who set sail across the oceans. Dozens more are found around the city, too. In Porto, don't miss the Serralves Contemporary Art Museum, the Museum of the Holocaust, the Tram Museum, and the World of Wine. This last one is actually 5 different museums focusing on not just wine, but also the agricultural production of wine, cork, and chocolate and their impacts on Portuguese society and history. The Pink Palace is fun for kids and adults alike, as the theme is Rose Wine with a variety of humorous selfie spots. The Chocolate Museum is always a favorite, too. Finally, a variety of port and wine cellars are found on the other side of the river.

You'll find a good number of museums and monuments packed into Spain. The major cities of Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Granada, and others all have world-class museums that cover a variety of topics from history to art to science. Many of them are also family-friendly. In Barcelona, don't miss the Picasso museum dedicated to the famous artist. Casa Batllo is one of Gaudi's famous buildings and worth a tour along with Casa Vicens, too. MNAC is a great place to learn about the local Catalan art and history. In Madrid, art lovers should visit the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofia Arts Center, or the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, all of which have world-class art from Spain and Europe. In Valencia, kids will love the Oceanografic aquarium and the Bioparc zoo. In Seville, the Real Alcazar has fascinating architecture. and the Flemenco museum showcases Spain's most famous dance. This is just a small sample, as you'll find even more museums in Bilbao, Malaga, Granada, and other cities around the country, too.

3. Historical Sights

When it comes to historical sights, both Spain and Portugal offer a rich tapestry of landmarks that reflect their long and varied histories. Spain has many famous historic and cultural sights and attractions worth visiting, and is one of the main reasons why people come here.


  • Seville: This elegant city is filled with historic buildings and world-famous architecture. From the iconic Catedral de Sevilla to the Real Alcázar and Plaza de España, there is an endless supply of world-class sights around town.
  • Cordoba: The city is filled with monuments that reflect its past. The Great Mosque (La Mezquita) is one of the most iconic sights. You can also visit Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, Palacio de Viana, and Puente Romano.
  • Barcelona: Top attractions in Spain include the Basílica de la Sagrada Familia, Parque del Retiro, and Casa Batlló.


  • Lisbon: The capital city has many sights that would be the envy of other cities. Perhaps the most iconic is the Belém Tower, the sixteenth-century fortified tower that stands on the water. You'll also see São Jorge Castle and the Jeronimos Monastery.
  • Sintra: This town has a gorgeous castle, the Pena National Palace, and the medieval Moorish Castle.
  • Coimbra: Known for its historic library and university, which leave visitors in awe.
  • Porto: The Luis I bridge provides stunning views and is a must-see.
Smaller towns have long history and unique culture, too. In Lisbon, check out Belem Tower and St. George’s Castle before wandering the old historic streets of the old town, dotted with churches and quaint viewpoints.

4. Cuisine

Unsurprisingly, seafood plays a major role in both Spanish and Portuguese cuisine. But each country approaches the dishes in their own way and also makes use of imported spices and other ingredients from their seafaring empire days to create globetrotting, multicultural dishes.

With its innovative style combined with traditional elements, Portugal makes for a great culinary experience. As a coastal nation, seafood here is fantastic, but it's not the only type of cuisine available. Popular traditional dishes begin with the small but famous custard tart known as Pastel de Nata. It's easy to get them at bakeries and street vendors.

You’re in for a culinary treat regardless of whether you head on Spain holidays or trips to Portugal. Both Portuguese and Spanish cuisine rely on fresh seafood, fragrant ingredients like olive oil and garlic, and pair well with robust wines. Both countries use rice as a common grain and obsess over the use of the spicy pork sausage, chorizo. While you’ll find cutting edge cuisine in the major cities, the humility and universality of Portuguese and Spanish dishes is what make them so fabulous.

Liquid features heavily in nearly all Spanish cuisine. If you're looking for regional variation, head to different areas like Basque Country for grilled meat dishes and its numerous Michelin-starred restaurants.

5. Cost of Living

When planning a trip to Spain or Portugal, understanding the cost of living can help you budget more effectively. On average, the cost of living in Spain is 4.3% more expensive than in Portugal, with Spain being cheaper on average for public transport and grocery costs.

To compare and contrast average prices, here's what you can expect to pay for everyday things like hotels, taxis, and meals in both Spain and Portugal:

Expense Category Spain (€) Portugal (€)
Average daily cost (per person) 151 136
Accommodations (per night) 86 78
Taxi ride (starting fare) 2.99 2.78
Casual meal 8.53 10
Activities/Entertainment (per day) 24 19
On the whole, Portugal will cost less, but Spain has a higher level of infrastructure. Either way, it's a small compromise.

Spain and Portugal are generally comparable in price, but Spain tends to be slightly more expensive. The countries have a lower cost of living than some Western European countries, and this translates into slightly more affordable travel costs for visitors. Even so, Spain is a top tourist destination, so don't expect it to be super cheap. Portugal continues to grow in popularity as a travel destination, offering a balance of affordability and rich cultural experiences.

6. Culture

Spain and Portugal, though geographically close, offer distinct cultural experiences for travelers. Spain, with its larger cities, has more “high culture” such as the Prado in Madrid and the opera. In contrast, Portugal may have more “authentic culture” with its traditional Fado music and intimate local festivals.

Both nations have a strong historical pride, and their cities and towns are alive with history. In Spain, cultural specificities vary significantly by region. For instance, Catalonia has a unique identity and is currently experiencing a struggle for independence. Spaniards are generally proud of their food, football, and the arts. Notably, Spain has been home to some of the world's great artists, including Antoni Gaudi, Pablo Picasso, and Miguel de Cervantes.

Portugal, on the other hand, offers a more laid-back cultural experience. The Portuguese are known for their hospitality and the slower pace of life. Traditional Fado music, which is often performed in small venues, provides an intimate glimpse into Portuguese culture. Additionally, local festivals and events are integral to the Portuguese way of life, offering travelers a chance to experience the country's rich traditions firsthand.

When visiting either country, immerse yourself in the local culture to truly appreciate the unique experiences each has to offer.

7. Scenery

Spain and Portugal both offer breathtaking scenery, but they each have their unique charm.

Spain boasts diverse regions, from the sunny beaches of Costa del Sol to the rugged mountains of the Pyrenees. The Balcon de Europa in Nerja offers a stunning view of mountains, white villages, cliffs, and the Mediterranean Sea. No matter where you visit in Spain, you can find some great trails with amazing views.

Portugal, on the other hand, offers stunning coastlines along the Algarve, picturesque vineyards in the Douro Valley, and charming cities like Lisbon and Porto. The landscape includes mountains, beaches, and desert-like settings, providing a variety of natural areas where you can enjoy a more peaceful setting.

Whether you're interested in hanging out on the beach, sipping some wine, or playing golf, Portugal has a lot to offer.

8. Adventure Activities

Spain and Portugal both offer a plethora of adventure activities that cater to thrill-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Spain is an extremely popular destination for those interested in adventure travel. From the mountains to the coastline, visitors can experience bungee jumping, mountain biking, paragliding, zip-lines, ropes courses, rock climbing, canyoning, whitewater rafting, and more. The coast also offers surfing, kite surfing, wind surfing, scuba diving, and boating. It's possible to find these activities all around the country, usually in the countryside not far from major cities.

In Portugal, adventure seekers can find exciting activities almost anywhere. Along the coast, surfing is very popular, as some areas of the Atlantic coast have massive waves. Kite surfing and wind surfing are also popular in many areas, too. Inland, you can find mountain biking trails, zip lines and ropes courses, bungee jumping from high bridges, kayaking in the rivers and along the coast, just to name a few. Rock climbing and canyoning are also popular as the landscape offers plenty of great opportunities. Horseback riding along the coast or in the mountains is also a popular way to see the gorgeous landscapes.

For those looking for something more relaxed, you can take a walk through the vineyards or a jeep tour around the mountain regions.

9. Road Trips

arch-shape doorway

Taking a road trip through Spain is a fantastic way to see the countryside and smaller destinations. The roads in Spain are efficient, quick, and well-maintained, making it easy to get around. If you don't have a car, it's also easy and often affordable to rent or hire one at the airport upon arrival. Many visitors take a road trip along the coastlines. The northern coastline in particular is very scenic with epic views and small towns. The southern coastline is lined with beaches and more small towns.

In Portugal, road trips offer a different but equally captivating experience. The country is smaller, making it easier to cover more ground in a shorter amount of time. The coastal routes are stunning, especially the drive along the Algarve with its dramatic cliffs and beautiful beaches. Inland routes offer charming villages, rolling hills, and historical sites.

Both countries offer unique and memorable road trip experiences, each with its own charm and attractions.

Whether you choose Spain or Portugal, a road trip will provide an intimate look at the local culture and landscapes, making your journey unforgettable.

10. Family-friendly Attractions

man in white shirt carrying girl in gray shirt

When it comes to family-friendly attractions, both Spain and Portugal offer a plethora of options that cater to all ages. Spain is a treasure trove of activities that blend cultural and historical sites with modern family attractions. From amusement parks and water parks to natural park areas, there's something for everyone. The mountains also have national parks with wide open spaces, perfect for family hikes, bike rides, camping, and road trips.

Portugal, on the other hand, is incredibly family-friendly with a huge array of activities for kids. You can start with amazing beaches, historical cities, castles, national parks, and mountains. Family-friendly beach resorts in the Algarve offer more than just a beach vacation. You can explore the cliffs and sea caves, visit old fishing villages, and even take a dolphin watching cruise. Up the Atlantic coast, you'll find more beach towns like Praia da Costa Nova and Figueira da Foz.

Whether you choose Spain or Portugal, you can't go wrong with a family trip as there's just so much to do.

In Spain, Tenerife is a standout destination with many great waterparks for kids, such as Siam Park. Other family-friendly spots include Aqualand, Loro Parque, Jungle Park, and Monkey Park. There are also whale watching trips, outdoor adventures, and kid-friendly beaches.

In Portugal, Lagos offers beautiful beaches and a variety of activities that the whole family will enjoy. You can explore the caves in kayaks, take surfing lessons, visit the zoo, or go dolphin watching. There are also plenty of playgrounds and kid-friendly restaurants around town.


While Spain and Portugal share a rich history and some similarities, each country offers its own unique charm and experiences for travelers. Spain, with its vibrant cities, world-renowned museums, and slightly higher costs, contrasts with Portugal's laid-back atmosphere, stunning coastlines, and growing popularity among budget travelers. Both countries promise unforgettable trips filled with delicious cuisine, fascinating culture, and breathtaking scenery. Ultimately, whether you choose the bustling streets of Madrid or the serene beaches of the Algarve, your journey through the Iberian Peninsula will be nothing short of extraordinary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences between Spain and Portugal?

While there may be similarities and shared influences due to their shared history, it is important to appreciate the unique characteristics and differences between Spain and Portugal. Each country offers its own distinct charm, attractions, and experiences for visitors.

Is Spain more expensive than Portugal?

Spain and Portugal are generally comparable in price, but Spain tends to be slightly more expensive. The countries have a lower cost of living than some Western European countries, and this translates into slightly more affordable travel costs for visitors. Even so, Spain is a top tourist destination, so don't expect it to be super cheap.

Which country has better beaches, Spain or Portugal?

Spain and Portugal are both home to some of Europe’s finest stretches of sand. However, Portugal’s Algarve region and Spain’s Costa del Sol are particularly renowned for their beautiful beaches.

Are the museums and historical sights better in Spain or Portugal?

You'll find a number of great museums and attractions in both Portugal and Spain. Each country has a rich history and offers unique historical sights worth exploring.

Which country is better for adventure activities?

Portugal is known for being a great scuba and snorkeling destination and offers good road trips and adventure opportunities. Spain also offers plenty of adventure activities, including hiking and water sports.

Is it easier to travel around Spain or Portugal?

Both Spain and Portugal have well-developed transportation networks, making it relatively easy to travel around either country. Spain has a more extensive high-speed train network, while Portugal offers scenic road trips.

Which country is more family-friendly, Spain or Portugal?

Both Spain and Portugal offer a variety of family-friendly attractions and activities. Portugal is known for its welcoming atmosphere for families, while Spain offers numerous family-friendly resorts and attractions.

Which country has better cuisine, Spain or Portugal?

Both Spain and Portugal are renowned for their delicious cuisine. Spain is famous for dishes like paella and tapas, while Portugal is known for its seafood, particularly dishes like bacalhau (salted cod).

Curtis Duggan

Curtis Duggan

Curtis is a serial tech entrepreneur, content creator and the host of the Remotely Serious podcast on the future of remote work and digital nomadism.


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