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Madrid or Lisbon: Which city should you visit in 2023?

Reema Bharti

Reema Bharti

· 12 min read

Madrid and Lisbon both offer unique experiences. Madrid's lively atmosphere, rich art scene, and royal heritage appeal to those seeking an energetic and culturally rich urban experience.

Lisbon, with its traditional charm, stunning views, and unique cultural offerings, is perfect for those looking for a city break and more relaxed, authentic, and budget-friendly European experience.

Which place is easier to reach: Madrid or Lisbon?

Madrid is easier to reach than Lisbon because of its well-connected and extensive international airport and metro system.

Lisbon's iconic yellow trams.

Madrid's Barajas Airport is a major hub, connecting to over 200 destinations whereas Lisbon's Portela Airport has a charm in its smaller scale and slower pace. Madrid's four terminals cater to millions of passengers annually, making arrivals and departures smooth. Lisbon's Portela Airport, though smaller than Madrid's, is conveniently located just 7 kilometers from the city centre. It handles fewer destinations but provides a less overwhelming experience than Madrid's airport.

Madrid's buses and taxis complement the metro, ensuring every corner of the city is accessible and the airport's link to the metro system allows travelers to reach the city center in about 30 minutes. On the other hand, Lisbon's iconic yellow trams, like Tram 28, add a historic touch to city travel, though they can be crowded.

Moreover, Madrid's central location in Spain makes it a gateway to other Spanish cities and regions, with high-speed trains like AVE connecting to Barcelona in about 2.5 hours while the Lisbon's metro system, though smaller than Madrid's, is efficient and covers key areas. Buses and taxis fill in the gaps, offering good coverage.

How to reach Madrid?

The best way to reach Madrid is via Madrid Barajas Airport or via high-speed trains like Renfe's AVE.

Land at the Barajas Airport if you're an international traveler, as the airport serves numerous global airlines. From the airport, the metro Line 8 takes you directly to the city center. For those coming from within Europe, high-speed trains like Renfe's AVE are a popular choice. They connect Madrid with major Spanish cities and some neighboring countries. Road travelers find the highways leading to Madrid well-maintained and easy to navigate.

How to reach Lisbon?

Lisbon Portela Airport is the main gateway for international visitors, with direct flights from various parts of the world. Upon arrival, the Red Line of the metro connects the airport to the city center efficiently. For travelers within Europe, international trains arrive at Santa Apolónia and Oriente stations in Lisbon. Driving to Lisbon is scenic, especially if one takes the coastal routes, but be prepared for slower roads compared to Spain.

How's the vibe at Madrid vis-à-vis Lisbon?

Madrid is vibrant and fast-paced, while Lisbon is relaxed and picturesque.

The vibe of Madrid

Madrid pulsates with a dynamic and cosmopolitan energy. It's a city where history meets modernity. The streets buzz with activity day and night. In neighborhoods like Malasaña and Chueca, there's a youthful vibe with trendy cafes, boutiques, and vibrant nightlife. The city's grand boulevards, like Gran Vía, are lined with theaters and shops, bustling at all hours. Madrid's food scene is a mix of traditional tapas bars and innovative gastronomy. The lively atmosphere of Mercado de San Miguel is a testament to this, where locals and tourists alike enjoy a variety of Spanish flavors.

Madrid's cultural scene is rich. The Golden Triangle of Art, comprising the Prado, Reina Sofía, and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums, showcases world-class art. In contrast, the city's green spaces, like the expansive Retiro Park, offer a tranquil escape. Madrid also has a strong sports culture, with football being a significant part of life. The Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home to Real Madrid, is a pilgrimage site for football fans.

The vibe of Lisbon

Lisbon, in comparison, exudes a laid-back charm. The city's hills offer panoramic views, with São Jorge Castle overlooking the historic neighborhoods. Lisbon's streets are a mosaic of pastel-colored buildings and azulejo tiles, creating a picturesque setting. The Alfama district, with its narrow lanes and Fado music, is the soul of Lisbon. The city's pace is slower, inviting visitors to stroll and explore. Trams, like the iconic Tram 28, wind through the city, adding to its nostalgic allure.

The vibe in Lisbon's neighborhoods varies. Bairro Alto comes alive at night with bars and restaurants, while Belém offers a serene riverside experience with landmarks like the Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery. Lisbon's culinary scene is highlighted by seafood dishes and pastries like the famous pastéis de nata. The Time Out Market Lisboa brings together a variety of food stalls under one roof, showcasing the best of Portuguese cuisine.

What's the weather like at each of the cities?

Madrid has a warm & sunny weather

Madrid's has a hot, sunny weather whereas Lisbon has a milder climate with a cool ocean breeze. Both cities offer enjoyable weather in the spring and autumn, making them great destinations for most of the year.

Weather in Madrid

Madrid's has a Continental climate. This means hot summers and cold winters. In July and August, temperatures often soar above 30 degrees Celsius. This heat is dry, not humid. Summer evenings in Madrid are cooler, making nighttime strolls pleasant. Winters are quite different. December and January see temperatures drop, often below 5 degrees Celsius. Snow is rare but not unheard of. Madrid's spring and autumn are mild, with temperatures ranging from 15 to 25 degrees Celsius. These seasons are ideal for exploring the city, as the weather is neither too hot nor too cold.

Weather in Lisbon

Lisbon has a Mediterranean climate. This translates to warm, sunny summers and mild, rainy winters. Summer temperatures in Lisbon are generally lower than in Madrid, averaging around 25 to 28 degrees Celsius. The Atlantic Ocean helps to moderate the heat, providing a refreshing breeze. Winters in Lisbon are milder than in Madrid. Temperatures rarely fall below 10 degrees Celsius. However, rain is more common in Lisbon during the winter months. Spring and autumn in Lisbon are particularly pleasant, with plenty of sunny days and temperatures comfortable for sightseeing and outdoor activities.

What's the best time to visit Madrid and Lisbon?

The best time to visit Madrid is April to June whereas the best time to visit Lisbon is March to May.

Best time to visit Madrid

The best time to visit Madrid is during the spring months of April to June and the autumn months of September to November. During these times, the weather is mild, perfect for exploring the city's outdoor attractions and parks. Spring in Madrid sees the city in bloom, with pleasant temperatures averaging around 15 to 25 degrees Celsius. It's a time for outdoor festivals and enjoying the vibrant street life. Autumn is equally charming, with cooler temperatures and fewer tourists. The changing leaves in Retiro Park offer a beautiful backdrop for walks. However, visitors should note that August can be extremely hot, often above 30 degrees Celsius, and many locals leave the city, resulting in some shops and restaurants closing.

Best time to visit Lisbon

The best time to visit Lisbon is spring i.e., March to May and autumn i.e., September to October. These months avoid the peak summer tourist season, offering a more relaxed experience. The weather during these months is warm but not excessively hot, typically ranging from 20 to 25 degrees Celsius. This climate is perfect for exploring Lisbon's hilly streets and enjoying outdoor dining. Summer in Lisbon can be busy, but the coastal breeze keeps temperatures more comfortable than in Madrid. Winters are mild but can be rainy, which might affect outdoor sightseeing plans.

What are the top things to do in Madrid vs. Lisbon?

The top things to do in Madrid are visiting the Prado Museum, exploring the Royal Palace, and enjoying the city's vibrant nightlife whereas the top things to do in Lisbon are exploring the historic Alfama district, visiting the Belém Tower, and tasting the famous pastéis de Belém.

Top things to do in Madrid

The top things to do in Madrid include visiting the Prado Museum, exploring the Royal Palace, and enjoying the city's vibrant nightlife.

The Prado Museum is home to one of the finest art collections in the world, featuring works by Spanish masters like Velázquez and Goya. The Royal Palace, with its 3,418 rooms, is a marvel of architecture and history. Visitors can take guided tours to see its opulent interiors. Madrid's nightlife is legendary, with areas like Malasaña and Chueca offering an array of bars, clubs, and late-night eateries. For a taste of traditional Madrid, a visit to a tapas bar in the La Latina neighborhood is a must. The city's green spaces, like the expansive Retiro Park, are perfect for leisurely strolls or boat rides on the park's lake.

Top things to do in Lisbon

Lisbon's top activities include exploring the historic Alfama district, visiting the Belém Tower, and tasting the famous pastéis de Belém.

Belem Tower, Lisbon

Alfama, with its narrow streets and traditional Fado music, showcases Lisbon's rich history and culture. The Belém Tower is a symbol of Portugal's Age of Discoveries, and a visit there is like stepping back in time. No trip to Lisbon is complete without trying the pastéis de Belém, a delicious custard tart that originated in the Belém area. For panoramic views of the city, a trip to São Jorge Castle is recommended. The castle offers stunning vistas of Lisbon and the Tagus River. Additionally, riding the iconic Tram 28 provides a scenic tour of Lisbon's key landmarks and neighborhoods.

What are the outdoor adventures offered at each of the cities?

Madrid is a gateway to mountainous hikes and water sports, whereas Lisbon's coastal setting is perfect for surfing and sailing. Both cities cater to a range of outdoor interests, from leisurely walks in nature to more adrenaline-fueled activities.

Outdoor adventures at Madrid

One of the best outdoor activities at Madrid is visiting Rio, a large park along the Manzanares River, perfect for cycling, jogging, and picnics. For hikers, the nearby Sierra de Guadarrama National Park is a treasure, offering trails with varying difficulty levels and stunning views of the Madrid skyline. In the warmer months, the park's lakes, like Embalse de San Juan, become hubs for water sports such as kayaking and paddleboarding.

For those seeking a unique experience, hot air balloon rides over the Spanish countryside provide breathtaking views of the region. Additionally, Madrid's location offers easy access to rock climbing adventures in areas like La Pedriza, known for its granite formations. Golf enthusiasts find several courses around Madrid, offering a chance to play amidst scenic landscapes.

Madrid offers a variety of outdoor adventures, appealing to nature enthusiasts and thrill-seekers alike.

Outdoor adventures at Lisbon

The best outdoor adventure at Lisbon include surfing, with beaches like Carcavelos and Guincho offering waves for all skill levels. Sailing on the Tagus River is another popular activity, offering a unique perspective of Lisbon's landmarks from the water.

For those who enjoy hiking, the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, a short trip from Lisbon, presents a mix of forested paths, historical sites, and dramatic coastal views. Cycling along the Tagus River provides a leisurely way to explore the city and its surroundings. Additionally, Lisbon's mild climate makes outdoor activities like golf and horseback riding enjoyable year-round. Visiting Lisbon's historical monuments is also another interesting outdoor adventure such as visiting the historic lisbon site of Alfama that one might take up.

Which one has better beaches? Madrid or Lisbon?

Lisbon clearly has the upper hand when it comes to beaches, as Madrid is landlocked and does not have natural beaches.

Best Beaches in Madrid

The best beaches in Madrid are the artificial ones, like the Madrid Rio area, where a beach-like environment is created along the river bank. These spots are great for sunbathing and relaxing, but they don't offer the authentic beach experience. For actual beach adventures, Madrileños often travel to coastal areas like Valencia or Alicante, which are a few hours away by car or train.

Best Beaches in Lisbon

The best beaches in Lisbon are Praia de Carcavelos, Guincho and Ericeira.

Cascais, a short train ride from Lisbon, offers sandy shores with clear waters, perfect for swimming and sunbathing. The Praia de Carcavelos is another popular beach, known for its vast stretch of sand and lively atmosphere. For surf enthusiasts, the beaches of Guincho and Ericeira are ideal, offering some of the best waves in Europe. Moreover, the coastline near Lisbon is dotted with picturesque spots like Praia da Adraga and Praia das Maçãs, offering a mix of scenic beauty and relaxed vibes.

While Madrid is a vibrant city and has its own unique attractions, it cannot compete with Lisbon in terms of beach options.

Where can you find the best Food? Madrid or Lisbon?

The best street food in Madrid are patatas bravas, jamón ibérico, tortilla española, churros, and Bocadillo de calamares which is a fried squid sandwich, while Lisbon is famous for bacalhau (salt cod) and grilled sardines, pastéis de nata, bifanas (pork sandwiches) and prego (steak sandwiches).

Patatas Bravas of Madrid

Street Food in Madrid

Madrid's food scene is a delightful mix of traditional and modern. The city is famous for its tapas bars, where small plates like patatas bravas, jamón ibérico, and tortilla española are savored alongside a glass of local wine. Madrid's markets, like Mercado de San Miguel, are culinary hotspots offering a wide range of delicacies. High-end dining is also prominent, with several Michelin-starred restaurants showcasing innovative Spanish cuisine.

Street food in Madrid reflects its diverse culture. The city's streets are filled with vendors offering churros with chocolate, a classic Madrid snack. Bocadillo de calamares, a fried squid sandwich, is another popular street food, especially around the Plaza Mayor area. In recent years, food trucks have become more common, bringing a variety of international flavors to Madrid's streets.

Street Food in Lisbon

Lisbon's culinary landscape is heavily influenced by its coastal location and history. Seafood is a staple, with dishes like bacalhau (salt cod) and grilled sardines being local favorites. The city's cafes and pastelarias (pastry shops) are must-visit for their pastéis de nata, a creamy custard tart. Lisbon also offers a range of international cuisines, reflecting its cosmopolitan nature.

Street food in Lisbon includes items like bifanas (pork sandwiches) and prego (steak sandwiches), often enjoyed at small, local eateries. Food markets, such as the Time Out Market Lisboa, provide an array of choices under one roof, from traditional Portuguese dishes to contemporary fusion food.

How's the nightlife of each of the cities?

Madrid provides bustling, all-night party scene, whereas Lisbon provides a more relaxed setting to enjoy a night out with good music and drinks.

Nightlife in Madrid

Madrid's nightlife is famously vibrant and diverse, often described as never sleeping. The city comes alive at night with an array of options for all tastes. In neighborhoods like Malasaña, Chueca, and La Latina, the streets are lined with bars, clubs, and late-night cafes. Madrid is known for its tapas bars where locals and tourists alike hop from one spot to another, enjoying small plates and drinks. The city also boasts some of the best nightclubs in Spain, offering everything from mainstream pop to underground electronic music. For those seeking a more relaxed evening, Madrid offers jazz clubs and flamenco venues, providing a taste of Spanish culture.

Nightlife in Lisbon

Lisbon's nightlife, while not as intense as Madrid's, has its own unique charm. The city's Bairro Alto district is the heart of Lisbon's night scene, with narrow streets filled with bars and small clubs. This area comes to life after dark, with people spilling onto the streets, drink in hand. Lisbon is also known for its Fado houses, where traditional Portuguese music adds a soulful touch to the evening. The riverside area of Cais do Sodré has become a popular spot in recent years, home to trendy bars and nightclubs. Lisbon's nightlife is more laid-back compared to Madrid, with a focus on socializing in bars and listening to live music.

Which city is safer for travelers? Madrid or Lisbon?

Madrid and Lisbon are both considered safe for travelers, with each city offering a secure environment for tourists to explore and enjoy.

Travel safety in Madrid

In Madrid, the level of safety for travelers is high. The city is equipped with a strong police presence, particularly in tourist areas like Sol, Gran Vía, and the Prado Museum vicinity. Pickpocketing can be an issue in crowded areas, so visitors are advised to be vigilant with their belongings. Madrid's public transportation system is safe and reliable, even late at night. However, like any major city, it's wise to stay aware of your surroundings, especially in less crowded or poorly lit areas.

Travel safety in Lisbon

Travel safety in Lisbon is also commendable. The city is known for its friendly locals and welcoming atmosphere. Tourist police, visible in areas like Alfama and Belém, provide an extra sense of security. Petty crimes such as pickpocketing are the most common concern, particularly in popular tourist spots and on trams. Lisbon's hilly terrain and cobblestone streets require some caution, especially for those not used to navigating such conditions. Nighttime safety in Lisbon is generally good, but as a precaution, it's advised to avoid less populated streets after dark.

What's the transportation scene like, in each of the cities?

Both Lisbon and Madrid offer an extensive and robust transportation system to its travelers.

Transportation modes in Madrid

Madrid's boasts an extensive metro system, regarded as one of the best in Europe. With over 300 stations, the Madrid Metro reaches almost every corner of the city, making it a convenient option for tourists. Buses in Madrid offer comprehensive coverage, complementing the metro. For areas not accessible by metro, the bus transportation Madrid has built steps in seamlessly. Madrid also has a reliable network of taxis, easily identifiable by their white color with a red diagonal stripe. For those who prefer driving, several car rental services are available, though navigating the city's traffic can be challenging.

Additionally, Madrid has a robust bike-sharing program, BiciMAD, with electric bikes available throughout the city. This eco-friendly option is great for short distances and exploring Madrid's many parks and plazas. The city's compact size makes walking another viable option, especially in the historic center where many attractions are within walking distance of each other.

Transportation modes in Lisbon

Lisbon city's metro, while smaller than Madrid's, is efficient and covers key areas across four lines. Buses and trams complement the metro, with the iconic yellow trams being a tourist favorite. Tram 28, in particular, is popular for its route through major tourist spots. Taxis in Lisbon are plentiful and relatively affordable, providing a convenient option for longer distances or when traveling late at night.

Lisbon's unique geography, with its hills and narrow streets, makes walking a delightful but sometimes challenging experience. To assist with the hilly terrain, Lisbon has funiculars and an elevator, Elevador de Santa Justa, which are not just transport modes but attractions in themselves. Bike-sharing and electric scooters have also become popular, offering a fun way to explore the city. Lisbon's smaller scale compared to Madrid makes it more manageable for tourists to navigate, with many attractions clustered in and around the city center.

Which one is cheaper to live: Madrid or Lisbon?

Lisbon is cheaper to live than Madrid.

Cost of living in Madrid

In Madrid, accommodation costs are a major factor. For example, renting a one-bedroom apartment in the city center costs about €900-€1,200 per month. Comparatively, in less central areas, the price drops to around €600-€800. Daily expenses, like food and transportation, also add up. A meal at an inexpensive restaurant is about €12, and a monthly public transport pass is around €55. For groceries, expect to spend approximately €200-€300 monthly. Utilities for a standard apartment can be around €100-€150 monthly.

Cost of living in Lisbon

Lisbon, on the other hand, offers a more affordable living experience. Renting a similar one-bedroom apartment in Lisbon's city center is cheaper, ranging from €700-€900. Outside the city center, prices can be as low as €500-€700. When it comes to dining, a meal in an inexpensive restaurant is around €8-€10. A monthly public transport pass is cheaper too, about €40. Grocery expenses in Lisbon are slightly lower than Madrid, typically between €150-€250 per month. Utilities here also tend to be less expensive, averaging €70-€120 monthly.

What are some of the best hotels in both the cities?

Lisbon or Madrid, both cities offer an equally impressive hotel scene.

Best hotels in Madrid

The best hotels in Madrid are listed below.

  • The Mandarin Oriental Ritz Madrid: This is a standout hotel, known for its elegant decor and top-notch service. Rooms here offer a blend of classic and contemporary styles, with rates starting around €500 per night.

  • Hotel Urban: A modern hotel with a rooftop terrace and a small outdoor pool. Prices here begin at about €250 per night.

  • The Only YOU Boutique Hotel Madrid: This is a must for those seeking a boutique experience. Located in the trendy Chueca district, it's known for its personalized service, with room rates from €200 per night.

Best hotels in Lisbon

The best hotels in Lisbon are listed below.

  • The Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon: This is a top pick for a luxurious stay. It's famous for its stunning views of the city and the Tagus River, with room rates starting at around €400 per night.

  • Memmo Principe Real: Situated in a trendy neighborhood, this hotel offers a more intimate experience, with contemporary design and a rooftop terrace, with prices beginning at €300 per night.

  • Santiago de Alfama: This is a must try boutique hotel. Located in the historic Alfama district, this hotel provides a charming and authentic Lisbon experience, with room rates starting from €250 per night.

What are certain common things offered by both the cities?

Madrid and Lisbon are two cities of Europe that share several enticing features. Both cities are steeped in rich history and vibrant culture. Visitors can explore a plethora of historic sites like the Royal Palace in Madrid and Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon. Art enthusiasts will find a haven in both cities, with Madrid's Prado Museum and Lisbon's Gulbenkian Museum housing impressive collections.

The culinary scenes in both Madrid and Lisbon are a delight. Madrid offers a range of traditional Spanish dishes, such as tapas and paella, while Lisbon is renowned for its seafood, particularly cod dishes like Bacalhau à Brás. Both cities also boast vibrant nightlife, with Madrid's lively bars and clubs in areas like Malasaña and Chueca, and Lisbon's Bairro Alto and Cais do Sodré offering a mix of traditional Fado music and modern beats.

Madrid is a must-visit if one seeks a blend of regal history and modern vibrancy. It's a city where one can wander through the grandiose halls of the Royal Palace in the morning and join the locals for lively tapas and drinks in La Latina by evening. Art lovers will relish the Golden Triangle of Art, featuring the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums. Madrid is also a paradise for shoppers, from the upscale boutiques of Salamanca to the trendy shops in Gran Vía. For sports enthusiasts, a visit to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home of Real Madrid, is a thrilling experience. Madrid's sprawling El Retiro Park offers a tranquil escape from the bustling city, perfect for a leisurely stroll or a boat ride on its peaceful lake.

Both Madrid and Lisbon charm visitors with their unique blend of historical and cultural offerings, excellent cuisine, and vibrant atmospheres. Madrid, with its royal allure, art treasures, and lively streets, is an ideal destination for those who crave a dynamic and culturally rich urban experience.

Who should visit Madrid and who should visit Lisbon?

You must visit Madrid if you….

Madrid is a must-visit for those who thrive in vibrant, bustling cities. It's perfect for art lovers, with its world-renowned museums like the Prado and Reina Sofia. History buffs will find the Royal Palace and Plaza Mayor fascinating. Food enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the diverse culinary scene, from tapas bars in La Latina to upscale dining in Salamanca. Shoppers will love the Gran Vía and Fuencarral Street. Sports fans should not miss the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. Madrid also offers beautiful parks, like El Retiro, for those seeking a tranquil retreat in the city.

You must visit Lisbon if you….

Lisbon is ideal for travelers seeking a blend of traditional charm and modern culture. It's great for those interested in historic sites like the Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery. Lisbon's picturesque neighborhoods, like Alfama and Bairro Alto, are a dream for photographers and explorers. Seafood lovers will relish the local dishes, especially the iconic Bacalhau. Lisbon's unique music scene, with its traditional Fado music, provides an authentic cultural experience. The city's hills offer stunning views, best enjoyed from viewpoints like Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. Lisbon is also less expensive than many European capitals, making it a great choice for budget-conscious travelers.

Frequently Asked Questions about Madrid vs Lisbon

1. What is the best time to visit Madrid?

The best time to visit Madrid is during spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November) for mild weather and fewer crowds.

2. Does Lisbon have good beaches nearby?

Yes, Lisbon has beautiful beaches nearby like Cascais and Praia de Carcavelos.

3. Is Madrid's nightlife better than Lisbon's?

Madrid's nightlife is more vibrant and diverse, offering a wider range of late-night options compared to Lisbon.

4. Which city is safer for tourists, Madrid or Lisbon?

Both Madrid and Lisbon are safe for tourists, with standard precautions recommended in any major city.

5. Can I find good seafood in Lisbon?

Yes, Lisbon offers excellent seafood, with dishes like bacalhau and grilled sardines being local specialties.

6. Are there any famous museums to visit in Madrid?

Madrid is home to world-famous museums like the Prado and Reina Sofía.

7. What kind of street food can I find in Madrid?

In Madrid, popular street foods include churros with chocolate and bocadillo de calamares.

8. Is public transportation easy to use in Lisbon?

Yes, Lisbon's public transportation, including metro, trams, and buses, is tourist-friendly and covers major areas.

9. Which city has a more relaxed vibe, Madrid or Lisbon?

Lisbon is known for its more laid-back and relaxed atmosphere compared to the bustling energy of Madrid.

10. Are there outdoor activities available in both Madrid and Lisbon?

Yes, both cities offer outdoor activities, with Madrid providing access to mountainous hikes and Lisbon offering coastal activities like surfing.

Reema Bharti

Reema Bharti

I am a globe-trotter with a passion for exploration. From the sun-kissed coasts of Portugal to the snow-capped peaks of Switzerland, my travels are as diverse as they are inspiring. My journeys through Spain, Finland, Austria, and Germany have fueled my soul and shaped my writing.