Portugal or Turkey – now that’s a tough one. Sitting at opposite ends of Europe, one of the lashing Atlantic Ocean, the other straddling the straits that link to Asia, these two countries are both vacationer meccas. They offer balmy climates with loads of sun, tried-and-tested beach resorts, stacks of culture, and oodles of adventure pursuits for the more intrepid traveler. But where should you go?
Well..Portugal beckons with the golden-hued beaches of the southern Algarve, some of the most fantastic surf towns in Europe, and buzzy cities like Lisbon and Porto. But then you get Turkey, where the mystical mosques and ancient Grand Bazaar of Istanbul gives way to the gorgeous Mediterranean sands of the Turquoise Coast on one side and the wild reaches of Cappadocia and unexplored mountain ranges on the other.
This guide will take a look at all the ins and outs of traveling to these two destinations to help you make up your mind. It will focus on where offers the best coastline (a particularly tricky choice!), where offers the most taste-bud-tingling food, where has the metropolises that are worth seeing the most, and a whole load more. Let’s begin…
Portugal or Turkey: Beaches
The good news: Both Portugal and Turkey are home to stacks and stacks of seriously beautiful beaches. But they aren’t the same by any stretch, mainly because Portugal sits on the wild Atlantic Ocean, while Turkey is bathed by four seas: The Mediterranean, the Aegean, the Sea of Marmara, and the Black Sea.
Blessed with 1,000 kilometers of Atlantic Ocean coastline, Portugal boasts some of the finest beaches on the continent. The most picturesque stretches of sand are located in the world-famous Algarve province, deep in the south of the country. That’s where you get the iconic gold-sanded beaches surrounded by gold-tinged cliffs. Praia de Benagil is a prime example, but there’s also Camilo Beach near the town of Lagos, and soft Praia de Manta Rota with its backing of dunes. Western Portugal has more rugged bays with high cliffs and big waves for surfers, but it’s still pretty spectacular out there.
As for Turkey, it is home to nearly 8,000km of coastline – yep, eight times what Portugal can muster! The country’s sun-blessed coast on the Med has pristine beaches, making for a perfect setting for a memorable summer vacation with the family or the yacht. If you wish to spend a day on the beach and party in the evening, pay a visit to Antalya. Are you into package holiday vacations? Look no further than the Bodrum Peninsula, a prime beach resort on the South Aegean coastline. Both of those are pretty good entry points to the so-called Turquoise Coast, where you find the most gorgeous bays of all: Oludeniz, Mermerli, Cirali.
Winner: Draw. Portugal has wilder beaches and golden sands, but Turkey has LOADS to offer on the Med. They’re just different.
Portugal or Turkey: History and Culture
There’s no shortage of cultural attractions and historic landmarks in either of these countries. But let’s dig a little deeper…
Being one of the oldest countries in Europe, Portugal is full of beautiful historic towns and important monuments. Head to Lisbon and you can visit world-famous St. George’s Castle, well-known for its crenelated walls and 11 towers raised by the Moors. Then there is the Belem Tower, a 16th-century fortification that was built to protect the city. Oh, and a day trip to Sintra is a must. That’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site that counts the romantic Pena Palace, one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, among its landmarks.
However, we’d say Turkey wins out in this category. Located at the crossroads between Asia and Europe, Turkey has long been a meeting point of civilizations. You will find Ottoman, Roman, and other ancient sites dotting the backcountry. One of the most famous is at Ephesus, an ancient city that used to serve as the Mediterranean’s main commercial center. Then there’s Hierapolis, once ruled by the Greeks and then the Romans. Plus, you get Istanbul. No visit to Turkey is complete without stopping by the iconic Blue Mosque in this huge cityscape, which links a madrasa, a mosque, Turkish baths, and the resting mansion of the Sultan in one spot!
Portugal or Turkey: Nightlife
Portugal can do romantic evenings by the beach or hardcore party nights – it’s totally up to you. Lisbon leads the way, with the Bairro Alto district coming rammed with speakeasies, craft beer halls, and cocktail joints. Start down on Pink Street and move north to keep the night going. Porto is also wild, with open-air summer bars on the Douro that give way to jazz clubs and boho dance bars later on. There’s an 18-30s scene, too, mainly focused on the bumping resort of Albufeira in the south, where you can hit The Strip between May and August. For something more romantic, chill with your partner and some evocative Fado music in a traditional tavern.
The nightlife scene in Turkey is just as off the hook. From old-school watering holes to cocktail bars and posh nightclubs, this nation has it all. Istanbul is the obvious place to start. It’s been hailed as the most hipster city in Europe, with the area of Karaköy offering countless drinking dives with edgy beer labels. That spills into Galata neighborhood, which is replete with chic clubs and rooftop bars with views over the Bosporus. Summertime jaunts to Marmaris and Bodrum are also pretty big on the nightlife front. Those two resort towns convert into rollicking yachter parties from about May onwards each year.
Winner: It’s a draw. There’s nightlife aplenty in both these spots.
Portugal and Turkey: Things to Do
Traveling with the little ones to Portugal? Visit the enlightening Oceanarium in Lisbon, which brims with tanks filled with octopi, sunfish, and barracuda. Hit the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian – also in the capital – to admire the beauty of Oriental, Classical, and European art. Meanwhile, the Municipal Museum in Lagos is home to archaeological pieces from the Algarve region, while Sintra is like a living museum in the open air. And it’s not just culture and history…
Portugal’s Cabo da Roca is one of Europe’s most famous coastal trails, taking you to the westernmost point in the continent. Foodies can hit the Douro Valley for wine tasting and visits filled with traditional food. There’s also epic surfing on the coastline, in Peniche, Ericeira, and others. And there’s the adventure that awaits inland, in the form of hiking the sierras to Schist Villages.
In Turkey, travelers will find an abundance of cool things to do. Pay a visit to the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, once an administrative center of the Ottoman Empire. Expect to find eye-catching architecture with gold-adorned ceilings and large crystal chandeliers. There’s also the Grand Bazaar there for shoppers – it’s one of the world’s oldest covered markets!
Nature lovers visiting Turkey can spend a day at the beautiful Goreme National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that sprouts amazing rock formations known as fairy chimneys (hot air balloon is the way to do it!). There are also the snow-capped peaks of Mount Ararat and Kackar to conquer, along with truly unchartered territory way out around Van in the east. Of course, no one could blame you for simply lazing gon the Aegean beaches or the deck of your yacht, either!
Winner: Portugal just about wins this one because it’s a touch better-primed for tourists and families.
Portugal or Turkey: Food and Drink
You won’t stay hungry for very long in Portugal or Turkey. Both countries are famous for their unique cuisines and we’d rate them as two of the top foodie places in Europe.
Influenced by Mediterranean cooking, Moorish traditions, and the ever-present Atlantic Ocean, Portuguese foods run the gamut from soups to seafood, grilled fish to game meats. Try local delicacies such as the whole octopus slathered in olive oil, caldo verde (green broth), and salted cod (bacalhau). If you are staying in northeast Portugal, don’t leave the region before trying morcela (blood sausage). Fan of pastries? Book a table at a local cafe and order the pastéis de nata, a pint-size egg custard tart that matches with strong coffee. Wine lovers can visit regions such as Alentejo, Bairrada, Dão, and the Douro to sample local tipples, which truly are standouts on the continent.
Turkish cuisine is rated among the best in the world, and for good reason. Thing is, each region in Turkey has its own local specialties, so it’s hard to pin down precisely what Turkish dining is all about. For example, the Aegean region is big on seafood and veggies, while Central Anatolia offers a wide variety of meat dishes sourced from the mountains. There are some iconic dishes here, though: There’s baklava, a sweet layered pastry dish, the kebap, sold in holes in the wall from Istanbul to Van, and stuffed dolma, which are fresh vine leaves packed with herby rice. The best way to eat is in mezze form, with lots of little dishes to share and chat over.
Winner: Turkey. Mezze and kebabs help to win it here.
Portugal or Turkey: Nature
Nature lovers visiting either Portugal or Turkey are in for a treat. But the two places are quite different on this front, too…
Portugal is one of the European countries with the greatest diversity of natural landscapes. Go for a day trip to Penada-Gerês National Park and you’ll find wooded hills and lush forests that drop to waterfalls where you can wild swim. Compare that to the undulating dunes and river estuaries of the Penada-Gerês National Park in the south, where wildflowers bloom on sandy peaks above wave-lashed beaches. Special mention should also be made of Madeira and the Azores here. The first is daggered with jagged peaks and ringed by black-sand beaches. The latter is a land of wild volcanos and laurel forests. Pretty amazing diversity, eh?
Then there’s Turkey, a vast country that’s known for some seriously awesome landscapes. Visit Lake Koycegiz in the southeast and you can enjoy activities like boat trips and swimming, not to mention canyoneering through the Muğla mountains. Travelers can also go to Oludeniz, in the Antalya province, where they will find the impressive Blue Lagoon and rare butterfly species. Turkey also has an abundance of waterfalls, like the 15-meter-high Upper Düden Falls in the Antalya Province of Southwestern Turkey. And that’s not even mentioning the wondrous Pamukkale hot springs, the strange cave homes of Cappadocia, and the rises of the snowy Caucasus Mountains in the far east.
Winner: Turkey – it’s just so vast!
Portugal or Turkey: Cities
In Portugal, Lisbon and Porto are without a doubt the most popular tourist destinations. The first is the nation’s capital. It’s an electrifying mix of boho bars and coffee joints set under seven hills, laced with medieval history and now touting itself as the new digital nomad hub of Europe. Porto is more chilled and laid back, but also has a noir nightlife offering, great jazz bars, and urban surfing. There is also the Algarve’s capital city, Faro, well-known for its picturesque cobbled streets dotted with ancient buildings. The touristy city of Lagos is home to beautiful 18th-century townhouses and Baroque churches. That’s also in the Algarve.
Travelers are often enraptured by Istanbul, the largest city, though not the capital, of Turkey. At the meeting point of east and west, this vast metropolis is home to beautiful churches, palaces, and mosques. It’s got iconic sights like the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque to get through, but is also hedonistic and lived in. Not to be missed is the city of Bursa, the fourth-largest city in the country, known for its lovely historic center and its mausoleums and museums. Looking for a cool destination for your summer vacation in Turkey? Head out to Bodrum, a yachting mecca with whitewashed homes and lovely beaches.
Portugal or Turkey – the verdict
Turkey and Portugal aren’t up there with the most visited spots in Europe for nothing. They are bucket-list destinations both. We think you should try to check off the two of them this year. But, if that’s a no go, then there are some things that can help you make up your mind…
For a start, adventure travelers and history buffs probably have more to get stuck into in Turkey, what with thousands of miles of backcountry running all the way to the Caucuses and ancient sites like Ephesus waiting to be explored. Foodies will also find loads to love in the eastern country, with mezze and baklava on the menu. Portugal, meanwhile, can cater to family holidaymakers thanks to the resorts of the Algarve, has epic surfing, and some of the most fun-filled cities on the continent.