Portugal’s largest cities are Lisbon, Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia, Braga and Amadora. Here we profile each of them and look at the sectors in which they excel.
Population: 545,000 (metropolitan population: 2.87 million)
Lisbon is situated on Portugal’s west coast on the Atlantic Ocean along the River Tagus. It is considered a major urban area within the EU, and a tourism hub within western Europe. Although its city population is just over 500,000, its metropolitan population is 2.87 million (more than a quarter of Portugal’s total). Aside from tourism, Lisbon’s economy excels in several areas, namely commerce, fashion, finance, media, trade and education, while it houses one of the busiest container ports in Europe. As befitting a capital, Lisbon is also the political centre of Portugal.
Other areas that Lisbon is thriving in include automotives and high-tech industries, while it also has strengths in oil, textiles, fishing and shipping. Its quality of life is also consistently praised, and the city regularly features in the higher positions in any ‘liveability’ ranking. Lisbon has a high student population who primarily attend three universities: the University of Lisbon, the New University of Lisbon, and Universidade Aberta. Among the larger companies based in Lisbon are Petrogal, Pingo Doce, EDP and Caixa Geral de Depósitos.
Population: 300,000 (metropolitan population: 2.42 million)
Porto is located on Portugal’s western coast on the Atlantic Ocean, about 310km north of Lisbon. It is one of the oldest urban settlements in Europe, and is recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. While its urban population is a relatively low 292,000, its metropolitan population (which takes in Vila Nova de Gaia, see below) is an impressive 2.42 million. As with many locations in Portugal, tourism plays a key role in Porto’s economy.
Porto is a major industrial and financial hub. On the latter, it hosts Portugal’s largest derivatives exchange. Other areas in which Porto excels are publishing and media, agriculture (fruit, nuts, olive oil), wine (fortified wine, or ‘port’, being a speciality) and manufacturing. Companies based in the Porto region include Ibersol, Mota Engil, Millennium bcp and Banco BPI. Similar to Lisbon, Porto scores consistently well in quality of life rankings, and it is home to the highly regarded University of Porto.
3. Vila Nova de Gaia
Vila Nova de Gaia is part of the Porto district and helps make up its metropolitan area population of 2.42 million. However, it is also a city in its own right, located south of Porto just over the Douro River. Industrially, the city’s economy has been based around its production of fortified wine, or ‘port’ as it is better known, although it has emerged as a major tourist location in more recent decades, with its beaches considered some of the cleanest in Portugal. Other economic strengths include finance, agriculture and manufacturing.
Braga is situated in north-west Portugal, less than 400km from the Spanish border. The city has emerged in recent years as a western European tech hub, with most aspects of the computing industry catered for in Braga, particularly software development and web design. Indeed, the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory, a research centre in nanotechnology funded by the Portuguese and the Spanish governments, is headquartered in the city. Other areas of economic strength in the city are agriculture, automotives, construction, metallurgy and electronic equipment. Braga is renowned for its historic buildings and museums, making the city a tourism hub, while it also hosts the highly regarded Universidade do Monho.
Amadora is located within Greater Lisbon, some 10knm from the Portuguese capital. It is renowned within Portugal for its commerce and retail, with the likes of IKEA, Nokia, Decathlon, Siemens and Roche basing their country operations there. The city’s excellent transport links mean that many people living there commute to Lisbon. The city has a historic reputation for manufacturing, namely railway carriages, although production ceased just after the turn of the century.
Other Portuguese cities of note are Funchal (population 106,000), which is the capital of the Atlantic island of Madeira and a key tourism and culture hub, Queluz (population 100,000), which is part of Greater Lisbon, and Coimbra (population 100,000), which is the fourth-largest city in Portugal outside the metropolitan regions of Lisbon, Porto and Braga and is centre of higher education.
Population figures are taken from Portugal’s 2021 census.