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Differences Between Spain and Portugal

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Spain and Portugal are two neighboring countries in southwestern Europe. Both countries are members of the European Union and share a common history and cultural heritage, but they have unique traditions and customs. This article will explore the differences between Portugal and Spain with differences including climate, capital cities, history, musical culture, etc. 

How is Spain different from Portugal?

The main difference between Spain and Portugal is that Spain is larger, with a total land area of 505,992 square kilometers, compared to Portugal's 91,982 square kilometers. Spain is also bigger in terms of inhabitants, with a population of 47 million, while Portugal has a population of 10 million.

Despite the many differences we'll dive in, both countries have vibrant cultures and fascinating histories, making them excellent destinations to explore and experience.

What is Spain like?

spain map

Spain lies south of France and east of Portugal. Due to its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, coastal cities such as Barcelona and Valencia are becoming increasingly popular.

From the picturesque villages of the northern regions to the bustling cities of the Mediterranean coast, Spain is a beautiful country with many different landscapes and climates to explore. The country is home to stunning beaches, rugged mountains, and historic cities like Madrid, the capital city. Spain is also known for its delicious cuisine, with each region's unique flavors.

What is Portugal like?

portugal map

Portugal is a beautiful country located in the south of Europe. Its only neighbor is Spain to the east, and its warm climate makes it a popular tourist destination.

The capital of Portugal is Lisbon, a city known for its rich culture and history. The country is known for its delicious fish cuisine. With a huge 832 km coastline that opens up to the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal's beaches are impressive. In 2022, Sebastian Steudtner set the record for the biggest wave surfed in Nazaré, a town in Portugal known for its massive waves.

Differences Between Spain and Portugal


Spain and Portugal are two European countries that are geographically close to one another.

Spain is the largest country in the Iberian peninsula, with a total area of 505,992 km². Portugal is the second largest, with an area of 92,212 km².

Spain is also home to various mountain ranges, including the Pyrenees and the Sierra Nevada, while Portugal has flat terrain with few mountains.

In terms of terrain, Spain is generally more diverse than Portugal, with various landscapes from the Mediterranean coast to the rugged mountains and plains of the interior.

Spain and Portugal also have very different coastlines, with Spain's coastline being longer and more diverse due to its numerous bays and inlets. Spain is also known for its islands, with the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco.


Spain's climate is predominantly Mediterranean, with dry summers and mild, wet winters. In the north, the weather is temperate, while in the south, it is subtropical. Portugal's climate is similar, although it has a cooler, more humid climate than Spain. As such, Portugal is often a few degrees cooler than Spain. Annual rainfall in Spain averages 300-600 mm, while in Portugal, it averages 800 mm.

To see snow in Portugal, you must go to the country's highest mountain, Serra da Estrela. It does not snow often in Spain due to its warm and dry climate. However, it can snow in some mountainous areas in the country's interior, such as the Pyrenees and the mountains of Seville. 

The summer climate in Spain and Portugal is generally hot and dry. In Spain, average summer temperatures vary between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius in the coastal regions, while in the inland regions, they can reach up to 40 degrees Celsius. In Portugal, summer temperatures are slightly cooler ranging from 20 to 25 degrees Celsius in coastal areas and up to 35 degrees Celsius in inland regions.


Spain is a monarchy, while Portugal is a republic. Indeed, Spain's government is a parliamentary monarchy; the king is the head of state, but he cannot veto laws. Portugal has a president who is elected by direct, universal suffrage.

The legislative power in Spain is held by the Cortes Generales, composed of two chambers: the Senate and the Congress of Deputies. Portugal has a unicameral Parliament that is elected by popular vote.

In both countries, the executive power is held by the Prime Minister. However, in Portugal, the President appoints the Prime Minister, while in Spain, the Prime Minister is set by the monarch.

Ethnic groups

Spain and Portugal are two countries in the Iberian Peninsula. However, there are some distinctions in terms of ethnic groups.

In Spain, the largest ethnic group is the Castilians, who make up around one-third of its population. Other significant ethnic groups in Spain are Andalusians, Catalans, Basques, Galicians, and Valencians.

In Portugal, most of the population belongs to the Portuguese ethnic group, followed by the Mirandese, the Romani, and the Afro-Portuguese. Additionally, significant numbers of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America make Portugal a much more culturally diverse country than Spain.


The languages of Spain and Portugal are different, even though they are both Romance languages derived from Latin. Portuguese is a member of the Ibero-Romance branch of the Romance language family, while Spanish is a member of the West Iberian Romance branch.

In terms of vocabulary, Portuguese has many more words with Arabic, African, and native Brazilian origins, while Spanish has more Latin and Greek roots. Portuguese also has more nasal sounds, while Spanish has more hard consonants.

Grammatically, Portuguese is more complex, with its tenses and verb conjugations being more complicated than Spanish ones. Furthermore, Spanish has a greater degree of uniformity in its pronunciation, while Portuguese has regional variations in pronunciation, especially regarding the use of nasal vowels. These differences are essential to keep in mind when learning either language.


Religion has been integral to Spanish and Portuguese culture for centuries. Although both countries have had a long history of Catholicism, there are some differences between the two.

In Portugal, most of the population is Catholic, but there is also a sizable minority of Protestants and other religions. In Spain, most of the population is Catholic, but there is also a smaller minority of other religions, such as Islam and Judaism.

The Catholic Church also plays a significant role in both countries, but it is more pronounced in Spain, where it is the state religion. Additionally, Portugal has a much higher rate of religious diversity than Spain. These differences in religion highlight the two countries' distinct cultural and historical backgrounds.


Cuisine in Spain and Portugal differs in a variety of ways. In Spain, traditional dishes include paella, tapas, small dishes of meats, cheeses, and other items. In Portugal, traditional dishes include caldo verde (a soup with potatoes, kale, and sausage), and bacalhau (a salted cod dish).

Regional specialties in Spain include gazpacho, a cold soup, and pinchos, small portions of food served on a skewer. In Portugal, regional specialties include feijoada, a meat and bean stew, and bolo de arroz, a sweet rice cake. The Portuguese are also known for their egg yolk pastries, especially "Ovos Moles", a specialty of Aveiro in the south.

"Ovos Moles, a typical Portuguese pastry
"Ovos Moles, a typical Portuguese pastry

Capital city

Madrid is the capital of Spain and is known for its vibrant arts scene and lively nightlife. Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and is known for its picturesque streets, pastel-colored buildings, and historical monuments.

Madrid is located in Spain's center and has no access to the sea. Lisbon is located in the southwest of Portugal, and its people can quickly get to the Atlantic beach by tram in less than an hour. 

Madrid is a larger city home to many world-renowned museums, galleries, and monuments. Some popular attractions include visiting the Royal Palace, exploring the city's historic center, and strolling through Retiro Park. Other must-see sights include the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofia Museum, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.

Lisbon is smaller and more relaxed and is a perfect spot to explore the city's culture and history. Some popular attractions include visiting the historic Castelo de São Jorge, taking a ride on the city's famous trams, and exploring the winding streets of the Alfama neighborhood. Other must-see sights include the Jerónimos Monastery, the Torre de Belém, and the Santa Justa Elevator. For those interested in art and culture, Lisbon is home to many museums and galleries, including the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum.

Tourist attraction

Spain and Portugal are both popular tourist destinations. Spain is known for its vibrant culture and Baroque architecture, with cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, and Segovia offering a unique experience. Some of the best attractions to visit in Spain include the following:

  1. The Alhambra - This stunning palace and fortress complex in Granada is one of the most visited attractions in Spain.
  2. The Sagrada Familia - This iconic church in Barcelona, designed by the architect Antoni Gaudí, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  3. The Royal Palace of Madrid - This magnificent palace in the heart of Madrid is the official residence of the Spanish royal family.
  4. The Mezquita - This beautiful mosque-cathedral in Córdoba, built in the 10th century, is a testament to the city's rich history.
  5. The Picasso Museum - This museum in Barcelona is dedicated to the life and work of the famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso.
  6. The Park Güell - This colorful public park in Barcelona, also designed by Antoni Gaudí, is a must-see for anyone interested in architecture and design.
Interior of the Sagrada Familia
Interior of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

On the other hand, Portugal is renowned for its picturesque villages and traditional Portuguese seafood dishes. Popular attractions in Portugal include the historic city of Lisbon, with its cobbled streets and lively nightlife scene, and the Algarve region in the south, which is a paradise for beach lovers.

Some of the best attractions to visit in Portugal include the following:

  1. The São Jorge Castle - This stunning castle in Lisbon offers panoramic views of the city and is one of the most visited attractions in Portugal.
  2. The Pena Palace - This colorful palace in Sintra, built in the 19th century, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  3. The Jerónimos Monastery - This beautiful monastery in Lisbon, built in the 16th century, is a testament to the city's rich history.
  4. The Douro Valley - This picturesque region in northern Portugal is known for its stunning scenery and world-class wines.
  5. The Belem Tower - This iconic tower in Lisbon, built in the 16th century, symbolizes the city's maritime history.
  6. The Palácio Nacional de Queluz - This beautiful palace in Sintra, built in the 18th century, is a must-see for anyone interested in architecture and design.
Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal
Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

National symbols

In Portugal, the national flag is a green and red banner, while in Spain, the national flag consists of three horizontal stripes of red, yellow, and red. Additionally, Portugal's national animal is the Iberian Lynx, and the national bird is the BlackStork. In contrast, in Spain, the national animal is the Spanish Bull, and the national bird is the Spanish Imperial Eagle.

Each country also has its own national anthem, which symbolizes national pride. In Portugal, the National Anthem is "A Portuguesa", while in Spain, the National Anthem is "Marcha Real". These national symbols represent each country's proud heritage and serve as a source of pride for citizens of both.

Musical cultures

The musical cultures of Spain and Portugal and commonalities include guitars, violins, and other folk instruments, as well as the prevalence of traditional dance styles. Portugal has many unique musical styles, such as fado, characterized by poetic lyrics and often melancholic melodies. Spanish music, in contrast, tends to be more energetic and upbeat, focusing on flamenco, rumba, and other forms of dance music.

Additionally, religious music, such as the cantata, is more prevalent in Portugal, while Spanish music focuses more on secular songs. Finally, modern popular music in Portugal tends to be heavily influenced by Brazilian music, while Latin American styles more often influence Spanish music.


The histories of Spain and Portugal have been intertwined for centuries. Portugal is the oldest country in Europe, while Spain was unified in the late fifteenth century by Ferdinand II.

Spain has been heavily influenced by Arabs (especially in Andalusia) and Catholic culture, whereas Portugal is heavily influenced by Catholic culture. Both countries were once ruled by the same monarchy and shared a common history in wars and politics.

Today, Spain is a constitutional monarchy, while Portugal is a republic. Economically, Spain is a more developed nation, while Portugal has developed slower.

How are Spain and Portugal similar? 

  • Both countries are located in southwestern Europe and are part of the Iberian Peninsula.
  • They were ruled by the Moors for many centuries.
  • Both countries speak variations of the Romance language.
  • They have a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters and hot summers.
  • Both countries are members of the European Union.


Which is country farther south: Spain or Portugal?

Spain is farther south than Portugal. Spain's southernmost point is Tarifa, which is located at a latitude of 36°00'N. Portugal's southernmost point is Cabo de São Vicente, which is located at a latitude of 37°00'N. Therefore, Spain is farther south than Portugal, with Tarifa being about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Cabo de São Vicente.

Do Spain and Portugal share the same peninsula?

Yes, Spain and Portugal share the Iberian Peninsula. The Iberian Peninsula is located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and is bordered by France to the north and Andorra to the northeast. Spain occupies most of the peninsula, with Portugal being located in the western part of the peninsula. The two countries share a border along the length of the peninsula, with the border running from the Atlantic coast in the west to the Mediterranean coast in the east.

How far is Lisbon from Madrid?

The distance between both capitals is approximately 575 kilometers (357 miles). If you were to drive from Lisbon to Madrid, it would take you about 5 hours and 30 minutes to cover the distance, depending on traffic and the route you take. By train, the journey would take about 3 hours and 30 minutes. By plane, the flight would take about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Final words

Spain and Portugal are unique countries with unique cultures, languages, cuisines, and landscapes. While there are some similarities, many differences make each country unique and worth visiting. Whether you are looking for a beach getaway, a cultural experience, or a historical adventure, Spain and Portugal are great destinations to consider.

Feel free to comment and discuss about the article in the comment space below if you have any information or remarks to add. If you think we made a mistake, you can also report it there.
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About the Author: Tom Vincent

Tom Vincent graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics and social studies. He then started his higher education at the University of François Rabelais in Tours with a DUT Information Communication. To expand his knowledge, he also followed a professional degree in e-commerce and digital marketing at the Lumière University of Lyon. On this project, he is in charge of articles covering language, industry and social.
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