How is Portugal different from Spain – by a native Portuguese

Those months I was living in the Spain, the question I got asked the most after learning I was from Portugal was…

¿Sería mejor si fuéramos uno solo país, no? Which means…

Wouldn’t it be better off if we were one same country?

My answer would be an automatic No. Without a given thought. And this is when I become the irrational me I’m not very proud of.

Portugal fought for centuries to be independent, against the Muslims, the Spanish, the French. It is a small country but with great benefits – a generous coast line needed for commerce but also to build a powerful fleet. The weather is agreeable for most of the year, with over 3,000 hours of sun per year, great for farming. So, for the Spanish, having access to this piece of land that seemed more friendly to the cold Atlantic than the latin vibes from its vicinity, our country, that small piece of land was very desirable.

After centuries of fighting them of, and even owning half of the world with them, I’ve grew up feeling very proud that Portugal became its own country and not just another province of Spain. And I do love Spain. And sometimes, I don’t like Portugal that much – I mean, I live in the UK now, where there is only about 1,400 sunshine hours per year so… but only I can talk about that. I’m proud of coming from a land that conquered its independency and developed its own identity.

So, how are we different?


Portuguese and Spanish are different languages and sound completely different as well. For some reason, the Portuguese I speak (not brazilian) doesn’t even sound like a latin language to foreigners’ ears.

But these two languages are in fact very similar. Portuguese people can typically understand the standard Spanish (there are differences in accents within Spain) but often fall into the mistake of thinking we can speak Portuguese with a Spanish accent and that’s done – FALSE. There are too many false friends, to many words we think also exist in Spanish – which either they don’t, or mean complete different things. Some examples below:

To say “I’ll call you” , we say “Ligar-te“. While the same also exists in Spanish, ligar means “to flirt“. So imagine how awkward of a situation you can create. The same with the word we use for being “Embarassed“. In portuguese we say “embaraçada“. In spanish, the same word exist (spelt differently but pronounced with the same sound) that means “being pregnant“. I could list so many others…

Plus, most Spanish people can’t understand us – at least if we speak at a normal pace. So yeah, for my Erasmus, I did take Spanish classes. I had the advantage of my native language being similar, but that sometimes felt like more of a disadvantage because it was so easy to fall into the mistake I was speaking correctly, when in fact I wasn’t.


In Spain, it’s common going to have a few beers or to dine out, and get some tapas delivered to your table that you didn’t order. You don’t pay for those, it’s free. However, in Portugal, it’s not really like that. If the waiter comes with some tapas (what we call entradas, aperitivos or petiscos) you didn’t order or even if these are already on table, you will most definitely be billed for them. So, if you don’t really want to pay extra, just ask the waiter to take them out.


Cats having siesta in the Mértola, a Portuguese town in the border with Spain

Spain doesn’t really have it anymore either, specially in Madrid. But the schedules are completely different in comparison to Portugal. While in Spain restaurants in some of parts of the country will only open and start serving lunch after 1:30pm, in Portugal, our lunchtime starts at 12:00pm, and, if you’re eating after 2pm, that’s already considered pretty late. I was taken aback when I realised that my lunchtime break at Uni in Madrid was from 3pm to 4pm. We did had a break at around 11am, but that was more for a desayuno (breakfast). Also, some stores close at 1pm, only to reopen at around 5pm.


Have you heard about “saudade“? We are such melancholic whiners. Not in a bad way I’d say, but there simply isn’t the same joie de vivre you’d find in Spain. For some reason, our souls are often blue, perhaps due to our past and deep connection to the ocean. Or we simply worry about the future, about its uncertainty. And therefore might not enjoy life as freely, as if we knew that wouldn’t last. Something would come along to take something from us.

Overall, I’d classify the Spanish society has an extrovert. In that sense, we’re probably more like the central and northern european countries – reserved, quieter. .


Have you been to a place to get a coffee with your friends, and not being able to hear what they are saying to you because everyone seems to be shouting? I have. Multiple times. All of them in Spain…


In my opinion, this comes down to a simple fact – we use subtitles, and in Spain all English shows are dubbed. It means that since early childhood we have been used to listen to the language and unconsciously acquired some vocabulary and learnt about pronunciation.


The famous Pastel de Nata of Portugal

Okay, my Spanish friend would kill me, but this is my truth. Don’t get me wrong. Spain has amazing food. But not very healthy. Whereas we also love the chorizos (not myself), the cheeses and so on, our cuisine is typically simpler and still tasty, making it healthier as we don’t fry as many things, and don’t put an entire bottle of olive oil in every single dish. We like to grill meat, fish, veg. We like olive oil, but in moderation. Which is a lot better. Plus our coffee is the best. The only other place I’ve drank coffee I would compare to coffee at home was once in Italy.


Día de La Hispaninad – a bank holiday in the 12th of October in Spain to celebrate the country and its culture

So this one might be polemic. I understand there are regional divisions in Spain and often serious conflicts – Cataluña will never consider itself as part of Spain. But overall, every Spanish person I’ve known show such appreciation and pride for their country. A close knit sense of community at times I never felt it existed in Portugal. When I was living in Madrid, I was surprised with the eagerness of population to defend their rights, to go to the streets and push the government. Which for me is a sign of love for your people and your country.


Not much to say here. To be honest, that doesn’t really play a role in the way society works. Instead of a King or Queen, we have a president that spends probably as much as they would.


So, okay, this is biased. I am Portuguese, and lived for a while in Spain. I love both countries. Portugal is my home, but Spain, particularly Madrid, will always have a special place in my heart. So the topics listed above are only my perspective and are worth what they are. But hopefully will help you shed some light to anyone out there who is interested in understanding how we are different.

I’d love to hear the opinion of fellow travellers that have been in both countries, but also from Portuguese and Spanish alike 🙂

Love, Nic

P.S. While in self-isolation due to COVID-19 pandemic, I’m keeping a regular schedule of posting about my traveling experiences to bring some light into this dark time. A lot of my travel plans will most likely be canceled or postponed, and I want to continue to blog.

17 thoughts on “How is Portugal different from Spain – by a native Portuguese

  1. Hi Nic, I have finally took the time to read your blog, that was something I absolutely wanted to do this morning, after your comment. And I am so glad you left it also because it gave me the opportunity to know more about you and your sensitivity.
    I have enjoyed al lot this post and it made me smile pretty often. There are so many true things that you state… I have no objections, only two considerations. Yes, you, and the Portuguese, understand Spanish (and I would add also Italian) far better then they or we do! 😅 I am passionated of foreign languages so I have always envy you a lot for this reason! How comes? 😂🤦🏻‍♀️
    The second thing regards national diversity. You cannot be the same country, for the bunch of reasons that you have listed and also because all these differences make the world a richer place! I am glad you are so different because each one of you bring its own fundamental contribution. It’s just Iike someone wanted to unify Italy and France… Hell, NO!
    Keep all your characteristics alive, you are such a beautiful country and you cannot be trade, confused or swapped with anyone else! Un bacio da Roma, I won’t translate it ’cause I am already sure you will understand! 😘


    1. Hi Flavia, thank you so much for coming by and leaving such a wonderful comment! I do love the Italian language, it sounds like you’re indeed always singing, it has such a beautiful tone to it – it’s a bit harder for us to understand, but if I see it written I can get there 🙂

      I think it’s so important to have an identity, even if you’re a traveller or living abroad, I find it reassuring knowing my roots, my culture and that there is a place to come back to. And I am very glad France and Italy weren’t merged… imagine!

      Um beijo de Londres 😘


    2. Nice post Flavia. I think that often Portuguese people want to distance themselves as much as possible from the Spaniards, but the truth is that we are really pretty much the same people. Even the legendary, epic Portuguese poet Luis de Camoes stated in his epic literary work called ‘os Lusiads’, that Hispanics we all are, with reference to the Portuguese and Spaniards. Portuguese and Spanish history have always been intertwined since when Portugal became a nation in the early 1200s. There was much intermarriage between both and the bloodlines became very mixed. So, basically the same people, very similar cultures, languages, architecture, histories, foods, and very identical names too, first names and surnames, etc., etc.

      Certainly there were a fair share of grievances between both, especially when Spain assumed the Portuguese throne in 1580 – 1640. That is a bitter taste that has never gone away for the Portuguese people. And their resentment stems from the fact that were unable to conquer Portugal and make it part of Spain, like they were able to do with the Catalonians, for example. There way are Spanish have never been able to live that down.

      That said, we really are more alike than different. Our languages are 89% alike in vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure. The only reason that they have a harder time understanding Portuguese than the other way around stems from the Portuguese accent. However, make no mistake, if they really want to understand us inspire of the different accent, they most certainly can, to a high degree I might add. And for us, Spanish is completely intelligible save for some false cognates and some different vocabulary. Bt any educated Spaniard and Portuguese can have a very intelligible conversation each speaking to the other in his own language – this is fact, not fiction. Mutual goodwill and good faith go a very long way. And even if an unfamiliar word/s come up in a conversation, the meaning can be deciphered quite easily through the context, which fosters the high intelligibility.

      If a Spanish speaker was lost in the jungle, the person he would want to be with to have the best chance of survival would be a Portuguese, and vice-versa – hands down! A Portuguese and Spaniard cannot be objective about their very similar languages and everything else above mentioned, because they are too alike, and the past resentments negatively colour their perception of one another in terms of how very alike they really are. I speak both languages fluently, and I am in the prefect position to evaluate the similarities and differences. And yes, their languages are the most intelligible pair of Romance languages, but far!. And that is as subjective an opinion that you can get. Thanks.


  2. Thanks for sharing a detailed post on differences between Spain and Portugal. I’m surprised that Spain didn’t rule Portugal when it ruled over a huge areas of Europe including France. I’m surprised to hear that you are a Portuguese, I mean something new to know


    1. The Spanish did rule over Portugal for a certain period of time though, just for 60 years (1580 to 1640), only because the heir to the Portuguese throne was also the King of Spain. Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. hahah sim, sou portuguesa e português é a minha língua nativa. tenho vivido no UK e gosto mais de escrever aqui em inglês (vi que fazes o mesmo no teu blog!). Obrigada por teres aqui passado e seguires, vou retribuir 😊


      1. obrigado por seguires de volta 🙂 sim, escrever em inglês leva-nos bem mais longe e abre outras oportunidades 🙂 que tudo te corra bem no reino unido 🙂 PedroL

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve really enjoyed reading your post … and I love it when someone is showing patriotism towards their country.
    After walking the Camino in Spain, we thought we would be able to pick up on some of the words in Portugal (when we’ve walked the Portuguese Camino the following year) … but no ways! It is definitely two totally different languages.
    At first, I wanted to say your and Spain’s food is equally good … but then I saw that photo of the pastel de nata and I have to say, your food is definitely better 😄.
    There was however one thing I did not like about Portugal … walking on all those cobblestone roads!! On a normal holiday, this would be really lovely … but walking on those roads for hundreds of kilometres with blistered feet was a nightmare – but, even I must admit: It still is beautiful!
    I fell in love with your country from the very moment we’ve arrived in Lisbon and I still have wonderful memories of our time there … we hope to visit Portugal again soon 👍🏻.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s really lovely to hear! To be completely honest, I also don’t understand the obsession with cobblestone roads 🙄 it is very typical in the old part of the cities, but it’s simply not practical, it ruins your shoes and when it rains it can be hazardous. It becomes really slippery, and I’ve had some bad falls because of it! It is part of the culture though, so I don’t think it will go away anytime soon.

      In regards to our language, I was very surprised when I learned that Spanish people aren’t able to understand us (and sometimes even some Brazilians, even though we speak the same language). It’s amazing how intonations, pronunciations, accents, in general, may change the perception of a language completely, making it impossible for others to understand, even when we speak “similarly”.

      The pastel de nata takes the award home every time 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That was a very nice post, thanks ! I definitely find it harder to understand Portuguese than Spanish, though I’m French. Of course, you don’t have the same false friends, but the accent is much stronger (though to be fair, even though I speak Spanish, I still have difficulties sometimes understanding my father’s partner who comes from Andalucia).

    It may sound strange, buy in my imagination, Portugal is like an old kingdom from what Spain was before 1492 and the fall of Granada. Most of the major kingdoms that composed Spain were merged into the Kingdom of Spain around that time, but Portugal managed to remain independent. It makes it definitely pretty exciting. It’s really a country I’d love to take the time to visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for your comment! Spanish from the Andalucia region is definitely a lot harder to understand, I have faced the exact same problem.

      Portugal was from its very beginning constantly fighting for independence – the first King of Portugal actually fought against his own mother who remained an ally to the Kingdom of Léon in 1128. More unfortunate events, including marriages, were bound to happen in the following centuries, leading to Portugal being a “province” of Spain – on and off!

      I do recommend visiting Portugal – just a small trip from France, and there is a lot of history and culture to explore!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello.
    I love yout post. I´ve lived in Portugal for several years. I am Spanish and I agree in many things. Anyway, I consider we share many cultural aspects, including traditions, beliefs, points of view and cosmovision. We also have differences but we cannot ignore we have a shared history and cultural development. I have lived in many countries But I really feel at home everytime I come and stay here. I completely agree we are two different countries and we should never join. In any case, I think we should efford in recognizing our common features and develop more interest in each other. Concerning to food..I disagree. Both cuisines are really good. Still, Spanish food is not unhealthy, As you know, Mediterranean Diet is World Heritage since 2010. It was a candidacy shared by Italy, Morocco and Spain. M. Diet is considered as the healthiest diet al over the world. We have a very rich diet based on vegetables and fruit (cheaper in Spain, by the way), cereals and olive oil. We don not usually employ butter (Manteiga is rather common here). Anyway, I love Portugal and I´m looking forward to going back and staying there for long. What a great culture!


    1. Hola 🙂 Thank you so much for reading my post and for your comment. In this post I wanted to focus more on the differences, as I find when I travel a lot of people ask me this question – what are the differences, and sometimes they even think Spain and Portugal are the same country.

      I completely agree on the similarities – at the end of day, we are hermanos, we share a peninsula, and I love Spain. And so much history! Maybe one day I’ll write a post about the ways we are similar.

      In regards to the food… I mentioned it was a biased opinion and it was based on my experience living in Madrid. I also know that Spain is so different depending on the region where you are. I personally still prefer Portuguese cuisine (which it’s also considered Mediterranean)

      Hope you can go back soon!


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