What is more common to say: The ship arrives in the harbour or port of Lisbon?

  • 3
    They're different things.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 8, 2018 at 18:29
  • Port can be understood as a place, where loading and unloading of ships and boats are done. The term port is often juxtaposed with harbour, which implies a place along a coast where ships or boats can take shelter if the atmospheric conditions are not well for sailing. keydifferences.com/difference-between-port-and-harbour.html
    – user 66974
    Oct 8, 2018 at 18:32
  • 1
    Curiously, although by "strict" definitions you'd think that ports must be smaller than harbours (since a port is often situated within something that could be defined as a harbour), the most immediate distinction that comes to mind for me is ports are big, harbours are small. Presumably because there are plenty of very small out-of-the-way harbours, but to be an actual port implies substantial infrastructure. Oct 8, 2018 at 18:40
  • There are many differences in the sense in which each word is used, but one of them is that "port" would always suggest an urban place, with connections to other forms of transport such as road and/or rail. A "harbour" could exist quite naturally on a desert island. Having said that it is almost essential for a port also to have a harbour - unless it is an airport of course.
    – WS2
    Oct 8, 2018 at 21:05
  • @FumbleFingers -- well, most ports are within harbors — nobody wants their ship sunk while they are trying to unload it — but a port is only smaller than the particular harbor that contains it. A harbor can be arbitrarily small. If it's big enough to float a dinghy, it could be a harbor. A port necessarily has all sorts of amenities: docks, roads and/or rail connections, vendors (like chandleries and tugboats). Any port is naturally going to be fairly large, and therefore must be located in a fairly large harbor. Oct 9, 2018 at 0:03

1 Answer 1


The words have different meanings.

A harbor refers to an area of water that is protected (by natural or manmade breakwaters) from the open ocean.

A port is a place where large vehicles load and offload and where people enter a country.

So the ship enters the harbor of Lisbon when it sails into the calm water; it enters the port when it actually docks.

  • @FumbleFingers is surely right and there must be something wrong with the apparently clear logic here. Just up the Portuguese coast is the city of Porto: the important thing about that city is that it is a port not that it has docks.
    – JeremyC
    Oct 8, 2018 at 22:43
  • That's correct—a harbor is a body of water (often supporting a port), while a port is a manmade facility or group of facilities (often located on or around, or including, a harbor). So, as for which is more common in the given example of Lisbon, it would depend on what the more common usage is locally. Is there a body of water commonly known as Lisbon Harbor, or similar, as there is in, say, Boston? Or is it more akin to Los Angeles, where there term "Port of LA" is frequently encountered?
    – Nathan
    Oct 9, 2018 at 2:47

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