Abstract The general features of the region of interaction of the solar wind with the ionosphere of Venus and Mars are compared using data obtained with the Mariner 5 and the Pioneer Venus Orbiter (PVO) spacecraft for Venus and with the Phobos II, the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) and the Mars Express spacecraft for Mars. Despite the overall weak intrinsic global magnetic field that is present in both planets there are significant differences in the manner in which the interplanetary magnetic field accumulates and is organized around and within their ionosphere. Such differences are unrelated to the crustal magnetic field remnants inferred from the MGS measurements around Mars. In fact, while in Venus and Mars there is a region in which the magnetic field becomes enhanced as it piles up in their plasma environment it is shown that such a region exhibits different regimes with respect to changes in the ion composition measured outside and within the ionosphere. At Venus the region of enhanced magnetic field intensity occurs in general above the ionopause which represents the boundary across which there is a change in the ion composition with dominant solar wind protons above and planetary O + ions below. At Mars the region of enhanced magnetic field is located below a magnetic pileup boundary across which there is also a comparable change in the ion composition (solar wind protons above and planetary O + ions below). It is argued that this difference in the relative position of the region of enhanced magnetic field with respect to that of a plasma boundary that separates different ion populations results from the peculiar response of the ionosphere of each planet to the oncoming solar wind dynamic pressure. While at Venus the peak ionospheric thermal pressure is in general sufficient to withhold the incident solar wind kinetic pressure there is a different response in Mars where the peak ionospheric thermal pressure is in general not large enough to deviate the solar wind. In this latter case the ionosphere is unable to force the solar wind to move around the ionosphere and as a result the oncoming electron population can reach low altitudes where it is influenced by neutral atmospheric particles (the solar wind proton population is replaced at the magnetic pileup boundary which marks the upper extent of the region where the interplanetary magnetic field becomes enhanced). Peculiar conditions are expected near the magnetic polar regions and over the terminator plane where the solar wind is directed along the sides of the planet.