So, you’re thinking about visiting Portugal this year and you’re wondering what it’ll be like? Will I be able to fly there? Will the restaurants be open? What about museums, bars, hotels, and cafés? Will I have to wear a mask?
A lot of people have been messaging Portugalist with questions about coronavirus and travel in Portugal, and this article hopes to answer some of the most common ones.
In short: after several weeks of lockdown, Portugal is attempting to go back to normal, however, there will be some changes. As Prime Minister said: “Enquanto houver covid, não haverá vida normal” (As long as there is covid, there will be no normal life).
So, what will this new (not normal) normal look like?
Hotels & Accommodation
You can book your accommodation now
Most hotels, guesthouses, villas, campsites, and other forms of accommodation are already open and, even those that aren’t are taking bookings for when they do.
The Portuguese Tourism Board, Turismo de Portugal, have created a special Covid-19 hygiene training program for tourism businesses such as hotels and guesthouses, apartments, and tours. The program is called Clean & Safe.
Every business that has completed the training will be able to display the Clean & Safe logo on their website or other promotional material.
It’s probably a reasonably safe assumption to assume that most tourism businesses will do the course and have this seal but, unfortunately, there isn’t currently an easy way to searching for hotels that have this seal of approval. You can’t search TripAdvisor for hotels with it, for example.
The best place to check for it is probably going to be on the tourism company’s website.
It’s likely that many hotels will clean the rooms before you arrive and when you leave rather than offering a daily housekeeping service. This is to protect their staff.
Shared accommodation tip
If you’re planning in staying in shared accommodation, even if you plan on having your own room, you may want to book a place with its own private en-suite bathroom.
Unfortunately Airbnb doesn’t have a filter for this, but booking.com does.
All inclusive will be more restricted
All inclusive holidays are likely to be less inclusive this year.
Buffet meals are probably out, for example, and it’s quite likely there will be limitations on the number of people by the pool, in the bars and restaurants, and in other communal areas.
In the beginning, most travel insurance companies were doing everything they could to avoid paying out against coronavirus claims. Now, many are saying their policies cover coronavirus.
Flights & Transportation
While some airline routes will start in the second half of June, the majority of flights will recommence on July 1st.
The easiest way to check which airlines are flying and when they’re flying is to use a flight search engine like Skyscanner. Skyscanner even allows you to check across a whole month, which is very useful for finding the best deals.
Obviously, flights will be more restrictive than before. Apparently, you will have to ask to use the toilet, and won’t be able to queue for it. Masks will be required. For most people, though, the most important thing is that the airlines will be flying again.
Tip: Consider pre-booking an airport transfer to your accommodation.
Those travelling to Portugal by car (by ferry, Eurotunnel, or across Europe) will have to drive through Spain and possibly through France as well.
It’s expected that the Spanish-Portuguese border will remain closed until June 15th, so don’t expect to make a trip to Portugal before that (unless you have good reason).
Depending on the part of Portugal that you’re visiting, you may need to take public transport at some point.
If you’re visiting Lisbon, for example, you may need to take the metro. If you’re travelling cross-country, for example from Porto to The Algarve, you may need to take the train or the bus.
Both the trains and the long-distance coaches will be slightly different now due to Covid.
- If you book a seat on the train, the seat next to you will automatically be blocked out (unless you’re travelling as a couple in which case you can sit next to each other).
- Rede Expressos have reduced the capacity on their buses to two thirds, but there doesn’t seem to be an automatic restriction that prevents strangers from sitting next to each other. It’s likely, however, that on the day people will move to a seat by themselves.
You must wear a mask
Masks must be worn on public transport and, if you are caught without a mask, you will be fined. Fines range from €120 to €350.
Public transport alternatives
You may decide that you want to limit your use of public transport as much as possible in Portugal. Here are some ways that you can do that:
- Take airport transfers or taxis from the airport to your accommodation.
- Use taxis (or Ubers) when you can.
- Rent a car for longer distances (or for the duration of your trip).
Taxis & Ubers
As with everything else, you can expect a few changes to taxis and taxi apps like Uber in Portugal.
There will be hand sanitizer in the taxis and a clear (glass or plastic) partition between the driver and passengers, but the biggest difference is that the front of the car will only be for the driver.
This effectively means the maximum number of people that you can normally take in a car is 3 and not 4. If your group is larger than 3, you’ll need to request a larger vehicle.
Although many of the beaches are already open, particularly those in less touristic parts of the country, the beaches in Portugal officially open again on June 6th.
Due to the number of people that visit the beaches during the summer, there will be some new rules in order to ensure social distancing and there will be limits on the number of people allowed on the beach at a given time.
These rules are going to have more of an effect on places with small beaches (Carvoeiro near Lisbon and Cascais in the Algarve, for example), and you may want to consider staying near a larger beach.
It’s also worth mentioning that these rules won’t apply to all beaches, but will apply to those that have a lifeguard or café/restaurant.
Distancing between groups
There are strict rules about how far you must be from the nearest groups: 1.5 metres between groups and 3 metres between umbrellas.
Sporting activities are limited to 2 people (with the exception of activities that take place in the water like surfing).
Limited number of people at a time
There’s only so much space on the beach and having distances of 1.5 to 3 metres between each group means that only a limited number of people will be allowed on certain beaches at a given time.
The beaches will have a “traffic light” system to say whether or not you should go on them. Apparently, you can’t be stopped from going on the beach, but going onto a full beach could cause you problems with other guests.
Some beaches are quite large (Costa da Caparica and Praia Grande in Lagos, for example), so different beaches will be affected differently.
Time limits on your stay
Rather than being allowed to stay at the beach for the entire day, you’ll now only be able to stay at the beach for half a day.
Most restaurants in Portugal will be open, but will only allow a limited number of people so that everyone can maintain appropriate social distancing. It’s likely that many will make more use of the streets and areas outside of the restaurant in order to accommodate a larger number of clients but, unless there’s shade, you may prefer to be indoors.
It won’t make a big difference, but one noticeable change will be the lack of traditional restaurant menus. For health reasons, it’s not safe for everyone to touch the same menu so you’ll likely be given a single sheet of paper with the menu printed on it or the menu will be on a blackboard.
You might want to book in advance
As restaurants will only be able to allow a limited number of patrons, it’s probably a good idea to book in advance.
In Lisbon, Porto, Évora, and a few other parts of the country, many restaurants can be booked through TheFork. In the rest of Portugal, you’ll probably need to phone up (although some will respond if you message their Facebook page).
You might decide to eat in occasionally
During the State of Emergency (lockdown in Portugal), many restaurants offered a takeaway service. It’s possible that many will continue to do this and, along with all of the restaurants that offered that before, that means there will be a lot more options for eating in.
Depending on how busy the restaurants are (and whether or not you’ve pre-booked a table), you may decide that you want to eat in some evenings.
Read more about ordering takeaway in Portugal.
Historical, cultural, and other tourist attractions are opening up, however, you can expect there to be limits on the number of people allowed in an attraction at a given time.
All of the supermarkets in Portugal are open, but there are some new rules.
- You cannot enter supermarkets without a mask. If you don’t have one, you simply won’t be allowed in.
- There may be restrictions on the number of people allowed in the supermarket at any given time. This was common during the State of Emergency.
- While cash is still accepted, card payments are preferred as cashiers don’t want to have to handle cash.
It’s also worth mentioning that online grocery shopping has improved considerably since coronavirus, so you could also consider doing your shopping online.
Summer festivals and large events have generally all been cancelled.
There may be some exceptions (seated events where there’s spacing between the seats, for example) but most festivals – including the Santos Populares – have been cancelled.
A final note
Yes, Portugal is imposing a few rules, but this is what’s necessary for Portugal to do in order to open its borders up to tourism.
Please be respectful of the rules and the people here and do everything you can to protect yourself and others.