Traveling anywhere right now requires lots of research and planning. For international travel, the rules and requirements seem to be changing almost daily. It’s important to stay on top of the latest rule changes before beginning any trip.
Early in 2020, Portugal created Portugal Clean & Safe as a way to ensure that any visitors coming to Portugal could easily identify places around the country that were following established health guidelines. This includes hotels, museums, restaurants, and shops.
When traveling to Portugal, as well as many other countries, you will need to complete a Passenger Locator Card. This allows the Portuguese public health authorities to contact you in the event that you may have been exposed to COVID-19. The card includes your flight information, address in Portugal, and several ways for them to contact you.
We moved to Cascais, Portugal several months ago and have been keeping up with what’s going on in our local area. We will be providing you with the latest requirements and tips on how to travel to Lisbon and the surrounding coastal cities.
Note: The regulations for travel into the country and throughout Portugal change frequently and sometimes without much notice. For the latest updated information, please check VisitPortugal.com.
Lisbon Metropolitan Area
First, it’s important to know that when you hear about restrictions for “Lisbon” they usually refer to the Lisbon Metropolitan Area (LMA). This is a very large area that includes 18 cities: Lisbon, Sintra, Loures, Amadora, Cascais, Oeiras, Almada, Seixal, Odivelas, Vila Franca de Xira, Setúbal, Barreiro, Moita, Mafra, Palmela, Montijo, Sesimbra and Alcohete. About one-quarter of the Portuguese population lives in this area.
It is mandatory to wear a mask in public areas and on the streets whenever social distancing is not possible. This requirement is for everyone 10 years old and up. In our daily errands and outings, we observe the majority of people on the streets wearing masks and complying with restrictions.
Carry extra masks with you. On one of our explorations, an ear strap on Sue’s mask broke, making it unusable. Thankfully the place we were visiting provided her with another mask. It was a standard surgical mask, not one of the heavy-duty masks we typically wear but it worked. Now we always carry extra masks and plenty of hand sanitizer. It’s also good to know that many of the Portuguese clean and safe locations have simple, convenient mask vending machines.
Current LMA Rules And Restrictions
Presently in the LMA, there is a daily curfew between 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. Restaurants and cafés with limited capacity close at 10:30 p.m. weekdays and 3:30 p.m. weekends. Interior seating maximum capacity is four people per table and outside seating is limited to six people per table. Shops close at 7 p.m. weekdays and 3:30 p.m. weekends. These rules do not apply to essential services like health services, pharmacies, veterinarians, and fuel supply.
Just this week a new rule was imposed that visitors will need to show a negative COVID test, vaccination certificate, or proof of recovery to stay in hotels and vacation rentals. A negative COVID test or vaccination certificate is also required to eat indoors in restaurants in Lisbon and other areas on Friday evenings and the weekend.
While these rules may sound intimidating, it is still possible to enjoy traveling in the Lisbon area. The rules are in place to help reduce the spread of the virus and enable citizens and visitors to socialize and recreate safely.
Lisbon Without The Crowds
The LMA, especially the city of Lisbon, is typically quite crowded in the summer. That is not the case in 2021. We’ve been into the city several times and had speedy access to places like the Pastéis de Belém, home of the original pasteis de nata, where the line usually wraps around the block.
Many Lisbon restaurants are open for business. Usual custom is that they close mid-afternoon and reopen for dinner later in the evening. But plenty of cafés and snack bars stay open all day. Portugal has quite a café culture so it’s easy to sit outside and enjoy a beverage and a bite at a table outside in just about any neighborhood you visit.
Without the usual tourist crush, it’s easy to see and do much more without waiting in lines. We enjoyed exploring and walking up as many of Lisbon’s hills as we could to see it all.
Transportation in the LMA is running smoothly. Trains, metro, trolleys, buses as well as UBER, Bolt, and taxis are all easy, convenient, and inexpensive ways to get around.
Beautiful Beach Towns
The Linha de Cascais train line is great for visiting all the gorgeous beach towns along the Atlantic Ocean and Tagus River from Lisbon to Cascais. This 45-minute scenic ride goes from the vibrant energy of Lisbon to the tranquility of Cascais.
The beaches are all open on the way and riders can stop along the Estoril Coastline in such spots as Paço de Arcos, Carcavelos, Estoril, or Parede for a swim, seaside stroll, or meal with a view. Each town is unique and offers a special slice of the mellow pace we have come to love in Portugal.
We encourage visitors to support the small neighborhood eateries or tascas and shops during their stay. It’s been a tough couple of years for the tourism industry. The local restaurants and gift shops will really appreciate your visit and will reward you with authentic memorable experiences, excellent quality, and great values.
Home Sweet Cascais
We now call the beautiful resort town of Cascais our home. One of our favorite local tascas is A Nova Estrela. In fact, we had Sue’s birthday dinner there in June. It felt like we were among family with Maria, Paulo, and their son Bernard. They always make us feel special and serve delicious Portuguese specialties at reasonable prices.
Cascais has long been known as a getaway for the upper crust of Portugal and Europe. For an elegant experience, try the gorgeous Grande Real Villa Italia Hotel and Spa, conveniently located on Avenue Rei Humberto Il de Itália, which runs along the Atlantic coastline. The panoramic waterfront views, beautifully appointed rooms, luxurious spa, and relaxing pool area offer sumptuous serenity.
James Bond In Estoril
Fans of James Bond will want to make a stop in Estoril. Ian Fleming, the creator of 007, stayed at the Palácio Estoril Hotel during World War II. Here he watched the international spies mingle with the rich and famous in their preferred environment. These hotel guests inspired the characters in his first book, Casino Royale.
The sixth Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was filmed in Portugal. The film features many images of the hotel inside and out. They also filmed locations in Guincho Beach, Lisbon, and the Arrábida Mountains.
Sintra, located about 30 minutes from Lisbon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that feels like something out of a fairytale. Its parks and architectural landmarks include Pena National Palace, Castle of the Moors, the National Palace, Monserrate Palace and Quinta da Regaleira. Exploring this area marked with ravines and hills can be demanding. But taking the time to discover its magic is well worth the effort.
One of our favorite discoveries about Portuguese cuisine is that even the tiniest town or village will likely have its own unique pastry or culinary creation. Sintra’s most famous include the Travesseiros, pillowy puff pastry filled with almond cream, and Queijadas de Sintra, small tarts with a cinnamon sugar top and thin, crispy crust. Both are worth seeking out and three well-loved spots to try out are Casa Piriquita (two locations), Casa do Preto, and Fábrica das Verdadeiras Quiejadas da Sapa.
Most of the stores and restaurants in Sintra are open. There are many parks, museums, and even a sculpture garden to enjoy. Handcrafts, jewelry, and gifts of all sorts fill the shops. We spent way too long enjoying the distinctive nature-inspired tableware Portugal’s own Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro made world famous.
Sintra is usually teeming with people year round. On our recent visit, we found it quite manageable and considerably less crowded. Check in advance to find out about tickets, tours, and reservations at popular restaurants like Incomum. We also take a light jacket to Sintra because it’s up in the mountains and the microclimate can be significantly different than the beaches or Lisbon. You’ll find it windier and often chillier, and the temperature can vary even from time to time as you wander around.
If your travel plans and rules permit the journey, it is possible to have a wonderful visit to Portugal right now. Travelers can enjoy all that the Lisbon Metropolitan Area has to offer. A visit to Portugal always offers amazing attractions, beautiful beaches, delicious dining, and locals who are overjoyed to welcome visitors.
Even though there are some extra considerations for a trip right now, with a little planning and preparation travelers will be rewarded with a fabulous experience that includes time to relax and not have to fight the usual crowds to explore this spectacular place we now call home.