Traveling to Portugal
Portugal is one of the most popular countries to visit right now. There are several reasons for that:
It is easy to get to.
The living costs there are low
It is relatively safe
It has the highest Covid19 vaccination rate in Europe
In my opinion all this is true.
From Newark, New Jersey it takes just over 6.5 hours to arrive in Lisbon, Portugal. From there, with a car one can be in Porto to the north or the Algarve to the south in 3 hours or so. For those inclined to not rent a car there are trains and buses that run continuously. We enjoyed the freedom of having a car to explore far and wide but when we got to the large city of Lisbon, we ditched the car and used public transportation in town and commuter trains to visit coastal communities nearby.
Food and Wine
Food (and wine) in grocery stores, restaurants and cafes were significantly less expensive than we are used to paying in the U.S. The coffee in Portugal is very good and the national treat, Pastel de Nata, are delicious little custard pie must-tries. We didn’t go to more than a couple fancy restaurants and mostly stayed with local ones and the food was good but not impressive. We ate lots of fish and lamb. Meals tended to be simple fish or meat with vegetables and either rice or potatoes (and often both). Generally, I felt that we ate healthy during our travels. Watch out though, Portugal has excellent pastries.
I was impressed with Portuguese wines. In fact, at a restaurant in Porto (Wishes) we had one of the best bottles of wine I’ve ever had, and it was around 15 Euros. It was a 2014 vintage of Quinta Da Romaneira – Tinto. Your experience may be different, but I was wowed! I picked up a couple bottles of the 2015 vintage to try back here in the states. Port wines are made in Portugal and the wine caves are mostly in Porto. We enjoyed a tour of one of the caves, learning why Port was conceived and how it is made and what differences there are between Ruby Port wines and Tawney Port wines. I picked up a bottle of 40-year-old Tawney Port to bring home because I had never seen it before. Savvy traveler that I am when I came back home, I looked up how much such a bottle would cost and found I could buy the same thing stateside for 40% less than I paid there! Smart, I know!
Transportation & COVID-19 Updates
We rented a car in Portugal for two weeks. The cost was half the cost of a one-week car rental in Florida during August this year. Be careful with the rental cars. Some streets are very narrow, and it is possible to hit a curb taking a corner too sharply. Also, parking can be tight and off-the-curb. Usually, the wheel scratch that occurs is skipped over by the inspecting people upon returning the car but in Portugal those inspectors were thorough, and it cost me a quite a few bucks for the wheel scratches I caused. I didn’t feel the rental car company treated me unjustly, but the scrutinization was over the top and surprised me. I’ll be mindful of that for my next overseas rental.
By the time we arrived, nearly 90% of the population in Portugal had been fully vaccinated. The Portuguese take it seriously by wearing masks indoors everywhere and sometimes outdoors as well. All the public transportation requires masks. In fact, on one occasion a tram driver in Lisbon stopped his tram mid-street and got out of his driver’s seat to admonish a tourist passenger to put his mask on! By the time I got to Portugal all in-country travel restrictions had been lifted so we were free to go anywhere we wished. We felt quite safe from a health-wise. Also, Portugal is listed as the third most safe country in Europe, and we felt physically safe there. Of course, there are pick pockets in heavily touristic areas. We didn’t feel threatened at all, but we were always alert, as one should always be traveling or not.
Portugal is heavily advertised as a great place to visit (and it is) though the country is much different than other countries in Europe we’ve visited. Though it is the oldest unified country in Europe I didn’t observe the antiquities I have seen in other countries. In an old town like Tomar, Portugal (1300s) the oldest structures, stucco’d and whitewashed with red tile roofs just didn’t look all that old. I couldn’t help thinking about the timbered houses in Oxford, UK or in small towns in Germany. From what I saw Portugal just didn’t have that historical feel I like so much. Of course, there are a couple of castles and monasteries to visit, and we did, but I was somewhat disappointed. I think had I not been there scouting-out prospective locations for an investment, 3 days in Porto, 3 days in Lisbon and 3 or 4 days on the beaches in the Algarve would have been sufficient. I was there for three weeks, and it was a bit much.
Portugal is a rugged rural country, great for hiking, biking and water activities. It is a country, especially around the coastline where you will need to be healthy enough to handle climbing hills. I was surprised by the steepness of the streets in Porto but amazed at them in Lisbon. Fortunately, there are trams and buses and Ubers and cabs enough but if you plan on walking, be aware. To me, San Francisco has nothing compared to the hills of Lisbon. Happily, though we are older, we are physically fit and found only a mild challenge climbing the steep streets every time we went anywhere. Because of the steepness of tourist areas, I encourage you to hire a qualified tour guide if you’re not 100% well. A guide will take your health into consideration and design tours to limit the stress of hiking but still give you sufficient depth of knowledge on your tours. We had friends with us in Lisbon and had hired a phenomenal guide on a couple occasions there (happy to give a referral). Without the guide our friends would have been less able to get around and we wouldn’t have seen as much of Lisbon as we did.
In this COVID environment testing is required for re-entry into the US. It was a bit of a challenge to get our COVID PCR test completed for the travel home but that was my fault for not planning in advance. There are facilities located at the airport, but they require appointments and fill up fast. Every pharmacy there performs COVID testing but they won’t guarantee a result within 48 hours. If I were you, I would add this to my trip planning and make sure you arrange to take the PCR test for getting back into the US before you leave to go on your trip.
Bottom line? We’re glad we visited Portugal and spent time there exploring. I encourage you to go but urge you to not wait until you’re in your 70s. All-in-all I had a good time in Portugal, but are we aching to go back? No.
If you have an idea that you may be interested in considering living abroad whether temporarily or permanently then look for future articles from me. Check out my past blog posts, too.