What Traveling in Lisbon during COVID is Really Like for Americans

Last updated Aug 1, 2021 | Published on Jul 15, 2021

On June 15, 2021, Portugal finally re-opened its doors to non-essential travel for Americans.

My husband Daniel and I booked our tickets to Lisbon the very next day.

Lisbon has been on our bucket list for a long time. In fact, we were about to head to Lisbon when the Coronavirus sidelined our travel plans in 2020. We were ecstatic when we learned that we could finally resume our trip, even if it meant traveling in Lisbon during COVID.

Not long afterwards, the number of COVID of cases in Portugal began to rise. The highly contagious Delta variant was spreading rapidly through the country and only 30% of the population was vaccinated. Some municipalities began imposing curfews and travel restrictions to curb the spread.

While this was the cause for some concern, we were undeterred. Daniel and I are experienced global travelers and are both fully vaccinated. We decided to go anyway and keep our plans flexible.

We landed in Lisbon on July 3 and spent the next week exploring the city. During this time, the rules for moving about the city completely changed – and it won’t surprise me if they change again soon.

Read on to learn what our experience traveling in Lisbon during COVID has been like as well as navigating an ever-changing set of rules…

Planning a trip to Lisbon? Check out my Lisbon 4-day itinerary for a comprehensive guide on what to see in Portugal’s capitol!

Light from the street lights are reflected on windy cobblestone streets at night, with a church tower in the background.

Wandering the Alfama neighborhood just before the 11:00 pm curfew.

Traveling to Portugal from the United States

After the travel ban was lifted, the new rules stated that Americans could enter Portugal as long as they presented negative COVID-19 test. While several testing options were accepted, we opted for a PCR test because it could be performed up to 72 hours prior to boarding.

It turns out that these tests are not cheap!

I have gotten several COVID tests before, but these were covered by my health insurance because I was sick at the time.

COVID tests for travel purposes are another thing altogether! Our PCR tests cost us $180 each. But we didn’t have much of a choice. Plus, they were fast and easy and we got the results the same day.

Once the tests were completed, we simply showed the results to the airline agent before checking in. We also filled out an online Passenger Locator Card to assist in contact tracing in case of an outbreak.

Masks are required in the airport and on the plane (except when eating or drinking). It was the longest continuous period of time that I’ve ever worn a mask before, but it wasn’t too difficult.

Note: different rules may apply to travelers from other countries. The rules are also slightly different for traveling to the Portuguese islands of Azores and Madeira. Be sure to check the U.S. Embassy in Portugal  COVID page (or the equivalent for your country) for the current travel requirements as they change all the time.

View of the city of Lisbon with many terra cotta tile roofs and the 25 de Abril Suspension Bridge in the distance

View of Lisbon from Castelo de São Jorge (aka São Jorge Castle or Lisbon Castle) on a moody day

Exploring Castelo de São Jorge

Traveling in Lisbon during COVID – the first week of July 2021

When we arrived in Lisbon, the city was under a set of restrictions meant to keep the new variant from spreading to the rest of the country. These restrictions included:

  • A curfew imposed from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am every day
  • All restaurants must close by 3:30 pm on the weekends (Friday to Sunday) and by 10:30 pm on the weekdays
  • You could not travel outside of the greater Lisbon area on the weekends, with some exceptions (including for tourists to check-in to hotels and/or holders of the EU Digital COVID certificate)

Thankfully we rented a furnished AirBnB apartment with a kitchen. Since we arrived on a Saturday, this meant that restaurants were closed in the evenings. So, we cooked dinner at home the first two nights. I actually didn’t mind hanging out at home because I wasn’t feeling especially perky due to jet lag.

We didn’t have any plans to leave the greater Lisbon area so this rule didn’t impact us much. One of the most popular tourist destinations is the city of Sintra, but it is technically within the greater Lisbon area. So, we could have traveled there if we chose.

I was a little worried about the curfew, however. One evening our dinner ran a little long and we were still finishing dessert at 11:00 pm. I’m not much of a rule breaker and I was worried about getting into trouble.

When I spoke to the waitstaff, however, they were unconcerned. Our server said the rule was a suggestion and not compulsory. I don’t know if this was true or not, but we did make it back to our apartment just fine and we saw a fair amount of people out on the streets.

I haven’t been out past curfew since then however.

View of the brightly-painted red 25 de Abril suspension Bridge from the Águas Livres Aqueduct

View of the 25 de Abril Bridge from the Águas Livres Aqueduct

The Águas Livres Aqueduct is a Roman-style aqueduct with graceful arches that spans a valley. It was constructed in the 1700's.

Walking across the Águas Livres Aqueduct (aka Lisbon Aqueduct)

Lisbon’s New COVID Rules

On July 8, we learned that new rules impacting Portugal’s very-high risk municipalities were planned to start the following day.

The rules were so new, in fact, that no official web pages had been updated with the information (they have been now). Since Lisbon is currently in the very-high risk category, I tried for some time to locate this information. Eventually, after searching some Portuguese accounts on Twitter, I learned that:

  • Restaurants are now allowed to stay open until 10:30 all days of the week, however…
  • On weekends, restaurants with indoor dining require customers to show an EU Digital COVID Certificate. Customers without an EDCC will have to furnish a negative COVID test result or take a rapid Antigen test on the spot.
  • The prohibition against traveling on the weekends was lifted.
  • The nightly curfew from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am remained in place.
  • When checking into hotels or local accommodation establishments, guests are required to show an EU Digital COVID Certificate. Customers without an EDCC will have to furnish a negative COVID test result or take a rapid Antigen test on the spot.
    • Note: this last rule applies to the entire country, not just to very-high risk municipalities

You can read the full list of rules here: COVID-19 measures implemented in Portugal.

Brightly-colored rainbow-striped umbrellas are strung across a street painted bright street an an alley lined with shops and cafes.

Football (Soccer) Fans watch the UEFA Euro 2020 Finale on Pink Street

How Will the New Rules Impact Americans?

Naturally, I had lots of questions after reading these rules. As an American, I am not eligible for the EU Digital COVID Certificate. I would love to have one because we plan to travel around Europe after this and it would come in very handy. Hopefully this will eventually change.

But what about in the meantime? I am fully vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine and have a flimsy-looking CDC-issued vaccine card to prove it. The Moderna vaccine *is* an approved form of vaccination accepted by the European Union.

Would that be acceptable in lieu of an EDCC, or would I have to constantly take rapid Antigen tests when traveling in Lisbon during COVID?

Daniel and I visited three different restaurants the weekend of July 10-11, 2021 to find out.

A bright yellow trolley glides down a narrow street with cobblestones and graffiti in the Alfama neighborhood

The historic #28 tram is a great way to get around the city and a favorite with tourists. The trams ran during our visit with reduced capacity and everyone wore masks.

Traveling in Lisbon during COVID under the New Rules

Unsurprisingly, since it up to each individual restaurant to enforce this policy, we encountered three different approaches.

One restaurant said our American CDC-issued vaccine card was ok. Another one didn’t even bother asking us about it. A third restaurant provided us with an information card about the new rule…but didn’t care if we followed it or not.

Apparently this antipathy towards the new rule isn’t uncommon.

There is a lot of frustration over the new rule from the restaurant sector who has been put in the unenviable position of enforcing it. They say that the rule is “unworkable” and that the intended goal – to increase business to restaurants – has backfired as many reservations are now being cancelled.

When I visited a restaurant the following weekend I got a different response, however. A restaurant employee told me the police handed out citations for NOT following the new COVID rules. The police would not accept American CDC vaccine cards. So, maybe the new rules are being enforced now more than they were last weekend.

We’ll see how long the new rule stands and if the current levels of enforcement eventually change.

Keep in mind that these rules do not apply during weekdays or to outdoor dining – and many restaurants here have lovely outdoor patios or at least some form of outdoor seating.

And if you do have to take a rapid antigen test, it’s really not that big of a deal. I picked one up from the pharmacy yesterday for €6,80 (that’s $8 USD). The test is super easy to do and you get the results back in 15 minutes.

One consequence of these constant rule changes is that it’s hard for restaurants to keep a consistent schedule. Daniel and I have found the doors to restaurants shuttered on multiple occasions – even after first validating their schedules online.

If you have your heart set on visiting a particular restaurant, I recommend calling first to verify that they are actually open.

A small custard tart in a flaky pastry shell sits in a display basket

Portuguese egg custard tart or “pastel de nata”. Don’t visit Lisbon without eating one!

Updates to the Portugal Travel Rules on August 1, 2021

A new set of rules were announced that go into effect as of August 1, 2021. These rules now apply to the entire country rather than only impacting certain areas. Here is a summary:

  • The nighttime curfew was lifted for High Risk and Very High Risk Areas. Bars, cafes and restaurants can now stay open until 2:00 am.
  • Shops and shopping centers are open without time restrictions.
  • When checking into hotels or local accommodation establishments, guests are required to show an EU Digital COVID Certificate. Customers without an EDCC will have to furnish a negative COVID test result or take a rapid Antigen test on the spot. (This rule carries over from before).
  • On weekends, restaurants with indoor dining require customers to show an EU Digital COVID Certificate. Customers without an EDCC will have to furnish a negative COVID test result or take a rapid Antigen test on the spot. (This rule now applies to the entire country)
  • Americans still need to provide a negative COVID test for entry to the country.

As you can see, the rules keep changing all the time. Be sure to check the rules frequently which are detailed here:  COVID-19 measures implemented in Portugal.

Should you Travel to Lisbon during COVID?

Traveling in Lisbon during COVID isn’t without its risks. The country is in an official “State of Calamity” due to the rise of COVID rates. The CDC has issued a travel warning of “Level 4: COVID-19 Very High” for Portugal. NOTE: This was raised from level 3 to level 4 on July 26, 2021.

If things suddenly get worse, the whole country could go into lockdown. This could complicate matters for travelers returning home – as recently happened when Portugal was removed from the UK’s list of “green” travel countries. Also, if you positive for COVID while in Portugal, you will be required to quarantine for 10 days before you can leave the country.

You definitely should not travel to Portugal if you’re not vaccinated.

If you’re a risk-averse person, then Lisbon may not be a good place for you to visit right now.

What used to be the interior of a large cathedral with arched columns now is an outdoor space as the roof is missing

The historic Carmo Convent – the cathedral which famously lost its roof during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake

But if you’re fully vaccinated and ok with some amount of risk, then Portugal is a lovely place to visit. We found the rules to be confusing but manageable. And Lisbon is an incredibly beautiful city.

That being said, when I visited Portugal the CDC-issued travel alert for Portugal was at Level 3. Now that it is at Level 4, I might seriously reconsider traveling there until the risk level is lowered again.

One advantage to traveling in Lisbon during COVID is that we haven’t encountered many other tourists (however I suspect that will soon change). All the museums and tourist attractions that we’ve visited so far are open – with the exception of the Santa Justa Lift (Elevador de Santa Justa).

If you do decide to visit Portugal, be sure to keep your travel plans flexible. Make sure you can easily cancel or change your plans if need be. Buy travel insurance.

Remember that wearing a mask is compulsory in public indoor spaces and outdoors when you can’t socially distance.

And most of all – have fun! We sure did.

Photo of the author with a broad straw sun hat with braids and sunglasses standing atop the Lisbon Aqueduct

Selfie on the Águas Livres Aqueduct

Daniel sits at a table in an arched stairwell with a nice view in the background

Daniel sits outside of a café while we wait for our lunch to be served.

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Hi, I'm Unicorn!

I am an avid hiker, traveler, and adventurer who is on the mission to explore hiking trails around the world.  I’m also obsessed with National Parks, long-distance trails and other outdoorsy things.

I hope to share this knowledge with you and inspire you to explore new hiking trails too!

17 Comments

    • Unicorn

      Hi Kathy!! So nice to hear from you. The pastel de nata are so yummy here! Daniel found a bakery here in Lisbon where you could watch them being made. We were so excited to visit but it was actually a little disappointing. Just a small window with one woman making the pastries. Maybe it was limited access for visitors due to COVID? I’m not sure. Anyway the bakery you shared looks amazing. So many wonderful things to see!!!

      Reply
  1. Jewels Rhode

    This is such a great article! And timely too. I’ll be traveling throughout Portugal in a few months and Lisbon is definitely a point of interest.

    Reply
    • Unicorn

      Thanks Jewels. Have a great trip!

      Reply
  2. muylindatravels

    I’m glad to hear you enjoyed your trip to Lisbon although there were so many rules & restrictions to comply with…Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    Reply
  3. Or

    Thanks for sharing your experience with such detail! I sure hope there won’t be any more lockdowns, but at least you got to enjoy the city without the crowds 🙂

    Reply
    • Unicorn

      Thanks Or! It has an interesting experience to visit Lisbon right now. And the smaller crowds have been nice 🙂

      Reply
    • Ronald Schrank

      Wonder why you say that if you’re not vaccinated you shouldn’t go to Portugal? … We are going next month but me and my gf won’t be mingling in crowds, we’ll stay to each other and avoid indoor areas with crowds.

      Reply
      • Unicorn

        Hi Ronald,
        I’ve edited your comment before approval to remove some inaccurate statements about vaccines. I really don’t want to get into a vaccine debate here, but I would like to answer your question. The reason I’m advising unvaccinated people against traveling to Portugal is because that is the position of the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC has issued a Level 3 COVID-19 Advisory for Portugal, stating “Make sure you are fully vaccinated before traveling to Portugal. Unvaccinated travelers should avoid nonessential travel to Portugal.” (You can find it here: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/portugal).
        I would also point out that being fully vaccinated makes travel *much* easier. As stated in the article, the new rules in Lisbon require travelers to present an EU Digital COVID Certificate under various circumstances (such as eating at restaurants at certain times and checking into hotels). Americans aren’t eligible for the certificate and so technically are supposed to take a COVID test, but all the places I’ve visited have accepted my vaccine card so far. I’m about to travel to another EU country and the vaccine card will save me from a very expensive PCR COVID test before boarding. I can’t even imagine the headache of traveling right now without it.

  4. Elizabeth

    Good to hear what your experience was like to traveling to Lisbon. I’m excited to get back to overseas travels, but I’m going to wait until there are less rules. I don’t think I would do well wearing a mask for a long haul flight and it would make me nervous to be out past curfew too.

    Reply
    • Unicorn

      Thanks for the comment Elizabeth! And I understand completely about not wanting to travel right now. It’s definitely not for everyone. Here’s hoping hassle-free travel is available again soon!

      Reply
  5. Lauren

    This is a wonderful article- thank you! We are leaving for Portugal in the next month. I am worried about testing at every hotel we go to (since we are visiting 7 hotels during our stay). We are all vaccinated, but what happens if we some how test positive and are asymptomatic? Do you know the rules and where people stay if they do test positive? I haven’t been able to find anything anywhere on this. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Unicorn

      Hi Lauren. It’s a good question. To be honest I’m not sure what would happen if you tested positive while in Portugal. Most likely you (and your companions) would be required to quarantine in place until you recovered or tested positive. When I had COVID last year I was in an AirBnB and we didn’t leave for 2 weeks. But it was in the United States and in the very early days of the pandemic. Not sure what would happen here. Having travel insurance is a good idea to help cover cancellations if that happens. Also … You may want to consider checking into fewer hotels on this trip to to make things easier. My personal opinion of course but that’s what I would do.

      Reply
    • Ronald Schrank

      Any regrets getting vaccinated at this point also do you have any comorbidities

      Reply
      • Unicorn

        Hi Ronald,
        I have no regrets about getting the vaccine. Everyone I know back home has also been vaccinated and I don’t know of a single person who regrets it. I actually have already had COVID (in March of 2020) and had lingering health issues for about six months after recovering from it. It was awful. Even though I already had COVID, I got the vaccine because I don’t want to go through that again. Also having the vaccine makes travel much easier as I said in my other comment.

  6. Carrie

    Wow, I was feeling kinda bummed that I opted to stay domestic this year after Europe opened up more, but honestly…this sounds pretty stressful! I’m glad they’re taking the virus seriously and prioritizing local safety over tourism, but I can imagine it would be pretty hard to keep up with all the rules when you’re on holiday. (I would’ve been nervous about the 11 pm curfew too!)

    Reply
    • Unicorn

      Yes it was an adventure to keep up with all the rules! I think the rules have just now changed again too so I’ll update this post with the latest info.

      Reply

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