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It’s finally legal to travel from the UK again! Yippee! The UK has a traffic light system in place for returning travellers, with only travellers coming from a green list country not having to quarantine or self isolate on their return. With the likes of South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands, Brunei and St Helena joining Portugal on the very limited green list, most Brits are heading the the Iberian peninsula for a getaway at the moment.
We all know travel has changed but this was my first overseas trip since lockdown in the UK. It took a lot more planning and a bit more paperwork than normal but I’ll underline everything about the journey.
Before you go
Although I booked this as part of a tour, the info applies if you book it independently as well. First up was the PCR test. I went with CHB Medical, which is part of BioGrad Diagnostics. It was £125 for a Fit To Fly test and a Day 2 Test when I return to the UK. It got delivered to my door, I self swabbed and dropped it back to their centre at Heathrow Airport. I could have sent it in their courier provided envelope, but with time of the essence, I felt safer dropping it off.
I also had to complete a passenger locator form for entering Portugal. It can be found on their website. It was very easy to fill in and only took a couple of minutes.
Something else to pack was a selection of masks. Now normal for most Europeans, it’s something I haven’t packed before.
Flying to Porto
Being in the airport and on the plane and all pretty similar to how it’s been before. Masks had to be worn at all times. On the flight, all seats were full with no social distancing which didn’t bother me as I was sitting next to friends I knew. I full hot breakfast was served as well.
When the flight landed, we disembarked row by row to maintain distancing so the terminal didn’t get too busy. However when we got to passport control the queues were massive and there were a lot of people in a small area. The reason it took so long? The UK is no longer part of the European Union so each passport was checked and stamped! This is new to me and a bit of a shock. I love passport stamps but getting one into Portugal felt strange for me.
The man that stamped my passport didn’t even look at my passenger locator form or negative PCR test that I had printed. Whether this is because it’s linked to my passport number or because he know everybody has been checked before they get on their flight I don’t know.
We got dropped off at Avenida dos Aliados in the city centre by the buses that were hired for the trip (there are however light rail and public bus options from the airport to the city centre). From there we were free to explore the city. The main square, and home of the mayors residence is beautiful with wide streets and trees in the centre surrounded by large European style buildings.
We found a small cafe on a back street and had an excellent espresso. European coffee in espresso form is delicious and it was the pick me up I needed after such an early start!
We strolled to the River Douro which flows through the centre of the city. Hills rise above it from either side with buildings and churches everywhere you look. There are street performers playing and locals relaxing in the sun with coffee and beer bought from the cafes and bars lining the river bank. Looming above the river is the Dom Luis Bridge, an imposing structure that crosses the river as both a car and rail bridge.
The Ribeira District is a UNESO World Heritage site and has beautiful views over the river and the south of the city. There are many steps up from the river side, through small alleys to the top of Dom Luis bridge where we found a small restaurant for lunch. I thought I ordered something interesting as it was translated as “potato’s, eggs and pork” which turned out to be the equivalent of ham, fried eggs and chips! Luckily my friends had ordered tapas style food so I shared some incredible prawns in garlic and fresh olives. Sardines are a famous local food and it I was staying for longer and had packed a toothbrush, I definitely would have gone for more fish and seafood. I washed the meal down with vinho do Porto or Port as it is more commonly known, named after the city where it was born.
The longer I walked around and saw all the colourful houses and incredible views, the more I fell in love with Porto. It is such an incredible city and would make an ideal city break destination.
Porto has an excellent metro system of light rail with numerous lines criss crossing the city. Trains are frequent running every 5-10 minutes depending on the line. But it is also quite easy to walk around the city and see all the major sites. Use the river as a guide and work your way outwards from there. But be warned, the city can be deceptively hilly!
The main reason I was in Porto was for the Champions League final at the Estadio do Dragao between Chelsea and Man City. All fans had a wristband saying they were Covid negative when checking in for their flight which was also checked getting into the stadium. The stadium is just outside the city, about 15 minutes on the metro. All Chelsea fans were given a ticket to use to travel round the city as part of their match ticket. I won’t go into too much details here but spoiler alert; Chelsea won!
Returning to the UK from a green list country
I had already completed a passenger locator form for my return to the UK and I had to use a barcode from my Day 2 Covid tests to complete the form. Because we were only in Portugal for (less than) 24 hours, we were able to use the same PCR test done before we left for Portugal for our return to the UK. Obviously, if you spend longer in Portugal, you will need to get another PCR in Portugal before your return to the UK.
Check in was easy, the flight was full again. Arriving at Gatwick Airport in the early hours, I was dreading the queues but coming back through passport control was quick and effortless. I had to queue behind two people and the wait was mere seconds; a lot better than some scare stories I have heard about returning travellers. The border control official scanned my passport but didn’t need to see my passenger locator form or PCR test. Apparently it is all linked to my passport so that made it very quick and simple.
Two days after I arrived I had to do one final PCR test which I then sent off. This is a final check once I am back in the UK and is compulsory for all travellers no matter what country they return from.
Overall, travelling with the current restrictions aren’t that difficult. It does need more effort and planning that travel before the pandemic, but is no more stressful that getting some difficult visas (I’m looking at China for this!). Get yourself organised and plan what you need and hopefully you will still have an incredible time travelling to an incredible country.
Related Read: How To Travel In A Global Pandemic (Including Checklist)
- Get organised! You will need more paperwork than normal but if you have it all ready it will make your time so much less stressful.
- The minimum you will need is:
- Pre departure PCR test.
- Portuguese passenger locator form
- PCR test for returning to the UK (if staying in Portugal for more than 72 hours)
- UK passenger locator form
- Day 2 PCR test (needed before returning to the UK)
- Passport (obviously!)
- Be respectful of local laws. It is a requirement to wear a mask in ALL public spaces in Portugal, this includes being outside, walking round the city and in city parks.
- Shop around for PCR tests. The prices vary wildly from £50 per test to over £200. See if you can do a postal test or would your mind be more at ease if you went to a walk in clinic?
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.