Portugal drops mandatory isolation rule: Where should you go to beat the crowds this half-term?

Cascais and Estoril are great alternatives to the busy beaches of the Algarve.
Cascais and Estoril are great alternatives to the busy beaches of the Algarve.   -   Copyright  Getty/Americo Lopes
By Sabrina Fearon Melville

Mainland Portugal no longer requires you to isolate if you test positive for COVID-19.

The country opened for all travellers on 1 July. Since then, it has been welcoming visitors back regardless of their vaccination status, with no need to take a test or fill out any forms.

Now, visitors no longer have to worry about mandatory isolation in case they test positive on their trip, as the government has concluded that COVID-19 should be considered like flu. Instead, they recommend that anyone with symptoms should wear a mask and avoid contact with vulnerable people.

However, Madeira, Porto Santo and the Azores remain in a state of alert, meaning you must isolate for a minimum of five days at your own expense if you test positive in these regions.

Across the country, everyone over 10 must still wear face masks when in public spaces and using public services.

The continuing mask mandate has not deterred tourists who are returning in their droves to the sun-soaked, relatively cheap and varied destination.

So where should you go to escape the crowds this half-term? Here are a few of our recommendations.

9. Azores - an island eco paradise

The Azores are a collection of nine Portuguese islands located in the mid-Atlantic Ocean.

Split into three groups, the islands are home to a wealth of biodiversity and numerous volcanic cones and craters. They have been hailed an ‘eco-tourism’ paradise and are home to numerous historical buildings, including 15th century churches and manor houses.

The easiest island to fly to is Sao Miguel, but the best island to escape the busy tourist hotspots is Corvo. It has its own domestic airport which offers flights between three of the other islands. Alternatively, you can travel to Corvo via ferry from Sao Miguel.

Corvo is the smallest island and the entire island is in fact an extinct volcano and was formed from its previous eruptions.

8. Sintra - the home of Portugal's stunning history

Less than an hour away from Portugal’s capital Lisbon is the small Portuguese town of Sintra.

Located in the hills of Serra de Sintra, this town is known for its villas and castle ruins. Many visit as a day trip from Lisbon, but we recommend staying for a few days as there’s plenty to see and do.

Known for its slightly cooler climate, Sintra is great for escaping the heat of the capital city. This is what Portuguese nobility, artists and the elite did in the 19th century, as their summer residences were based here.

7. Coimbra - a city with student vibes

From 1139 until 1260 Coimbra was the capital of Portugal and is now known as the ‘City of Students’. Despite being the fourth largest urban centre in Portugal it has a population of just 106,582 people - around one fifth of the population of Lisbon.

Coimbra is a popular town with tourists and students alikeUnsplash

The city is still medieval in its feel, with many of the buildings dating back to the Roman Empire, as well as an aqueduct and numerous original cryptoporticus (covered corridor or passageway).

The university buildings are also recognised as being a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This integrated university city is an example of how university students can coexist in peace with locals.

6. Aveiro - the Venice of Portugal

Located on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, Aveiro is one of Portugal's most important ports. The region is popular with boat enthusiasts, boasting an extensive canal network it is often referred to as the 'Portuguese Venice'.

Aveiro also has a number of sister cities including locations in Tunisia, Japan and Mozambique, and is well known for its historic production of salt and ceramics.

5. Cascais - surfers’ paradise

Known as the 'heart of the Portuguese Riviera', Cascais is great if you like the beaches of the Algarve.

If you’re seeking an all-rounder holiday, Cascais is the ideal destination for families. A former fishing town, it’s now a popular spot for watersports and nature hikes.

The beaches in Cascais offer a sunny alternative to the Algarve.Pixabay

If you’re a keen surfer, or just keen to try, head here. It’s growing in popularity as a surf spot but still undiscovered enough that you won’t be fighting for waves.

4. Braga - perfect for exploring churches and a cathedral

Braga is Portugal's third-largest city and is heavily connected to the historical and spiritual ties that still exist in the country.

The highlight of Braga’s calendar is Holy Week in April. This elaborate affair is popular with people from all over the world.

Braga's historical churches and cathedral make for a holiday more on the educational sideUnsplash

The atmosphere created is medieval, reminding tourists and locals alike that Braga is still the ecclesiastical centre of Portugal.

Taking place over four consecutive days, the main events take place in the city’s 11th century Roman cathedral

3. Douro Valley - perfect for wine lovers

Home of all the wines, Douro Valley has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2001.

The valleys are most quiet throughout the season, except for when the autumn harvest takes place, then it becomes a bustling hive of vineyard owners and wine enthusiasts.

If you want to spend your holiday wine tasting while looking at stunning views of acres of vineyards, Douro is your best bet.

The vineyards of Douro are about as serene as a holiday gets.Unsplash

2. Reserva Natural das Berlengas - an exclusive gem

Just 10km from Peniche, Reserva Natural das Berlengas or the Berlengas Archipelago is a largely untouched part of Portugal.

Consisting of three islands, Berlengas is home to a number of birds including endangered species such as the Puffin. The region is also brimming with marine life - perfect if you are a diving enthusiast. 

Quiet but not without life, Berlengas is perfect for those who enjoy naturePixabay

Of the three islands, only Berlenga is inhabited by people, many of whom live on the island to work in services which are deemed necessary, such as the operation of the lighthouse.

If you’re looking for the ultimate sanctuary, Berlenga is it, with only 350 people being allowed on the island at any given time. Visiting the island is only possible by ferry which makes two trips a day between the months of May and September.

1. Peniche - Portugal’s crown jewel

Once a former island, geography has made Peniche much more accessible to the residents of Portugal and tourists. We’ve made it our number one recommendation because it encapsulates all of Portugal's modernity whilst paying homage to its past.

Just an hour’s drive from Lisbon, the coastal town of Peniche is famous for its historical harbour and old walls. The best part about Peniche remains in the old town where the fortress has been since the 15th century. It was used by the military until the 1970s and has since been home to refugees from the then independent African colonies. 

Today the fortress is home to a museum, which contains artefacts from when the fortress was used as a prison by former dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. It is also a short ferry journey from the stunning Berlengas.