Portugal COVID-19 vaccination rates: The world's coolest country is also one of the safest

OK Time Out, you got me. The sole reason hyper-subjective best-of travel destination lists exist on the internet is to get people to talk about them – don't ask me how I know this – and here I am, talking about one.

A few weeks ago Time Out released its annual list of the 49 coolest neighbourhoods in the world, and it's not even the top ones I'm here to talk about. It's not the fact that New York and Chicago are in the top 10 with Vilnius and Dakar, or even the notion that the coolest suburb in Australia, by some margin, is apparently Richmond in Melbourne (and that Richmond is supposedly cooler than Neukolln in Berlin, which, as someone who used to live near Bridge Road, I find bizarre at best).

No, what I'm here to talk about – nay, whinge about if we're being honest – is that in this uber-cool collection of rad locales you have to scroll past Richmond, past Zoloti Vorota in Kyiv, past the north of Amsterdam, past Sydney's Surry Hills, past Brighton and Manchester and Miami until you're all the way down to number 34 before you get the first entry for the great country of Portugal: Anjos, in Lisbon.

Thirty-four? Thirty-fourth in the world? And then you have to scroll-scroll some more, down to number 38, to find Foz in Porto. This, I tell you, is criminal. Portuguese neighbourhoods should not be so far down on the list (and Anjos isn't even the coolest suburb in Lisbon! Sigh).

Anyway, the reason it's criminal is that Portugal, thanks in no small part to Lisbon and Porto, might just be the coolest place in the world. Portuguese cities ooze cool from their every party-loving pore. Anyone who has been there knows this. Anyone who as wandered around Alfama or Bairro Alto or Principe Real or Graca in Lisbon knows this without question. Anyone who has spent time in Cedofeita or Ribeira or Miragaia in Porto would instantly agree.

Portugal is cool. It's all kinds of cool. And it does this cool in a way that is not at all pretentious or prescribed or forced. It's a cool that trades on tradition and yet feeds on an idea of the future, that is welcoming and not exclusive, that has no dress code, that has no rules.

I love Portugal. I've written about this before. The food is great, the drinks are excellent. People are friendly and warm and kind. Hotels and hostels are amazing. The Iberian-style street culture is instantly loveable. The scenery is gorgeous. The cities are vibrant and exciting, but also safe and approachable.

And now, in by far the best news of all, we have the chance to plan a visit there. Not just a dream trip. Not just a fantasy vacation. Now we can actually think to ourselves, I want to go to Portugal, and then just go and look up some flights.

Travel is back, fellow Australians. It's back in a way that feels awkward and unwieldly and still not available to everyone, it's back in a way that makes it still not clear if you even should go and if you're stealing the spot of some stranded Aussie when you make your way home – but still, it is back. Australia's outgoing travel ban is being lifted. Quarantine in NSW is being scrapped. Other states will follow suit as vaccinations increase. Now, finally, you can realistically plan a trip away, and I have to tell you, Portugal is top of my list.


And not just because it's cool.

A few weeks ago my colleague, Michael Gebicki, selected his first post-pandemic destination, and he chose Italy, not just for its inherent greatness but also its admirable approach to tourism and safety in the COVID-19 world. Excellent choice. Italy is way up there on my list too.

But now I humbly submit to you: Portugal. The little country that could. The European destination everyone should be going to (although please don't). The surprise socialist state that has legalised drugs and solved huge issues. The one-time bad-news story that is now absolutely booming. The country that has progressed so far with its COVID-19 vaccination drive that it has run out of people to jab. The friendly country. The historic country. The place I want to be.

We all want somewhere with a feeling of safety and comfort when we first travel in the pandemic world, somewhere that seems to know what it's doing with COVID-19, and Portugal appears to be that place.

As I said, Portugal is jabbed. It's pretty much the most jabbed in the world, with 87 per cent of the eligible population double-vaccinated, behind only the UAE on the global table.

It's an easy country to enter too, with no PCR tests and no quarantine required for those who can prove they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 (and measures in place to allow you to do that). The country now has very few restrictions on activities and movement, too, with no capacity limits for restaurants, with bars and clubs back open, alcohol sales unrestricted, and major cultural and sporting events back on.

There are some safety measures, of course. Masks are still mandatory on public transport, in concert halls and at large events, as well as for all hospitality staff. The Portuguese government has also implemented a "Clean & Safe" seal for accommodation establishments, tourist services and attractions, to give visitors an extra level of comfort.

The country has very low COVID-19 case numbers, probably due to all of those vaccinations – we're talking around 650 a day. Italy, by comparison, has about 2500 a day. The UK has 40,000.

So yes, Portugal is perfection. Or at least it's my version of perfection. I'm picturing a coffee and a pastel de nata – aka a Portuguese tart – on the streets of Lisbon. I'm thinking of a Francesinha, a whopping sandwich, at a bar in Porto. I'm picturing tiled walls and paved streets and friendly people in one of the world's great destinations.

Sounds pretty cool, right?

Are you planning a trip away when travel restrictions end? Where will be your first destination? What factors are you considering when making your choice?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

Twitter: twitter.com/bengroundwater

See also: Vaccine certificates for overseas travel are now available: Here's how to get one

See also: International travel is back: Everything you need to know

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