Portugal wasn’t exactly a secret destination when my sister booked a trip to Porto last March. But then a friend told me she was planning a beach trip to Comporta with her family in August, a college roommate mentioned attending a wedding outside of Lisbon in October, and my mom started to research her own trip there next year with her best friend.
If it seems like all of your friends and family are booking trips to Portugal this year, too, it’s not just in your head. In 2017, the number of foreign tourists to Portugal rose nearly 12 percent up to a record-breaking 12.7 million people. (The also-buzzy Iceland, in comparison, welcomed just under 2.2 million foreign overnight guests in 2017.)
While Portugal’s draw is in its affordable cities, underrated wine country, tasty dishes, and some of the best beaches in Europe, the main reason why Portugal is so popular right now is accessibility.
At the height of this summer, there will be 91 weekly flights from the United States to Porto and Lisbon, which is twice as many as there were in 2017, Conde Nast Traveler reports.
Most of those flights aren’t coming from a new budget carrier, either. TAP Air Portugal—which was founded in 1945—has 71 Airbus planes on order and plans to double the number of cities it flies from in North America in the next year and a half, including a rumored nonstop flight from SFO to Lisbon starting in 2019. Service to smaller airports in the Providence, Hartford, and Washington, D.C. areas is also on TAP’s docket for 2019.
But that’s not all. The airline has plans to increase nonstop service to Porto, including adding daily nonstops between Newark and Porto in the fall for access to the Douro Valley in the harvest season. David Neeleman, Jetblue’s founder and co-owner of TAP, told Conde Nast Traveler that he also hopes to eventually add service to Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston.
TAP isn’t the only airline to expand its service between the United States and Portugal in recent months. Delta now flies nonstop between Atlanta and Lisbon and introduced seasonal nonstop flights between New York and the Azores, an autonomous Portuguese archipelago in the Atlantic. United also has daily nonstop flights between Newark and Porto from now until October 4.
With all these new flights, is Portugal at risk of becoming the next victim of overtourism? According to Neeleman, Lisbon’s Portela airport has a limited capacity, which has dissuaded budget airlines like WOW from flying into the city. While there are plans to build a larger airport, construction won’t begin until 2019 at the earliest.