Portugal is one of the first ‘safe’ countries in Europe for visitors from places like the United Kingdom.
It is also a great place for aviation enthusiasts and spotters to visit, with lots of interesting air traffic, busy airports and special flight opportunities.
It also has great weather for most of the year, so it’s a very agreeable place to go.
In this article we’ll look at some of the highlights of plane spotting in Portugal, and the things you will not want to miss.
Portugal’s Main Airports
Portugal has three principal airports, all of which are busy with commercial air traffic. They are:
Faro is principally a leisure airport serving the Algarve holiday region. It is busiest in the summer months, and mostly handles low cost, charter and leisure airlines from northern and eastern Europe. It is a hub for Ryanair, but most common airlines visit.
Lisbon serves the capital and is Portugal’s busiest airport. It is the home base for TAP Air Portugal, and also a hub for Azores Airlines, easyJet, Ryanair and Wizz Air. It has a good mix of scheduled and leisure traffic, with low-cost carriers becoming more prevalent. It also has good links to Africa, North and South America, as well as some to the Middle East and Asia.
Porto is in the north of the country and also has a good mix of scheduled and low-cost airlines, and is also a fairly busy cargo airport. In recent years it has also seen a growing number of long haul routes across the Atlantic.
Other Interesting Airports in Portugal
While not on the mainland, Portugal has a number of dependencies out in the Atlantic – notably the island of Madeira, and the Azores archipelago.
Madeira is served by the airport at Funchal, which is one of Europe’s most spectacular, being built partially on stilts over the sea! It often has strong winds, making approaches difficult. It is mostly served by leisure airlines.
The Azores have a number of airports. The main one is at Ponta Delgada, with others as Terceira and the military base at Lajes. There are inter-island links between the airports, and lots of flights to the mainland, plus some to North America and the rest of Europe.
On the mainland itself, there are smaller airports at Cascais near Lisbon, Portimão on the Algarve, Viseu and Vila Real.
Portugal’s Main Airlines
There are a few main airlines in Portugal.
TAP Air Portugal is the national carrier, along with its subsidiary TAP Express (formerly Portugalia).
- Azores Airlines
- EuroAtlantic Airways
- Hi Fly
- SATA Air Acores
- White Airways
Portugal is also the home of fractional ownership biz jet operator NetJets Europe, which have their headquarters at Lisbon.
Other Airlines to See in Portugal
At the time of writing, Portugal is the only place in Europe where you can see two foreign airlines.
TAAG Angola flies from the African nation to both Lisbon and Porto with its Boeing 777 aircraft. It has plans to eventually expand into Europe, but at the moment these are the only places to see their aircraft.
Similarly, Brazil’s Azul Linhas Aereas only fly to Lisbon and Porto in Europe, using their brand new Airbus A330neos, as well as A330 classics.
Portugal’s Best Plane Spotting Locations
There are opportunities to spot at most Portuguese airports, and plenty of spotters visit the country every year, enjoying the mix of aircraft and lots of sunshine.
There are two good spots at Faro:
To the east of the terminal, among the car parks and car rental areas, you’ll see a small road running alongside a fence. This leads to a water treatment plant, and then turns into a dirt road which leads to the end of runway 28, with parking available. You’ll be facing south, but can see and photograph aircraft landing on this runway. If you walk a little further, over the footpath bridge, you’ll come to a spot where you can photograph aircraft lining up on the runway.
Also, a track runs along the length of the runway on the southern side. From the roundabout at the airport entrance, drive behind the gas station along Estrada Praia de Faro, which loops past the end of the runway. Shortly afterwards turn left onto a small road which leads to the perimeter fence. You can park along here and walk to find the best spot for you. A stepladder may be needed for photographs.
Here’s a full guide to spotting at Faro, with pictures: https://www.airportspotting.com/plane-spotting-at-faro-airport-a-guide/
Funchal Madeira Airport
There are two good spots at Funchal.
An observation deck atop the terminal is great for watching and photographing aircraft at close quarters. It has both landside and airside sections.
For the famous views often seen from this airport, the hill overlooking the airport off Rua Santa Catarina is a great vantage point. You can either walk from the terminal or, if driving, take exit 21 from the VR1 and use the signs leading to Aqua de Pena. Park in the parking area on your right, and then walk up the footpath heading up the hill. Further up the road is a small snack bar with views over the threshold, too.
A great spotting location at Lisbon is the runway overlook which lifts you above the fence and street furniture for a great view over runway 03/21 and the airport beyond. You’ll need a good lens for photography. Following directions for location 1, take the second exit off the roundabout along Eixo Central. Up the hill on your right is the viewing location, with limited parking spaces for cars. You can reach this location by public transport by taking bus 798 from Campo Grande Metro Station.
A second overlook is further north of position 2. Continue up Eixo Central, over the next roundabout. Turn right at the end onto Av. Nuno Krus Abecassis, then left on R. Vasco da Gama Fernandes. At the end turn right onto Av. Santos e Castro and follow it until you see the rough parking area and view on your right.
For view of aircraft lining up and landing on runway 03, follow the main E1 road running along the southern boundary of the airport, take exit 4 and at the large roundabout take the first exit onto Av. Santos e Castro. Almost immediately take the exit on your right, and park on the rough ground between the road and the fence. You may need a stepladder to see over the fence.
Here’s a full guide to spotting at Lisbon, with pictures: https://www.airportspotting.com/where-to-spot-at-lisbon-airport-spotting-in-portugal/
It’s not as easy to spot at Porto. There are positions on the western side.
On the eastern side, from the airport access road, you can drive along R. de Pedras Rubras, veering left onto R. de Tras. This becomes R. do Monte and then R. das Bicas. Eventually you’ll come to a turn in the road with a small area to park and a view onto the runway through the fence. Photographers will need a ladder. All movements can be seen.
Here’s a full guide to spotting at Porto, with pictures: https://www.airportspotting.com/where-to-spot-at-porto-airport-spotting-in-portugal/
Portugal’s Best Spotting Hotels
Sadly there are only two hotels known to offer spotting opportunities in Portugal. They are is:
Radisson Blu Lisbon Airport
Avenida Marechal Craveiro Lopes 390, Lisbon 1749-009 | +351 21 004 5000 | www.radissonhotels.com
The only hotel near Lisbon with any aircraft views. Situated a short distance south of the end of runway 03. Even-numbered rooms on the 10th floor yield the best results.
Santa Cruz Boutique Hotel
9100-105 Santa Cruz, Madeira | +351 291 204 000 | www.santacruzhotel.top
A good new hotel for spotters at Funchal. All rooms with a sea view will have aircraft pass in front, and photography is possible from higher rooms of aircraft approaching the runway. The Donna Nadia restaurant on the roof also has great views.
If you know of any more, leave a comment below!
Portugal’s Best Aviation Museums
There is one main aviation museum in Portugal. It is the Museu do Ar at Sintra, north west of Lisbon.
This museum tells the story of aviation in Portugal, the history of TAP, and has many aircraft in its collection.
Some of the collection is located at sites in Alverca and Ovar.
Special Flight Opportunities in Portugal
Probably the most obvious opportunity for special enthusiast flights in Portugal is with the small operator Sevenair.
This regional airline is based at the smaller Cascais Airport near Lisbon and operates regional flights to other smaller airports around the country using a fleet of types like the Dornier 228 and BAe Jetstream 32.
Since these flights are partially funded as essential air services, you can usually enjoy a day of flying around the country on these rarer aircraft types for very little money.
Book on their website https://www.sevenair.com/