Algarve has endless sands embraced by imposing cliffs. A sea of crystalline waters invites us to live moments of relaxation and pure pleasure in a paradisiacal setting!
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It is its wonderful beaches that make Algarve a destination of choice in the summer months. After all, Algarve is the main tourist destination in Portugal and one of the most important in Europe. But this region in southern Portugal is not just about its beaches: it is also characterized by modern cities, picturesque old villages, natural park areas, vibrant nightlife, high-quality cuisine, and much, much more!
In this article we want to tell you about the best places in Algarve to visit and some suggestions of what you can see and do there. Come and discover everything that Algarve has to offer you!
WHERE IS IT AND HOW TO GET TO ALGARVE?
Algarve is the southernmost region of Portugal. It is bordered by Alentejo to the north, Spain to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the south and west. To get to Algarve from Portugal, there are several options: car, train or bus. The journey by car between Lisbon and Algarve takes about three hours, depending on the destination. From abroad, the best way to reach Algarve is by plane, heading for Faro airport. It is also possible to go by train and by boat, as there are several ports and marinas.
WHEN TO VISIT ALGARVE?
Due to its temperate Mediterranean climate, Algarve can be visited practically all year round. You should only avoid making the trip in the winter months, as this is the wettest season (between November and March). From April to September, you can take advantage of the good weather in Algarve. During the summer, the region is very popular and prices are higher. In spring and autumn, the temperatures are not so high but you can still enjoy the beaches.
AIR AND SEA TEMPERATURE IN ALGARVE
The climate is one of the main attractions of Algarve. Summers are hot and long and winters are mild and short. Summer temperatures range from 15 to 29ºC and in winter from 8 to 18ºC. In the summer months, the sea water reaches temperatures between 20 and 25ºC, which makes it perfect for long sessions of diving in the sea!
MUST-SEE CITIES, TOWNS AND VILLAGES IN ALGARVE
There are many cities, towns and villages to see and experience in Algarve. So that you can organize the sequence of your tours, we have prepared a map for you! We hope it will be useful!
Tavira is a city that distinguishes itself from others in the region by being quieter and having a low population density. But don’t let its peaceful appearance fool you. Tavira has a lot to offer. The city has many interesting monuments and stunning mountain and beach scenery, including the Ilha de Tavira and the Ria Formosa.
Known as the “city of little churches”, Tavira is a place full of history. Stroll through the historic center, visit its many churches, see the castle and cross the Roman bridge that connects the two banks of the river Girão.
If you are in this city, the Ilha de Tavira is a must-see and is a mere ten minutes away. The trip there can be made by boat or by a tourist train. We’ll tell you a little more about this wonderful place later on.
Faro is the capital of Algarve district and home to the region’s airport, the main point of entry to Algarve for foreign visitors. It is a modern city that offers all amenities and services. In Faro, we find a modernity that combines with a historical center that takes us back to the city’s past. If you like visiting monuments, put these on your list: the medieval wall, Faro Cathedral and Nossa Senhora do Carmo Church. The latter is a richly decorated church with a chapel with thousands of bones inside!
The nightlife of Faro is one of the attractions of this city, being diversified and of quality. One of the most famous events in Faro is the annual meeting of bikers, which takes place in July and brings together motorcyclists from around the globe.
Alcoutim is a town in the interior of Algarve, close to Spain. Its landscape is quite different from that found in coastal areas and has the Guadiana river as one of its main elements. This region is strongly dedicated to handicrafts, producing embroidery, pottery, basketry, carpet weaving and others. If you are interested in handicrafts and the customs and traditions of the various people, you won’t regret visiting Alcoutim.
Gastronomy is another element that distinguishes Alcoutim. The typical dishes of this village are based on game, pork, bread and olive oil. Some of the points of interest in Alcoutim are: the castle, which has an archaeology museum inside, the sculpture of the artist Bordalo II by the river and the fluvial beach of Pego Fundo, which is watched and has a picnic area.
VILA REAL DE SANTO ANTÓNIO
Vila Real de Santo António is a border town. The urban center was ordered to be built by the Marquis of Pombal, following the same line that characterizes the Pombaline area of the city of Lisbon. This reality makes the city very interesting architecturally.
Praça Marquês de Pombal, in the center of the city, is a very pleasant place to stroll and have a drink on an esplanade. Near the center is the Lighthouse of Vila Real de Santo António, an interesting structure that can be visited on Wednesday afternoons. As you climb the lighthouse, you will enjoy the view over the town, the river and the Vila Real de Santo António National Forest. Vila Real de Santo António is also a place of excellent beaches, allowing you to have a vacation that combines moments in the city with others spent in nature.
The city of Silves is unmistakable due to its reddish walls. This city was much disputed at the time of the Reconquista and has several fortifications. One of them is Silves Castle, one of the oldest in Portugal. Today the castle is one of the best viewpoints in Silves. The Portas da Cidade is a beautiful square with several fountains and terrace cafes, making it an ideal place for a relaxing afternoon.
In Silves, it is possible to play golf on a course that offers mountain and wooded scenery. For wine lovers, this town is very interesting, as there are several wine estates where you can take guided tours with wine tastings. Close to Silves is the Barragem do Arade, a place of great natural beauty where you can have family picnics.
Lagos is the city to which some of the best beaches in Algarve belong, such as Dona Ana beach and Camilo beach. The region is known as “Costa Dourada” (Golden Coast), due to the color of the rocks of the cliffs, typical of the Western Algarve. Here, there is a northerly wind that provides the ideal conditions for the practice of some water sports.
The typical Algarvian historic center is dominated by the smell of the sea. Here the summer is spent in a party atmosphere. The city comes even more alive at night, with a wide range of bars and clubs. There are some points of interest you should visit, like the Ponta da Bandeira Fortress, the Lagos Lighthouse or the Praia dos Estudantes Bridge.
Lagos also offers the possibility for countless hobbies, such as hiking, kayaking, sailing, tennis, golf, and much more!
Portimão is a modern and vibrant city. As you walk through its streets, you’ll have no trouble finding good restaurants, bars and nightclubs. If you want to see the window displays and do some shopping, the ideal is to walk down the Rua do Comércio, a pedestrian street with many stores. Take the opportunity to visit the nearby Mother Church of Portimão.
The city of Portimão is well known for its excellent beaches. Besides being owners of an enormous beauty, these beaches have, in general, good accesses and the necessary services so that you can enjoy them with all the comfort.
On a visit to Portimão, a visit to the restaurants in the harbor area is a must. The fish is caught here and then grilled over charcoal. It couldn’t be fresher!
Vilamoura is a luxury urban area and one of the top tourist destinations in all of Europe! The town is characterized by luxurious accommodations next to paradisiacal beaches and a huge offer of services, as well as a busy nightlife. In our opinion, Vilamoura is the ideal destination for those who don’t like to “sit still”!
Vilamoura’s offer is endless. There are several beaches where you can enjoy the sand and the water with very inviting temperatures, always supported by bars and restaurants. It is possible to rent boats and do sports like stand-up paddle and kayak.
The Vilamoura Marina is the largest in the country and also offers a diverse menu of activities, such as water skiing or “sunset boat parties”. The greatest exponent of Vilamoura’s nightlife is its Casino: besides the games, it has bars, restaurant and shows, guaranteeing a lively night.
Cacela Velha is a small village situated on top of a cliff. It belongs to the municipality of Vila Real de Santo António, being only 10 minutes away from Manta Rota by car. This quiet village lives mainly from fishing and tourism, becoming busier during the warmer months.
In a little over half an hour you can walk through the historic center and get to know its main points of interest, such as the Church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção, a 16th century church, but where you can still see elements of an earlier construction from the 13th century.
We invite you to visit the Fortaleza dos Cavaleiros de Santiago de Cacela, a monument with an interesting history and from which you can get an excellent view of the Ria Formosa.
Monchique is a picturesque village located in the mountains, where you can breathe fresh air and enjoy activities such as hiking, bird watching or horseback riding, as well as some adventure sports. The urbanized area of Monchique presents an interesting architecture, with white houses with skirt chimneys and some very old patrimony, such as the Matriz Church with its Manueline portals. The town has a considerable number of viewpoints, ideal for those who like to see the views and take pictures of the landscape. We highlight the Miradouro de São Sebastião, the best to appreciate the architecture of the village and the Miradouro da Fóia, the highest point in Algarve (920 meters high).
During your visit, don’t miss Caldas de Monchique (where you will find the most alkaline water in the country). A final note to the Cascata do Barbelote, one of the most popular places in the mountains of Monchique.
Ferragudo is a village belonging to the municipality of Lagoa and neighboring the city of Portimão. In recent years, the popularity of Ferragudo as a tourist destination has been increasing. This village, which develops on a hill by the river Arade, has a captivating historic center and a quality gastronomy. In addition, it has nine beaches, all of them very beautiful! These are the factors that explain the recent growth in popularity of this Algarve village.
Ferragudo is the perfect place for those who want to take boat trips and explore the caves of the Algarve beaches. One of the postcards of this region is the Forte de São João do Arade, or Arade Castle, located between Praia da Angrinha and Praia Grande. The building, built in the 17th century, can only be appreciated from the outside and is not open to the public.
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACHES (praias) IN ALGARVE
When we think about Algarve, the first image that comes to mind is its beaches. It is not by chance that this happens, because it is in Algarve that we find some of the most beautiful beaches in the country and, perhaps, even in the world! If you are planning a trip to Algarve, most probably you are already thinking about the beaches you are going to visit. To help you out, we have listed some of Algarve beaches that stand out for their exceptional beauty. Below is also a map with the location of these beaches.
DONA ANA BEACH (PRAIA DONA ANA)
Praia Dona Ana is considered the most beautiful beach in Lagos. It has received several international awards and in 2015 was chosen as the “best beach in the world” by Tripadvisor! Its sand is relatively small and is protected by cliffs. Due to its size, this beach is best suited for a day of relaxation and sunbathing. If you go to Praia Dona Ana, leave your rackets in your hotel room and bring a good book. The access to the beach is made by a staircase. It is supervised and has support buildings, such as showers and bathrooms.
Praia do Camilo beach is also located in Lagos and stands out for its enormous beauty. When you get to the beach, before going to the sand, start by enjoying the views. The landscape you can see from here is a true postcard of Algarve region and you will want to keep it forever in your memory. Then, face the set of two hundred steps that make the access to the sand. Finally, put down your towel and enjoy the small white sand and crystal clear water. The beach is supervised. There is parking and toilet and shower areas.
MANTA ROTA BEACH
Manta Rota Beach is located between Vila Real de Santo António and Tavira and is a beach that enjoys great popularity among locals and Portuguese tourists. It is a beach with a large sandy stretch and many dunes but, above all, it is considered the Algarve beach where the water reaches the highest temperatures. Manta Rota Beach has many amenities and services, being ideal for families.
Barril Beach is located in the center of Tavira Island and is inserted in the Natural Park of Ria Formosa. In this beach, we find an extensive sandy beach, without rocks and translucent waters with very pleasant temperatures. It provides good conditions for the practice of windsurfing and it is also possible to do some bird watching. The access to the beach is made by bridges that cross the Ria Formosa, by boat or by tourist train. At Praia do Barril there are still vestiges of the old fishing community that occupied the island, such as the anchor cemetery and the tuna fishing houses (where the fishermen lived during the periods of activity), which have been restored and transformed into stores, cafés and restaurants.
FABRICA BEACH (CACELA VELHA)
Praia da Fábrica de Cacela Velha is a secluded and sheltered beach. This beach is located on a tongue of sand between the Ria Formosa and the Atlantic Ocean. Although it is only a few 2km from the historical center of Cacela Velha, to reach this beach it is necessary to go by boat. Due to the upwinds in this area, the water temperature in Praia da Fábrica can reach an impressive 25ºC! Because it is more isolated and relatively few frequented, Praia da Fábrica is a favorite among those who like to practice naturism.
VALE DO LOBO BEACH
Praia de Vale do Lobo is located in Loulé and is situated in one of the most exclusive resorts in Algarve. Near the beach are two prestigious golf courses, which give a green element to the landscape, combined with the white of the sand and the red of the cliffs. The sand is more than a kilometer long, however, it is narrow, especially during high tide. Its length makes it a great beach for those who enjoy walking by the sea. Praia de Vale do Lobo has a blue flag and several luxury services.
Ancão Beach, between Faro and Quarteira, constitutes the western border of the Ria Formosa. This beach is in the so-called “golden triangle”, the area where the three best resorts of Algarve are located, and is very appreciated by its guests. The beach has a blue flag and is watched over. In addition, it has a fairly large sandy beach and all the amenities and services. It is a good place to practice sports such as stand-up paddle, kayak and water skiing. On Ancão Beach you will find one of the most famous fish restaurants in the region, the Dois Passos.
Paia da Arrifana is near Aljezur and is a very popular beach with tourists in the summer months. Its sand is 500 meters long and becomes quite reduced during high tide. It is a very suitable beach for surfing, with several surfing schools. It is possible to surf on this beach all year round, so you will find surfers in the sea no matter when you visit. One of the points of interest of this beach is Ribat da Arrifana, an old ruined Muslim fort. From here you will get the best view of this beautiful beach.
Odeceixe Beach is the northernmost beach in the Algarve region. This beach has a large sandy beach surrounded by cliffs. However, what makes it a unique beach is the fact that it is located where the waters of the Ribeira de Odeceixe meet the waters of the ocean. At low tide small lagoons or “pools” are formed, which are very popular with children. The beach has good access and there are several restaurants and bars close by.
Praia da Amoreira belongs to Aljezur and is distinguished from the others by its estuary-lagoon system. This means that during low tide small lagoons are formed on the beach and, in these lagoons, the water can reach 20ºC. The unique conditions that can be found in Amoreira Beach make it present a very diverse fauna and flora. The sea water at this beach is a little colder than at other beaches in the Algarve and has strong currents that can be dangerous. These currents make it an ideal beach for surfing and bodyboarding.
MONTE CLÉRIGO BEACH
Monte Clérigo Beach is situated in the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, and is one of the most popular beaches in this area. On the south side of the beach, there is an area of rock where you can observe several species of animals, such as crabs, starfish, octopuses and limpets. Be warned that if you intend to explore this part of the beach you must be very careful, as there are spider fish in the lagoon here! The sand is quite extensive and small pools form during low tide. There are surfing schools and it is possible to practice several sports here. The beach has good access via stairs and ramps.
UNMISSABLE ACTIVITIES IN ALGARVE
We know well that the beaches of Algarve are irresistible and that you will want to spend many hours there enjoying everything they have to offer. Still, there are plenty of activities you can do on your vacation in this region of Portugal, besides the delicious trips to the beach. If you want to add a little variety to your vacation or even live one or two unique and unforgettable experiences, take a look at our suggestions.
BENAGIL CAVES BOAT TOUR
The boat trips to the caves of Benagil are an unforgettable experience. If you are in the Vilamoura area don’t miss this opportunity. We are sure you won’t regret it! This tour is a great activity to do with the family or with a group of friends. The trip starts at Vilamoura Marina and lasts about three and a half hours.
The route goes in a westerly direction and passes through several caves and caverns. It culminates in the most amazing and beautiful of all, the Benagil Cave. Along the way you will pass by some points of interest, such as the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Rocha and the Capitães Cave, so don’t forget to bring your camera!
DOLPHIN WATCHING IN LAGOS
Algarve is one of the regions in Portugal where it is possible to find dolphins in their natural habitat. If you wish to live this unique experience during your vacations in Algarve, the best place to do it is in Lagos. In Marina de Lagos you will find several specialized companies that offer this service. The experience consists of a boat trip to areas of the sea where these animals can be found and lasts about 90 minutes.
The guides are experienced professionals who know where to find the dolphins and will teach you some facts about these interesting animals. The trips are made in small boats, which allow you to get close to the dolphins safely. You will have the opportunity to take many pictures and come into close contact with the dolphins. This activity is ideal for the whole family.
HOT-AIR BALLOON RIDES
A hot air balloon ride is a unique experience. For this reason, it can be a very original choice to mark a special moment, such as a wedding proposal or a birthday surprise. These rides take place throughout the year and are done in traditional hot air balloons. The pilot is always someone with a lot of experience who informs you of all the safety rules before starting the trip. The experience lasts between three and five hours, with about one hour of flight time.
Normally, the trips are made first thing in the morning, as this is the time when conditions are most stable in the air, making travel safer. This way, you will be able to appreciate the wonderful landscapes of Algarve at sunrise. An overwhelming sensation!
Zoomarine is an entertainment and educational oceanographic park, where fun and leisure are combined with educational and species preservation elements. It is located in Guia, near Albufeira and is a unique park in Portugal and with an internationally recognized quality.
Zoomarine is a destination of choice for family travelers and offers a wide range of attractions and activities. One of its main points of interest are the shows with dolphins, but there are more with other animals, such as seals and birds of prey. In addition, it also has large aquariums where you can see sharks and tropical fish. As if that weren’t enough, the park also has restaurants, stores and swimming pools: everything you need for a full day!
GET TO KNOW AND TAKE A WALK ON RIA FORMOSA
Ria Formosa was classified as a natural park in 1987. There are 18,400 hectares of protected area with a unique geology, fauna and flora. The Ria stretches over sixty kilometers, from Ancão, in Loulé, to Manta Rota, in Vila Real de Santo António.
In the past, this region was used as salt marsh and farmland. Currently it is a shelter for birds and allows the realization of various activities. In Ria Formosa, besides going for simple walks and enjoying nature, you can go on boat trips, go bird watching, dolphin and seahorses watching and also go sport fishing.
Ria Formosa is characterized by a lagoon system, whose shape changes throughout the year, due to the winds and tides. Don’t miss the opportunity to get to know this one of Portugal’s natural wonders!
WALKING TRAILS IN ALGARVE
Algarve is a great destination for those who enjoy taking long walks. Walking the demarcated routes is an excellent way to get to know the region better and realize that, besides the coastal areas, Algarve also offers wonderful countryside and mountain landscapes.
For birdwatchers, the mountain walks are a great opportunity to observe migratory birds. The more adventurous will love the more difficult trails, like the one in Serra de Monchique.
In Algarve there are two networks of footpaths. Rota Vicentina that crosses 450km between Algarve and Alentejo. And the Via Algarvia with 300km long and that crosses Algarve from Alcoutim to Cape St. Vincent.
PIRATE BOAT TRIP TO THE ISLANDS OF PORTIMÃO
The pirate ship tour is another activity that you can do as a family in Algarve and that the little ones will love! The “Santa Bernarda” boat is a replica of a pirate ship, built of wood and with huge sails.
The tour starts at the Vasco da Gama pier in the center of Portimão and passes through several points of interest on the coast and also some caves. In total, this activity lasts about three hours. The itinerary can vary a little, depending on sea conditions. To visit the caves, participants are transferred to smaller boats.
The boat has shade areas, bathroom, snack bar and gift store. This way, all the conditions are met to be an explorer of Algarve coast for a day, without having to give up comfort and safety!
FLYBOARDING IN ALGARVE
Have you ever heard of flyboarding? Flyboarding is a new extreme sport that combines several elements of surfing, kitesurfing, jet-skiing and wakeboarding and results in an unforgettable and adrenaline-charged experience! Flyboarding is an aquatic activity that allows you to hover in the air, dive into the sea, and do a series of free-style moves. The motto of the sport is “Fly like a bird, dive like a dolphin”!
It can be practiced individually or in groups. And although it may seem complicated, instructors guarantee that most people who try it get the hang of it on the first try. Flyboard Algarve is the company that offers this service, and is located at Praia da Oura, in Albufeira. The sport is becoming very popular and is reaching other locations.
Another factor that makes the Algarve such a desirable tourist destination is its typical gastronomy! Naturally, one of its strong points is seafood, fish and shellfish, of unparalleled freshness. But the quality of the products of the land is also recognized and appreciated.
The grilled sardines or tuna, the Portuguese shrimp, the cataplana and the broad beans Algarve style are some of our suggestions. Algarve has its own confectionery, where sugar, eggs and almonds are the main ingredients. The Dom Rodrigos and the almond fruits are examples of these wonderful sweets. These delicacies make an excellent souvenir! Don’t forget to try the famous “aguardente de medronho”!