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The Algarve

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With more than 300 days of sunshine per year, and more than 100 beaches dotted along the coastline, the Algarve is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Europe.

Despite its popularity, it’s also very affordable – particularly if you visit outside of July and August. Then there’s the fact that English is widely spoken, and that the Portuguese are incredibly welcoming and friendly to tourists. It’s little wonder that the Algarve is such a popular place to visit.

Many people imagine the Algarve to be beach resorts and, while that does exist, it’s only one side of the Algarve. The Algarve is an incredibly varied and inclusive place that attracts all kinds of visitors including families, backpackers, luxury travellers, walkers, cyclists, surfers, and just about everything else.

Which Algarve town is right for me?

There’s a part of the Algarve that’s suitable for everyone. Some towns are great for families, while other towns are more suitable for couples. Some have a beach within walking distance, while others are far from the beach.

Regardless of what you’re into, there’s a part of the Algarve that’s right for you and this list will show you where that is. It’ll also help you decide which towns aren’t right for you, which could be just as helpful in planning your trip to the Algarve.

Remember: You don’t have to spend all your time in the town where your accommodation is. The Algarve is quite a small place and, particularly if you have a car, it’s very easy to get from one town to another – it takes 90 minutes to drive from one side to the other.

I want a resort town

Albufeira is the main and most popular resort town on the Algarve. The old town is more family-friendly while the new town (or “the strip”) is more party-focused and where most younger holidaymakers head to.

Many people love Albufeira while others find it too touristy or too busy. If it’s not for you, there are a few other resort towns that you could consider.

  • Praia da Rocha: Similar to Albufeira, but not quite as popular, Praia da Rocha has a seaside resort town feel with plenty of cheap pubs and restaurants as well as very long beach.
  • Carvoeiro: A slightly smaller and quieter beachside town, Carvoeiro still has plenty of bars, restaurants, and seaside shops.
  • Alvor: A small beachside town with plenty of bars and places to eat, Alvor is even smaller and quieter again than Carvoeiro but still has plenty of bars and restaurants to keep you entertained.

See also the list of towns on the Algarve with a beach that’s within walking distance (see below).

I want somewhere that isn’t “touristy”

Some people love resort towns, but they’re not for everyone and you may want something less touristy. It’s hard to find anywhere on the Algarve that has absolutely zero tourists, and for that you really need to head away from the coast, but it’s definitely possible to find places that aren’t “touristy.”

In terms of towns that are along or near the coast, the following Algarve towns feel the least touristy feeling.

  • Tavira – Although Tavira gets its fair share of tourists, they tend to be older and quieter tourists.
  • Silves – Silves similarly attracts culture vultures and history buffs who come to see its moorish castle and cathedral.
  • Portimão – Most tourists head to Portimão’s beach, Praia da Rocha, but not really into Portimão itself. Portimão isn’t the most beautiful town on the Algarve, but it’s one of the least touristy towns.
  • Monchique – Situated in the mountains and around 30 minutes’ drive from the nearest beach, Monchique is mainly popular with walkers and nature lovers.
  • Lagoa – There isn’t a lot to see and do in Lagoa, which is why it won’t appeal to everyone, but it isn’t particularly touristy and its location is a good base for exploring the Central Algarve.

As a general rule, the Central Algarve is the most touristy part of the Algarve. The Western Algarve is probably the least touristy, while the Eastern Algarve has plenty of less touristy spots as well (particularly between Faro and the Spanish border).

The West Coast is the rugged and more natural side of the Algarve, and it’s popular with walkers, surfers, yoga lovers, and motorhome enthusiasts from Germany and The Netherlands.

I want beaches (and I don’t want to drive to them)

To get to some of the best beaches on the Algarve, you’ll need to drive to them. If you just want a beach, however, and if your priority is being able to walk to the beach, take a look at the following Algarve towns.

  • Albufeira: The largest resort town on the Algarve, Albufeira attracts people from all walks of life.
  • Alvor: A small and compact resort town with a long and beautiful beach.
  • Armação de Pêra: A larger resort town that’s usually more popular with Portuguese tourists than international tourists.
  • Burgau: Very small, and very quaint village on the Western side of the Algarve.
  • Carvoeiro: A medium-sized resort town with a small beach and several of the Algarve’s best beaches within driving distance.
  • Ferragudo: A picturesque town that’s incredibly laid-back and ideal for families and young couples.
  • Lagos: The gateway to the West Coast and a popular destination for surfers, backpackers, but really visitors from all backgrounds.
  • Monte Gordo: One of the most popular beach towns on the Eastern Algarve thanks to its long, beautiful beach.
  • Praia da Luz: A picturesque and very small seaside resort that’s situated on the Western side of the Algarve.
  • Praia da Rocha: The second-largest resort town after Albufeira, this is quite a lively resort with plenty of bars, restaurants, and clubs.
  • Quarteira: A beach town that has a slightly faded or run-down feeling, but somewhere that still has a nice beach and plenty of great restaurants.
  • Vilamoura: One of the more upmarket towns on the Algarve, Vilamoura is known for its marina, upscale restaurants, and boutique shops.

I want to party

  • Albufeira is the best spot for nightlife, particularly around “The Strip.” Here you’ll find plenty of cheap bars filled with revelling holidaymakers as well as a few clubs as well.
  • Praia da Rocha also has a good number of bars as well as one or two late night spots as well. It isn’t the main party spot, but it’s definitely a close second.
  • Armação de Pêra meanwhile is more popular with Portuguese tourists, and feels like a slightly more Portuguese version of somewhere like Praia da Rocha.
  • Vilamoura has a more upmarket feel to it, but there are still plenty of Irish and British pubs (they’re just classier-looking).
  • Lagos is more laid-back and less of a party spot than Albufeira or Praia da Rocha but there’s still a good buzz in the pubs during the summer months.
  • Finally, Faro is somewhere that’s also worth considering. It has a decent number of bars and even a few nightclubs, but it tends to be more popular with local Portuguese residents than with holidaymakers.

I’m organising a stag or hen party

Most stag and hen parties go to Albufeira, especially to “The Strip.” Praia da Rocha could also be worth considering, although it’s slightly lower-key than Albufeira.

If you’re planning a quieter event, you could also consider other beach towns like Carvoeiro and Alvor, both of which have plenty of pubs but are much tamer. Lagos in the summertime can also be a fun spot, particularly if you want to combine a surfing holiday (or a “learning to surf holiday” with a few beers).

I’m a backpacker

The Algarve towns that appeal most to backpackers are Faro and Lagos, and to a lesser extent Sagres.

Faro is the main city on the Algarve, and it has the most culture and history of any destination on the Algarve. It’s also nearest to the Algarve’s regional airport, Faro Airport, so it’s often the first stop for many backpackers.

Lagos has a laid-back vibe and attracts a younger, backpacker-esque crowd. Many come to the Algarve to learn to surf, or just to enjoy the surf scene.

Sagres sits on the Southwest of the Algarve. It is even more surf-focussed than Lagos, and it also attracts walkers and people interested in the more rugged, natural side of the Algarve.

I’m coming to surf

The Algarve surf scene starts in Lagos and after that is mainly based around towns on the Western Algarve like Sagres and, to a lesser degree, around Aljezur.

Lagos doesn’t actually have much in the way of waves, but a lot of the surf schools are based there. It also has a little more buzz than Sagres, which is a lot smaller than Lagos. Other towns on the Western Algarve like Aljezur and Vila do Bispo also attract a fair number of surfers, but are often quieter again.

Read: The Algarve for surfers

I want nature

The Western Coast of the Algarve, with its rugged cliffs, protected natural park, and unspoilt beaches, is one of the most popular Algarve destinations for nature lovers.

Other popular destinations include Monchique, the main mountainous region on the Algarve, and the area around the Ria Formosa near Faro on the eastern side of the Algarve.

I want history and culture

The Algarve isn’t as much of a history and culture destination as places like Lisbon and Porto are, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t historical attractions in the Algarve. There are, but they’re very spread out across the Algarve.

Faro probably has the most historical attractions, but you’ll also find churches and even castles dotted across the whole of this part of Portugal.

I’m a foodie

You’ll find great food all over the Algarve, both national Portuguese dishes as well as dishes that are more typical from the Algarve.

Regional dishes to look out for include cataplanas, piri-piri chicken, and of course there’s plenty of fish and seafood as well. National dishes to add to your foodie bucketlist include bacalhau and of course the pastel de nata, both of which you’ll have no problem finding anywhere on the Algarve.

You’ll also find a handful of Michelin-star restaurants as well as plenty of great hole-in-the-wall places too.

Although Tavira is renowned for its octopus and Olhão for its seafood, there isn’t really a town that’s best for foodies. You’ll find great restaurants in every Algarve town, although you’ll have to look harder in the more touristy destinations (particularly those by the coast) where the quality can drop a little.

I’m a hipster

The Algarve isn’t quite the hipster paradise that Lisbon and Porto are, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find a few craft breweries and speciality coffee shops here especially in the main city, Faro.

See: the hipster guide to the Algarve.

I’m coming for a romantic getaway

With its beautiful beaches, warm weather, great restaurants, and wonderful hotels, the Algarve can be a fantastic spot for a romantic break.

See: the Algarve for couples.

I want to see all of the Algarve

If you want to see as much of the Algarve as possible, it’s probably a good idea to stay close to the centre of the Algarve (e.g. Lagoa, Carvoeiro, Silves, etc.) or to stay in a couple of different towns (e.g. one in the Eastern Algarve, one in the Central, and one in the Western Algarve).

If you’re planning on exploring a lot of the Algarve, you’ll also need to think about transportation. Renting a car is definitely the best idea, although it is possible to explore the Algarve without a car – it’ll just involve more planning in advance.

Many Algarve towns have train stations e.g. Faro, Tavira, Loulé, and Lagos. Others, like Silves, Albufeira, and Ferragudo, have train stations nearby, but not in the town: you’ll probably need to take a taxi from the train station to the town centre.

Accommodation inspiration

You’ll find every type of accommodation on the Algarve, including campsites, hotels, apartments, and villas. Each of these types of accommodation ranges in price and quality too: you’ll not only find both cheap and luxury hotels but both cheap and luxury campsites as well.

Algarve travel guides

The Algarve for…

When to visit the Algarve

In the past, most people visited the Algarve in July and August but that’s starting to change. More and more people are coming to the Algarve outside of the peak summer months and even through the winter months (the Algarve does have more than 300 days of sunshine after all).

Although it’s impossible to predict, the following month-by-month guide should give you an idea of what the Algarve is like throughout the year.

  Average Temp Rainfall (mm)
January 16 78 (9 rain days)
February 17 72 (7 rain days)
March 18 39 (10 rain days)
April 20 38 (6 rain days)
May 22 21 (4 rain days)
June 25 8 (1 wet day)
July 29 1 (0 rain days)
August 29 4 (0 rain days)
September 27 14 (2 rain days)
October 23 67 (6 rain days)
November 19 86 (8 rain days)
December 17 94 (9 rain days)

Note: rain days doesn’t mean it’ll rain all day, but it’ll rain that day.

See also: A year-round guide to events on the Algarve.

Getting around the Algarve

If you’re coming for the Algarve for a beach holiday, you may not be planning to explore it much (or at all) and won’t need to worry about transportation. If that’s you, you’ll want to stay at a town that has its own beach like Albufeira, Praia da Rocha, Carvoeiro, or Ferragudo (see the full list of beach towns on the Algarve).

If that’s not you, and you’re planning on doing a few day trips around the Algarve, you’ll need to have some way of getting around. The easiest way and recommended way to get around is to rent a car but, if you don’t drive, there are a few other options.

  • Train: The Algarve has a good train service, but it only goes to some of the towns on the Algarve (and only really to one beach: Meia Praia in Lagos).
  • Bus: Buses connect almost all of the towns on the Algarve, and there are often buses to attractions like waterparks.
  • Taxis (and Uber): Most towns will have a taxi rank so it’s easy to get from town to town by taxi. You can also get to out-of-town attractions like beaches, although you’ll probably need to arrange collection so that you can get back to your accommodation again.
  • Bike: The Algarve is becoming increasingly popular with cyclists, and cycling can be one of the most flexible ways to get around the Algarve.

Read: The Algarve without a car.

Things to see & do on the Algarve

Beaches

Whether you just go to your nearest beach, or you take the time to explore all the different beaches on the Algarve, visiting the beach is going to be one of the main things that you do while you’re in the Algarve.

See: A guide to the Algarve’s beaches

Cultural & historical attractions

Lisbon and Porto are much better destinations for history and culture, but that’s not to say that there aren’t attractions to see on the Algarve including castles, churches, and unique festivals.

Surfing

The Algarve’s west coast is a surfing hotspot, and home to many surf schools where you can learn to surf or just rent boards.

See: The Algarve for surfers

Other watersports & activities

As well as surfing, there are also plenty of other watersports and water-based activities that you can do on the Algarve including stand up paddleboarding, boat tours of the Algarve caves, kitesurfing, windsurfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking.

Waterparks

For children (or those who’re still children at heart), there’s no better way to spend the day than at one of the Algarve’s many waterparks.

Golf

The Algarve’s golf courses are well-known and every year attract golfers from all over the world.

Walking

Outside of the peak of summer, the Algarve is a popular walking destination with many varied routes along the coast, through the mountains of Monchique, and further inland.

Food & wine tasting

Although the Algarve isn’t traditionally on the foodie map, there are an increasing number of food tours and cookery classes opening up on the Algarve. The Algarve is also becoming more and more of a recognised wine region, and many of the vineyards on the Algarve now offer tours and tastings.

Shopping

The Algarve isn’t Paris or Milan. Most of the clothing shops here are multinational brand names like H&M and C&A, which you’ll find at shopping malls like Forum Algarve (Faro), Mar Shopping (near Faro and Tavira), Algarve Shopping (Near Guia and Albufeira), and Aqua (near Lagos).

Of these, Mar Shopping is the newest and the best. During the summer months, there’s a free bus that connects Mar Shopping with Albufeira, Vilamoura, and Quarteira.

For boutique clothes shopping and high-end souvenirs, most people head to Vilamoura. Porches is also worth visiting if you’re looking to buy Algarve pottery.

Rainy days

The Algarve gets more than 300 days of sunshine, and so isn’t really designed with rain in mind. That said, there are a few things that you can do if the weather is bad including museum trips, shopping, and a trip to the cinema.

Read: What to do in the Algarve when it rains.

Day trips

There are plenty of great towns and cities nearby that are worth visiting as part of a day trip, both within the Algarve and a little further afield.

Within the Algarve

Within the Algarve, the most popular places to visit are:

  • Silves – A former moorish town with a well-preserved castle, cathedral, and old Roman bridge. 
  • Monchique – A mountainous town that offers a different side of the Algarve, as well as beautiful views from the nearby Fóia. 
  • Faro – The capital of the Algarve, Faro has several great attractions such as churches and a beautiful marina. 
  • Loulé – A beautiful Algarve town with a popular market. 

Further afield

You can take day trips on the Algarve to places like Silves and Monchique, but have you considered taking a day trip outside of the Algarve as well?

Popular day trip destinations include:

  • Évora: the capital of the Alentejo region, and home to several interesting attractions like Roman ruins and a bone chapel (there’s also one in Faro). Getting to Évora takes roughly 2.5 hours by car.
  • Lisbon: The capital and one of the most interesting places to visit in Portugal. Lisbon is roughly 2.5 hours by car, and it’s also easy to get to by train as well.
  • Sevilla: A beautiful and often underrated Spanish city, Sevilla is just accessible as part of a day trip. The trip to Seville can be as quick as 2.5 hours, but you will have to factor in the time difference.
  • Huelva: For those that don’t want to go all the way to Sevilla, but want a day trip into Spain, Huelva is just 1.5 hours by car.

Last updated in June 2019.
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2 thoughts on “The Algarve”

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  1. My wife and I plan to spend at least a month in fall of 2020 in the Algarve – your site has been excellent to introduce us!

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