But, the Algarve is a lot more varied than that, and people visit the Algarve for all kinds of reasons. While some come purely to work on their tans, others to play golf, others to learn to surf, and others to explore the Algarve’s abundant wildlife.
Whatever you reason for visiting the Algarve, this guide will help you find the Algarve that’s right for you.
Cities & Towns on the Algarve
The Algarve can be split into three regions: the Eastern Algarve, Central Algarve, and the Western Algarve. Each region is unique, has its own selling points, and those that live in the Algarve usually have a favourite part.
Below you’ll find a guide to each region, as well as a list of the towns in each region.
The Eastern Algarve is less developed than the central Algarve. It also benefits from being close to Faro Airport and close to the Spanish border. Faro and Tavira are the two most popular towns for visitors.
Faro: The capital and largest city on the Algarve (around 65,000 people), Faro is situated around 7 km from Faro Airport. Faro is a beautiful, small city, with a great selection of restaurants, bars, and cafés. Since Faro doesn’t have any beaches within walking distance of the city centre, the city is often overlooked in favour of the nearby coastal resorts. (The nearest beaches to Faro are around 10km from the city centre and you will need to drive or take a bus from the city centre to get there.)
Tavira: A small, charming coastal town that’s popular with history and culture affectionados. As with Faro, getting to the beaches involves a journey by car or public transport.
The majority of the towns and resorts, as well as the most popular beaches, are located in the central Algarve. Being in the middle of the Algarve comes with the added benefit that you can easily get to the East or West of the Algarve in an hour or less.
- Albufeira: The main coastal resort town on the Algarve, Albufeira is the most popular destination on the Algarve for holidaymakers. Split into the old and new town (typically referred to as ‘the strip’), Albufeira is a mixture of traditional Portuguese buildings and modern, cheesy neon nightclubs and British bars. Because it’s often the only Algarve town people have heard of, Albufeira attracts a wide variety of visitors ranging from families to stag dos, to everything in between.
- Carvoreiro: A small coastal town, with an easily-accessible small beach just in front of the town square. Without the large bars and nightclubs that Albufeira has to offer, Carvoreiro tends to be most popular with families.
- Alvor: Alvor is another small coastal town on the Algarve. Like Carvoreiro, it has plenty of bars and restaurants and an easily accessible beach.
- Armação de Pêra: Of all the towns on the Algarve, Alvor tends to be where most of the Portuguese travel to during the summer. Here, you’ll find plenty of accommodation as well as many bars, restaurants, and a few nightclubs.
- Silves: Once the capital of the Algarve, the picturesque town of Silves is famous for its Moorish castle, cathedral, and other historical buildings. Silves is popular with history lovers and walkers. Although inland, it’s only around 20 minutes to the nearest beach by car. (Silves travel guide)
- Guia: A small town near Albufeira, famous for being the home of piri-piri chicken.
Although there are several popular coastal towns in the Algarve (including Ferragudo and Lagos), the majority of the Western Algarve is sparsely-populated and scenic. This makes this part of the Algarve popular with walkers and nature lovers. High winds also make it a popular destination with surfers and water sport enthusiasts.
- Ferragudo: A small, quiet coastal town with a small square surrounded by restaurants. Of all the coastal towns, Ferragudo is one of the least developed towns.
- Monchique: The mountainous town of Monchique is famous for its spa waters which are said to have healing properties. It is a popular destination with walkers and nature lovers.
- Lagos: Although Lagos is the destination of choice for backpackers and surfers (due to its proximity to the West Coast), Lagos isn’t just for backpackers. You’ll find plenty of families, as well as older travellers, all here to enjoy the laid-back vibe Lagos offers.
- Portimão: An unassuming small, Portuguese city, Portimão doesn’t attract many of the holidaymakers that visit the Algarve every year. This is due mainly to its distance from the nearest beach.
- Sagres: Sagres is primarily popular with surfers, walkers, nature lovers, and day-trippers that venture over to visit Portugal’s most southerly point.
- Aljezur: A very small, quiet town with the ruins of a castle on the hill. Aljezur is a popular base for those that want to explore the national park and beaches on the Western Coast of the Algarve.
Things to see & do on the Algarve
- Beach: The most popular thing to do on the Algarve. The Algarve has enough beaches that you could visit a different one every day while on holiday here.
- Golf: The Algarve’s golf courses are well-known throughout the world, making it a popular destination with golfers.
- 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. (Walking holidays in the Algarve)
- Watersports: From relaxing champagne cruises at sunset, to scuba diving, jet skiing, and kayaking.
- Vineyards: Many vineyards, such as Quinta to Frances, offer vineyard and wine tasting tours.
- Food & Drink: The Algarve has some fantastic restaurants, and there are now also a selection of companies offering cookery classes, market tours, and visits to nearby farms.
- Rainy Days: Although the Algarve does get more than 300 days of sunshine, occasionally it does rain here. Although there isn’t a lot to do when it rains, there are a few things that you can do.
- Day trip to Lisbon: Lisbon is just three hours by train, and many people go to Lisbon for one day to view the main attractions.
What to eat (and where)
Portuguese food isn’t well known internationally, at least when compared to French, Italian, and Spanish cuisine, but Portugal has some fantastic dishes that are worth trying while you’re here. Some dishes to look out for include piri-piri chicken, cataplanas (seafood stew), javali (wild boar stew), and of course pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts).
What to drink
Portugal is an excellent wine producer, with plenty of wines that are worth trying. The Algarve itself is a relatively unknown wine producing region, and wine lovers already familiar with wines from other parts of Portugal should look out for local wines in the supermarkets and Garrafeiras (off licences).
There are two main beer brands in Portugal, Super Bock and Sagres, although there are now a few smaller breweries popping up. You will find Super Bock and Sagres everywhere.
At the end of your meal, you’ll often be offered a glass of Aguardente de Medronhos. The translated name, Medronho fire water, makes it sound very unpleasant but most Medronho is actually very enjoyable. Alcohol content varies depending on whether you’re served something that has been bought in a supermarket (40%) or made in their grandmother’s kitchen (considerably higher).
Port wine comes from the North of Portugal, but you won’t have any trouble getting it in the Algarve. Port is much cheaper here than in the rest of the world, and it’s a good opportunity to pick up a better quality bottle for less money than what you would pay at home.
Most people will be familiar with ruby and tawny port, but it’s also worth trying LBV (late bottled vintage) and white Port while you’re visiting Portugal.
Clueless about Port? Read our guide to buying white, ruby, and tawny port.
Getting to the Algarve
Most people visiting the Algarve will fly into the region’s only airport: Faro Airport.
Faro Airport is situated around 6 km from Faro city centre. The Algarve is a relatively small region, and getting to most of the towns and resorts takes less than an hour on average. The easiest way to get around is by car. Several car hire companies operate at Faro Airport including Avis, Hertz, Europcar, and Sixt.
Note: While it’s possible to get public transport (bus or train) from Faro to most towns on the Algarve, you won’t be able to go directly from Faro Airport: you will need to go into Faro city centre to get the connection. A regular bus service connects Faro Airport with the bus terminal or you could get a taxi instead.
Other nearby airports:
Lisbon Airport is roughly a two and a half hour drive from the Algarve. By train or bus, the journey usually takes around three hours.
Seville Airport is roughly a three-hour drive from most towns on the Algarve. There is no train link between Seville and the Algarve, but there is a frequent bus service. If you’re hiring a car in Seville, you will probably have to take out additional insurance for taking the car outside of Spain.
Portugal’s train service connects most Algarve towns with Lisbon and Porto.
There is a regular bus service that connects towns in the Algarve with other towns in Portugal as well as towns in Spain.
Getting around the Algarve
While the Algarve has a good public transport system, the easiest way to get around the Algarve is definitely by car. Hiring a car will give you considerably more freedom to visit places that are not always covered by public transport (such as certain beaches) and will make your trip in the Algarve more relaxing and more enjoyable.
Many first-timers to the Algarve are often nervous about driving here, but the Algarve is an incredibly enjoyable place to drive around. Sure, you will see some daring overtaking every now and then, but generally the roads are fairly quiet.
By Airport Transfer
Many people visiting the Algarve just want to be taken to their resort or hotel. Often the easiest, and most cost-effective, way to do this is to book an airport transfer.
The Algarve has an excellent and incredibly affordable train system that connects Vila Real de Santo António in the Eastern Algarve with Lagos on the Western Algarve.
Train tickets can be purchased online (the ticket can be sent as an SMS to your phone or printed off) or at the train station.
Tip: Most train tickets are 40% cheaper if you book them 6 days or more in advance.
The Algarve does have a bus service that connects all of the towns together, but it isn’t as easy to use as the train service.
Every town in the Algarve will have a taxi rank, although it can sometimes be difficult to get a taxi late at night. Uber is starting to become popular in the Algarve, especially around the larger towns and cities like Faro and Albufeira.