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Algarve Guide: The Best Things to See, Do, & Eat

The Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region, is a sun-soaked paradise that has long held the affections of travellers from around the globe. With its golden sands stretching along the Atlantic coast, it offers a beach lover’s dream, presenting an array of hidden coves, bustling beach resorts, and tranquil bays caressed by turquoise waters. There’s a part of the Algarve that’s right for everyone, whether that’s surfing holidays in Sagres, family holidays in Albufeira, or cultural holidays in towns like Faro and Silves. 

Beyond just summer breaks, the Algarve has transformed into a hotspot for retirees and digital nomads, attracted by the blend of affordable living, excellent connectivity, and picturesque settings. For the active traveller, the region’s hinterlands offer invigorating walking trails, such as the Via Algarviana, winding through almond groves, traditional hamlets, and rugged sierras. Watersports enthusiasts aren’t left behind either; whether it’s surfing the powerful waves of Sagres, kiteboarding in Alvor, or diving into the ocean’s depths off the coast of Portimão, there’s an adrenaline rush awaiting at every corner.

Culturally rich and diverse, the Algarve is not just a destination but an experience. From the echoes of Moorish architecture in Silves to the contemporary art galleries in Loulé, it invites exploration, promising new discoveries for repeat visitors and first-timers alike. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing seaside retreat, an adventurous escapade, or a working holiday with a view, the Algarve seamlessly marries the traditional with the modern, ensuring memories that will last a lifetime.

Buying Property

If you’ve fallen in love with the region and are considering a more permanent move, you’ll be pleased to know there are a wide range of properties for sale. From cozy apartments to ruins in need of renovation and villas overlooking the sea, there’s something for just about every need and budget. 

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Towns, Cities, & Villages in the Algarve

With so many towns and villages on the Algarve, it can be difficult to work out where to stay, but this list should help you choose. 

Albufeira

The most popular town on the Algarve, Albufeira attracts people from all walks of life, including families, couples, stag and hen parties, and more. Once a quiet fishing village, it has transformed into a bustling holiday hub, renowned for its lively nightlife, charming old town, and a plethora of sun-kissed beaches. The town offers a harmonious blend of traditional Portuguese culture with modern tourist amenities, where cobbled streets and historic architecture sit side by side with contemporary bars, restaurants, and shops. With its family-friendly resorts and array of water-based activities, Albufeira promises a sun-drenched getaway suitable for travellers of all ages and preferences. There are many layers to this town so as well as bars charging €1 per beer or shot, Albufeira is also home to many of the Algarve’s finest hotels and Michelin-star restaurants. 

Alvor

A picturesque fishing village turned popular holiday destination, Alvor gracefully balances its rich history with contemporary allure. Located on the western Algarve, Alvor boasts a sprawling sandy beach edged by turquoise waters, complemented by the charm of its traditional whitewashed houses and narrow cobbled streets. The Ria de Alvor estuary offers a tranquil sanctuary for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, while the bustling waterfront, teeming with lively bars and seafood restaurants, provides a taste of the region’s culinary delights. Despite its growing tourism, Alvor retains an authentic, laid-back vibe, making it an idyllic retreat for those seeking both relaxation and adventure on the Algarve coast.

Carvoreiro

Carvoeiro, once a humble fishing village, has gracefully transformed into one of the Algarve’s most enchanting coastal towns. Its stunning golden beach, cradled between jagged cliffs, provides a picturesque backdrop to the town’s maze of narrow streets, filled with vibrant bars, restaurants, and shops. The dramatic Algarvian coastline around Carvoeiro is punctuated with hidden coves and caves, many of which can be explored by boat trips departing from the town. The iconic rock formations of Algar Seco, just a short walk away, are a must-visit, offering breathtaking views of the azure Atlantic. Combining natural beauty with modern amenities, Carvoeiro captures the essence of a relaxed seaside holiday while retaining its authentic Portuguese charm.

Faro

Faro, the administrative capital of the Algarve, offers a distinctly authentic Portuguese experience, often overlooked by sun-seekers rushing to the region’s famed beaches. Of course, you can get to some beaches from Faro, but you will need to take a bus or ferry. Naturally, many people choose to stay in a town where the beach is walking distance. 

With its historic old town encircled by ancient city walls, Faro boasts an impressive array of architectural gems, from the Gothic-style Sé Cathedral to the stately Arco da Vila gateway. The city’s labyrinthine cobbled streets are teeming with quaint cafes, traditional taverns, and bustling plazas that come alive with local chatter and vibrant cultural events.

Additionally, Faro serves as a gateway to the Ria Formosa Natural Park, a maze of saltwater lagoons and marshes teeming with birdlife, perfect for boat trips and bird-watching. As a blend of urban allure and natural beauty, Faro stands as a testament to the Algarve’s multifaceted charm.

Ferragudo

Nestled on the eastern bank of the Rio Arade, Ferragudo is a charming fishing village that has retained its traditional character despite the Algarve’s surge in tourism. Its picturesque, cobbled streets wind their way down to a bustling waterfront, dotted with quaint fishing boats and lined with seafood restaurants serving the day’s catch. Overlooking the village is the historic São João do Arade Castle, a sentinel that has guarded Ferragudo from pirates and invaders for centuries. The town’s beaches, like Praia Grande and Praia da Angrinha, are sheltered and family-friendly, offering calm waters and golden sands. As a less commercialised alternative to some of the Algarve’s larger resorts, Ferragudo provides an authentic taste of Portuguese coastal life.

Lagos

A popular choice with all ages but particularly those in their 20s and 30s, and those interested in exploring the West Coast, whether for surfing or walking. Lagos is on the trainline, so it’s easy to get to even if you aren’t renting a car.

Distinguished by its well-preserved ancient walls, cobbled streets, and the 16th-century Forte da Ponta da Bandeira, Lagos offers a tangible connection to Portugal’s Age of Discoveries. Yet, it’s the town’s stunning coastline that truly captures visitors’ imaginations: dramatic cliffs give way to golden sands, such as the renowned Praia Dona Ana and Praia do Camilo, both punctuated by iconic limestone rock formations. The lively marina, interspersed with trendy cafes, shops, and bars, is a hub for water-based adventures, from dolphin-watching excursions to kayaking through sea caves. In Lagos, travellers can effortlessly transition from historical exploration to beachside relaxation, experiencing the diverse offerings of the Algarve.

Loulé

Loule, situated in the Algarve’s inland region, presents a delightful contrast to the coastal resort towns. At its heart lies a bustling market hall, renowned for its Moorish-inspired architecture, where locals and tourists alike come to purchase fresh produce, handicrafts, and regional specialities. The town’s rich history is palpable in its narrow cobbled streets, flanked by traditional whitewashed houses adorned with azulejo tiles. The Loule Castle, which dates back to the 13th century, stands as a testament to the region’s Moorish past, with remnants of its ancient walls scattered throughout the town. Beyond its historical attractions, Loule hosts a vibrant calendar of festivals, including the famous annual Carnival, making it a cultural hub in the Algarve that offers visitors a genuine slice of Portuguese tradition and festivity.

Monchique

Nestled within the lush, rolling hills of the Serra de Monchique, the spa town of Monchique is the Algarve’s serene escape from the bustling coastal resorts. Famed for its natural springs, the town offers therapeutic thermal baths that have been cherished since Roman times. Traditional whitewashed houses adorned with terracotta roofs sprawl across the verdant landscape, offering picturesque views at every turn. Visitors are drawn not only by the healing waters but also by the panoramic vistas from Foia, the Algarve’s highest peak, and the chance to explore scenic walking trails amidst eucalyptus and cork oak forests. Monchique is a testament to the Algarve’s diverse offerings, proving that beyond its sun-kissed beaches lies an oasis of tranquillity and natural splendour.

Olhão

Olhão, a significant fishing port in the Algarve, exudes authentic charm with its bustling marina, labyrinthine Moorish-style alleys, and historic quarters. Often overlooked in favour of its more touristy neighbours, this town offers an unspoilt, genuine Algarvian experience. The renowned fish market, housed in iconic red-brick buildings, is a hive of activity, especially on weekends when local producers sell fresh catch, fruits, and delicacies. Just off the coast, the tranquil barrier islands of Armona and Culatra, part of the Ria Formosa Natural Park, beckon with pristine beaches and clear waters, easily reached by local ferries. Olhão, with its mix of traditional culture and natural beauty, presents a serene getaway for those eager to immerse themselves in the rhythms of everyday Algarvian life.

Portimão

Nestled on the banks of the Arade River, the town boasts a bustling waterfront adorned with cafes, restaurants, and myriad shops. Beyond its sun-soaked coast, Portimão’s historic centre offers a quaint exploration of cobbled streets, pastel-coloured buildings, and the echoes of its sardine fishing past. Whether it’s water sports, gastronomic delights, or simply soaking up the sun, Portimão offers a diverse palette of experiences for every traveller.

Portimão isn’t the most popular destination for people visiting the Algarve, the city that is. There are essentially two parts to Portimão – a small, functional city and the beach resort area of Praia da Rocha, which is a very popular seaside resort. The city itself has long been overlooked as a travel destination but in recent years, more and more people have begun exploring it as they seek a more authentic, Portuguese side to the Algarve that isn’t often found on the coast.

Praia da Rocha

Just south of Portimão, Praia da Rocha is one of the Algarve’s most iconic and popular beaches, known for its dramatic cliffs, golden sands, and the expansive Atlantic horizon. The name, which translates to “Rocky Beach,” fittingly describes the stunning rock formations that frame the vast sandy expanse.

Along the cliff tops, a lively promenade bustles with a myriad of restaurants, bars, and shops, offering visitors panoramic ocean views as they dine or stroll. By night, the area comes alive with vibrant nightlife, making it a favoured spot for both relaxation by day and entertainment by night. With its natural beauty and modern amenities, Praia da Rocha provides the perfect blend of nature’s splendour and contemporary beach resort appeal.

Sagres

Perched on the southwestern tip of the Algarve, Sagres offers a raw, windswept landscape that feels like the edge of the world. Historically significant as the home of Prince Henry the Navigator’s famed nautical school, Sagres has long been associated with Portugal’s Age of Discoveries. Today, its monumental cliffs, framed by the relentless Atlantic, draw nature lovers and surfers alike, with some of the most consistent waves in Portugal. The iconic Fortaleza de Sagres, overlooking the sea, stands as a testament to the town’s rich maritime past. Beyond its historical allure, Sagres boasts untouched beaches, a serene harbour, and a laid-back atmosphere, making it an idyllic retreat from the busier resort towns of the Algarve.

Silves

Once the Moorish capital of the Algarve, Silves exudes a rich historical ambiance, dominated by its impressive red brick castle perched atop a hill, offering panoramic views of the surrounding citrus orchards and rolling countryside. The town’s cobbled streets wind past well-preserved remnants of its Moorish past, interspersed with traditional cafes and craft shops. The Gothic Silves Cathedral, which sits in stark contrast to the Moorish architecture, stands as a testament to the town’s Christian reconquest.

The annual Medieval Fair, which transforms Silves back to its medieval glory with themed parades, crafts, and food stalls, is a testament to the town’s deep-rooted cultural pride. 

Tavira

Nestled on the eastern side of the Algarve, Tavira stands out as a charming and picturesque town, often described as one of the region’s hidden gems. Retaining its traditional allure, the town boasts cobbled streets, historic churches, and the remnants of a Moorish castle offering panoramic views of the whitewashed buildings below. The gentle flow of the Gilão River through Tavira adds to its scenic beauty, with Roman-style bridges connecting its banks. A short journey from the town centre takes visitors to the pristine beaches of Ilha de Tavira, accessible only by boat and offering a tranquil escape. While much of the Algarve has seen rapid development, Tavira remains a testament to the region’s rich history and offers a peaceful alternative to the bustling resort towns.

Vilamoura

Vilamoura, located in the heart of the Algarve, is a modern coastal town known for its large marina, luxury hotels, and world-class golf courses. Designed from the outset as a purpose-built leisure destination, it has grown to become one of Europe’s largest and most sophisticated luxury resorts. The town’s vibrant marina, brimming with chic boutiques, upscale restaurants, and bars, serves as a central hub where visitors can enjoy a lively atmosphere, watching yachts sail by or simply indulging in fine dining. 

Beyond the marina, Vilamoura offers pristine beaches such as Praia da Falesia, where golden sands stretch against a backdrop of dramatic cliffs. For history enthusiasts, there’s the Cerro da Vila, an archaeological site providing glimpses into the region’s Roman past. 

Vila Real de Santo António

Situated on the easternmost edge of the Algarve, Vila Real de Santo António is a picturesque town graced by the Guadiana River, which serves as a natural border between Portugal and Spain. The town, characterised by its elegant 18th-century architecture, was methodically planned around a central square, the Marquês de Pombal Square, which boasts striking neoclassical buildings and a distinctive obelisk at its heart. Not far from the town centre, the scenic riverbank promenade offers captivating views of the river and the Spanish town of Ayamonte on the opposite side.

The town’s proximity to Spain adds a unique cultural blend, evident in its markets, festivals, and daily life. Apart from its urban charm, Vila Real de Santo António is a gateway to pristine beaches like Praia da Manta Rota and reserves like the Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António Marsh Natural Reserve, making it an ideal location for both cultural exploration and natural relaxation.

What to See and Do

Getting Here

Generally speaking, most people will fly into Faro Airport, which is the airport for the region. However, it’s not the only way to get to the Algarve. 

  • Flying: Faro Airport is the main regional airport for the Algarve, and most people will fly into here. It’s also possible to fly into Lisbon Airport (or even Porto Airport) and take a bus or train to the Algarve. The journey time from Lisbon Airport to the Algarve is around 2.5 hours by car or 3-3.5 hours by train. 
  • Train: There is a trainline which connects many of the towns on the Algarve with other parts of Portugal, such as Lisbon and Porto. For tickets and timetables, see cp.pt. 
  • Bus: It’s easy to get to the Algarve from most of Portugal by bus, thanks to Portugal’s extensive bus network. For tickets and timetables, see Rede Expressos or Flixbus.pt. 
  • Driving: It’s possible to drive from Lisbon to the Algarve in a little over 2 hours thanks to the A2 motorway (with tolls). Having a car is the easiest way to get around the Algarve if you’re planning on sightseeing. 

 

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