Lagos, a captivating town in the Algarve, seamlessly blends historical significance with modern allure. Set against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, its scenic coastline offers a myriad of golden beaches, dramatic cliffs, and serene coves that are a sunbather’s paradise. Yet, the ocean’s allure isn’t the only thing that makes Lagos special. Dive deeper into the town, and you’ll discover a vibrant history dating back to the Age of Discovery, when Portugal’s daring explorers set forth to uncover new worlds.
The town’s architecture tells tales of its storied past. From the remnants of Moorish walls that once protected it to churches that stand as a testament to its religious heritage, every corner of Lagos offers a history lesson. Strolling through its cobbled streets, you’ll find bustling markets, lively squares, and a marina dotted with sailboats ready to venture into the horizon. It’s this mix of the old and new, the historic and the contemporary, that makes Lagos so enthralling.
It’s also a popular location due to its proximity to the West Coast and its location within the Western Algarve. This part of Portugal is considered one of the most beautiful and many people choose to stay in Lagos and use it as a base for exploring nearby towns like Sagres and Aljezur.
Lagos attracts a mixed crowd, and you’ll see families, retirees, and surfers here. The town has a good mixture of family-friendly establishments as well as late-night pubs, so caters to all ages. It’s not quite a hidden gem (nowhere on the coastal Algarve really is) but it’s less developed than other Algarve towns like Albufeira or Praia da Rocha.
In recent years, Lagos has also become a very popular destination for people to move to. It’s particularly popular with remote workers and digital nomads who use it as a base from which to explore the whole of the Algarve, particularly the surf-friendly West Coast.
Useful Resources for Your Trip to Lagos
Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Lagos.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Lagos.
- Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental.
- Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Faro Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Lagos and the surrounding Algarve region.
- Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal. More options can be found in our article about luggage storage in the Algarve.
- Public Transport: Cp.pt is the main website for trains in Portugal. For longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos. Flixbus.pt often has cheap tickets between cities in Portugal.
- Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal. The nearest airport to Lagos is Faro Airport.
What to See & Do
Mercado Municipal de Lagos
The Mercado Municipal de Lagos stands as a vibrant testament to the region’s rich bounty and the importance of fresh, local produce in the Algarvian daily life. Housed in a modern building, this market is a bustling hub where locals and tourists alike converge to procure the freshest of ingredients. If you’re self-catering during your stay in Lagos, a visit here is essential. From the day’s catch gleaming on ice to sun-ripened fruits and vegetables, fragrant herbs, and regional specialties, everything one needs to whip up an authentic Algarvian meal can be found under this roof.
Beyond its practicalities for shoppers, the Mercado also offers a unique cultural immersion. Strolling through its aisles gives visitors a firsthand look at the region’s gastronomic palette.
Be sure to visit in the morning. The market tends to be busiest at this time and many of the sellers will have closed up by early afternoon.
Mercado de Escravos
Situated in Lagos, the Mercado de Escravos, also known as the Núcleo Museológico Rota da Escravatura, stands as a poignant reminder of Europe’s early involvement in the slave trade. As early as 1444, Portuguese expeditions to West Africa resulted in the enslavement and subsequent trading of individuals, marking this site as the first European slave market.
Although the present-day structure dates back to approximately 1691, the location’s sinister history was solidified in 2009. Amidst renovations, numerous human skeletons were uncovered amidst urban detritus from bygone eras. Subsequent tests validated the skeletons’ West African lineage, suggesting that many might have succumbed to illnesses exacerbated by their inhumane conditions as they awaited their fates in the market.
Today, the museum at this historical site embarks on the crucial mission of educating its visitors about Portugal’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.
Get on your surfboard
Lagos, with its sunny climes and pristine shores, has steadily gained reputation as a budding surf hub in the Algarve. Whether you’re a novice hoping to catch your first wave or a seasoned surfer scouting for the next perfect break, Lagos has something to offer. For beginners, the town is replete with surf schools that provide lessons tailored to every skill level. Surf Experience, Algarve Watersport, and Future Surfing School are just a few renowned names that offer professional guidance to help you get started.
While there are some surfing opportunities close to Lagos, most surf schools prefer to transport their students to the more consistent waves of the west coast. Beaches like Praia do Amado, Praia da Arrifana, and Praia da Bordeira are just a few of the notable spots where both novices and professionals can experience the thrill of the Atlantic swells.
It’s worth noting, however, that despite the sun-kissed beaches and balmy weather on land, the Atlantic waters can be surprisingly chilly. So, if you’re planning to spend a considerable amount of time in the water, it’s advisable to wear a wetsuit, and this will most likely be provided by the surf school.
Have a beach day
Lagos is blessed with an array of stunning beaches, each with its own unique charm, and you should visit the beach at least once (if not many, many times). Meia Praia is often at the forefront of beach recommendations and for good reason. As the largest beach in the area, it stretches impressively along the coastline, offering ample space for sunbathers and beachgoers, even during peak times. The vast sandy expanse provides the perfect backdrop for a relaxing day under the sun, with the shimmering Atlantic waters beckoning for a refreshing dip.
However, if you’re located closer to the cliffs or seeking a change of scenery, beaches like Praia do Canavial and Porto Mós are gems waiting to be explored. Nestled amidst imposing rock formations, these beaches create picturesque pockets of golden sand contrasted against azure waters. Praia do Canavial, with its craggy backdrop, offers seclusion and an almost ethereal beauty, while Porto Mós Beach, with its wider expanse, is a favourite with locals.
Play a quick round of Mini Golf
The Algarve is famous for golf, but usually not the crazy kind. The 18-hole mini-golf course at Pro Putting Garden is designed to challenge and entertain players of all skill levels. Each hole presents its own unique set of challenges, with cleverly designed obstacles and contours ensuring that every round remains engaging. As the sun sets, the garden is illuminated with ambient lighting, creating a magical atmosphere perfect for evening play.
Ponta da Piedade
Ponta da Piedade is undoubtedly one of the most iconic and breathtaking natural landmarks in Lagos, if not the entire Algarve region. A testament to nature’s artistry, this spectacular headland is adorned with a labyrinth of grottoes, caves, and dramatic limestone rock formations, all shaped meticulously over millennia by the relentless forces of wind and wave. As you navigate the weathered stairs and pathways carved into the cliffs, you’re treated to panoramic vistas of the azure Atlantic set against a backdrop of jagged cliff faces and golden sands. Boat tours are a popular way to explore Ponta da Piedade up close, allowing visitors to weave through the sea caves and tunnels, and marvel at the captivating formations with names like “The Cathedral” and “The Camel”. The beauty of this place is almost otherworldly, and it serves as a poignant reminder of the raw, sculpting power of nature.
Forte Ponta da Bandeira
Forte Ponta da Bandeira, or Fort of the Flag Point, is a sentinel from the past, standing guard at the entrance of Lagos’ harbour. This squat, square-shaped fortress, built in the late 17th century, served as a key defensive structure, protecting Lagos from potential sea invaders and pirates. Its strategic position, right where the Bensafrim River meets the Atlantic, highlights its pivotal role in the maritime history of the region. T
oday, this well-preserved fort invites visitors to journey back in time. As you cross the drawbridge and step within its thick walls, you’ll discover quaint chapels adorned with traditional azulejos (Portuguese tiles) and ramparts that offer stunning views of the surrounding seascape. The fort also houses a small museum dedicated to the Age of Discoveries, providing insight into the maritime adventures and endeavours that shaped the region.
Igreja de Santo António
The Igreja de Santo António is a stunning representation of the intricate baroque architectural style that thrived in 18th century Portugal. As you step inside, the church’s breathtaking interior captivates visitors with its richly decorated woodwork, gilded carvings, and vibrant azulejo (ceramic) tiles that narrate religious stories. Every inch of the space seems to shimmer with ornate detailing, from the elaborately designed altar to the ornate ceiling, a visual symphony that leaves many in awe of its craftsmanship.
Established in the early 1700s, the church is not only an emblem of the city’s spiritual life but also serves as an important cultural monument, bearing witness to the deep religious devotion and artistic heritage of the region. Nestled adjacent to the church is the Municipal Museum, which houses a collection of religious artifacts, further solidifying the Igreja de Santo António’s status as a pivotal point of interest for those seeking both spiritual solace and a deep dive into Lagos’ historical tapestry.
Castelo de Lagos
Nestled in the heart of Lagos is the remnants of the Castelo de Lagos, a testament to the town’s rich historical tapestry. Though not as intact as other fortifications in the Algarve, this castle’s origins can be traced back to the Roman period, with significant enhancements made during the Moorish occupation. It played a crucial defensive role during the Reconquista, when Christian forces sought to reclaim the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors. The castle’s walls have borne witness to countless sieges, battles, and historical events that shaped the trajectory of Lagos and, by extension, Portugal.
Today, while much of the original structure has succumbed to the ravages of time, the portions of walls and gates that still stand are evocative reminders of a bygone era. Visitors can meander around the ancient ramparts, taking in panoramic views of the city, and immerse themselves in the history of a place that once stood as a formidable bastion against invaders. Exploring the Castelo de Lagos offers a deeper understanding of the city’s resilience and the strategic importance it held in the broader narrative of Portugal’s history.
Lagos Marina, with its serene azure waters and array of gleaming boats and yachts, offers visitors a modern contrast to the historic charm of the town. Conveniently situated near the town centre, the marina is not only a haven for boating enthusiasts but also a bustling hub filled with vibrant cafes, restaurants, and shops.
During the summer months, you’ll also find a lot of tour companies selling boat trips to the nearby caves or to see dolphins and other sealife.
Museu de Lagos Dr. José Formosinho
The Museu de Lagos Dr. José Formosinho offers a multifaceted exploration into the rich history and culture of Lagos and the wider Algarve region. Nestled in the heart of Lagos, this museum is housed in the Igreja de Santo António complex, showcasing a broad collection that ranges from archaeological artefacts to natural history specimens.
The exhibits trace back the area’s history from prehistoric times, through Roman and Moorish eras, and into the Age of Discoveries, reflecting Lagos’ significant maritime past. Additionally, there’s a dedicated section to the region’s natural history, displaying fascinating geological, botanical, and zoological specimens.
Lagos Zoo, located just a short drive from the heart of Lagos, offers families a delightful opportunity to engage with a diverse array of animals from around the world. Set amidst beautifully landscaped gardens, this zoo has been thoughtfully designed to ensure that its inhabitants thrive in environments closely resembling their natural habitats. With a keen focus on conservation and education, Lagos Zoo provides an informative and interactive experience, aiming to raise awareness about the world’s unique wildlife and the importance of their preservation.
One of the standout features of the zoo is its commitment to creating naturalistic enclosures which promote animal well-being. From colourful parrots flitting about in aviaries to playful monkeys swinging through treetops, and even the majestic peacocks roaming the pathways, every corner of the zoo invites exploration. Children especially delight in the petting farm, where they can get up close and personal with friendly farm animals.
What to Eat
A must-try for anyone is the piri piri chicken, marinated and grilled to perfection, boasting a rich, fiery flavour that pays homage to the region’s spice-trading history. Dine at one of Lagos’ seaside restaurants and you’re likely to be presented with the aromatic cataplana, a seafood medley stew cooked in a clam-shaped copper pan from which it gets its name. The fresh catch of the day might also include delicacies from the Ria Formosa lagoon, notably the succulent oysters, or the ever-popular grilled sardines, a staple in Portuguese seaside towns.
But the allure of Algarvian gastronomy doesn’t stop there. The sweet-toothed are in for a treat with the ‘Doces finos do Algarve’, almond-based pastries artistically shaped into various forms, often resembling fruits, and generously dusted with sugar. For a true taste of the region, don’t miss out on medronho, a potent local spirit distilled from the berries of the Arbutus tree, often referred to as ‘firewater’ by locals due to its strong kick.
Beyond these regional specialties, the wider Portuguese culinary landscape offers dishes that have enamoured food enthusiasts globally. The creamy ‘pastel de nata’, a custard tart topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon and powdered sugar, is a heavenly bite to be savoured with a cup of coffee. For those craving hearty meals, various bacalhau (codfish) preparations beckon, showcasing the versatility of this beloved fish. Grilled meats, especially succulent pork and beef cuts, often make their way to the tables of local taverns and restaurants, providing a robust contrast to the region’s abundant seafood.
As it has both a train station and a large bus station, Lagos is very easy to get to from most destinations in Portugal.
- Flying: The nearest airport to Lagos is Faro Airport, which is situated around an hour by car (90 km or 56 miles) away. From the airport, you can easily get to Lagos by taxi or Uber and there are lots of car rental companies at the airport as well. If you wish to travel by public transport, you will normally need to get a bus or taxi into Faro City Centre first and then get a bus or train to Lagos.
- Train: Lagos is on the train line and is the last train stop on the West Coast. This means you can easily get here from other Algarve towns, like Faro and Portimão, as well as destinations that are further afield like Lisbon and Porto. For tickets and timetables, see cp.pt.
- Bus: Lagos has a good bus hub that offers regional buses to nearby Algarve towns as well as destinations that are a little further away like Lisbon and Porto. For local buses, see Vamus.pt. For inter-city buses, longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos or Flixbus.pt. You can often find buses to Seville (often starting from Portimão) on both of these sites as well.
- Driving: Driving to Lagos from Faro Airport is a straightforward journey, taking roughly an hour via the A22 motorway. For those traveling from further afield, such as Lisbon, expect a scenic drive of approximately three hours along the A2 and A22 highways.