The Algarve (Guide)

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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 destinations to visit and move to 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 it’s such as 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 (mainly Albufeira and Praia da Rocha). The Algarve is actually an incredibly varied and inclusive place that attracts all kinds of visitors including families, backpackers, luxury travellers, walkers, cyclists, surfers, and just about everything other kind of traveller you could imagine.

It’s also an incredibly popular place to move to. The majority of people that move to the Algarve are retirement age, but, besides those that come to work in tourism, it also attracts people who come and start their own business or are able to work remotely.

Thinking of living here? Check out the pros and cons to living on the Algarve or this article on living here.

Algarve Towns & Cities

The Algarve is made up of 2 very small cities (Faro and Portimão), around 20 towns, and many, many more villages that are spread across the coast and surrounding countryside.

When people think of the Algarve, they often think of coastal resort towns like Albufeira but there’s a lot more to the Algarve than that. And, there’s a part of the Algarve that’s right 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.

The three most popular places to visit are typically Faro, Albufeira, and Lagos, each of which attracts a different type of traveller, but they’re definitely not the only towns that are worth visiting.

The following is an overview of some of the most popular towns on the Algarve, broken up by the region’s unofficial divides: the Eastern Algarve, the Central Algarve, and the Western Algarve.

The Eastern Algarve

The Eastern Algarve is roughly everywhere East of Faro and as faro as the Spanish border. It’s less touristic than the Central Algarve and offers good access to nature – particularly the Ria Formosa Natural Park – as well as the ability to easily cross over into Spain.

Olhão

olhao

Olhão is a fishing town that still retains its strong fishing culture and is known for having one of the best fish markets on the Algarve and, naturally, some of the best seafood restaurants as well. Because of this, it attracts a lot of Portuguese from other parts of the Algarve.

  • Beaches: Yes, but you’ll need to take a ferry to get to them.
  • Touristy: Olhão mainly attracts Portuguese tourists.
  • Public transport: Olhão has both bus and train services and it’s only a short distance from Faro, which has many more connections.

Tavira

Praça da República Tavira

Tavira is a small town with lots of historical charm in the Eastern Algarve. It doesn’t have a beach that you can easily walk to, but there are a number of island beaches that you can take the ferry to.

  • Beaches: Yes, but you’ll need to take a ferry to get to them.
  • Touristy: Tavira is a little touristy, but generally draws an older and quieter crowd.
  • Public transport: Tavira has both bus and train services.

Read the Tavira Guide


Monte Gordo

monte gordo sun loungers

Monte Gordo is a typical seaside town with lots of high-rise blocks of apartments and a long, white sandy beach. The town itself has everything you need in terms of restaurants and cafés, and the beach is fantastic, but it doesn’t offer much besides a beach holiday.

Read the Monte Gordo Guide

  • Beaches: Yes, you can easily walk to Praia de Monte Gordo from the town centre.
  • Touristy: Yes, Monte Gordo has a touristy feel.
  • Public transport: Monte Gordo has both bus and train services.

Vila Real de Santo António

praca marques de pombal vila real de santo antonio

Vila Real de Santo António is a pleasant Algarve town that’s located just 3.5 kilometres inland from the Monte Gordo beach. It offers a little more authenticity than Monte Gordo, while still being near the beach, as well as easy access to Spain which is just across the river.

Read the Vila Real de Santo António Guide

  • Beaches: No. The nearest beach is around 3.5 km away.
  • Touristy: Vila Real de Santo António does attract tourists, but doesn’t feel overly touristy.
  • Public transport: Olhão has both bus and train services and it’s only a short distance from Faro, which has many more connections.

The Central Algarve

The Central Algarve is the most popular region on the Algarve and most of the Algarve’s most popular towns and most popular beaches are located here. Being in the centre, it also is a good base for exploring the whole of the Algarve.

Faro

A street in Faro

The capital of the Algarve, Faro is a charming small city that’s right next to Faro Airport and near to attractions like the Ria Formosa Natural Park. Faro doesn’t have a beach that you can walk to, but you can easily take a ferry to the islands from the city centre. There’s also a bus that goes from the city centre to the beach.

Although it only has a limited number of historical attractions, Faro has the most of any Algarve town.

  • Beaches: Yes, but you need to take a ferry, bus, or car.
  • Touristy: It’s popular, but it’s not resort-y
  • Public transport: As a hub for both trains and buses, Faro probably has the best public transport on the Algarve.

Read the guide to Faro


Loulé

Outside of Loule Market

Loulé is a traditional Portuguese town with several historical attractions and a popular Saturday market. Its inland location means Loulé tends to be more of a day trip destination for many people, most of whom visit it when the market is on.

  • Beaches: Loulé is located inland.
  • Touristy: Loulé does get a lot of tourists, particularly those interested in its market and cultural attractions.
  • Public transport: Buses. Loulé does have a train station but it’s situated 6 km from Loulé Town Centre.

Quarteira

Quarteira promenade

Although situated right next to Vilamoura, Quarteira doesn’t have the yachts and manicured lawns. Instead you’ll find a more traditional (although slightly touristy) seaside town with a great promenade and a nice, long beach.

  • Beaches: Yes, Vilamoura has a beach that you can walk to. There’s also a longer beach at nearby Quarteira.
  • Touristy: Vilamoura is touristy.
  • Public transport: Buses.

Read the Quarteira Guide


Vilamoura

Vilamoura Marina

With its famous marina and boutique restaurants, Vilamoura is more high-end than many of the other coastal towns.

  • Beaches: Yes, Vilamoura has a beach that you can walk to. There’s also a longer beach at nearby Quarteira.
  • Touristy: Vilamoura is touristy.
  • Public transport: Buses.

Read the Vilamoura Guide


Albufeira

Old Town albufeira

Albufeira is the most famous town on the Algarve, comprising of both the Old Town and the New Town (or The Strip). While its famous for attracting drunken Northern Europeans, particularly those on a stag or hen party, the Old Town also attracts plenty of families and other types of travellers. And, while many of the establishments are the kind that offer free shots and cheap pints, you’ll also find several higher end establishments nearby, including several Michelin-recommended restaurants.

  • Beaches: Yes, Albufeira has several beaches that you can walk to from both the Old and New Town.
  • Touristy: Albufeira is very touristy.
  • Public transport: Albufeira has a good bus station. It also has a train station, but it’s located around 6 km from Albufeira at Ferreiras.

Read the Albufeira Guide & The Guide to The Strip


Guia

Igreja Matriz da Guia

Guia acts as somewhat of an overflow to nearby Albufeira, often offering cheaper accommodation to those who are willing to be a little further from the coast. The town itself is not particularly charming but it makes up for that lack of charm with the number of piri-piri restaurants it offers.

  • Beaches: Guia is inland, so you’ll need to drive to get to the nearest beaches.
  • Touristy: Guia attracts lots of tourists, but it doesn’t have an overly touristy feel.
  • Public transport:

Read the Guia Guide


Armação de Pera

Beach in Armacao de pera

Armação de Pera is a coastal resort town, but one that typically attracts Portuguese rather than Northern Europeans. With plenty of high-rise blocks of apartments and ice-cream shops, it’s definitely a touristy town but, because of its clientele, it’s slightly different to the likes of Praia da Rocha or Albufeira.

  • Beaches: Yes, Armação de Pera has a long, sandy beach.
  • Touristy: Yes, Armação de Pera is touristy. It mainly attracts Portuguese tourists.
  • Public transport: Buses.

Carvoreiro

Carvoeiro

Carvoeiro is a coastal town that’s popular with families and also attracts quite a few expats who live there year-round. The beach at the town centre is quite small but there are lots of great other beaches nearby if you have a car.

  • Beaches: Yes, there is a small beach that you can walk to (Praia do Carvoeiro).
  • Touristy: Yes, Carvoeiro is quite touristy.
  • Public transport: Buses. Limited.

Read the Carvoeiro Guide


Silves

silves

Silves is a charming historical town with several famous attractions, including Silves Castle. It offers a good base for exploring both the nearby beaches and also the surrounding countryside, and is a popular destination for living as well.

  • Beaches: No, you’ll need to drive roughly 20 minutes to get to the nearest beaches.
  • Touristy: Silves mainly attracts older tourists interested in culture and walking.
  • Public transport: Silves has both bus and train services but the train station is located 2 km outside of the town centre.

Read the Silves Guide | Living in Silves


São Bartolomeu de Messines

Joao de Deus cinema Messines

Messines doesn’t have the same appeal that the nearby historical town of Silves has but, if you’re just looking for a base, it’s ideal for exploring this part of the Central Algarve. Both Messines and the area around nearby Tunes are both popular with expats who are looking for a cheaper alternative to the coast.

  • Beaches: No. Messines is located inland, so you’ll need to get a car or bus.
  • Touristy: Messines is not touristy.
  • Public transport: Messines has okay public transport, especially because it has a train station.

Read the Messines Guide | Book a Hotel Here | Live Here


The Western Algarve

The Western Algarve, which comprises of roughly everywhere west of Portimão, is considered to be the Algarve’s most rustic and least-spoilt region, particularly over on the West Coast. It’s popular with surfers and walkers, but is quickly growing in universal appeal as well.

Monchique

Monchique Rooftops

Located inland and at the highest point in the Algarve, Monchique is a popular destination for walkers, yoga enthusiasts, and lovers of all things green. It’s famous for its spa waters. Monchique is located quite far from the coast (roughly 30 minutes by car) but ideal for those that want a more rustic Algarve experience.

  • Beaches: No. The nearest beaches at Praia da Rocha are roughly 30 minutes by car.
  • Touristy: Monchique attracts tourists, but more the health-conscious variety.
  • Public transport: Monchique doesn’t have great public transport.

Read the Monchique Guide


Ferragudo

view of ferragudo

Ferragudo is a very small and very picturesque village on the western edge of the Central Algarve. It mainly attracts families and offers a quiet place to have as your base in the Algarve.

  • Beaches: Yes. You can walk to Praia da Angrinha, and the more beautiful beaches of Praia Grande and Caneiros are also accessible by car or taxi.
  • Touristy: Ferragudo does attract tourists, but it’s not resort-y.
  • Public transport: Ferragudo doesn’t have great public transport, although you can walk to the nearby train station at Parchal (2 km).

Read the Ferragudo Guide


Portimão

Portimao Riverfront

Portimão is the second-largest city on the Algarve although, at around 50,000 people, it’s still a very small city. Because it’s 2km from the nearest beaches at Praia da Rocha and Praia do Vau, Portimão isn’t very touristy. It’s much more of a residential area where local Algarvios live.

  • Beaches: The nearest beaches are 2 km from the city centre.
  • Touristy: Portimão isn’t very touristy but nearby Praia da Rocha is.
  • Public transport: With both a good bus and train station, Portimão is one of the better places for public transport.

Read the Portimão Guide | Living in Portimão


Praia da Rocha

Praia da Rocha morning

Although technically part of Portimão, the coastal resort area of Praia da Rocha is very different from the nearby city. While Portimão is quite traditional, Praia da Rocha is very much a holiday resort that’s perfect for those that just want sun, sea, and sand.

  • Beaches: Yes, Praia da Rocha has a huge beach that’s easy to walk to from the town centre.
  • Touristy: Yes, Praia da Rocha is very touristy.
  • Public transport: Lagos has good public transport with both a bus and train station.

Read the Praia da Rocha Guide


Alvor

fishermans huts alvor

Alvor is a pleasant and moderately-touristy fishing village with a beach that you can walk to within just a few minutes. While it is quite touristy, it has managed to hold onto a lot of its fishing village charm.

  • Beaches: Yes, you can walk to Praia dos Três Irmãos from the town centre.
  • Touristy: Yes, Alvor is touristy but it mainly attracts families and couples.
  • Public transport: Alvor doesn’t have very good public transport.

Read the Alvor Guide


Lagos

Lagos town centre

Lagos is one of the most popular towns on the Algarve. It attracts a large number of surfers who want to be near the West Coast as well as younger crowd, but it also attracts families and older travellers as well. During the summer it can be quite busy, but it’s not wild like other resort towns.

  • Beaches: Yes, you can walk to Meia Praia from the town centre.
  • Touristy: Yes, Lagos attracts a lot of tourists.
  • Public transport: Lagos has good public transport with both a bus and train station.

Read the Lagos Guide | Book a Hotel Here | Living in Lagos


Luz

Praia da Luz

Praia da Luz is a popular seaside town that’s touristy but quiet, and mainly attracts families. It has a medium-sized beach that you can easily walk to from the town centre, and it offers good access to the West Coast for those that have a car.

  • Beaches: Yes, Luz has a large beach that you can walk to from the town centre called Praia da Luz.
  • Touristy: Luz attracts plenty of tourists, most of which are families.
  • Public transport: Buses.

Sagres

A beach near Sagres

Sagres mainly attracts surfers, and the town is mainly made up of surf schools and burger bars. It’s quite a small place that doesn’t have the charm of other surfer hotspots on the West Coast, but it’s a good place to base yourself if your main priority is catching waves.

  • Beaches: Yes, there are several beaches that you can walk to from Sagres Town Centre.
  • Touristy: Sagres attracts a lot of tourists, almost all of which are surfers.
  • Public transport: Buses.

Read the Sagres Guide


Aljezur

Henry Navigator Statue Aljezur

Aljezur is a small, charming place with a castle and one of the larger towns in the Western Algarve. It’s not on the coast, which does mean a car is a good idea, but it offers good access to a lot of the surrounding countryside and West Coast beaches. It attracts people year-round, particularly those who come to surf.

  • Beaches: Aljezur is located a few kilometres from the nearest beaches, so you’ll need a car or bike to get to them.
  • Touristy: Aljezur does attract tourists, but mainly surfers and nature lovers.
  • Public transport: Buses.

Read the Aljezur Guide


Top Things to do on the Algarve

Lie on the beach

Praia da Falesia

The Algarve has more than 100 different beaches dotted across its coast, many of which are considered to be some of the most beautiful in the world. One of the top thing to do in the Algarve is simply to go and relax and lie on the beach.

Benagil Caves

Benagil Caves

The Benagil Caves, which are only accessibly by boat or kayak, are one of the main tourist attractions in the Algarve. Although they can be very busy during the summer months, seeing them is one of those must-do things on the Algarve.

Cabo de São Vicente

A beach near Sagres

The Cabo de São Vicente cliffs at Europe’s most South-Westerly point are an experience not to be missed. Stunning and postcard-perfect, they’ll be one of your favourite memories of the entire trip.

Regional Algarve Food

piri piri chicken
Piri-piri chicken and chips
Cataplana
A traditional cataplana dish
Mista Algarvia
Mista Algarvia dessert

 

Portuguese food on the Algarve is a mixture of traditional Portuguese dishes that you can find throughout the country and local Algarve dishes that aren’t really found anywhere else.

The nationally-available Portuguese dishes include dishes like caldo verde (a kale soup), pastéis de nata (the Portuguese custard tarts), and grilled fish dishes.

Regional specialities include cataplanas (a type of stew cooked in a clam-shaped dish), rural Algarve dishes like javali (wild board), and frango piri piri (piri-piri chicken). You’ll actually find piri-piri chicken in other parts of Portugal, especially at churrasqueira takeaway restaurants, but the best piri-piri restaurants are on the Algarve.

Read more about regional Algarve food

Accommodation

For short-term accommodation, like hotels, apartments, and villas, Booking.com and Airbnb are probably the two most popular sites.

Finding a longer-term rental normally means looking at classifieds sites, Facebook groups, or contacting estate agents. Don’t worry: the guide to renting in the Algarve covers it all.

A Month by Month Guide to 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 TempRainfall (mm)
January1678 (9 rain days)
February1772 (7 rain days)
March1839 (10 rain days)
April2038 (6 rain days)
May2221 (4 rain days)
June258 (1 wet day)
July291 (0 rain days)
August294 (0 rain days)
September2714 (2 rain days)
October2367 (6 rain days)
November1986 (8 rain days)
December1794 (9 rain days)

Getting around the Algarve

The easiest way to get around the Algarve, without a doubt, is with a car. Public transport is quite limited and can be challenging for first-time visitors to work out.

The Algarve does have a trainline which runs from Vila Real de Santo António in the East (next to the Spanish border) until Lagos in the West. It doesn’t stop at all of the towns, however, and often the train stations are located several kilometres outside of the town centres.

There are also local bus services, but it’s worth noting that these can be infrequent, particularly in the smaller towns and villages, and only take you to other towns rather than to the beach.

Of course, if you’re mainly planning on staying in a beachside town and spending the week by the beach then you probably won’t need a car. Taxis are available in most towns, along with taxi apps like Uber, and you can easily book an airport transfer from Faro Airport to your accommodation.

However, if you’re planning on exploring the Algarve, renting a car is basically essential. If you’re not able to do that, you should stay in a town with good public transport connections.

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Article originally published on 16 September, 2020

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