The endless sea of the Algarve and its stunning beaches provide a wonderful holiday in the south of Portugal. The Algarve also has an abundance of historical monuments (such as castles or churches) and a verdant countryside. Because the Algarve has so much to see and do, it can seem like an impossible task to plan a family trip to the Algarve, which is why we have selected the very best of what the Algarve has to offer for you to be able to fully enjoy your visit.
In this guide we’ve focused on the Central and Eastern Algarve so that you don’t spend too much time travelling, but of course there is also plenty to do in the Western Algarve. We’ve also planned something for every day, but of course if you just want to enjoy the sunshine by the pool then that is a great option too!
Day 1: Morning – Zoomarine
Day 1: Afternoon – Visit Albufeira
Day 2: Silves – Visit castle
Day 2: Afternoon – Visit Portimão
Day 3: Morning – Portimão
Day 3: Afternoon – Boat trip to see dolphins
Day 4: Waterpark
Day 5: Faro
Day 6: Morning – Strolling through Tavira
Day 6: Afternoon – Beaches of Tavira
Day 7: Vila Real de Santo António
Day 1 (Albufeira)
Morning: Have fun at the theme park Zoomarine with the rest of your family. Enjoy fun rides and roller-coasters as well as the famous dolphin, sea lion and pirate shows. At Zoomarine you can even swim with dolphins, but please note that needs to booked well in advance and costs extra. There’s also an aquarium and a beach and pool area to relax by. Delight your kids with a trip to Zoomarine and provide them with a day not to forget.
Alternative/Afternoon: If you don’t want to spend the whole day at Zoomarine or fancy something different the head to Albufeira. Despite being famous for stag and hen dos, Albufeira maintains a family vibe, especially in the Old Town, where the many restaurants and terraces facing the sea are full of families enjoying the lively atmosphere of one of the most family-friendly holiday destinations in the world. Enjoy the different beaches of Albufeira and the infinite amount of attractions during your amazing family holidays.
We highlight the following beaches
Praia dos Pescadores – This beach was originally the main beach of the small fishing village of Albufeira, which is why today it is known as Praia dos Pescadores (Fishermen’s beach). This small and charming beach, with white sand and blue water, lies to the east of Albufeira’s Marina.
Praia dos Arrifes – This splendid beach is known for its natural beauty. The small cove surrounded by rock formations forms true spectacles of light and colour. The beach with several caves and nooks is ideal for a quiet and discreet late afternoon, away from the crowds of other beaches.
Praia de São Rafael – Praia de São Rafael is hidden by steep rocks and vegetation, providing moments of pure relaxation away from tourists who do not know this little paradise. The rocky formations make this a very sought after beach for snorkelling or diving because of the kind of reefs they create.
Evening: At the end of the day, enjoy a stroll through the Marina of Albueira, where there are plenty of restaurants and there is a karting track, bowling alley and other activities to keep all the family entertained.
Day 2 (Silves & Portimão)
Morning: On the second day of your visit to the Algarve, we suggest that you visit Silves. Silves was the ancient capital of the Algarve region and is full of history. Silves conserves to this day a medieval atmosphere that attracts thousands of people every year, with its high point being the medieval fair that it hosts at the end of Summer and is organised in the most imposing and well preserved castle of the Algarve.
The Castle of Silves is more than a thousand years old. Built by the Arabs at the highest point of the hill in which the city lies, the castle is shaped in the form of an irregular polygon. At the entrance we can see a bronze statue of king Dom Sancho I, conqueror of Silves in the year 1189.
Afternoon: Known as the city with some of the best fish in Portugal, Portimão is the second largest city in the Algarve, having developed at rapid pace during the second half of the Discoveries due to its western geographic location, which kept it safe from Spanish invasions. Curiously, Portimão is also known for its nut and canned fish industries, as it exported those products all over the world during Second World War. Nowadays the most important economic sector in Portimão is tourism. People from over the world choose Portimão as their holiday destination because of its astonishing beaches, rich history and gorgeous marina.
Main activities and places and buildings to visit
Igreja Matriz de Portimão – Igreja Matriz de Portimão was first built in the 15th century but it had to be rebuilt during the 18th and 19th centuries following the massive 1755 earthquake that devastated most Portuguese cities. The sculptures of musicians and women at the late-Gothic portal were inspired by Mosteiro da Batalha, one of the most famous Portuguese monuments. Because of all the renovations that the church suffered, the building present a mix of artistic styles such as the Baroque, the Rococo and the Manueline.
Igreja do Colégio dos Jesuítas – During a storm at sea, Diogo Gonçalves found refuge in the safe harbour of Portimão. As a thank you, he decided to build Igreja do Colégio dos Jesuítas at the end of the 17th century. The bizarre yellowish exteriors hide a simple interior where the tomb of Diogo Gonçalves lies.
Museu de Portimão – This interesting museum uses brand new technology to provide a dynamic and interactive visit. Interestingly, the museum which tells the tale of Portimão’s history sits in an old centenary fish canning factory.
Forte de Santa Catarina – This picturesque fort watches over the Rio Arade and still to this day is a memory of shameful days for the Portuguese nation, as it was built during the dark period of the Portuguese history when independence was lost because of a fourteen year old heir who decided to get killed in a nonsense battle in North Africa and matrimonial ties connecting the Portuguese crown to Spanish kings. The fort kept its defensive purposes until the end of the 20th century, being occupied by the Maritime Police and the Fiscal Guard.
Watching a professional beach soccer match – Beach soccer is an incredibly difficult sport to play, as it requires tremendous ball control as well as gymnastic abilities to be able to do to those amazing bicycle kicks players are always making. Portimão is probably the best city in Portugal to watch a beach soccer match as it hosts the Mundialito de Futebol de Praia, a competition organised by Beach Soccer Worldwide, FIFA’s partner, and the Portuguese Stage of the European Beach Soccer League.
Day 3 (Portimão)
Morning: Take the morning of the third day to enjoy the magnificent beaches of Portimão. Portimão has some of the best beaches in the Algarve with calm and transparent water and a lot of sand ideal for playing soccer, rackets or volleyball without the rest of the people present at the beach being disturbed.
Portimão’s best beaches for families
Praia da Rocha – Praia da Rocha is one of the most famous beaches in the Algarve due to its translucent waters, warm sand and rocky formations. If you look up from the beach you will be able to see Fortaleza de Santa Catarina and Miradouro dos Três Castelos, a natural viewpoint on this part of the region because of the incredible beauty of the beach and its breath-taking sunsets.
Praia do Vau – The calm sea and plenty accesses make this the ideal beach for families with small children. Praia do Vau also has the bonus of being sheltered from the east and west winds due to its cliffs, which also provide natural shadows to keep you fresh during the hottest hours.
Praia de Alvor – Praia do Alvor is famous for the marine life that habits its waters and for the Gold Quality award that it has received because of its impeccable hygiene conditions.
Praia dos Três Castelos – Thin golden sand together with beautiful rocky formations and a warm blue ocean make this one of the most popular beaches in Portimão. The strong colours that seem to dance on its cliffs make this a paradise for photography enthusiasts. Have fun exploring the nearby caves at Praia dos Três Castelos.
Afternoon: Take the afternoon to embark on a boat trip through the amazing coastline of the Algarve to see dolphins. The Algarve is one of the favourite destinations of these wild and friendly animals. Every year, hundreds of dolphins head to the Portuguese southern coast to enjoy its warm waters. So that you don’t miss these fast creatures, the trip is done on a high speed boat which will make you feel that you’re flying and jumping with the dolphins. Don’t miss this epic and full of joy trip.
Day 4 (Water parks)
The amazing water parks in the Algarve will provide your kids with so much fun that they will never forget the day. Giant slides and roller-coasters, reptiles shows as well as bird and parrots shows, make for an exciting day. Head to Aquashow, Slide & Splash or Aqualand and dare yourself to ride the adrenaline packed rides. Each water park also has plenty of green spaces with shady areas where you can have a picnic or simply relax.
Day 5 (Faro)
Morning: Take the morning of the 5th day to stroll through Faro. This charming city echoes with history. Ossónoba, as it was originally named, was founded by the Phonecians in the 8th century b.C. and only in 1249 did it become Portuguese when the armies of King Dom Afonso III managed to conquer the city. Faro would be of enormous importance during the Discoveries due to its proximity to the African continent and calm waters.
Places and buildings to visit
Cidade Velha – Cidade Velha is the historical centre of the city. Its name means Old Town in English as it has managed to keep its traditional cobble narrow streets and white washed houses, instead of the modern buildings that were built in other parts of the city. The Old Town is surrounded by imposing walls dating back to the 9th century and to access it you must first cross the famous Arco da Vila at the top of which sits Saint Thomas Aquinas, the city’s saint.
Cathedral of Faro – This Cathedral was built over the ruins of an Arab mosque, which was in its turn built over the ruins of a Roman temple, giving it a strange architectural style. When you visit the Cathedral, please take note of the statue of the Blessed Mother which is always surrounded by flowers, and the beautiful Chinese drawings on the red organ.
Igreja Matriz São Pedro –After being forced to abandon Church of St. Maria, the Order of Santiago decided to build a new church in 1577 where it stood a small fishermen’s chapel, thus giving rise to Igreja Matriz São Pedro. The chruch’s interior is decorated in gold. The artistically crafted altarpieces are its main attraction.
Igreja do Carmo – Igreja do Carmo’s interior constitutes the best example of the Baroque architecture in the Algarve. The construction of the church was ordered by the Third Order of Nossa Senhora do Monte do Carmo between 1713 and 1719. Its symmetrical façade in the style of Dom João V and richly crafted altar are its main attractions. The famous Bone Chapel of Faro is located at Igreja do Carmo.
Faro’s Bone Chapel – 1250 monks’ bones were used to build this terrifying Bone Chapel at a time when the Faro’s cemetery had no more space to bury the city’s dead.
Afternoon: In the afternoon, we suggest that you visit Faro’s Island, where you can go canoeing, sailing and try stand up paddle, in the Natural Reserve of Ria Formosa, or surf and bodyboard in the sea of Faro’s Beach. Children will surely love any of the nautical activities that the Centro Náutico de Faro has to offer, making this an unforgettable afternoon.
Day 6 (Tavira)
Morning: For the sixth day of your visit to the Algarve, we recommend a visit to Tavira. Tavira’s ravishing beauty will definitely enchant you as it is impossible to resist the charm of its white washed houses, cobble streets, dazzling churches and marvellous river. The natural beauty of its beaches and the warm sea temperatures that on a daily basis rise above 25ºC make this a perfect family holiday destination. Besides that, Tavira is also rich in history with plenty of buildings and church that deserve a visit.
Buildings and places to visit
Historical centre – You will recognise the historical centre of Tavira because of its cobble stone streets and small white washed houses, the trademark of a traditional Algarvian house. It is here at the historical centre that the River Gilão chooses to cross the city.
Roman Bridge over River Gilão – Even though this bridge is widely known as the “Roman Bridge” many historians argue that because of its many reconstructions hardly does the bridge conserve any Roman vestige. It was over this bridge that one the most important moments in the History of the Algarve took place. In the middle of the dynastic crisis of 1383 – 1385, Portuguese soldiers battled and defeated Spanish invaders.
Tavira Municipal Museum – This important museum is split into time periods in order to pay homage to the different occupation periods of the Algarve such as, for example, the Roman or the Islamic. With the intent to preserve and divulge the rich History of Tavira, the museum’s main attraction is the Vase of Tavira, a truly unique Islamic piece that has no equal in the rest of the world.
Castelo de Tavira – Tavira’s Castle sits at the top of Santa Maria’s hill to watch over the whole city. The castle was built by the Moors and went under constructions in the 13th and 14th centuries after Christian forces conquered it. After an epidemic of cholera killed a big part of the city’s population, the castle was used as a cemetery during the 19th century.
Forte de São João da Barra – This four-pointed star fortress was erected at the end of the 17th century to safeguard Ria Formosa and Tavira’ harbour. Encircled by a moat, the fortress exhibits the Portuguese coat of arms on its main arch.
Convento de Nossa Senhora da Graça – Convento de Nossa Senhora da Graça was the biggest convent in the Algarve at the time it was built because of a promise king Dom Manuel I made in case the Moors were to lift the siege of a Portuguese possession in North Africa. As the king believed it was God’s power that made the Moors lift the siege, he ordered the construction of the convent (and which is why it exhibits a manueline architecture style). Its beautiful entrance adorned with symbols of the Discoveries are the biggest attraction of the convent.
Igreja da Misericórdia de Tavira – Built between 1541 and 1551, this is the most notable building of the renaissance era in the Algarve and its main constructor was André Pilarte who also worked in the famous Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon. Nowadays, its interior is decorated with a set of blue and white tile panels from the 18th century.
Afternoon: Enjoy spending the afternoon in the quiet and peaceful beaches of Tavira. Although Tavira offers several stunning blue flag beaches (with the exception of Praia Naturista), we recommend Praia da Ilha de Tavira and Praia do Barril as the most family-friendly beaches.
Praia da Ilha de Tavira – Praia da Ilha de Tavira sits on the Island of Tavira and to reach it you must take a ferry across the magnificent waters of River Gilão. The ride is really pretty and should be considered an attraction by itself. The peacefulness of the river will prepare you to corner of heaven that is Praia da Ilha de Tavira with its golden sand.
Praia do Barril – Praia do Barril, also located at Tavira’s Island, can be reached by walk or by train. We highly recommend that you take this train as it is a very picturesque red and black locomotive and takes you across the muds and fauna and flora of the island. The white clear sand and blue waters will provide you with an amazing beach day.
Day 7 (Vila Real de Santo António)
Morning: For the last day we recommend that you visit the border town of Vila Real de Santo António. The city is bordered by the Guadiana River (which establishes the southern border between the two countries of the Iberian Peninsula), making it one of the most beautiful cities in the Algarve. Marquês de Pombal, the prime-minister of king Dom José I, decided to build the city so that there were people constantly guarding the limits of the Portuguese territory, in 1773.
Places and buildings to visit:
Praça Marquês de Pombal – Formerly known as Praça do Comércio, Praça Marquês de Pombal is the main square in the city where the Obeslisk stands right in front of Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação. At the time of its construction, the architect tried to place the square as near as possible of the Guadiana River. At the square there used to be Casa da Câmara, jail and the Body of Guard.
Obelisk – Conceived to be in perfect harmony with the whole square and in sync with Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação, this is one of the main monuments of Vila Real de Santo António.
Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação – Built in the 18th century using a Pombaline religious architecture style, the church is of a longitudinal plant, composed of a single nave with lateral altars, a baptismal chapel, a sacristy, a quadrangular main chapel and two corridors. The stained glass windows of the 1940s, which are placed in the main chapel and the baptistery, are works of the painter Joaquim Rebocho. The main altar has the image of the patroness of Our Lady of the Incarnation.
Vila Real de Santo António Lighthouse – Located on the right bank of the Guadiana River, the Lighthouse of Vila Real de Santo António started operating in 1923. From the top of its 40 meters there is a superb view over the mountains and the sea, the coast of Andalusia and the Castle of Castro Marim.
Afternoon: During the afternoon, visit Alcoutim and older kids (over 14) can take the zip line that runs from Portugal to Span! The 720m ride takes you across the border at speeds of up to 80kmh making lots of fun and (if you can dare to look!) some amazing views.