Discovering a new destination means exploring the best of its local attractions. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to spend a small fortune on theme parks, water parks, museums and excursions. In the Algarve there is plenty you can do for free to enjoy its finest natural attributes.
From beaches and walkways to natural springs, vibrant municipal markets, mountain tops and street entertainment, it certainly rings true in the Algarve that the best things in life are free.
Obviously we couldn’t compile this list without mentioning the Algarve’s beaches. Some long golden stretches of sand, others small alcoves ensconced by dramatic rock formations and high cliffs, with turquoise waters that beckon swimmers. The Algarve’s beaches are among the finest in Europe and free to enjoy. Stretch out and soak up the sun in summer, or enjoy a refreshing long walk on a mild winter’s day. Whatever time of year you visit, the Algarve has beaches for everyone.
The water’s not hot but it is crystalline and refreshing on a hot summer’s day. The Algarve is dotted with many picturesque natural water features, such as the Pêgo do Inferno (Hell’s Pit) waterfall in Santo Estêvão (Tavira) the natural springs in Estômbar, the famous Monchique Fontes (springs) and the Alte springs. Further inland there is the lesser-known Benémola Spring, in the countryside between Quarença and Tôr (Loulé). These beauty spots are generally equipped with picnic tables and bbq facilities as well as being skirted by scenic walks, so all you have to do is bring a picnic and a towel, and enjoy an alternative to the beach.
For another alternative to a day at the beach, head to one of the Algarve’s six large dams. Take an inflatable or a lilo, a good book, and something comfortable to sit or lie on (as the area surrounding the dam is usually slate), and enjoy the mirror-lake calm waters that warm up nicely by late-summer. The Odiáxere/Bravura Dam in the western Algarve (Lagos) is a peaceful, picturesque spot a 15 minute drive out of Lagos. Odelouca Dam, which stretches between the mountainous regions of Monchique and São Marcos da Serra, is a secluded oasis far away from the coast, while in the county of Silves are the popular Funcho and Arade dams. Further east, towards the Spanish border, are the Odeleite and Beliche dams, in Castro Marim, which flow into the Guadiana River that divides Portugal from neighbouring Spain. These are wild spots, not really equipped to cater for bathers, so don’t expect to find lifeguards, toilets, showers or bars and cafés on-site. But if it’s quiet, unspoiled nature that you’re looking for, these are the places to go. Locals can often be found enjoying the dams with bbqs and kayaks and most make it a daytrip with the family.
Stand on the Algarve’s highest peak
Make the trip to Monchique and take a snap standing on the highest point in the Algarve: Fóia Peak. At 902 meters, on a good day Fóia offers incredible panoramic views over the Algarve, from Lagos to Albufeira and beyond, and the entire coastline in-between.
In recent years a number of expansive wooden walkways – or Passadiças, in Portuguese – have been built in many of the Algarve’s counties to provide visitors with scenic and safe walking routes. One of the most popular and largest in the Algarve is the vast Alvor Walkway, which spans over six kilometres, connecting the Três Irmãos beach to the Ria lagoon. The scenery en-route varies from marshy wetlands peppered with boats and birds to sweeping vistas over Meia Praia and Lagos, and back along Alvor’s golden coastline. A little further east along the coast, in the village of Carvoeiro, is another stunning cliff-top walkway, the Algar Seco boardwalk, which starts at the Boneca rock formation and stretches all the way along the cliff-tops to the pretty Nossa Senhora da Encarnação Fort. Make sure to bring a camera as the coastal views along this boardwalk are incredible. In the eastern Algarve, a brand new walkway expanding about three kilometres hems the Monte Gordo beachfront.
To really get a feel of the hustle and bustle of the Portuguese way of life head to a local farmer’s market or municipal market. To start with one of the Algarve’s most iconic markets, head to Loulé. The Arabian inspired domes and pink trim have made this market a bit of a local landmark. Every Saturday it bursts to life when the local farmers’ market is held, showcasing heaps and mounds of locally-grown produce. Flanked by picturesque cobbled streets and in the shadow of Loulé castle, the market also has several food-stalls, where visitors can try to local fare. Inaugurated in 1908, the market today also sells ready-to-go regional fare like jams and honeys, liqueurs and cured meats. If fish is your thing, Olhão market is the place to head. Piled high with all types of freshly caught fish, it is a hive of activity that perfectly embodies Olhão’s seafaring history.
You may also enjoy our article Top Markets in the Algarve.
The Algarve has a year-round programme of entertainment for visitors to enjoy, and a specifically-designed programme – 365 Algarve – to provide entertainment during low-season. While shows like theatre plays and jazz sessions in wineries will entail a fee, other shows are free for the entire town to enjoy, usually coinciding with the likes of New Year’s Eve or during summer. The Regional Algarve Tourist Board in collaboration with local councils regularly organise open air concerts in town centres, beachfronts and riversides. For more information on what’s on in the Algarve, see: www.365algarve.pt
Get down with the locals and join in the Algarve’s best street parties. If you like to boogie into the early hours, here are a few of the region’s best street parties to pen into the agenda.
Black & White Night, Carvoeiro – usually in June – Annual street party to mark the summer solstice that packs the streets of quaint Carvoeiro. This massive shindig with live DJs and street artists is widely considered the unofficial start of summer and the dress code is … Black and White! Find out more here.
Loulé White Night, Loulé – 31 August – Summer comes to a end with a bang in Loulé with White Night. Held every two years, the entire city centre is dressed in white to bid farewell to summer, with a fantastic night-long line up of DJs and bands. Find out more here.
SITA Carnival, Alvor, May – what started out as a privately-organised event has gone on to become one of the biggest and most popular street parties in the Algarve. Locals now eagerly look forward to the SITA – Soul in the Algarve Street Party – Carnival parade and dress up accordingly to take part in the merriment.
Contraband Festival, Alcoutim March – Staged over three days, the Contraband Festival is a nod to the notorious tales of smuggling that supposedly took place between Spain and Portugal across the Guadiana River. It is a lively event over the last weekend in March, involving artistic and cultural shows and a myriad of food, arts and crafts stalls as well as street entertainment.