Portugal has been hitting the top spot on the tourist radar for a few years now and with such accolades as “World’s Leading Destination 2017”, “Best European Destination”, “Top 10 Safest countries in Europe” and “Best place to retire in Europe” it should certainly be on your holiday shopping list.
While some visitors to the Algarve just want to enjoy the beach or pool (and there’s nothing wrong with that!) some visitors are curious to explore further afield to get to know the ‘real Algarve’ with its fantastic countryside, coast, culture and traditions.
For first time visitors with so much choice, it can be hard to know where to start as each town has it’s own character and can differ significantly from buzzing party towns to sleeping fishing villages.
So let’s begin our tour in the west and work our way back to the Spanish border.
The most south-westerly point of Europe and this is indeed a unique and unmissable sight in Europe. Also as you’ll see from the photos below, it offers some breathtaking views of the cliffs. The historic fort and lighthouse and fantastic surf conditions bring visitors back, year after year.
Sagres has something for every visitor. We are sure you’ll love the open roads which lead to Sagres and ensure that the journey is as enjoyable as the destination.
A city with many attractive attributes that are popular with a very wild spectrum of people. Culturally rich, great for lovers of fine food and wines, surfers, shopping fans and partygoers alike. You’ll find some incredibly beautiful beaches, caves and scenery that will have you constantly reaching for your camera.
A cute little town, packed with shops, bars and restaurants with fantastic, long, sandy beaches, whitewashed houses, cobbled street and a stunning estuary. This is a popular town both with the winter sun seekers and the summer holiday visitors. There are loads of things to do here, and it’s an excellent base for exploring from.
Heading away from the coast and the busier beach resorts, up into the hills, you’ll find Monchique. An important and historical village with natural springs, a charming square, artisan products, organic producers and home to the local fire-water Medronho.
Portimão and Praia da Rocha
Portimao is going through a regeneration period and has some cool bars, shops and taverns down the winding old cobbled streets. Significant investment is helping to bring the city back to its former glory.
Praia da Rocha is an extension of Portimao and is home to some excellent beach clubs, lots of bars and restaurants and a beautiful long, sandy beach. The Marina is where you’ll catch the boat trips and find a massive inflatable play park in the sea which is always a hit with the kids. Day and night offer very different experiences.
Think of a picture postcard perfect fishing village with cobbled streets and old Portuguese buildings and you’ve got Ferragudo. The small town stems off a central square that is home to a few bars and restaurants. You can take a water taxi over to Portimao / Praia da Rocha or enjoy a “Magic Sunday” of live music at the popular beach bar, Club Nau.
A popular tourist village that is home to an astounding amount of restaurants that still maintains a charming seaside resort feel to it. The beach area is the most featured photograph in international publications when they are referring to living in Portugal. It’s “that pretty”. Carvoeiro is popular for villa holidays and golfers alike.
The “Algar de Benagil” cave is an iconic sight in Europe with the open ‘eye’ formation making it top of every photographer’s list and a must-see for visitors to Portugal.
If you’re travelling by car, you will be pleased to hear that additional car parking has been added to the town making it even easier to visit Benagil. However if you prefer a more relaxed journey to Benagil then boat trips are available from many of the marinas in the Algarve.
A large, red stone, Moorish Castle dominates the skyline and is surrounded by traditional buildings that are home to a variety of restaurants, great cafes, homes and shops. Silves was hugely important historically, and you’ll find a couple of museums near the centre, with one in the castle itself and one in the lower part of the city.
Great for local food, famous for oranges and they also host a fantastic, medieval festival in the middle of August every year. Sensible footwear is recommended as the steep cobbles can be really difficult to navigate.
Albufeira Old Town
Albufeira was the original Algarve tourism hotspot and has gone through a few transformations over the years. Now the old town is a great place to visit for everyone with shops, restaurants, bars, activities and entertainment all year round. Very popular with locals and winter sun lovers offseason and a busy, family-friendly resort during the school holidays.
Albufeira The Strip
Love it or hate it, the Strip in the new town of Albufeira is the top spot for nightlife in the area with bars all the way up and down the strip fighting for your business, the neon lights and booming tracks keep party-goers coming back for more until the sun comes up.
A sheltered Marina, just on the outskirts of Albufeira old town where things are a lot calmer than the centre, and you can enjoy a boat trip, indoor karting experience, Segway or even just sit back with a refreshing drink and watch the world go by.
North of Albufeira, you’ll find the delightful village of Alte. Inland and a refreshing change from the busy coast. It’s a typical and cute, Algarve village. To the east, there’s a series of waterfalls, which make a lovely spot for a picnic or a relaxing day in the countryside.
If you love exclusive yachts, Marina lifestyle and people watching, head to Vilamoura to hang with the beautiful people. The Marina is bursting at the seams in the summer months with chic beach clubs and exclusive events. While a little more sleepy in the winter, that is also a great time to have a stroll around and enjoy the view. There are plenty of boat trips and excursions leaving from the Marina and some fabulous yachts for hire.
Home of the annual White Party, Carnival, street parties and a bustling market town. Loule has a great variety of shops, restaurants and architecture to keep visitors busy for a day and it’s quite popular with the arty scene too.
Much more than the home of the airport! Faro is a buzzing city with a great University vibe and loads of funky eating and drinking joints. It’s also a very pretty old town, perfect for a day of mooching around looking at old architecture and there’s a great shopping area in the old downtown area. You can take trips on the Ria Formosa from here too.
The Ria Formosa Natural Park was awarded the honour of being named as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal in 2017 and rightly so! Spanning 18,000 hectares with five barrier-islands, two peninsulas that extend through five municipalities, this unique, coastal lagoon is breathtakingly beautiful, and a boat tour will give you access to some places where you will feel like you’re in another world.
The lagoon boasts one of the largest Seahorse populations in the world and is home to a variety of endangered species. Look them up; there are too many to list.
Loved for its old world charm but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a sleepy village. Tavira is becoming more popular with foreign investors, and as such, more new restaurants, bars, and places to visit are opening.
With the transformation from a fishing village into a popular resort town, Monte Gordo is now popular with many Portuguese and international visitors, it strikes a great balance and offering an excellent Summer resort option.
The stunning beach glows with golden sands, stretching for miles and it’s a lot less crowed than many others along the coast. As the town is primarily aimed at Portuguese tourists, it offers a good selection of restaurants and bars that still give great value for money.
Vila Real de Santo António (VRSA)
The last resort of the Algarve, on the East coast. VRSA is surrounded by water, the Rio Guadiana, which is the river that divides the Algarve from Spain and the Atlantic to the South. Rich with ornate Baroque Architecture and easily navigated, the town was designed by the Marquês de Pombal and is well worth a visit. You can catch a small ferry that will take you over to the neighbouring Spanish town of Ayamonte for a change of scenery, language and culture.
Yes, we know it’s not the Algarve but it’s so close, it would be rude not to mention it! The buzzing heart of Andaluz, home of Flamenco and some of the tastiest tapas, ever. Seville is terrific but we wouldn’t recommend going there between June and September unless you don’t mind the heat. For most it’s much wiser to stay on the Algarve coast and enjoy the summer breeze.
Other information you might find useful:
Hiring a car is still the best way to get around the Algarve and you might enjoy our guide on Car Hire and Driving Tips for Portugal if this is your preferred option.
Public transport is great value in the Algarve and shouldn’t be ignored however there are some difficulties with train stations located out of town and bus services infrequent, however fear not our guide to Buses & Trains in the Algarve should help you get started.
Alternatively if you prefer to leave it to the professionals with an expert guide, or simply don’t want to drive or rent a car, then you might prefer a guided tour.