Last updated on October 31st, 2018 at 06:49 pm
Lying on the coast of Southern Portugal is a beach haven called Algarve. It is one of most visited parts of Portugal because of all the pristine stretches of sand and beautiful waters. Pair that with locals who speak English quite well, very safe surroundings and relatively cheap prices on most things to do in Algarve, and you got yourself a tourist paradise. In fact, the region received up to 7.1 million tourists in 2017. Wow! Make sure you read our full travel guide to visit Algarve with the best beaches to visit in Algarve, best places to visit in Algarve, festivals in Algarve, best time to visit Algarve and how to move around Algarve.
The beauty of the region’s coastal spots is undeniable. However, there are also plenty of hidden gems in Argave’s localities beyond the coast. Some of the best places to visit in Algarve include Serra de Monchique, a beautiful mountain range, and Ria Formosa, a beautiful lagoon. Algarve’s diversity is not only seen in nature but in its culture and history as well. There are many historic villages and castle towns to explore here.
We took a trip to the area to see the magic of Algarve for ourselves. Like many before us, we were enchanted by all the places to visit in Algarve and just couldn’t get enough of all the amazing things to do in Algarve. Here’s a guide on what you can do in this coastal treasure in Portugal:
How to get to Algarve
You can reach Algarve through international flights headed to Faro Airport. You can use airlines like TAP Portugal, Wizz Air and easyJet when going to Faro. You can then reach the bus and train terminal from the airport on a taxi if you wish to explore Algarve beyond the municipality of Faro.
For those coming from New York, you can get a ticket to Faro for as low as $250 USD. Those in London, you can get on a 3-hour flight to Algarve for less than £40 GBP. If you’re coming from Milan, you can reach Algarve for less than €70. You can always check SkyScanner.com to see the cheapest rates for your trip to Algarve.
There are daily buses coming from other parts of Portugal like Lisbon or Porto. A trip costs around €19 and takes 3 to 4 hours to get to Faro from Lisbon. If you’re on a Euro trip and decided to take on Algarve from Seville in Spain, you can also hop on a bus that goes to Faro. A ride costs roughly €20 and lasts for 4 to 5 hours. While it is possible to take a bus from Paris to Faro, a trip costs around €105 and lasts more than 24 hours. The most reliable bus companies that travel to Faro is Eurolines.
Riding the train is always a great time to go sightseeing and meeting fellow travelers. You can take a train from Lisbon’s Santa Apolinaria station to Faro. The trip lasts around 3 to 4 hours and costs €25, more or less.
From Ayamonte in Spain, you can go on a boat to the eastern bank of the Guadiana river to reach Vila Real de Santo António, a city in Algarve. This is a route mostly preferred by tourists than locals. The main harbors of Algarve are Faro and Portimao, where ferries by Naviera Armas conduct trips several days a month.
We reached Algarve in our road trip from Madrid to Lisbon. If you are coming from Lisbon, it will take you 3-4 hours depending on the stops and the route you decide to take. If you are coming from Seville or somewhere in Southern Spain, the trip can take up to 2-3 hours.
Transportation around Algarve
If you’re traveling to Algarve, learning how to get around the region is something you should really invest your time in, especially if you want to visit the more remote beaches and villages in the area. Although fares are much cheaper here than in other European destinations, some areas are not accessed by public transportation. Your best bet would definitely be to rent a car or even a vintage van for the ultimate Algarve road trip.
We totally recommend to do with a car or a van since you can travel free and reach all the beaches easier since there is almost no public transportation going there. If you go with your own vehicle you are more flexible, roads are in great conditions, there are free parking lots everywhere, supermarkets and restaurants for food or even connecting online anytime that you need.
No need to worry, though. Those keen on exploring the region with public transportation can use the train or the bus to go around Algarve. Linha do Algarve trains operate from coast to coast, with Lagos in the west and Vila Real de Santo António in the east. Those headed to Albufeira in the south can use the tourist train that goes from place to place in the coastal town.
You can get a tourist pass valid for 3 days (€30.10) or a week (€37.50) if you’re traveling on the bus. Many of Algarve’s major towns like Faro, Lagos, Albufeira, and Portimao are connected to each other by intercity bus networks. For example, a bus to Albufeira from Faro takes around 45 minutes and costs less than €5. Meanwhile, a trip from Faro to Lago can take as much as an hour and will cost around €6.
Best time to visit Algarve
Algarve has a Mediterranean climate so the coastal region experiences lengthy and lovely summers and very mild winters. This makes Algarve pretty much a year-round destination. The region boasts of having the best climate in Portugal, but if you want to experience the Portuguese cost at its warmest, the best time to visit Algarve are from July to September. However, you might want to avoid traveling in August since the summer holidays are the busiest and most expensive time to travel to Algarve. There are many things to do in Algarve even off season!
ATMs and Currency in Algarve
Portugal uses the Euro in their daily transactions. It is a very powerful currency and has an exchange rate of €1 = $1.16 USD. Click here to check the exact exchange rate before your travels! Great news: There are plenty of ATMs all over the Algarve region. In Portugal, an ATM is known as a Multibanco, a machine that not only dispenses cash but also accepts transactions like tax payments, ticket purchases and social security contributions. Using an ATM for a local can take up to 10 or 20 minutes, so you’ll just have to wait in line.
Take note that there’s a €200 limit for withdrawals each day, while there are also certain withdrawal fees per transaction. Here’s a couple of tips to avoid ATM fees: Book as much as you can online, from hotels to train tickets. You can also have your bank or an online currency shop get Euros sent to your account before leaving for Portugal.
Daily Budget to visit Algarve
Many may assume that traveling in such a touristic location like Algarve can be pretty expensive. We say it really depends on where you eat, where you sleep and what you do. If you choose to dine as the locals do and avoid fancy restaurants, you can spend as low as €6 for a three-course meal! On the other hand, a meal for two can cost as low as €20-45, depending on the kind and amount of food you consume. A bottle of beer in Algarve goes for €1-2.50 and won’t take much from your budget if you drink moderately. You can get coffee and pasteries for €1.
Since the region is a beach destination, there are many places to visit in Algarve that are free of charge. You can go beach hopping and visit a different area everyday without spending a single euro. Algarve is also a good hiking spot and the coasts and hills of the region are, of course, free to walk around on. If you’re thinking of learning how to surf, Algarve is a beautiful place to start. A 2-hour surf session in Western Algarve can cost €15-30 per person.
As we previously mentioned, renting a car during your trip to Algarve will have lots of benefits. One of which is being able to book accommodations in Algarve’s inland towns. Rooms and hotels here are much cheaper than those along the coast, but they are only 20 to 30 minutes away from the beach on a car. Another excellent way to save on accommodations is to travel out of season, say from October until March, when hotel deals abound. A room in a hostel can cost as low as €12 while mid-budget accommodations go for around €35-40. A very comfortable room in a beautiful resort can go for as low as €50, while luxury suites start at around €70. You can also try AirBnB in Algarve as we did in our road trip from Lisbon. Click here to get $30 USD off your first booking with AirBnB!
Places to visit in Algarve
If you’re looking for a town that has a more laid back vibe and less commercialized spots, Sagres will be a delight to visit. It lies at Algarve’s westernmost tip and is somewhat isolated from other places in the region. Because of this, dramatic landscapes and sceneries also abound in the area. This municipality is also a surfing hotspot and often attracts tourists into a rugged yet chill vibe. We can recommend the sunrise in the lighthouse Cap San Vicente is a beautiful are with amazing cliff views.
As Algarve’s capital and transportation hub, Faro is an oftentimes overlooked destination in the region. For those who do have the time to stop and explore the city, you’ll be surprised to see an interesting Old Town, beautiful museums, clean parks and plazas and lovely lagoons here. The nightlife in Faro is also very exciting, so you might want to spend at least one night in this capital. It´s a great point to settle and starting to move around. You will find everything you need for your trip around Algarve in Faro.
Located in the Faro district is Albufeira, a lovely fishing village that has been turned into one of the biggest resort towns in Algarve. There are plenty of activities to do and beaches to enjoy in Albufeira as it is the largest resort destination in the entire region. Albufeira is a great mix of tradition and modern life. Old Town that has restaurants serving authentic Portuguese cuisine while New Town has The Strip, a haven for clubs and bars perfect for a night of partying. Of course, the main attraction is still the beaches like Praia dos Pescadores, Praia da Coelha and Praia do Castelo.
Where to stay in Albufeira?
We chose to stay in Albufeira, Central Algarve when we visited Algarve because it´s halfway between Faros and Lagos. Our choice was Olhos de Agua, a small town with two beaches really close to our apartment. Praia de Falesia and Olhos de Agua are just 10-15 minutes walking distance. The location is great for going out for dinner since there are a few restaurants that are just also waking distance away. If you want to go by car, Albufeira town is only a 5 minutes drive. Click here to know more about rent in Albufeira and check their Instagram.
Another municipality in Faro is Monchique, a market town in Serra de Monchique. Unlike other destinations in the Algarve region, Monchique lies above the coast and therefore has cooler temperatures and spectacular views. The white walls of the houses and cobblestones on the street make Monchique an idyllic location for those who want to see a more relaxed and quiet side of Algarve.
Those who love exploring on foot will love the vibe of Tavira, a town that lies along the Gilão River. Tavira’s architecture is an attractive mix of traditional Portuguese and Moorish influences. The town is filled with historic buildings like Torre da Tavira, beautiful plazas and cobbled streets. It is a charming place that also has gorgeous beaches in Ilha da Tavira and a fun nightlife with one of the best clubs in Algarve, Ubi.
Another tourist hotspot in Algarve is Lagos, a resort town with lots of restaurants, bars, cafes and (of course) beaches to offer. Some famous spots in Lagos include Ponta de Piedade, a breathtaking viewpoint with gorgeous sandstone cliffs and a lighthouse, and the Bandeira Fort, a restored 17th century structure that was originally built to protect the port. Lagos is all about fun under the sun whether it be on its beaches or in its historical sites. It´s the most touristic destination in Algarve. Praia do Camilo, Praia Dona Ana and Farol da Ponta da Piedade are amazing places to spend the day, enjoying amazing views and taking incredible pictures.
Beaches to visit in Algarve
North West Beaches to visit in Algarve
Praia da Amoreira
Located in North West Algarve in the municipality of Aljezur is Praia Da Amoreira, a highly-recommended beach for tourists who enjoy vast beaches with thrilling waves. Praia Da Amoreira is where the Aljezur River meets the sea and is protected by the Vicentine Coast Natural Park. There’s plenty of good food sold at reasonable prices on this beach.
Praia da Arrifana
Another outstanding beach in Aljezur is Praia da Arrifana, a popular spot for surfers. Arrifana is an area in the municipality that has not been taken over by commercialism, though there are enough hotels and resorts in this village resting on cliffs above the beach. The soft sand and crystal clear water makes this a heavenly beach that’s close to perfect.
Praia de Monte Clerigo
Aljezur is home to many gorgeous beaches in Algarve, and one of them is Praia de Monte Clerigo, an idyllic paradise with thrilling cliff top walks, strong currents perfect for skimboarding, lovely dunes of sand, and a charming cafe. Despite its simplicity, Praia de Monte Clerigo is also one of the hundreds of Blue Flag beaches in Portugal.
Praia de Odeceixe Mar
Another cheap yet beautiful spot to learn how to surf in Algarve is Praia de Odeceixe Mar. Located in Aljezur, it is also located in the Vicentine Coast Natural Park, just a few kilometers west of the village of Odeceixe and around 30 minutes away from Praia da Amoreira. On the southside of the beach is Praia de Adegas, a naturist beach. It also lies on the mouth of a river, Rio de Seixe.
West Beaches to visit in Algarve
Praia da Falesia
One of the many long beaches in Algarve is Praia da Falesia, with shores stretching from Olhos de Água (near Albufeira) in the east and lovely Vilamoura in the west. It is another stunning beach with a truly great vibe, with its wooden steps leading to and from various places in the area. Praia da Falesia can also be reached from the Pine Cliffs resort through a glass lift that takes you to the boardwalk.
It’s one of our favorite beaches for relaxing and is not as accessible as other beaches so there’s always enough space for you to read, swim, sunbathe, surf and just chill.
Praia do Camilo
If you’re visiting Lagos, one of the best places to visit in Algarve would be Praia do Camilo. It is a paradise that can be reached by descending through the long, wooden stairs and is well worth the effort. Praia do Camilo is made of two beaches connected to each other by an artificial tunnel. The water is exceptionally pure and is a great place for snorkeling. It is one of the smaller beaches in the region so its best to visit during low tide so you can have plenty of space to sunbathe on.
We really loved Praia do Camilo because the water was so clean and crystal clear. Plus, the views were truly incredible. If you go on weekends and high season , you can expect the peach to be crowded.
Praia da Rocha
Those who love admiring breathtaking coastal views on a cliff would also enjoy doing so at Praia da Rocha, a beautiful beach in Portimao that’s busy with lots of shops, restaurants and bars. It is a vast beach that attracts many tourists all over the world with its beautiful waters and fine sand. From here, you can also visit the narrower yet quieter beaches of Praia dos Tres Castelos and Praia do Vau.
Praia dos Tres Irmaos
This is our favorite beach in Algarve and it’s located just a few kilometers from Lagos. There are several beaches here that you can access under the caves. The sunset along with the low tide was so beautiful and if you go to the far end of the beach, you will enjoy tranquility and even more space. The water is a clear blue, and if you go up the cliff, the views are really breathtaking.
Travel tip: It’s best to visit this beach before or during the sunset!
Praia de Benagil
This location can be found in a small town in the municipality of Lagoa. The views from the cliffs here are, as always, amazing. Praia de Benagil is a small area and is close to Praia da Marinha. You can take tours to see the caves during the day. Prices for the tours are €15 for 30 minutes, €25 for 1 hour and 15 minutes and €300 for a private tour.
Travel tip: To see the caves better, you should visit late in the afternoon and catch the low tide.
Other places to visit in Algarve
Ponta da Piedade
One of the most breathtaking places in Lagos is Ponta da Piedade, a viewpoint that offers dramatic views of the sea. From here, you can even see Sagres to the West and Carvoeiro to the east. Apart from the cliffs, there are natural tunnels, grottos and pillars here too. You can go on a boat tour to explore the formations and sea caves of Ponta da Piedade.
Travel tip: If you go first thing in the morning, you will avoid the influx of tourists that are arriving all day as part of a tour package. It is so much better to visit the site when it’s empty.
If you are a true nature lover and adventure seeker, you should definitely visit the limestone formations and cliffs in Algar Seco. The site is located in Carvoeiro and is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Algarve. You can spend just 15 minutes to an hour or so just walking up and down the cliffs, depending on whether you stop for photos or not. We suggest that you do, because Algar Seco has a view worth preserving.
Church of São Lourenço
From the outside, Igreja de São Lourenço looks just like an ordinary baroque church in Almancil. However, once you go in, you will be taken to a magnificent structure made of hand-painted blue and white Portuguese tiles. You will also see a golden altar that shines like the sun inside this church. The €2 entrance fee is definitely worth it!
Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos
If you’re into hiking and would love to see one of the best views in Algarve, head on out to Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos or “Seven Hanging Valleys.” The walk is made of huge limestone cliffs and covers Praia Vale de Centeanes and Praia da Marinha. Its trail is pretty easy to follow and offers unbelievably stunning views of the coast. This is one of the most Instagram-able places to visit in Algarve, for sure.
Cape Saint Vincent
Another point of interest in Sagres is Cape Saint Vincent, one of the best places to visit in Algarve for sunset and sunrise chasers like us. In fact, it was once believed that this is where the sun sets as it was thought to be the westernmost tip of the world. The location is rich both in legend and in history, with the Greeks calling it the Land of Serpents and the Romans dubbing it the Holy Promontory. Several naval battles have also been fought near Cape Saint Vincent.
Arco da Vila
The famous archway in Faro called Arco da Vila was established in 1812 and served as one of the medieval gateways to the city. The building is a gorgeous Italian neo-classical structure but is also hugely influenced by Moorish architecture on its walls. Entering the archway leads to Cidade Velha while climbing up the tower leads to a small exhibition and lovely views of Faro.
Things to do in Algarve
Dolphins are wonderfully intelligent creatures a real sight to behold, especially in their natural habitat. Fortunately, the Atlantic Ocean is home to many of dolphins and Algarve has some of the best spots to see them in action. Here you can find the Common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, Bottlenose dolphins and some porpoises and whales, too.
A tour usually lasts 1 hour to 3 hours and costs around €30-45, with lower rates for children. The best dolphin watching tours in Algarve can be found at Albufeira, Lagos, Olhão and Vilamoura.
Some may be surprised to know that Algarve is not just a beach destination but also a paradise for golfers. There are premier golf clubs all over the region. Some of the best golf places to visit in Algarve for golfers are Vilamoura, Almancil and Lagos. Golf is one of the best things to do in Algarve for those who want to unwind by themselves, catch up with friends, or spend time with family.
The best time to golf in Algarve (especially in Vilamoura) according to most golfers are between March and May, and from the middle of September to the middle of October. However, those who want to visit on the low season can do so from November to February and from July to August. The busy months of March to May and October to November go for around €80 for 18 holes while the low rates of €45-60 can be availed from June to September.
Cooked in a grill or in a frying pan, served with rice or corn, the seafood in Algarve is definitely something you shouldn’t miss. It is definitely one of the best things to do in Algarve and there are many unique seafood dishes to try here. From simple grilled sardines or fresh clams and cockles cooked in garlic & olive oil to a symphony of lobster, clams, squid, white wine, olive oil and tomatoes called Cataplana de Marisco, you can never go wrong with seafood in Algarve. You can share with wine since there are many great wines in Portugal. Prices are affordable and you can get a meal with wine for €15-25 depending on the restaurant that you choose.
Another highlight for a trip to Algarve is surfing the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The region’s pleasant climate and gorgeous beaches are loved by many tourists, many of whom are surfers. You can enjoy the sport all year round, though waves are bigger in winter than they are in the summer. The waves in the South West are popular for their consistency, especially those along the Vicentina Coast like Arrafina, Beliche and Castilejo.
More things to do in Algarve
Visiting water parks
Traveling to Algarve with children? Great news: There are several water parks in the region perfect for all ages that the family can enjoy! Aquashow Park is one of the most popular attractions in Quarteira where guests enjoy the water coaster, a big jacuzzi, single rider slides and many more. Slide & Splash in Lagoa is one of the largest water parks in Europe and is famous for the Disco River and the Black Hole.
The lovely coastal area of Algarve is not only home to numerous lovely beaches but is also a place to explore different caves. Various areas have one-of-a-kind formations like those of Benagil Cave in Lagoa, the Elefante in Lagos, and the arches in Praia da Marinha. These picturesque locations can be access on boat tours, kayaks or paddle boards.
Paddling and Kayaking
There are guide tours which last 2-3 hours and it costs €30-45 to visit caves with a tour guide. There’s also the possibility of renting out the equipment to yourself for the day or a few hours in many of the beaches in Algarve.
Food to Try in Algarve
Literally “beans” in Portuguese, feijoada is a stew made from beef, pork and beans that’s usually served with rice and different sausages. This dish is actually considered the national dish of Brazil, with origins fromthe Minho Province in Northern Portugal. It’s definitely a must-try in Algarve!
One of the delicious delicacies in Portugal is leitao, the country’s version of a suckling pig (like lechon in the Philippines!). The young pig is roasted in a wood oven and is basted with a mix of garlic, pepper, bay leaf, kosher salt and pig fat. This process makes the pig’s meat tender and moist and its skin, extra crispy. Rachel is trying lechon in all the countries in Europe so far ha!
A trip to Algarve will not be complete without eating sardines, a much loved fish in the region and even the entire country. Grilled sardines (sardinas assadas) is best eaten during summer and is abundant in festivals like Festa da Sardinha near Cascais and Saint Anthony’s Day in Lisbon.
Pasteis de Nata
A must-try pastry in Portugal are pasteis de nata, or egg custard tarts. These delicious treats are available in most cafes and restaurants in Algarve where you can get some fresh from the oven. Pasteis de nata can be eaten any time of the day but is best enjoyed at lunch time or in the afternoon.
Queijo means “cheese” in Portuguese and the country has plenty of delicious varieties that travelers will enjoy. Queijo Serra da Estrela is one of the most famous dairy products in the country and is made in one of the mountains of Continental Portugal. Other kinds of cheese include Queijo do Pico, Queijo de Nisa and Azeitao.
Though the heat in Algarve does not make room for wine to age delicately, there are plenty of red wines like Syrah, Alicante Bouschet and Aragonês (Tempranillo) that still offer great flavors in the region. Algarve’s climate produces wine that’s comparable to smoky sweet, dusty and juicy wines of Australia.
Festivals in Algarve
Carnival of Loulé
One of the biggest celebrations in the region is Carnival of Loulé, an annual celebration where participants get to wear masks all along the city’s streets. It is a 3-day party filled with parades, floats and all sorts of activities. There are satirical performances of the biggest events of the past year and a Gala Ball that follows a theme that its participants must follow.
This festival has been celebrated for oven 100 years and is usually held in February.
During the last 4 days of the year, residents and tourists in Albufeira enjoy the best of what the municipality has to offer, from arts and crafts to food. The goal of Medieval Paderne is to recreate the medieval markets that used to thrive along the alleys of Albufeira. Another highlight of the festival is the procession where the delivery of the Letter of Donation of the Castle of Paderne, a historical moment in Algarve’s history, is reenacted.
Ria Formosa Festival
A celebration of abundance and life that tourists from all over the world will enjoy is Ria Formosa Festival in Faro, Algarve. This gastronomical event is one of the biggest in all of Portugal and celebrates the richness of the seafood in Ria Formosa and all other regions’ specialties. The event is held at the end of July until the beginning of August, lasts for 10 days and opens from 7 PM to 1 AM.
We hope you enjoyed our Algarve travel guide! If there’s any destination in the region we missed, do let us know in the comments. We’d also love to hear about which places you’d want us to visit next! Tell us all about your trips, too. Can’t wait to hear from you!