The Algarve is the main beach destination in Portugal and the most sought after for sun and sea holidays. It has beaches for all tastes, from vast stretches of sand between giant cliffs, to small coves of clear water and even paradisiacal islands just minutes away from the coast. It has as many faces as types of beaches and it is worth spending several days to discover something from each of them, although if you only have a long weekend, it will be worth it
Apart from the beaches, it hides cities that give a history lesson at every step we take, reflecting a heritage and cultural legacy of many centuries, villages where time has stopped and where the old and the new coexist in harmony, mountains that invite you to walk through trails of several kilometers and a biodiversity that is grateful of the region being crossed by several protected natural parks.
In this guide we try to reflect all that the Algarve has to offer, from one coast to the other without forgetting its interior, with practical tips, itineraries from 2 to 7 days, where to stay and even where to eat to make your trip as incredible as ours has been.
- Basic facts for traveling to the Algarve
- When to go to the Algarve: weather and best months to enjoy the beach
- How to get to the Algarve
- How many days to spend in the Algarve
- Things to do in the Algarve
- Map of the Algarve: Where is the Algarve?
- The Algarve from Spain to Faro
- The Ria Formosa and its islands and beaches: Tavira, Culatra/Farol, Armona, Fuseta, Cacela Velha…
- What is Ria Formosa (Ria Formosa Natural Park)?
- Visiting the Ria Formosa Natural Park
- Cacela Velha: Praia da Fábrica and Praia de Cacela Velha
- Ilha de Cabanas and Cabanas Beach
- Tavira and Praia da Ilha de Tavira
- Santa Luzia, Praia do Barril, Praia do Homem Nu and Praia da Terra Estreita
- Fuseta and Praia da Fuseta
- Ilha da Armona and Praia da Armona
- Ilha da Culatra and Farol: one of the best surprises of the Algarve
- Alcoutim and Odeleite
- Castro Marim
- The Ria Formosa and its islands and beaches: Tavira, Culatra/Farol, Armona, Fuseta, Cacela Velha…
- The Algarve from Faro to Lagos
- Quarteira and surroundings
- Loulé and surroundings
- Albufeira and surroundings
- Armação de Pera and surroundings
- Carvoeiro and surroundings
- Ferragudo and surroundings
- Portimão and surroundings
- Alvor and surroundings
- Algarve from Lagos to Odeceixe
- Lagos and surroundings
- Vila do Bispo and surroundings
- Sagres and surroundings
- Aljezur and surroundings
- Get inspired with our stories about our visit to the Algarve
- The best hiking trails in the Algarve
- Where to stay in the Algarve: best areas
- Best restaurants in Algarve
- Algarve Travel Itineraries
- Transportation: how to rent a car in Portugal and/or how to pay the tolls
- Plan your budget: how much does it cost to travel to the Algarve?
- Recommendations to enjoy the Algarve and its beaches
- Checklist: what to pack in your backpack/suitcase for the Algarve
Basic facts for traveling to the Algarve
Population: 439,000 (2019)
Daily budget: From 69€/day per person (approx.) for a one-week trip. More budget information here.
Climate: The climate varies in the summer months (Min 18º Max 30º) and winter (Min 7º Max 18º). May to September is the best time to fully enjoy its beaches. Find out more about when to go here.
Accommodation: It will depend on whether you want only beach days and relaxation or also visiting towns or cities. So we recommend you to choose an area based on your itinerary or to split your stay between “Sotavento” and “Barlavento”. We tell you more and give you suggestions of places to sleep here.
Duration: One weekend minium. Ideally one week to enjoy beaches and inland jewels, and if you want to see everything you should point to 2 weeks. More information on how many days for visiting the Algarve here
Flights: There are some flights to Faro (the Algarve airport) and many flights to Lisbon. We tell you how to get to the Algarve by car or public transport from Lisbon here. We recommend you to use flight comparators like Skyscanner and Kiwi and be flexible with dates.
Transportation: The best option is to rent a car to move around and get to know the region with total freedom, although you can perfectly avoid renting a car if your plan is to relax on the beach. More info here.
Time zone: UTC +1. The time in the Algarve (Portugal) is the same as in the UK, and one hour less than in Spain.
When to go to the Algarve: weather and best months to enjoy the beach
Since the Algarve is mostly a beach destination and very sought after by people from Portugal and abroad, the best months to go to the Algarve are from May to October, trying to avoid July and August which are peak season and the months with more tourism. June and September tend to be the best months, with good weather, still not-so-cold waters and less overcrowded tourism.
In the autumn and winter months, between October and March, temperatures are usually below 18º, with minimuns of 7º at night and maximums of 18º during the day (although it is not uncommon to be surprised by an occasional warmer afternoon in autumn). The coldest month is January.
We visited the Algarve for 3 weeks between September and October and found it perfect, as we were able to go to the beach almost every day, prices were cheaper and there was enough space even on famous and normally crowded beaches (although it should be noted that we visited in 2020, during the pandemic).
We were also in the Algarve for two months in winter, from mid-January to mid-March, during the second lockdown in Portugal, and although there were several cloudy and/or rainy days, there were many sunny ones (some even good enough for going to the beach) and we think it can be an ideal time to do hiking trails and/or get to know the interior better.
Best months to visit Algarve
As we mentioned, the best months to visit the Algarve are, in our opinion, June and September, as the weather is still good and there is less tourism. May and October can also be good depending on the year. If the beach is not your top priority, any month of the year outside the vacation peaks (summer and Easter) is good.
Here is a summary of the climate by month in the Algarve with the maximum and minimum temperatures, as well as the water temperature:
|Month||Minimum temperature||Maximum temperature||Water temperature|
How to get to the Algarve
The Algarve is located in the south of Portugal, and depending on where you are coming from there are several ways to get there easily:
- By road: if you have your own car and are coming from Portugal or nearby areas of Spain, the Algarve is well connected both with other areas of Portugal through the A2 (paid highway) and with Spain through the A22 (also paid highway) that crosses the Algarve horizontally and connects with the A49 in Spain. There are also buses that connect different points of the Algarve with other areas of Portugal and Spain.
- By train: there is also the option of reaching the Algarve by train. From Lisbon you have the “Alfa-Pendular” (the fastest train in Portugal) which takes almost 3 hours to Faro. There is also a regional train that connects Lagos with Vila Real de Santo Antonio (on the border with Spain) making several stops at strategic points.
- By plane: the Algarve has an international airport in Faro with many connections including low cost airlines such as Ryanair, Easyjet or Wizzair. You can also fly to Lisbon and reach the Algarve by road. We recommend using comparison sites such as Kiwi or Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights and to be flexible with dates.
How many days to spend in the Algarve
The Algarve is a very wide destination with a lot of plans for all tastes, as you will see below in this guide. If you plan to go for a long weekend (2-3 days) to the Algarve you will not regret it. But if you want to enjoy its beaches and villages, ideally you should spend at least 5 days.
So we recommend that you spend at least 3 days, and ideally a week or two, if you want to get to know everything the Algarve has to offer. Keep in mind that there are more than 100 beaches, so if you go for a few days it is impossible to see everything (and most importantly, enjoy).
Things to do in the Algarve
To make it easier to understand the area and organize your days in the Algarve, we have classified the region into three zones, divided by color, from the east (close to the border with Spain) to the west (close to the border with the Alentejo region):
- From Spain to Faro (blue), Tavira, Olhão, islands of the Ria Formosa Natural Park and Faro (local tourist area).
- From Faro to Lagos (red), Quarteira, Vilamoura, Albufeira, Carvoeiro and Portimão (mainly international tourist area).
- From Lagos to Odeceixe (green), Lagos, Ponta da Piedade, Sagres and Aljezur (wilder and surfing area).
The Algarve is also usually divided into two zones, Barlavento and Sotavento, based on the orography of the terrain, with the border between one zone and the other being approximately Quarteira.
- Barlavento: It corresponds to the west part of the Algarve and also the best known as here are some of the most touristic spots such as Lagos, Quarteira, Vilamoura, Albufeira, Portimão, Benagil and Carvoeiro. The beaches in this area are characterized by cliffs and rock formations with yellow and reddish tones and generally the winds are stronger. It would correspond to our zones 2 and 3 (from Albufeira to Aljezur).
- Sotavento: The east part of the Algarve and the least known. The main characteristic of Sotavento is the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa (Ria Formosa Natural Park) formed by several islands and sandy peninsulas that protect an extensive area of channels, islets (Cabanas, Tavira, Armona, Culatra and Barreta) and very biodiverse lagoons. The beaches of Sotavento are between the estuary and the sea; they are long, flat and very extensive, and dotted with dune systems. Here it is generally warmer than in the western part and there is less chance of rain and wind. It would correspond to our zone 1 (from Spain to Faro) including Quarteira and Vilamoura in zone 2.
Here is a summary and below all the information of each of the places to see in the Algarve.
- The Algarve from Spain to Faro
- The Algarve from Faro to Lagos
- The Algarve from Lagos to Odeceixe
To make it easier for you to find your way around and to help you organize your trip to the Algarve, below is a map where you can see each of these 3 areas divided by color.
Map of the Algarve: Where is the Algarve?
The Algarve is the southernmost region of Portugal, bordering with the Atlantic Ocean and with the south of Spain. Here are all the places to visit in the Algarve that we mention in this guide on a Google Maps map that you can take with you on your smartphone, to check it at any time: beaches, parking lots, villages, restaurants, places to watch the sunset…
Here is also a tourist map with the main roads of the Algarve (click on the image to download it in larger size and resolution).
The Algarve from Spain to Faro
This area includes almost all of what is known as the Sotavento, where the Ria Formosa and its beaches are the main attraction.
The Ria Formosa and its islands and beaches: Tavira, Culatra/Farol, Armona, Fuseta, Cacela Velha…
What is Ria Formosa (Ria Formosa Natural Park)?
The Ria Formosa, considered a Natural Park since 1987, is actually a lagoon, formed by a system of 2 peninsulas and 5 “barrier islands”, parallel to the Algarve coast (from Faro to Cacela Velha), creating a rich ecosystem full of flora and fauna. In 2010 the Ria Formosa Natural Park was elected as one of the “7 Natural Wonders of Portugal”.
The Ria Formosa is probably the least known and most “wild” area of the touristic Algarve, and thanks to this and its characteristic kilometer-long and quiet beaches, it became one of our favorite areas after our trip to the Algarve.
Visiting the Ria Formosa Natural Park
To visit the Ria Formosa Natural Park, you can hire a tour from several points of the Algarve, for example Olhão or Faro, or you can also go on your own to each of the islands, as we did. We explain everything below.
The 2 peninsulas and 5 islands that are part of the Ria Formosa are, from right to left:
- Cacela Peninsula
- Ilha de Cabanas
- Ilha de Tavira
- Ilha da Armona
- Ilha da Culatra
- Ilha da Barreta
- Ancão Peninsula
To access the beaches you have to cross the estuary, which can be done in most cases in small local boats for 1-2€/trip. Below you will find detailed information about each island, its beaches and how to get to them.
Cacela Velha: Praia da Fábrica and Praia de Cacela Velha
- Beach access: by boat from Fábrica, although in some areas at low tide it is possible to cross on foot.
- Price: 1€ to Praia da Fábrica, 1,5€ to Praia de Cacela Velha (one way). To be paid on the boat (bring some coins).
- Boat schedule: boats leave continuously, following this timetable:
- May: 9:30 to 19:00
- June: 9:00 to 20:00
- July/August: 9:00 to 20:30
- September: 9:00 to 19:00
- October: 10:30 to 17:00
These two beaches (Praia da Cacela Velha and Praia da Fábrica) are located on the Cacela Peninsula, and to access them you just have to drive to the Fábrica do Costa restaurant, where you can park for free, and wait for the next boat to depart.
The boats, within the schedule, leave continuously and take only a few minutes to reach the beach, so you don’t have to plan anything, just arrive and wait a few minutes for the next boat to leave.
Both beaches are connected so you can for example go by boat to Praia de Cacela Velha, and return from Praia da Fábrica (walking between the two beaches), or the other way around. As always, the further you get from the place where the boat leaves you, the easier it is to be alone, although we went in September and there were very few people.
As you pay on the boat itself, it is advisable to always carry coins, and as both embarkation and disembarkation are in the water, it is better to wear flip-flops or similar.
On the boat back we were lucky to see different birds: gulls, curlews, terns, storks, herons….
Before or after a few dips in the beach, it is worthwhile to approach to contemplate the small network of white, well-kept and flowery houses that you will find when you reach the small village of Cacela Velha.
Touristy but with a lot of charm, you can visit its fortress (Forte de Cacela) and its church, enjoy the beautiful views of the Ria Formosa from above and stroll through its full of poetry streets. If these are still not enough reasons and you are an oyster lover, you should know that the oysters from Casa da Igreja, next to the church overlooking the estuary, are known as the best in the region and a reason for a long wait if you don’t arrive early. If you don’t want to wait, there are other options to taste the gastronomy of the area. More info in the section “Where to eat“.
These beaches are connected to the Praia da Manta Rota. You can get there walking or, as most people do, by car. It is a beach with a very extensive sandy area, with parking, restaurants and you can walk towards the sea for several meters at low tide, which makes it a very popular beach for families with children.
Ilha de Cabanas and Cabanas Beach
- Beach access: by boat from Cabanas
- Price: 1,5€ round trip. To be paid at the ticket office
- Boat schedule: boats leave continuously, at these times:
- June: 9:00 to 19:00
- July/August: 8:00 to 20:00
- September: 9:00 to 19:00
- October: 9:00 to 18:00
Close to the previous ones but more crowded, Praia de Cabanas has a beach bar (the “imperial” – small beer – costs 2 €), security and sunbeds, and as in the rest of the beaches of the Ria Formosa, the farther you get away from the landing point, the more chances to enjoy the beach in solitude.
To get there you have to take the boat at Cais de Cabanas, in front of the restaurant Noelia e Jerónimo (which by the way, we loved and talk a bit more about it at the Where to Eat section). You can park right there on the street, or if there is no place, there is a large free parking in the village.
The boat ticket is usually purchased at the ticket office (if it is closed, it is purchased directly on the boat), and the boats also depart continuously within the schedule.
Our recommendation is to book Noelia e Jerónimo for dinner (you may have to call days in advance in high season), go to Praia de Cabanas in the afternoon and come back just in time for dinner.
This room with a terrace overlooking the estuary is a good option to stay overnight in Cabanas. Otherwise, find other accommodations in Cabanas here.
Tavira and Praia da Ilha de Tavira
- Beach access: by boat from Cais das Quatro Aguas (there is also the possibility of embarking at Tavira center).
- Price: 2,20€ round trip
- Boat schedule: boats leave continuously, at these times:
- June: 9:00 to 19:00
- July/August: 8:00 to 20:00
- September: 9:00 to 19:00
- October: 9:00 to 18:00
Tavira is a small town crossed by the Gilão river that has become more touristic over the years, mainly with national toursts and some Spanish tourists that spend their summer holidays on the beaches of Huelva and come to spend the day on the other side of the border.
The beauty of the small Tavira and its varied offer of restaurants, terraces, music festivals and fairs hooks and makes those who spend their holidays nearby want to repeat destination every year. Upon arrival, we find the postcard of the Roman bridge of the seven arches (only for pedestrians) reflected in the river inviting us to cross it towards the river. Mercado da Ribeira (Ribeira Market) (attention! instead of stalls, you will find small restaurants and some stores). If you get thirsty, have a drink at one of the terraces of the beautiful Praça da República. Right there you will also find the tourist information booth and the Núcleo Museológico Islâmico, one of the best history lessons of the city where you can learn about the presence and importance of the Islamic period. Passing through the beautiful (and neuralgic) Jardim do Coreto, keep walking through the historical center of the city, follow towards the Largo da Misericórdia where you will find the homonymous church (and its Renaissance portal), the Phoenician ruins and the Palácio da Galeria where the municipal museum is located.
To enjoy the best views over Tavira you will have to go up to its small but well preserved Castle. When you climb the stairs you will be surprised by a beautiful garden and, with luck, a musician providing the visit with a peaceful soundtrack.
The “Ilha de Tavira”, in its extension of 11 kilometers, has several beaches (some of which are our favourites in the Sotavento), which we will tell you about in this and the following points: Praia da Ilha de Tavira, Praia da Terra Estreita, Praia do Barril and Praia do Homem Nu.
Find your accommodation in Tavira here.
Salinas de Tavira
If you want a different plan, go to the Tavira salt ponds at sunset. The salt ponds of Tavira produce the most refined salt in the country, that is, the one with more purity. They are an ideal place for a walk in the late afternoon, before sunset, with the possibility of seeing wild flamingos and other birds.
Santa Luzia, Praia do Barril, Praia do Homem Nu and Praia da Terra Estreita
- Beach access: by train (or on foot) from Pedras de El-Rei (to Praia do Barril) or by boat from Santa Luzia (to Praia da Terra Estreita).
- Boat price: 2,00 € round trip
- Boat schedules: depart at these times (frequency in brackets)
- June: 9:00 a 18:45 (freq: 30 min)
- July/August: 8:30 a 20:15 (freq: 15 min)
- September: 9:00 a 18:45 (freq: 30 min)
- October: 10:00 a 17:45 (frec: 45 min)
- Train price: €1.60 one way, 10 minutes journey time
- Train schedule: it operates all year round, in summer from 8:00 to 20:00 and the rest of the year in a shorter schedule (we were unable to confirm which one).
Santa Luzia is a small fishing village known as the octopus capital, and a place we loved to stroll at sunset. Pedras de El-Rei is a 3 minute drive from there, and has a small tourist train that goes to one of the beaches (Praia do Barril). As a curiosity, this train was initially built to transport tuna and is now a tourist train between Pedras do El-Rei and the beach.
The train runs all year round (the schedule is reduced outside summer) and departs continuously (1,6€ each way), although you can also walk parallel to its track (we recommend doing one way by train and another on foot, to enjoy the tranquility of the walk and the views). We walked to the beach and came back by train.
We loved the ride as you enjoy the native fauna and flora. At low tide you can see the stakes that delimit the clam and oyster farms, the most important economic activity of the Ria Formosa, and with luck you can also observe the famous fiddler crabs. The walk is also ideal for bird watching such as white herons, grey herons and storks.
The train (or the promenade) takes you directly to Praia do Barril from where you can walk to the nearby beaches. Praia do Barril itself is a bit touristy (with several restaurants, paid hammocks and so on) but both walking to the left (towards Praia da Terra Estreita) and to the right (Praia do Homem Nu) it is easy to stay in solitude and nudism is common.
A curious thing about Praia do Barril is that just when you arrive you will see an anchor graveyard with a lot of quite large anchors that were used until a few decades ago for tuna fishing.
Praia da Terra Estreita can also be reached by boat from Santa Luzia, 2€ round trip and with frequencies between 15 and 30 minutes.
As in Cabanas, we recommend booking a table for dinner at one of the restaurants in Santa Luzia, which despite being much more touristy, still maintains its essence of a fishing village. You can have dinner there after a beach and taste the different ways of preparing octopus. The best and most famous restaurant is Polvo & Companhia but if you are not able to book a table or if the queue is endless (not unusual during summer) we recommend other options in Where to Eat.
Find your accommodation in Santa Luzia aquí
Fuseta and Praia da Fuseta
- Beach access: by ferry from Fuseta (or taxi boat, more expensive)
- Price: 1,80€ round trip
- Boat schedules: departures every 15-30 minutes, between these times:
- June/July/August: 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
- September: 9:00 to 19:00
Fuseta is a very pretty little fishing village inside the Ria Formosa, with colorful little houses, a slow pace and a nice beach on the Ria itself. Apart from that beach, it is a short boat ride away from a paradisiacal beach. It is an ideal place to enjoy a dinner or even to stay overnight if you are looking for a peaceful vacation. It has few (but good) dining and bar options.
See accommodation options in Fuseta here
From Fuseta you can take the ferry to the homonymous beach on Armona island: the ferry costs 1.8€ round trip (there is also a taxi boat but it’s more expensive) and departs every 15/30 min depending on the season. In September when we visited (low season) it left every 30 min, but during summer it departs more frequently. The ferry ride takes about 10 minutes and pets are allowed (in the Tavira ferry for example we were told that unfortunately four-legged friends are not welcome).
When you get to the beach, there are a couple of restaurants and sun umbrellas to rent, and as in the rest of the beaches, it is better to walk to the left or to the right to have more space since most people stay right there at the entrance.
10 minutes driving from Fuseta you will find Moncarapacho a beautiful village between the mountains and the sea. Both villages share the name in the train station, and in the nearby salt ponds there is the possibility of watching flamingos! (among other species of birds) in the trails that you can do by walking or cycling. If you arrive in Moncarapacho, don’t miss Igreja Matriz, built in the first half of the 15th century, Igreja da Misericórdia, built in the late 16th and early 17th century, the Chapel of Santo Cristo, built in the 17th century, and the “Museo Parroquial (“Parish Museum”). The Cerro de São Miguel, that belongs to the Moncarapacho area, offers one of the most beautiful panoramas of the Algarve from the top at its 411 meters. We will tell you more about this trail and the Cerro da Cabeça in the hiking routes section
Ilha da Armona and Praia da Armona
- Beach access: by ferry from Olhão
- Price: 1,85€ one way
- Boat schedules: depart at these times (there is also taxi-boat option):
- March to May: 8:30 to 19:30 (every 2h. approx.)
- June: 7:30 to 20:00 (every 2h. approx.)
- July/August: 7:30 a 20:00 (every 45 min./1h approx.)
- September: 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (every 2h. approx.)
- October to March: 8:30 to 17:30 (every 3h. approx.)
Although it is in the same island as Praia da Fuseta, to go to Praia da Ilha da Armona on the island of the same name, the ferry leaves from Olhão (not from Fuseta). The ferry costs 1,85€ (one way) and the schedules vary depending on the time of the year, although the frequencies are at most 45 minutes in high season so it is advisable to plan your visit.
There is a small village (mainly for tourists) where you can rent rooms/houses, as well as a camping site and restaurants.
In Armona, unlike the island of Culatra which you will discover in a moment and which we fell in love with, it is possible to book online to stay overnight on the island. Have a look here.
Ilha da Culatra and Farol: one of the best surprises of the Algarve
- Beach access: by ferry from Olhão
- Price: 2,15€ one way to Farol / 1,85€ one way to Culatra
- Boat schedules: depart at these times (there is also a taxi-boat option):
- June: 7:00 to 20:30 (every 2h/3h. approximately).
- July/August/September: 7:30 to 20:00 (every 2h approximately)
- October to May: 7:00 to 19:30 (every 3h./4h. approx.)
In Ilha da Culatra there are two fishing villages that have stopped in time: Culatra and Farol. Upon arrival, schedules, jackets and shoes are relegated to the background and we forget about them on this side of the Ria Formosa. Here the days are lived barefoot and slowly, with our feet dressed in sand and our bodies in salt. Welcome to the island of Culatra.
Culatra and Praia da Culatra
We cross the Ria Formosa from Olhão while a heron greets us, we dock the boat among the amalgam of other fishing boats and we look up at a cluster of colorful houses, a couple of terraces and a sand “road” that leads us to a kilometer-long beach of turquoise water and fine sand.
The village of Culatra has about 4 restaurants, a couple of cafes, a couple of stores (“mini-super”), an elementary school and a social center. The first houses on the island were built 150 years ago but were not legalized until a couple of years ago.
From where the boat drops you off at Culatra you can walk to the beach in about 10 minutes. As you reach the beach you will find a beach bar, hammocks, etc., but if you keep walking to the left there is nothing and it is easy to stay alone and practice nudism. If you walk to the end of the beach you reach a tongue of sand where the sea meets the estuary: it takes about an hour to get to the left end. The sunset on the beach was spectacular, the water looked like a pool and had a mirror effect on the shore. The sunset on the estuary is also very beautiful.
Farol and Praia do Farol
The village of Farol, which you can reach by walking along the beach from Culatra or by boat, is, in our opinion, even more beautiful than Culatra, with the Cabo de Santa Maria lighthouse looming around every corner (in fact, if you want, you can climb the lighthouse for the best views of the entire island).
The fact that Praia da Ilha do Farol is right there, on the shore of the village and the lighthouse that gives it its name, also helps to complete this postcard village. Of course, this is a more touristic village, with less local people living there, whose little houses are prepared for vacations (we were told that there are several people from Olhão who have a house there for weekends and vacations). In this small village of colorful houses with the smell of the sea there is no school, medical post or social center as in the neighboring Culatra but it has about the same number of restaurants and cafes.
Apart from being highly photogenic, the village of Farol has a couple of beach bars (we had some beers – imperiais – at Tiago’s, 1.80€ each) and some restaurants. We ate very well at À-do-João. We give you more details in the Where to Eat section.
We walked from the village of Culatra to the village of Farol and it takes about 45 min walking along the beach, the walk is nice and pretty and you can stop for a dip or to rest (by boat it will take about 10 minutes). In fact, if you can, we suggest staying one night and arriving at one port and leaving by another (e.g. arrive at Culatra, sleep there, and then return to Olhão from Farol), as there are ferries and taxi boats from both.
How to get to Culatra and Farol?
To get to this Algarvian paradise, you have to take the public ferry at Olhão (1.85€/way to Culatra; 2.15€/way to Farol, and it takes about 30min to arrive, see here for timetables) or, in case you want to go outside those hours, there are taxis-boats and private tours that take you for a higher price (taxi-boat costs 30€ for 5 people).
As we missed the ferry on the way out and did not want to do the tour but to stay on the island, we asked the tour departing if it would be possible to take us and they offered us the trip at 10 € / person Olhão-Culatra. The taxi-boat ride is about 15 minutes.
If you prefer to do the full tour of the Ria Formosa it costs 20€/person and lasts 4 hours and you will see both Culatra and Armona. You can book it here.
Is it possible to sleep in Culatra and Farol?
It is not easy to find accommodation where to spend the night on the island and you will hardly find something online to book, but with the right contacts it is possible. In fact, if you have the chance we recommend it because it is amazing not only to enjoy the sunset without rushing, but also to wake up at dawn on the island and savor the calm when the first boats and ferries with tourists coming to spend the day have not yet arrived. We managed to stay one night in the beautiful fishing village of Culatra in this small room inspired by a boat for two. It has a kitchen and bathroom and costs 40€/night in low season (50€ in high season) but, as Steve told us, for a minimum stay of 5 nights. Here is Steve’s contact: +351 938 548 035.
In Farol, unfortunately, we have no contacts that we can share with you but we find it even more charming than Culatra to stay overnight. Although we saw many houses there that looked like they could be rented, there is a certain secrecy and it is not easy to find out how to rent or who to talk to.
The option of most tourists is not bad either: spend the day on the island, return to Olhão with its huge offer of delicious restaurants for dinner and sleep around.
Find accommodations to sleep in Olhão here
Olhão is the largest fishing port of the Algarve and this is noticeable as soon as you arrive to its urban decoration: decorative sardines hanging in the streets, garbage bins reminiscent of tin cans and urban art painted on its buildings. The photogenic, brick-colored Municipal Market is worth a visit, next to the Ria Formosa estuary that is filled with life (and fresh fish stalls) during the week. We went on a Sunday and found the market closed but we made a plan that we highly recommend: drinking a glass of wine on the terrace of the Cantaloupe bar, in the market itself, watching the red tones of the estuary at sunset with a jazz soundtrack.
Apart from the market, another perfect plan in Olhão is to get lost in the historic center and its tangle of narrow streets with Portuguese pavement, colorful flowerpots and artistic colorful sardines hanging from fishing nets accompanying the way, highlighting that we are among fishermen’s neighborhoods.
It is, for this reason, a very good idea to stay here to taste a good fish cataplana. Where? The Praça Patrão Joaquim Gomes with an sculpture of Floripes, a local legend, is full of terraces as well as some of the narrow streets leading from it. By the way, if you are interested, Olhão has a tour of its historic center where the points of interest are precisely its five legends (Floripes is one of them). If you go down to our Where to eat section, we suggest the two incredible restaurants we tried for dinner that were among the best experiences of this trip.
If you visit the Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Rosário, very close you will find the re-creative cultural association “República 14” where there is also live music as well as exhibitions, workshops and various events. Find out more on their Facebook page.
Lately Olhão is also on the map of urban art lovers and the truth is that you can find a few samples of different street art artists , in addition to this striking abandoned church that has served as a mural for street art on one of the access roads.
As you may have already noticed, it is precisely from Olhão that many of the boat tours along the Ria Formosa depart:
And we arrive to the capital of the Algarve. Faro hides one of the most beautiful historical centers of the region (where its rich historical and cultural past is reflected) and, for that reason, here we give you some hints why you should include the Algarvian capital in your itinerary.
If you come by car, there is a free parking space where we left our car, right next to the São Francisco Church, built in the 17th century and that was enlarged in the following century due to the large number of worshippers. We did not get to enter, we just contemplated its beautiful white facade, but it boasts tiled facades and Italian paintings of the eighteenth century inside that we saved for a future visit.
A good plan for a day in Faro needs to include a walk through the historical Manuel Bivar garden (it was a square during the Christian occupation) where we have on the one hand, the Faro Marina with its promenade and parked yachts and, on the other hand, the beginning of the network of cobblestone streets that make up the historic center. We focus mainly in the Faro between the walls so we will tell you what we find interesting to include in your walk through the old town, but if before starting you want to take the typical picture with the artistic letters with the name of the city of Faro preceded by a heart (which are seen by several cities in the world) or if you have more sybarite tastes, stop by the marina, enjoy some of its terraces and get to the historic center walking along the promenade.
In the same Manuel Bivar garden, we can contemplate a series of emblematic buildings such as the Misericórdia Church (16th century, Manueline style – late Portuguese Gothic) and the most recent building that caught our attention: the incredible façade of the Bank of Portugal.
Right there is one of the best ways to enter (or exit) the old town, the Arco da Vila, a neoclassical arch from 1812 and the gateway to one of the most photogenic streets in the city. As you walk up the street, it’s worth stopping and looking back at the bell tower (in fact you can access it from the tourist information booth) looking for some of the storks that nest there.
An essential stop on the itinerary of a day in Faro is the imposing Sé Catedral de Faro: the Igreja de Santa Maria is from the 13th century, rebuilt in the 18th century after the earthquake of 1755. One of the best things to do here is to climb its tower to contemplate the panoramic view of the Ria Formosa and the city between the walls. Special attention to the“catavento” (the weathervane) in the shape of a rooster guarding the bell. The entrance fee (3,50€) includes a visit to the cathedral, a climb to the tower and a visit to the chapel.
If you’re hungry for more food for the soul when you come down from the tower, enter the Municipal Museum (in the middle of the Jewish quarter) where you can soak up some local history from the Roman Algarve Roads to the review of some daily Islamic objects from the 9th to the 13th century. If, on the other hand, your hunger is more physical, we enjoyed a very good cataplana on the terrace of Tertúlia Algarvia in the beautiful Dom Afonso III square, and we highly recommend it.
Nearby you can see what was once the city’s Castle but today it is known as the Old Brewery because that was its destiny. The castle, originally built in the Muslim citadel in the thirteenth century, was badly damaged – like several historic buildings in the city – with the fire of the English corsairs in the sixteenth century. It lost its military function in the 19th century and since the beginning of the 20th century it has been transformed into a factory of the famous malt nectar of which we can now see traces.
The other entrance door to the walled city is the Arco do Repouso. If you enter through this arch and continue along José Maria Brandeiro street you will find one of the historical (and most beautiful) buildings of the city, the Palacete Belmarço.
If you are interested in the more “morbid” monuments, the baroque Igreja do Carmo with its beautiful façade and its two bell towers, has a “Capela dos Ossos” (a chapel covered with the bones of the monks of a nearby monastery), much smaller than the famous “Capela dos Ossos” of Évora, but no less impressive. As a curiosity we will tell you that this type of chapel, apart from spiritual questions about the transience of life, has also been thought for a practical issue: the lack of space in the cemeteries.
By the way, the historic center of Faro is also a shopping area since in this network of streets of “calçada portuguesa” (the Portuguese cobblestone and its drawings) between walls you will not only find the most interesting things to visit but also to do some shopping, so from small stores with local crafts to big fashion chains there is plenty to choose from – if you can, always support the local and small businesses. As a souvenir suggestion: why not take a good pot of cataplana with you? If you get hungry, you can also find great options to taste the gastronomy of the Algarve. We recommend more places to eat here.
It is right between stores and cafes, in the Liberty Square (Praça da Liberdade) that you will find the Regional Museum of the Algarve, the ethnographic museum of the city. Unfortunately it was already closed when we arrived and we were left with the desire, not only for the tour to better understand the life of yesteryear from objects but also for the temporary exhibitions of local artists that usually hosts.
Before you go, if you want to take a look at the Praia de Faro (Faro beach) you should know that it is not located in the city itself. You will have to take the car (or go by bus or ferry) as it is located on the island of Faro, 10 km from the historic center, and can be reached by sea or by land via a bridge. It is a 5 km beach with several terraces where we decided to say goodbye to the day at sunset.
If you don’t have many days and are looking for a good swim, with the amount of paradisiacal beaches in the Ria Formosa Natural Park, you’d better get to know some of the others. There are several tours from Faro that take you to know the beaches of the Ria Formosa Natural Park. These tours depart precisely from the Faro Marina.
Book your boat trip from Faro (3h30 approx.) to Farol and Deserta islands here
If you feel like enjoying the fauna and flora of the Ria Formosa more closely, you can do it at kayak and be in contact with nature for 2 hours. The meeting point is at the Faro Marina and you should book your kayak trip in advance here.
In Faro there is a wide range of accommodation for all types and budgets.
Knowing that a 20-minute drive (about 10 km) from Faro was one of the most beautiful palaces in the Algarve, we could not leave the area without visiting Estoi. If you have been to the National Palace of Queluz (one of the most beautiful palaces -and gardens- in Portugal, in the district of Sintra), any resemblance to the Estoi Palace is not pure coincidence. Apparently, the knight from Tavira who inherited the place wanted to reproduce the famous Queluz Palace (from the same 18th century) in the same baroque, rococo, neoclassical and romantic style, here in Estoi.
Although this architectural jewel was declared a building of public interest in 1977, the Estoi Palace is today a private luxury hotel. It is managed by the Pestana Group, one of the hotel giants that also manages the other national paradors. Before the Covid-19 pandemic came into our lives, you could enter to see the palace and even have a drink in the hotel cafeteria but nowadays it is not allowed. There is a public entrance to the gardens (next to Estoi Church) through which we entered and you can walk through the gardens and see the palace from the outside.
In Estoi, too, there are vestiges of the Roman Empire in the region: the Roman ruins of Milreu. This important archaeological site consists of the remains of an important rustic Roman villa occupied from the 1st to the 11th century. The entrance fee is 2€ and there are guided tours.
Alcoutim and Odeleite
The Algarve’s Sotavento is not only about beaches and that is why we decided to go to Alcoutim, a small town next to the Guadiana River that borders naturally with Spain. Just across the river is Sanlúcar de Guadiana, already in Spanish territory, which gave us the best view of the day.
As a cross-border village, smuggling was an important part of the economy that deeply marked the culture of Alcoutim and its Spanish neighbor. In fact, before the Covid appeared in our lives, a “smuggling festival” was celebrated with “art traffic” between the two villages and crossing the pedestrian bridge between the two countries.
The importance of those who carried out this activity is also visible in statues throughout the town and even in the “smuggler’s route“, a trail of more than 5km.
You can reach the other side of the Guadiana on foot, by boat or even by zip line! We thought the view of Sanlúcar de Guadiana from Alcoutim was so beautiful that we wanted to see it from the other side of the Guadiana, so we’ll be sure to do it the next time!
The Alcoutim Castle was built in the 14th century to defend the border and control the trade of the Guadiana River. Apart from beautiful views, inside you will find an interesting archaeological museum with remains found when it was being restored. In addition, when we went there was also something more geeky inside the castle: an exhibition of medieval games!
The Museu do Rio (River Museum ) is located 8km south of Alcoutim, in a village called Guerreiros do Rio, and explores the smuggling activity between these cross-border villages of the Guadiana river during the fascist dictatorship in Portugal, apart from explaining the history of the Guadiana, its natural and cultural heritage, the types of artisanal fishing, gastronomy and its connection with mining through river transport. Unfortunately it was closed when we went but if you have time and are interested, it looks very interesting.
By the way, about 35 km from Alcoutim but already outside the Algarve, in the Alentejo region, there is a beautiful village called Mértola. Also located on the Guadiana River, this village-museum was once one of the most important river ports in the Mediterranean. Between the rich architectural, historical and cultural heritage and its imposing castle, Mértola is a remarkable and recommended visit if you have time and curiosity.
20 km from Alcoutim you will arrive to the village of Odeleite or, as we like to call it, the “head of the dragon”. If you see the Odeleite reservoir in an aerial photograph you can see how it has the silhouette of one of these mythological beings and has become known as the Odeleite river reservoir of the “blue dragon“, being that the village is located near the head of the dragon.
The views of the Odeleite river reservoir already justify the visit, but the village hides some other treasures.
We recommend a visit to the cultural center of the village, Odeleite House, a beautifully restored old house that offers beautiful views of the village. This house was home to one of Odeleite’s richest families and an important trading post and today hosts various cultural events. Normally, on the first Sunday of every month, a flea market of local products is held here where you might see some ladies baking bread right there. When we went these activities had been temporarily suspended due to the pandemic.
Stroll through the streets of the small village where you will find metal sculptures made by local artist Carlos de Oliveira Correia, the community oven and something that we had not seen for years and that seemed to us a real relic: a telephone booth! Of course we tried it and it worked, confirming to us that Odeleite offers a real trip back in time to those who visit it, even in the most practical details.
If you want to take a photograph with the Odeleite letters you should know that they are very close to the viewpoint, whose views include the 16th century church of Odeleite, which you can visit if you have time.
Our visit to Castro Marim began with the imposing 13th century Medieval castle that hides vestiges of an even older castle, the old castle, of Muslim construction. We could say, then, that the castle of Castro Marim is a meta castle.
Apart from its historical importance since Castro Marim and the Order of Christ were born here, from the castle we can contemplate a panoramic view of the village and its colorful streets, of the Natural Reserve do Sapal de Castro Marim e Vila Real de Santo António (privileged spot of the marshes for the observation of birds such as white storks, flamingos and stilts) and the nearby famous salt ponds.
Castro Marim is a land with salt. Its salt ponds produce one of the best salts in the world, authentic gastronomic diamonds of great purity, so if you can, do not leave without buying some salt as a souvenir in one of the small stores in the center. If you want to know more about the purity of Algarve salt and other curiosities of this gastronomic must, we will tell you more in the “Loulé” section, where we explain how we went down to the deepest tourist site of the country and saw how salt was extracted in an active mine of Sal Gema.
Going down the same path that leads you to the castle you will find the Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora dos Mártires (Mother Church of Our Lady of Martyrs). The church, a beautiful church built in the 18th century on the site of an ancient hermitage, is very well preserved.
In front of it, on the Cerro do Cabeço, you’ll find the Forte de São Sebastião. This fort was erected during the Restoration War with Spain and can also be visited, arranging a visit in advance with the Tourism Office.
Praia da Alagoa/Altura, Praia Verde and Praia do Cabeço
Castro Marim is also a municipality of beaches. The Praia de Alagoa (Alagoa beach), also known as Praia de Altura, has an extensive sandy area, parking and four accesses to the beach with wooden walkways. From this beach it is possible to glimpse Monte Gordo, one of the most touristic centers of the Sotavent where there are many options for accommodation, beaches and even a casino! For us these are synonyms of overcrowding (from which we always try to flee) so the only time we saw Monte Gordo was like this, from afar, and we can’t tell you much more.
The Praia Verde is located between Praia de Alagoa and Praia do Cabeço and, apart from its white sand and turquoise waters, it has the shelter of a pine forest that gives it even more beauty and the remains of Roman ruins by the sea. It has lifeguards, restaurants, bar and parking (paid).
The Praia do Cabeço is the quietest of the three but also has a restaurant and lifeguards in summer.
We haven’t talked yet about Vila Real de Santo António. This time we did not have time to visit it but we read that this small cross-border town has a beautiful historic center reminiscent of the same style of construction of Lisbon’s baixa as it was the same Marquês de Pombal who had it rebuilt after the earthquake of 1755.
If you are a hiking lover, we recommend the Great Guadiana Route (GR15): a pedestrian trail of 65 km along the Guadiana river (recently extended to 78.5km) that crosses several villages in the municipalities of Vila Real de Santo António, Castro Marim and Alcoutim with the possibility of reaching Mértola (more than 100 km). This and more hiking trails in our section of the best trails in Algarve.
The Algarve from Faro to Lagos
Quarteira and surroundings
Quarteira is a tourist area where many Portuguese people have vacation homes, so unlike other very touristic spots in the Algarve, such as Albufeira or Portimão, here you see a lot of national tourism.
It can be a good place to stay, not so much for the sights it hosts (its historic center is not particularly interesting) but because of where it is located. Quarteira is in the center of the south coast of the Algarve, so if you want to stay in only one place, you will be within a reasonable distance of all the sights of both the Sotavento and the Barlavento, has many accommodation and gastronomic option (we leave you several highly recommended restaurants in the Where to Eat section) and a beach directly in the village. In fact, its promenade, quite busy in the evenings after a day at the beach, is full of restaurants, bars, ice cream shops and small stores.
This was precisely one of our “Algarve bases”. Here we stayed for the first few days, at the home of our dear Eduarda, whom we thank enormously and thanks to whom it was also possible to explore the Algarve and write this guide.
If you also decide to make Quarteira your Algarve home for a few days, you should know that there is a farmers’ market every Wednesday from 8am to 1pm, here at Rua Infante Santo.
See accommodations in Quarteira here
Beaches of Ancão, Garrão and Vale do Lobo
Near Quarteira there are 3 beaches that we met thanks to our friends Iggy and Luis. They are very nice beaches, wide, with golden sand, with curious formations of reddish sand. They extend from the island of Faro to Vilamoura and they are very popular amog families, due to the calm waters, the lifeguards, the restaurants and the beach bars and the protected area of dunes. Yet they are probably as close as you can get to a half-empty beach in the Algarve in the middle of summer.
In Praia do Garrão you can park for free on the street, next to the access to the beach, while in Praia de Vale de Lobo the parking is paid with a parking meter, so we recommend you to park in the first one (then you can walk along the beach to the other one).
Vilamoura is a pretty posh area with its“marina” (where the boats and yachts are), international restaurants and expensive hotels. There is a free parking behind McDonald’s and several paid parking lots. It has a beach that is quite good, similar to those in Quarteira
In our opinion, it is not a very attractive place compared to all that the Algarve has to offer, but if you like this kind of atmosphere and/or want to go shopping or eat at more international restaurants, it is a good option.
Find accommodations in Vilamoura here
Surprisingly, behind the Vilamoura Marina you can take a journey through 5000 years of history as there you will find the Cerro da Vila Roman Ruins, a museum and archaeological site with the remains of a Roman villa occupied thousands of years ago.
Praia da Falésia, Praia da Rocha Baixinha, Praia dos Tomates…
All these beaches are the same one, with different entrances, near Vilamoura. They are characterized by mini cliffs of reddish stone, and walking a little from any of their entrances it’s more or less easy to find some space and tranquility.
After enjoying and relaxing at Rocha Baixinha, we drove to Praia da Falésia. Falésia in Portuguese means cliff so the literal translation of this beach would be “Cliff Beach”. It may not be original, but it represents exactly the imposing reddish cliff that goes down to the sea. It reminded us of the Tatacoa desert (do you remember our trip to Colombia?) but surrounded by sea.
Access is from the top of the cliff, and although you can reach the beach by car, there is no parking, so you have to park upstairs in the free parking lot (it is usually full). There is a snack bar that we did not try because it had very bad reviews. The beach of more than 5km long is spectacular and, despite being close to several tourist epicenters in the area, you will find room for your towel.
The views are incredible both from above and below and, apart from the dips, the rock formations and their colors are well worth the visit.
If you want to fly over and contemplate the most incredible views from a bird’s eye view, you can do it by paragliding!
Enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Algarve coast with your paragliding flight, book it here. Meeting point: Praia da Falésia.
Olhos d’água is a very nice coastal village and also very touristic, where we went to enjoy a sunset. As you reach the beach, on the right there are some rocks with very photogenic holes.
On the left there are some blue fishermen’s houses with the characteristic reddish stone on their backs. Continuing on and going up the hill at the end, you can reach a nice cove (Olheiros de água doce) and have a nice view of the village and the beach on one side, and the cove and the previous beaches (Falésia and others) on the other. There is a free parking (from 8:00 to 2:00) as you arrive at the beach, going up a small one-way street to the right.
If you prefer to stay overnight here, take a look at the accommodation in Olhos d’água and book here here
Loulé and surroundings
Before continuing along the coast, we make a detour inland to visit Loulé, a beautiful Algarve town forgotten by most tourists that hides several surprises.
On your walk through the narrow medieval cobblestone streets of downtown Loulé you will be amazed by the striking Moorish-inspired Municipal Market (you should ideally visit it on a Saturday morning to see both the fruit and vegetable market and the flea market); the Espírito Santo Convent (from the 17th century, nowadays a handicraft center); the Relógio Tower; the Igreja Matriz (gothic style built on top of an ancient mosque); the Loulé Castle (this castle was the subject of major fortifications during the 12th century); the Amuados Garden (and its incredible view of the region); and the Islamic Baths.
Loulé has several attractions that you can explore in its surroundings, some more natural in the Serra do Caldeirão and others more curious 1 km from the city center, like the one we will tell you about next.
See accommodations where to stay in Loulé and book your stay in Loulé here
Mina de Sal Gema
We went down to the deepest tourist site in the country, 230 meters deep, where we learned about the exploitation of salt in this active mine and contemplated its incredible geological formations. Here are some of the curiosities that caught our attention during our visit to the Mina de Sal Gema.
This mine began to be exploited in 1964 and although salt is extracted here, there is really only salt after 100 meters deep, the first meters being other types of minerals. The salt extracted here is not suitable for human consumption. Halite or rock salt is a sedimentary mineral that can be formed by the evaporation of salt water and is used to melt snow on roads and for… animal consumption. The explanation given to us that this salt can be used for animal consumption and not for human consumption is because the average life expectancy of animals is lower and, in addition, in the case of cows, the more salt they consume in their food, the more water they drink and the more milk they produce (the fact that animal abuse and capitalism go hand in hand is nothing new…).
The minimum salt purity for human consumption is 97% and for animals is 93%. In several parts of the Algarve, such as Tavira and Castro Marim, the purity of the salt is 99%: true gastronomic diamonds.
When it started in the 1960s, this mine had 180 miners. Today, with all the existing machinery, there are 7 miners in total. The machinery is brought down in pieces in the elevator called the “cage” and it takes up to 3 months to assemble the machines below! Fortunately the machines last quite a few years and, in fact, most of the ones we saw have been in existence since the mine was in operation. Apart from the fact that the machinery exempts part of the labor, we were told that it is very difficult for a young person to want to work here: although the conditions have improved compared to the past, it is still a physically exhausting job, added to the fact that during 8 hours (with a lunch break upstairs) you work without sunlight. From here our humble tribute to all the miners.
The visit to the mine lasts approximately 1h30-2h and, although we have to say that we found the entrance ticket expensive (25€/person) and also that the funds do not go back to the municipality but to the private company that exploits the mine, it is a very interesting visit: if you are interested in the visit, you can book your ticket on their website.
Querença and Fonte da Benémola
We drive away about 10 km from Loulé, entering the Serra do Caldeirão, to arrive at Querença, a very well preserved village where its main square stands out, with one of the oldest temples in the area, the parish church of Our Lady of the Assumption from the 16th century. If on your walk through Querença you come across some colorful cows, then you have arrived at the cultural center Manuel Viegas Guerreiro Foundation founded by the famous anthropologist born here, whose main line of action is to promote the culture and ethnography of Algarve. If you have time, you should know that Querença is located on the Water Route (which we talk more about in this section of the guide) and is close to Salir another beautiful village in the Algarve mountain range.
But what attracts most people around here is the oasis of Fonte de Benémola , a protected natural site that can be proud of having water all year round, something rare in the Algarve, especially in the summer months. You can do the signposted trail of about 5 km in the surroundings of the Menalva riverbank, breathe the pure air of the mountain range and see how many species of birds you can find (there are more than 100).
Paderne and Castelo de Paderne (Paderne Castle)
Arriving at the village of Paderne is like traveling in time. The narrow cobblestone streets with old-fashioned stores and the worn paint on the wall transports us to an Algarve far from English menus or happy hours. We got lost here, contemplated the façade of the small church and arrived at the Casa Museo do Accordeão (Museum of the Accordion), the culprit for including a stop in Paderne in that morning’s itinerary. We found the museum closed but just for the little trip back in time it was worth it. We didn’t know but apparently, at Christmas time, you can find the medieval Paderne fair in these streets.
About 5 km away is the most touristic point of Paderne, its castle. The Paderne Castle is one of the seven castles represented in the Portuguese flag. Built in the 12th century by the Arabs (it is an example of Islamic military architecture), it was conquered in the following century by D. Paio Peres Correia and maintained its military functions until the 19th century when it was abandoned. It was badly damaged by the earthquake of 1755 and, today, we can only see some pieces of its walls and the remains of a hermitage.
You can get to the castle by car, as we did, or walking along a path. Apparently you can leave from the very center of Paderne or from its emblematic fountain (Fonte de Paderne) where you will see a sign explaining the different options where you can walk. In fact, you can either walk up to the castle or continue along the riverbank to the medieval bridge.
If we say that Alte is one of the most beautiful villages in this guide, it is not an exaggeration. Alte has a lot of charm and it knows it, and so do the tourists.
It has been considered the most typical village of Portugal (although we do not know very well what that means) and of course this title brought fame, tourism and some loss of authenticity. Here, the Portuguese people with Algarvian accent is already mixed with English or German people in its terraces, the stores where the neighbors buy bread share the street with souvenir stores, and the white of the houses and chimneys contrasts with the colorful urban art that invades its streets. Most of the streets of Alte are decorated with works by Daniel Vieira transposed to the wall by Renata Pawelec. In fact, the art gallery of both of them is located right there, with privileged views of the mountains.
The best thing to do in Alte is to get lost in the steep white cobblestone streets, preferably from the bottom to the top, culminating with the incredible view of the Serra do Caldeirão. On the walk, it is worth stopping at the Church and Chapel of São Luís, drinking a good Portuguese coffee in one of its terraces and, if it is hot and you have time, take a dip in the Queda do Vigário, a 25-meter waterfall about 500 meters from the historic center. When we went there, unfortunately, there was no water.
Albufeira and surroundings
Albufeira and beaches (Santa Eulalia, Oura, Alemães…)
Albufeira is probably the best known name in the Algarve and in summer it attracts thousands of tourists for a vacation of sun, sea and party. Neon lights with English names announcing cocktail happy hours flood the streets of the center at night and during the day it will not be easy to find space for a towel on its beaches at the peak summer months. However, underneath this “cool” facade, Albufeira still has a more authentic side that can be seen and explored: it is not easy, we will not deceive you, here the rampant tourism has stepped on strongly but it makes it less complicated, especially out of peak season.
In its historic center, the narrow cobblestone streets, the whitewashed houses with their arches and rooftops and the gates to the ancient castle walls announce the Moorish legacy of five centuries of occupation. Other points of interest that you should include in your walking tour through the old town are the Relógio Tower (which you can climb for nice views), the Misericórdia Chapel and the São Sebastião Church (both of which have beautiful Manueline doors), the Matriz Church (neoclassical, from the 18th century) and the archaeological remains of Islamic houses from the 12th and 13th centuries. For souvenirs, head to the bustling Rua 5 de Outubro, full of small local stores and souvenir shops. Don’t leave without passing by Largo Engenheiro Duarte Pacheco: if you go during the day, the most prominent building in the square – the Power Plant – hides an interesting art gallery inside (Galeria de Arte Pintor Samora Barros); if you arrive after sunset, know that this is where the “guiri madness” of bars after bars begins, up to the famous Rua da Oura and Rua Cândido dos Reis. To say goodbye to the day, the best spot to watch the sunset is Miradouro do Pau da Bandeira, after a dip in Praia dos Pescadores before going up the escalators (yes, you read that right, escalators, you are in Albufeira after all).
Book your accommodation in Albufeira here
Near Albufeira there are several touristic beaches: Santa Eulalia, Oura, Alemães and Pescadores. Santa Eulália is not bad, it is surrounded by beautiful rock formations and at low tide it’s quite wide. It has free parking right next to the beach, a restaurant and lifeguards. The others, although they are still beautiful beaches with an extensive sandy area are, in our opinion, tourist epicenters, surrounded by buildings, not at all our style of beach.
Being one of the most touristic areas of the Algarve, there are several activities to do here. If you’ve always had an itch to try surfing and have never done it before, why not finally try it? You can also enjoy a romantic sunset on a boat in search of dolphins or something more adventurous like exploring the Algarve’s most unique rock formations by kayak! Here are all these ideas if you want to make your visit to the Algarve even more special:
Learn how to surf in Albufeira! Book your 2 hours lesson here
Explore the Algarve coast and its incredible limestone rock formations: book your kayak tour here
Praia dos Arrifes and Praia de São Rafael
Beaches between big rocks (characteristic of the Algarve’s Barlavento), protected from the wind, with good access, free parking and services. We visited Praia de São Rafael, down to the right you can access another smaller beach that at low tide is nice, and where there is also a very beautiful natural arch.
Praia da Ponta Pequena and Praia Secreta (“Secret beach” or “Praia da dédé”)
In the Ponta Pequena Beach it is possible to appreciate, about 130 meters from the coast, the large rock formations that come out of the sea. There is a natural arch that gives access to the Andorinha Beach, where it is possible to see a small waterfall on the cliff. Note that this beach can only be enjoyed at low tide because when the tide rises, it disappears.
Next to it there is a small beach known as Praia da Dedé or “Secret Beach”, which is not secret at all since this small piece of paradise is well known and difficult to be enjoyed in solitude.
Praia da Coelha
Praia da Coelha is another beautiful beach between rocky cliffs, wide and with lifeguards. The free parking is a bit far from the beach, you have to walk about 5 min along a path through pine trees (it is well-marked). You can climb the cliffs on the sides to see the views and enjoy the sunset.
Praia do Castelo and Praia do Evaristo
Praia do Evaristo is a small beach full of paid hammocks, so we imagine that in summer it must be easily crowded. We visited it in the late afternoon to watch the sunset, very nice from here. It has an expensive but good looking restaurant, and the beer (“imperial”) costs 2.5€.
The name of Praia do Castelo (Castle Beach) comes from the rock formation at the eastern end of the beach that reminds us of the battlements of a fantasy castle in our collective imagination. The green of the pines embrace the beach and, given its special environment, it is ideal for strolling among the cliffs discovering the many coves and caves that the sea and the wind took care of sculpting over the years. However, be careful, it is important to always keep a safe distance from the edge of the cliffs.
Praia de Manuel Lourenço
Praia de Manuel Lourenço is a beautiful small beach between rocks, surrounded by dunes, pine trees and vegetation (including aromatic plants) that surround it. During low tide, it is ideal to wear goggles and fins as it is possible to observe marine life. This beach has parking, lifeguards (in summer), showers and a restaurant (apparently the name of the beach comes precisely from the name of the owner of the restaurant).
Armação de Pera and surroundings
Armação de Pera is a traditional tourist destination in the Algarve where some Portuguese families have houses to spend the summer and where there is a lot of tourist accommodation for rent, both hotels and apartments, and all kinds of services. It has long beaches with clear and warm water in the summer months, factors that add up to make it an ideal area for families with children.
See options where to stay in Armação de Pera here
In addition, being a tourist center where many people with many different tastes converge, there are many activities to enjoy Armação de Pera such as:
- Try Flyboard (flying over the sea with a special board under your feet). Book here
- Wakeboarding (or water skiing). Book here
- A boat ride to the famous Benagil caves (or, if you go in a group, by private boat here).
- Or even an excursion from here to the Ria Formosa Natural Park. Book here
Praia da Galé and Praia dos Salgados
Praia da Galé is ideal to start a long walk along the beach that goes from Galé, passing through the Lagoa dos Salgados area, to end in Armação de Pêra. It has many interesting rock formations that turn into natural pools during low tide, making it very popular among families with children.
Praia dos Salgados is a special beach since it is located next to a coastal lagoon frequented by migratory birds: the Lagoa dos Salgados. This “lagoon” is a Natural Reserve where it is possible to observe up to 150 species of birds, so you can do two activities at the same time: being on the beach and birdwatching. In addition, its warm and transparent waters are ideal for swimming and the beach has all kinds of services and parking. You can take a trail along wooden walkways – Passadiços dos Salgados – ideal for bird watching, with luck you will be able to see flamingos! We tell you more in the hiking trails section.
Praia de Armação de Pêra, Vale do Olival and Praia da Cova Redonda
Praia de Armação de Pera has an extensive sandy beach, about 3 km long, bounded by the banks of Alcantarilha and Espiche. Along the beach there is a pedestrian promenade with several restaurants, cafes, terraces, stores and a multitude of services, which makes it, together with the amplitude of the beach, a beach much sought after by families during the summer months. Apparently, it is an interesting spot for diving but Inês, Randomtrip’s diver, has not yet dived in these waters so we have no first hand info.
Praia do Vale do Olival is in a privileged setting among rock formations sculpted by erosion. The cliff that surrounds it has a narrow winding path through the vegetation that offers magnificent views of the sea and connects with the neighboring beach, Praia dos Beijinhos, which access to the cliff is exclusively pedestrian. It has ample ground space for parking, restrooms and restaurant.
One of the most beautiful beaches in this area is the Praia da Cova Redonda, a small bay between cliffs which you can access after go down through some stairs. It is somewhat exclusive (and posh) as it is mostly frequented by people staying in one of the luxurious accommodations in this area as well as its neighbor, the Praia da Nossa Senhora da Rocha Beach (because of the hermitage that gives it its name).
Praia da Albandeira (and its arch) and Praia da Estaquinha Beach
Two small and crowded but incredible beaches. They have free parking (beware because it fills up quickly), and to access them you have to go down some stairs, between cliffs, which lead to the first beach (Praia de Albandeira). The other beach (Praia da Estaquinha) can be reached through a hole in the cliff to the right of the first beach, at low tide, and from the latter you can see the famous arch of Albandeira.
You can also see the arch from above, although in our opinion it is not as impressive as from the beach itself. The Praia de Albandeira has, on the way down to the beach, a small restaurant with pizzas and toilets.
Praia do Pau and Praia da Malhada
As we have already mentioned, this area is a succession of cliffs, beaches and coves that the sea and the wind have sculpted over the years and the truth is that there is no way to reach some of these coves except by sea. This is the case of the beaches of Pau and Malhada: two pieces of paradise on earth that can only be reached by kayak, by boat or, if you dare, by SUP (stand up paddle surf).
Book here your kayak tour to the beaches and caves around Armação de Pera.
If you prefer, rent here your stand up paddle board and explore on your own.
Carvoeiro and surroundings
Praia da Marinha
Praia da Marinha is one of the most famous beaches in the Algarve, especially since it was distinguished by the Michelin Guide as one of the 10 best beaches in Europe. Arriving in front of the imposing cliff and the curious rock formations that dot the sea and make up this landscape we understand why it is one of the most emblematic beaches and one of the postcards of the Algarve.
Apart from being a work of art of the wind and the sea for the sight and enjoyment of the beach, it is also ideal going through the route of the Sete Vales Suspensos (Route of the Seven Hanging Valleys) that begins here, which we will tell you about below, and is, due to its multitude of marine habitats, a privileged enclave for the practice of scuba diving.
It has a free parking lot (although when we went there it was under construction and you had to park on the road and walk 1km) that in summer is full so you usually have to park on the main road and walk 10-20min (maybe it is a good idea to ask for an Uber or Taxi from somewhere nearby, or better yet, walk along the hiking trail that we tell you about below).
From the parking lot, go down the stairs to the left (it is well-marked, since to the right you access the “percurso dos sete vales suspensos”), pass by a beach bar and reach the beach. Be careful with the rocks in the water, some of them are very close to the shore and on days of rougher seas and poor visibility you can get hurt if you enter the sea quickly.
Percurso dos sete vales suspensos (Route of the Seven Hanging Valleys)
Chosen as one of the best hiking trails in Europe, the “Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos” is a 6 km route (12 km round trip) along the coast that starts in Praia da Marinha to Praia Vale de Centeanes (or the other way around) and constantly surprises at each stage.
We have done this trail several times and every time we did it we like it more. What attracts us most: the constant company of the sea along the entire route. Although you can do it in 3 hours approx. (round trip, 12 km), ideally you should spend more time, bring a snack, a cap, swimsuit and plenty of water, and stop at the viewpoints and the incredible beaches along the way as the beautiful Praia da Corredoura and Praia do Carvalho.
In addition, it passes through the Praia de Benagil and you will be able to contemplate from above (although from a distance because it is protected by a wooden fence) one of the most beautiful caves (and the most sought after) of the Algarve, Benagil Cave.
Another of the points you will pass is the Alfanzina lighthouse the photogenic 30-meter, 30-mile range lighthouse that was built in 1920 to guide ships. Apparently, it could be visited inside on Wednesdays for free (although we do not know when they will reopen to the public due to the contingencies of the pandemic).
We can say that this non-circular route has a medium level in our scale of difficulty because it has some parts of slippery terrain and some more challenging climbs but overall it is easy.
Ideally you should do this route with good weather to enjoy the beaches (in spring, summer or in the “veroño” – summer days during autumn – that sometimes October gives us) but we did it in winter (January and February) – in sunny days and without much wind – and we hardly crossed with anyone.
If you get to do this route, we have something to ask you: include in your backpack a small bag of cat food and extra water. The house we rented for the first months of 2021 was right here and this route was part of our daily walks. There wasn’t a day that went by that we didn’t do it and we were always accompanied by our friend Ginger, the orange cat with honey eyes, very friendly and neighbor of this piece of land. Ginger has been living here for several years, free, and the neighborhood takes care of leaving him food and water. The exact spot to leave food and water for Ginger is here where he has his bowls and his house overlooking the sea.
We recommend more hiking routes in this section of the blog.
Benagil Cave and how to get there from Praia de Benagil
This is probably the best known of the places we visited on the trip: Benagil Cave is one of the postcards of the Algarve. This cave that the wind and the sea took care of sculpting over the years is truly imposing and highly photogenic.
We hesitated whether to go there or not because of everything we had read about it: crowds, abusive prices, queues,… Everything we do not like and that characterizes mass tourism from which we usually want to flee and especially in times of pandemic. But we decided to go early, a weekday off-season in an atypical year as 2020 with the condition that, if we still had to wait, we would leave without visiting it. And why did we decide to go? Because we were curious to visit this incredible place. And, if possible, we didn’t want to leave it out of our route.
How to get to the Benagil cave? There are several options to visit the famous cave:
- Go Swimming: if you dare, you can actually swim from the beach since the distance is not very far. However, be careful with the currents, if you do not have experience swimming it’s better to choose another option. Another disadvantage is that at certain hours, with so many kayaks, SUP boards and boats arriving it can be confusing and dangerous. If you choose this option you should ideally go early or late in the day.
- Kayak/Paddle surfing: at Praia de Benagil you can rent kayaks and paddle boards so you can go to the cave on your own. It is advisable to book in advance, especially in high season, otherwise you may have to wait up to a couple of hours for a kayak/paddle board. Common prices:
- Kayak: from 30€/hour for 2 people
- Book here the Kayak tour
- Book here the tour to go at sunrise (7:30) or sunset (17:00) (for better changes of less crowds)
- Paddle: from 15€/hour single, 30€/hour double
- Kayak: from 30€/hour for 2 people
- By boat with a tour: there are many boat tours from many places along the Algarve coast that will take you not only to the Benagil cave but also to other caves and beaches. Depending on the duration and distance the prices vary, below you can check some options.
We decided to do it by kayak and we were very lucky. Arriving early (before 9 am), we were able to enjoy this jewel of the Algarve’s nature for a few minutes alone and others in the company of another girl who, like us, arrived at the cave by kayak.
We went early on a Thursday in late September of the atypical year of 2020 and we can’t imagine how it will be to get to this beautiful place among a mix of boats, kayaks, people swimming, etc., but we suppose it will take away quite a bit of the magic of the moment. If you go to the Algarve in high season and want to avoid the agglomeration of kayaks and people, Benagil is not going to make it easy for you. Another option is to hire one of the boat tours that pass through there. Being such a sought-after destination, there are boat tours from various points in the Algarve, with swimming in the open sea included. Be careful because most boat tours do not allow you to go down in the cave of Benagil (you just get on the boat to see it and go on):
Book here your boat trip to Benagil Cave from Portimão.
Book here your boat trip to Benagil Cave from Carvoeiro.
Hire here your boat trip to Benagil Cave from Armação de Pera.
Praia do Vale de Centeanes
Praia do Vale de Centeanes is special for us. We rented a little house here in the second lockdown Portugal was subjected to by the Covid-19 pandemic and this was our refuge from January to March 2021.
This is the little house where we lived for 2 months in Vale de Centeanes. It has one bedroom (with sea view), a living room with a small kitchen, a bathroom and this amazing terrace. You can book it here:
The house is right in front of the Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos so during those months our walks to stretch our legs were privileged and we got to do the whole route, from Vale de Centeanes to Praia da Marinha a couple of times. It is a 1 hour walk to the famous Benagil Cave. In case this house, Casa Nova, does not have availability, there are others right next door with similar characteristics such as Casa Beatriz; Apartamento Gil; Apartamento Centeanes; Apartamento Trópicos; or Apartamento Rosa
The beach of Vale de Centeanes, a 3-minute walk from the house, with golden sand and surrounded by an imposing cliff that juts into the sea, was where we took the first dip of the year, expurgating the oddities and roughness of the weird pandemic months.
Another route we did and it is also very nice is the route between Praia de Vale de Centeanes and Praia de Carvoeiro. It is about 4 km, takes less than 1 hour and has incredible landscapes.
The small seaside village of Carvoeiro, with the colorful houses down to the beach of the same name, is as photogenic as touristy. It used to be a traditional fishing village and is now known for having one of the most sought-after beaches in the area (and the hustle and bustle that goes with it). The main street of the village has everything: restaurants, bars, stores, ice cream stalls, mini-markets, post office, terraces (for a drink go to the Sky Bar Carvoeiro), which makes it a sought after destination for many people, especially at the peak of summer.
See accommodation options in Carvoeiro here
If you want to have the best views, go up to the viewpoint where the chapel of Carvoeiro – Capela de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação is located, ideal to enjoy the sunset with the village of Carvoeiro in the background. From this point is also where the wooden walkway begins that will take you to Algar Seco, which we will talk about next.
Boneca and Algar Seco
The algares (pit caves) are the cavities of the monuments sculpted by the wind and the sea, like natural pools, that you will see at various points and that make up the karst landscapes so characteristic of the Algarve’s Barlavento. And although all these rock formations are beautiful, there are some that stand out more than others, like the Algar Seco.
Here you can find caves and natural pools, authentic works of art of nature and some of them look like real windows and balconies! This is the case of the Boneca (the doll), a “5-star natural terrace” overlooking the sea and one of the best sunsets we enjoyed on the trip. The only “payment” to enjoy this luxury: waiting in line to enter the Boneca, which has become quite popular lately. Another ideal place to enjoy the sunset is climbing the cliff and contemplating the Algar Seco from above.
Lagoa and the wine gallery Lady in Red (LiR)
Lagoa is a traditional Algarve town that has experienced, especially since the 60’s, a high urban growth and that maintains its historic center with its gardens, its church and its cultural center – the convent of S. José – well preserved, in the highlands, surrounded by vineyards. The truth is that we were not planning to include Lagoa in our itinerary but there was something that caught our attention: the art gallery. Lady in Red. This gallery is located in a winery and here art and wine are mixed between paintings and musical notes. Ideally, keep an eye out when you pass through the area to see what exhibitions and events and concerts are going on and you will not be disappointed (they usually notify and update their calendar of events on their Facebook page).
Ferragudo and surroundings
Another popular vacation destination where some Portuguese families have summer homes is Ferragudo. Here the traditional essence of a traditional fishing village coexists with a growing tourism that seems not to be too strong (unlike, for example, the urban pressure suffered by its neighbor Portimão).
The best thing to do in Ferragudo is to stroll through the center of colorful (and flowery) alleys, have a drink in the Praça Rainha Dona Leonor until you reach the Church where you can appreciate the panoramic view of the Arade river and the photogenic Fort, also known as the Castelo São João de Arade, Castelo de Arade or simply Castelo de Ferragudo. The 17th century fortification guarded the coast from pirate attacks but is now privately owned….
Praia Grande and Praia dos Caneiros
Ferragudo has very beautiful beaches for all tastes. The beach where the Fort is located is the Praia Grande and, as it has protected waters, it is ideal for inexperienced swimmers. In addition, being very extensive and with an area near the river with rocks to climb and enjoy the Fort, it is ideal for going with children. On the other side of the Fort the beach is called Praia da Angrinha but it is basically the same beach.
Portimão and surroundings
You could say that Portimão is the capital of the Algarve’s Barlavento and this is palpable as soon as you arrive, due to the number of buildings and resorts that you will find, especially around its “jewel” and one of the most famous beaches in the Algarve: Praia da Rocha.
Although we didn’t stop here for long (we admit it, the “smell of mass tourism” scared us away), the historic center of Portimão hides some buildings that deserve to be contemplated on a walking tour. If you have time to lose yourself in the Portuguese cobblestone streets, take your steps to the Matriz Church (Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição) and the surrounding colorful alleys. Then, a 10-minute walk along the“zona ribeirinha” (on the banks of the Arade River) takes you to the Portimão Museum to dive into the regional culture and fishing traditions, in fact the museum is located in an old canning factory.
About 15 minutes by car from the city you will find the megalithic monuments of Alcalar where an important prehistoric community lived 5,000 years ago. You can visit and contemplate a village, artifacts that reveal how they lived and worked and the megalithic necropolis. Price: 2€, Joint price for 2 adults + 2 children: 4€.
Book here your accommodation in Portimão, in the heart of Praia da Rocha
Praia da Rocha
Praia da Rocha is the main beach of Portimão and one of the most popular destinations in the Algarve. It is a huge, wide and long beach, stretching along the resort of Praia da Rocha to the marina of Portimão.
There are some rock formations along the beach that give it its name (“rocha” is the Portuguese word for rock) but what attracts thousands of visitors during the summer is the immense offer of accommodations, activities, water sports and entertainment for all ages. There are almost 2 km of wooden promenade full of restaurants, stores, bars and terraces.
The Santa Catarina Fortress, built on the beach and the mouth of the Arade River, was partially destroyed during the 1755 earthquake, but is now restored and open to the public as a tourist attraction.
Praia da Rocha is so large that, even at the peak of summer, there is usually room to stretch out your towel. This, together with the varied offer of services, activities and accommodation, makes it one of the largest tourist areas of the Algarve. The amount of people and urban construction around makes it not at all our type of beach, especially having much more attractive beach options nearby.
Among all the activities that you can hire from Portimão, there are the most famous ones like the boat trip to the Benagil Caves from the marina of Portimão (book here) or a tour to the Ria Formosa Natural Park (book here).
See dolphins up close with the dolphin watching tour in Portimão: book here here
Praia dos Tres Castelos
Next to Praia da Rocha you will find Praia dos Três Castelos. The name comes precisely because of the 3 rocks that can be seen from the viewpoint, where the stairs down to the beach are located. It is worth stopping to contemplate the view of the sea and the rock formations, arches and caves. If you are lucky, a hawk may pass by…
Praia do Vau
If we continue walking along the cliffs we arrive at Praia do Vau, also with an extensive sandy beach and ideal for discovering small coves around the rock formations. You can walk perfectly from Praia da Rocha to Praia do Vau in less than half an hour so if you have accommodation in Portimão, you don’t even need the car.
It is one of the favorite beaches in this area of the Algarve so in summer it is usually full. It connects the city of Portimão and Alvor and due to the safe sea, clean sand, easy access and services around it is very sought after by families with children.
Alvor and surroundings
The picturesque fishing village of Alvor has, in addition to a beach within walking distance of the center (Praia de Alvor), beautiful beaches around, lots of accommodation and gastronomic offer (we recommend some places where to eat here) and plenty of activities for all tastes, so it can be a good base for an Algarvian vacation, much quieter than Portimão.
See accommodations where to stay in Alvor here
Praia de Alvor
The main beach of Alvor is a beach that stretches for more than 7 km, between rocks and cliffs, and has the particularity of being flat, which attracts many families as it is perfect for easily playing all kinds of beach sports: beach soccer, beach volleyball, beach rackets, etc.
Praia de Joao de Arens and Praia do Submarino
João de Arens beach won a special place in our top beaches of the Algarve list, but we are aware that having gone out of season (early October) in such an atypical pandemic year, were essential factors to enjoy it as such. We discover the beach thanks to Claudia, in her blog and, just like her, we were amazed when we arrived.
It is a somewhat hidden beach that seems difficult to reach but it’s easier than you might think. You have to drive to the point indicated on our map, park there on the dirt road and walk a few minutes to the next point marked on our map, from where you will see the descent to the beach. On the way to the beach you can enjoy the incredible views until you reach the “path” to go down very carefully to the beach.
Upon arrival, a small paradise connected between coves, ideal for exploring at low tide. It is a nudist beach, as the sign at the entrance indicates, although some people do not respect it. If you do not feel comfortable with nudism, you better go to another beach as there are few that are classified as nudist in the Algarve.
Very close to João de Arens you can also visit Praia do Submarino. Due to its rocky formation, it offers several secluded areas, caves to explore and transparent waters to dive (don’t forget to bring your goggles and fins and you won’t regret it).
Praia dos Tres irmãos and Passadiços de Alvor
Praia dos Três Irmãos is actually an extension of Praia de Alvor: a bay between two large rocks. It also has a small cave that delights little explorers, as well as life guards, bathrooms and a beach bar.
This beach is also the starting point of Passadiços de Alvor, a trail along wooden walkways of more than 6 km from the seashore in Três Irmãos to the Alvor estuary. It is a beautiful walk through landscapes of dunes, marshes and small beaches, ideal for bird watching. In addition, being a flat trail it is ideal for walking even with children or, if you prefer, by bicycle, which can be rented right there, for example here. It is not a circular trail, round trip is 12 km. Be careful, do not leave the trail and the wooden walkway as you could cause irreparable damage to the fragile ecosystem of the Ria de Alvor.
Welcome to what was, until the 16th century, the capital of the kingdom of the Algarve. Silves has been one of the biggest surprises of the trip to the interior of the Algarve, giving us a beautiful view of white houses crowned by the cathedral and the imposing reddish castle on top.
Having been an important center of government during the Islamic occupation and capital of the Portuguese kingdom after the Christian reconquest, arriving in Silves is like walking on living history and contemplating cultural heritage in every corner. It is here that one of the most visited monuments of the Algarve is located: its castle.
The Silves Castle is in our opinion, one of the most well preserved castles that we know in Portugal, as well as imposing and a perfect place from which to enjoy beautiful views from the top of the hill almost to the Sierra de Mochique. It is considered the best example of Islamic military architecture in the country and its interior hides architectural vestiges of the fifteenth century superimposed on ancient Islamic structures of the XII and XIII centuries.
It is worth getting lost in the labyrinthine passages within its walls and even enjoy a coffee on the terrace inside. With luck, in summer, you can even buy tickets for a show at the castle in the evening. When we went, we didn’t make it in time to get tickets for a session of “Jazz nas Adegas”, but would love to attend. The entrance fee to the castle is 2,80€ but there is a combined ticket with the Archaeology Museum for 3,90€, which was the one we bought. Free entrance to the castle for children under 10 years old.
To continue diving into the history, it is essential to visit the Municipal Museum of Archeology of Silves where, through different artifacts, we travel through the different stages that the city went through. When we went to the museum, there was an interesting artistic proposal by Charlie Holt about memory, the perenniality of the remains and their legacy to eternity. In this proposal we saw how in each counter of the museum archaeological artifacts with centuries of history were exhibited along with other very modern artifacts – which he calls “fossils of the future” – such as toy cars, lego pieces, lighters, cans or glasses.
Also within walking distance of the Castle and the Museum you will find the most outstanding building of Gothic architecture in the Algarve, the Cathedral of Silves. The interior atrium of the church has several tombs, including that of King D. João II buried here in 1495 although his remains were transferred to the Monastery of Batalha four years later.
Some of the best views of the city can be appreaciated from the south bank of the river, across the old bridge. Also known as the “Roman bridge”, its construction is not so remote: the historical sources, architecture and acronyms of the stonemason refer to a medieval construction, from the mid-fourteenth century. If you get hungry, just there, crossing the bridge back to the network of narrow streets of the center, there are several restaurants with terraces, we choose the Mosaiko.
Two other points of interest to further investigate the cultural influences, particularly the Islamic ones, that shape the cultural identity of Silves, its municipality and all the legacy that is visible today is to stroll through the Al-Mutamid Square, visit the Casa da Cultura Islâmica e Mediterrânica (Islamic and Mediterranean Culture House) and the Centro de Interpretação do Património Islâmico de Silves (Islamic Heritage Interpretation Center of Silves).
Every summer Silves celebrates a Medieval Fair where the town and its participants dress up in mediaeval costumes, you can taste typical dishes and buy medieval gadgets in several of the stalls in the lively streets.
As a curious fact, Silves is also known as the “Capital da laranja” (“Capital of oranges”) as high quality sweet oranges are grown here. Delicious mangoes are also grown here, so if you visit the region between September and November be sure to try them (you will find them in the local markets).
Find accommodation in Silves here
Another of the biggest surprises of the Algarve’s interior was Monchique. We entered the biodiverse Serra de Monchique, Algarve’s great mountain range that hides healing hot springs, protects the region from the winds and has the highest point in the entire Algarve.
We start in the village of Monchique, which maintains an authenticity that shows that tourism arrives here slowly and in small doses. We parked the car near the flowery São Sebastião Park and enjoy the view.
Afterwards, we stroll through the steep historic center observing the white houses of traditional Algarvian architecture until we reach the beautiful 16th century Igreja Matriz de Monchique, Manueline style. Take advantage of the walk through the center of Monchique to taste its specialties in one of its terraces: the almond sweets accompanied by a shot of Medronho, the local brandy.
We decided to climb up to the ruins of the Nossa Senhora do Desterro Convent to enjoy the views and it was worth it. The convent itself was occupied by a family and a man approached us to ask if we wanted to enter the convent but as we wanted to enjoy the sunset at the viewpoint of Fóia and we did not have time, so we did not enter finally.
10 minutes by car you will find the famous (at least at nationally) Caldas de Monchique, the thermal village discovered by the Romans where you can take a nice bath, a walk in the forest or, if you prefer, you can stay a night (or a couple of nights) here.
We decided to go at sunset to the highest point of the Algarve: the Fóia viewpoint, 900 meters above sea level. If the road to get to the viewpoint from the village was beautiful with breathtaking scenery, the arrival at the viewpoint itself was somewhat disappointing. We did not expect something so “built” so we decided to change our plan and enjoy the sunset at the Fonte Santa viewpoint. It is said that on days with good visibility, from the Mirador da Fóia you can see Cabo de São Vicente (Sagres), Faro and even the very Serra da Arrábida in Setúbal! although we were not that lucky.
Algarve from Lagos to Odeceixe
Lagos and surroundings
We arrived at the tourist town that we like the most in the Algarve: Lagos. It seems to us the ideal base to recommend to someone looking for a destination in the Algarve with plenty of accommodation and restaurants, with beaches nearby (walking distance, no need for a car), some nightlife and a beautiful and very well preserved historic center.
We parked the car in the public parking in front of the Mirador Praia da Batata and went down the promenade until we reach the Forte da Ponta da Bandeira. The fort was built to protect the city from corsairs and pirates. The defense of Lagos was especially important because of the vital role it played in the history of Portuguese expansion abroad in the 15th and 16th centuries, especially because of its proximity to Sagres.
Afterwards, we entered the walled city of beautiful cobblestone streets through the Castle of Lagos (known as the Castle of the Governors), more specifically through the Arch or Gate of São Gonçalo, with the soundtrack of the sparrows that inhabit these trees.
On your walk through the cobblestone streets of downtown lagos you will pass by the Praça Infante Dom Henrique, Igreja Parroquial de Santa Maria de Lagos, one of the oldest buildings in the city and the Igreja de Santo António, whose interior is particularly impressive.
If you go to Lagos with children, don’t miss the Centro de Ciencia Viva, and if you want to dive deeper into local history, head to the Museu Municipal Dr José Formosinho, a museum with the particularity of being located in the annex of a baroque church with archaeological and artistic exhibitions on local history.
If you decide to make Lagos your Algarvian home for a few days, you should know that there is a farmers’ market every Wednesday from 5pm to 9pm, here at VivoMercado.
Lagos also has nightlife, especially at the end of Rua 25 de Abril or a little further up Rua Lançarote de Freitas. The Lagos Marina with its restaurants, cafes and ice cream stalls is also where there is usually more life during summer. In addition, being a tourist area, from Lagos you can do a lot of activities activities, most of them start precisely from the marina. These are some of the activities you can do from Lagos:
The one we are most looking forward to and will not miss on our next trip to the Algarve: a boat ride on Ponta da Piedade at sunset. Book here
You can spend a morning or an afternoon sailing along the algarvian coast by catamaran and passing by some of its most beautiful beaches and cliffs such as Praia da Luz, Ponta da Piedade or Burgau bay. The meeting point is at the Lagos marina and with luck you will be able to see dolphins! If you feel like it, book the catamaran trip. here.
Meia Praia is the largest beach in Lagos, apparently its name comes from the fact that its shape resembles a half-moon. It is a huge and impressive beach whose sandy beach stretches across the bay and accompanies the city of Lagos. It is one of the favorite beaches of locals and visitors at any time of the year and, thanks to its extension, it is not impossible to find a place for a towel even in the peak of summer.
It is ideal for families with children and people with functional diversity because of its accessibility (it has several accesses without having to deal with stairs) and the proximity of the marina and the city of Lagos.
If it is a beach suitable for water sports, especially for surfing and windsurfing lovers so that means that yes, sometimes it will be a little windy but having the city right there means that if it is not an ideal day to be in the towel, you can always take a walk through the historic center.
Praia dos Estudantes
Praia dos Estudantes is very close to the center of Lagos and is highly photogenic (and increasingly famous on Instagram) because from it you can see a Roman bridge built between two of the rocks so representative of the Algarve’s Barlavento. There is a restaurant-bar at the beginning of the stairs that go down from where you can watch the sunset with a drink although with non-Portuguese prices (for example a spritz costs 7 €).
Dona Ana Beach
Dona Ana is a mythical beach of Lagos, wide, whose cliffs and rocks make it so special. However, being so touristic, several hotels and other constructions have been built around it over the last few decades, which, in our opinion, take off some of its charm. Still, if you are looking for a destination to stay in front of the beach and have all the services nearby, it can be a good choice.
Praia do Camilo
Praia do Camilo is a small beach as famous as it is photogenic due to the cliffs and rock formations that surround it.
It has free parking and you can access it by going down through some well marked wooden stairs. Praia do Camilo has some rocks in the middle of the sea that make it especially beautiful and deserves that you approach to contemplate it, but being so small and so touristy, it doesn’t look like a good place to spend a day at the beach. In addition, due to its orientation and characteristics it runs out of sun before sunset.
Ponta da Piedade
The famous Ponta da Piedade is another Algarve postcard. This set of wonderful cliffs sculpted by the wind and the sea over the years has natural caves and arches that can be explored on foot by wooden boardwalks or even by boat or kayak.
The Ponta da Piedade lighthouse is the starting point for the “passadiços de madeira” that reach Praia do Canavial along 2.5 km. If you want, you can even do a longer trail along the coast passing by Ponta da Piedade: from Praia do Camilo to Praia de Porto de Mós (4km) or even walking from Lagos to Praia da Luz (9.5 km), always passing by the beautiful wooden walkways of Ponta da Piedade).
The lighthouse is also an excellent spot to watch the sunset.
We were looking forward to a boat ride with the colors of the sunset. While we were on top of the cliff we looked at each other thinking about how such an impressive landscape would look like in the middle of the sea. We won’t miss it next time, if you don’t want to miss it either:
Book your sunset boat ride in Ponta da Piedade here
Book your kayak tour in Ponta da Piedade here
Praia do Barranco do Martinho
Is it possible to be alone in a cove in Algarve’s Barlavento on a very hot day? Yes, but it will cost you some stiffness and maybe a bruise or two. The Praia do Barranco do Martinho is totally worth a visit but it’s not easy to get there. First we struggled to find the path to go down and then the descent itself was a bit hard, but that little “we made it!” bath made us feel amazing
This beach is very close to Ponta da Piedade, next to the wooden walkway that connects the lighthouse of Ponta da Piedade to Praia do Canavial (which we will tell you about in a moment), it is difficult to access (not recommended to get down with loads of stuff, with poor skills or carrying children) and does not have any kind of services. Of course, when you get there, you won’t want to leave (but don’t forget that you have to go back up again!)…
The exact point to go down to praia do Barranco do Martinho is approximately this one – you have to leave the wooden walkway – and the “path” to go down is steep and slippery, although you can’t get lost. It is important to wear good shoes (we went down with closed sandals but it’s better with sneakers), hands free if possible and go down carefully and slowly.
It is not a beach suitable for everyone, we saw several groups of people who did part of the descent and did not dare with the last one, which is narrower, steeper and more slippery. In our case, we enjoyed the beach alone, except for a group of kayaks that arrived by sea and left after 20 minutes and two other guys who came to the beach shortly before we left. Warning! The beach at high tide is small, better check the tides before you go, we usually use this website to check.
The name of the beach says it all: Canavial is Portuguese for “Cane field” and you have to cross a cane field to get to this beautiful beach between cliffs.
Getting to Praia do Canavial is more or less easy: you can walk along the wooden walkways of Ponta da Piedade or you can get close by car. If you go by car, you have to park the car here, enter the wooden walkway and immediately leave the walkway to the right, where you will see a path, follow a few meters and go down using some semi-constructed stairs, until you reach the beach. You should wear closed shoes rather than flip-flops (closed sandals are better). The beach does not have any type of service and there are people who practice nudism, although most do not. At low tide, you can reach the neighboring Porto de Mós as both beaches are connected.
If you continue along the walkway you can reach a viewpoint of the beach at the top of the cliff, on the path that leads to ponta da piedade.
Praia da Luz
The small coastal town of Luz with its homonymous beach can be an excellent base for exploring the Algarve’s barlavento. It is more relaxed than the larger towns such as Portimão and has plenty to offer in terms of accommodation, gastronomy and nightlife, especially visible on its promenade.
Book accommodation in Praia da Luz here
Praia do Burgau
Apart from beaches, and the one in Burgau is very nice and wide, if there is something that the Algarve has, it is beautiful and colorful villages that delight any photographer. Here is an example (or several):
Burgau is quite touristy but seeks to maintain its authenticity and attention to details. When we went we realized that it is a beach where apprentice surfers practice, so if you are learning or want to learn how to surf, this is a good place.