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Algarve's Castles © Pixabay
Algarve's Castles © Pixabay

11 Things to Do in the Algarve That Aren't Beaches

Picture of Nina Santos
Updated: 7 December 2017

While the beaches are a major reason to visit the Algarve, they’re definitely not the only reason, and there’s plenty to see and do that doesn’t involve remaining seaside. The next time you’re in the Algarve, adding a few of these non-beachy activities to your itinerary will show you more of the region than many visitors experience. Here are 11 things to do in the Algarve that don’t involve the beach.

Visit castles

When in Portugal, visit castles! A few notable fortresses are located in the Algarve and roaming these ancient grounds is a lovely way to spend an hour or two (at each location). Dating back to different centuries through the Middle Ages, these historical landmarks reflect the Moorish occupation and structural styles from Manueline to Gothic architecture. Among the most notable examples include the red sandstone, 8th-century Silves Castle, the 11th-century Tavira Castle and the remote Castle of Castro Marim (located on the southern border with Spain).

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View of the Castro Marim fort in the Algarve © Gadzius / Shutterstock

See churches

Portugal’s religious heritage is extensive and the gorgeous churches and cathedrals will leave many visitors speechless. The architecture is simply stunning and the designs usually incorporate azulejo tile mosaics. Although the rather simple facades may not seem extremely interesting, the interior gilding and ornate designs are jaw-dropping. Be sure to visit the Baroque-style Church of São Lourenço, the 13th-century Roman Catholic Faro Cathedral and Tavira’s Misericórdia Church (which has been listed as a National Monument).

Faro Cathedral © Picturist90 / Shutterstock

Go on a wetland tour

In addition to the Algarve’s stunning coast, another natural gem is the Ria Formosa wetland/lagoon system and natural park. This is a fantastic place to spend the day bird-watching, especially during a boat or kayak tour. Listed as one of Portugal’s Seven Natural Wonders and easily accessible, reaching from west of Faro and towards Tavira, the Ria Formosa is a unique and unforgettable location to visit while in the Algarve.

Go golfing

Like surfing and hiking, golfing is another popular activity in Portugal, especially in the Algarve. Since the regional climate is nearly always pleasant and the sun shines practically all year round, golfing is a hobby that can be enjoyed regardless of the season.

Explore the mountains

Plenty of visitors and locals love hiking the coastal cliffs (why wouldn’t they?), but the Algarve is also home to a lovely mountain range. The Serra de Monchique is located in the northwestern part of the Algarve, nearly on the border with the Alentejo region, providing many trails for hours of trekking past the cork oak trees. Driving a car is another great way to explore that will help you cover more ground. While there, visit the eerily intriguing Convento Nossa Senhora De Desterro, the hilltop ruins of an old convent with spectacular panoramic views of the mountain.

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See the cork oak trees in the Serre de Monchique © PJ photography / Shutterstock

Plan a day at an amusement park

The Algarve is home to a few amusement parks and zoos, which are perfect for families, couples and groups of friends. They are mostly water-themed and provide a fun way to cool off during the hot summers without spending a day at the beach.

ZooMarine Algarve, EN 125, KM 65, Guia, Albufeira, Portugal

Aqualand Algarve, Estrada Nacional 125 – Sítio das Areias, Alcantarilha, Portugal

Lagos Zoo, 8600-013 Barão de São João, Portugal

Enjoy the historical centers

From Tavira to Lagos and reaching north towards Alentejo, the Algarve is dotted with many enchanting and aged town and village centers. Wander through and enjoy the centuries-old architecture, sometimes sandwiched between modern buildings that don’t quite fit the old-world ambience. A few favorite towns and villages include Loulé, Silves, Aljezur, Faro Old Town and downtown Lagos.

Go shopping

Whether window shopping or looking for souvenirs, the shopping options are endless. Gypsy and flea markets cover the region, fish markets are ubiquitous, and each town or village offers their own little boutiques. Shoppers will enjoy the trendy and unique merchandise; ceramic dishes, textiles, clothing, beachwear and jewelry are just the tip of the iceberg.

Loulé Market, Rua da Nossa Senhora da Piedade, Loulé, Portugal

Quarteira Market, EM527-2 621A, Quarteira, Portugal

Dine out

Portugal is also a foodie destination and the Algarve’s gastronomy caters to every palate. Fish and seafood enthusiasts will adore the traditional favorites from grilled finfish to steamed shellfish cataplana, while the local barbecue chicken is a general crowd-pleaser. There are also many options for vegetarians and a few Michelin star venues that will tempt those less worried about their budgets.

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Sample the many seafood dishes © JM Travel Photography / Shutterstock

Get pampered

After days of exploring and activities in the sun, relax with a massage or treatment at one of the spa centres. A few of the Algarve’s five-star hotels are also offer wellness and spa services.

Go bar-hopping

The Algarve is a popular destination for stag and hen parties for a very good reason: the fantastic weather paired with the lively bar and club scene are the perfect one-two party punch. Albufeira, in particular, is where revelers congregate and the local ‘strip’ is the perfect place for a bar crawl.

While there are plenty of activities to keep visitors busy, heading to the beaches should still top each agenda.