Must-Visit Attractions in the Algarve
The sea caves of Benagil can be reached by canoe or kayak | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
The Algarve, on the south coast of Portugal, is second only to the country’s capital, Lisbon, in terms of tourism revenue, but there are still plenty of peaceful spots where you can get a true taste of the region. From hilltop cork groves to “the end of the world”, here’s our guide to the Algarve’s must-visit attractions.
The Algarve is popular with golfers and sun-seekers who want a holiday on the course or on a long sandy beach. And Algarve certainly has those things. But there are also plenty of attractions here that are worth putting down the golf clubs and getting off the sun lounger to discover. With incredible rock formations, historic towns and natural beauty surrounded by cooling ocean water, the Algarve will show you why it’s so loved.
Cabo de São Vicente
© Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
Standing at the southwesternmost point in Europe, Cabo de São Vicente was once thought to be the end of the world, and it’s easy to see why. It’s rocky and very windy all the time here, and it does sometimes feel like this is the end of the world. The views are incredible, and standing on the rocks with the waves crashing beneath you is a blood-pumping feeling. One of Europe’s brightest lighthouses stands watch, and there’s a good cafe for when you want to escape the wind.
Parque Natural da Ria Formosa
This nature park in the Algarve is an estuary made up of canals, marshlands, islands and sandy beaches. The main reason visitors come here is to spot wildlife – and there’s plenty of it. The purple swamphen is the poster bird for this park, and if you manage to see one, you’re rewarded with vibrant blue and purple plumage. The park is also a quiet place to walk and enjoy the diversity of nature.
Serra do Caldeirão
© Angelo DeVal - Travel Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
It’s known as a mountain range, but at 590m (1,900ft), the Serra do Caldeirão is more hilly than mountainous. This does make it accessible to more people and easier to trek across, but it’s still quiet most of the time. There are some beautiful wildflowers growing freely, and if you like unusual trees, you can spot cork, holm oak and palm. There are streams and rivers to cross, so be prepared to get your feet wet.
© Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy Stock Photo
With a craggy coastline of fascinating rock formations and a choice of soft, sandy beaches, Lagos attracts those who want to laze by the shore and wander along the marina looking at the sleek yachts. But Lagos also has its history on show in the form of medieval and Baroque churches, as well as a historic building on the site of a slave market that was established in the 1400s. Water sports are available on the long Meia Praia beach, and when the sun eventually goes down, Lagos wakes up and begins its busy nightlife.
© Cro Magnon / Alamy Stock Photo
Tavira is about as traditional an Algarve town as you can get. This is still a fishing town, and the Gilao River, which runs right through before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, provides for the family-run restaurants you’ll find on the cobbled streets. The houses and bars along these winding streets are all tiled in the traditional Portuguese way, and semi-rural villas and apartments are dotted about, mostly away from the golden beaches.
Despite its size, many people don’t know about this soft sandy beach and only discover it by accident. It feels secluded, even though it’s not really, and the historical buildings on the rocky hill-head, plus the cragginess of the shoreline, make it feel like it’s a world away. There are plenty of bars and restaurants here, and the sea is cool in contrast to the warm sand. A little piece of paradise in Ferragudo.
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
This incredible swirling rock formation is made up of sea caves, one of which has its own sandy beach inside. You’ll need to take a boat tour out to the caves, or sail yourself, as even though it doesn’t look that far from the traditional village of Benagil, swimming out in this part of the water is not advised. There are many companies selling boat tours, though if the sea is too choppy, the tours will not run.
Vilamoura was originally constructed in the 1980s as a golfing destination, and it remains a major draw for those looking for a holiday on the fairways. The area has also built on this foundation and is now the place the wealthy head to when they’re in the Algarve. Casinos, riding schools, a shooting club and, of course, incredible golf courses. It’s like a huge playground for those who can afford it. You can observe the super yachts in the marina, which are a window into another world.
This is a rewrite of an article originally by Nina Santos.
These recommendations were updated on September 23, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.