10 Reasons You Should Visit the Algarve at Least Once in Your Lifetime
Visit the Algarve | © Ddzphoto / Pixabay
Much more than golden beaches and azure waters, the Algarve is a nuanced destination packed with history, culture and an infectious lust for life.
The southernmost region of Portugal is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country – but there’s more to the Algarve than buzzing resort towns and world-class golf courses. With miles of rugged coastline overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, traditional fishing villages serving up fresh seafood and mysterious caves, this is one seriously varied spot. Here are 10 excellent reasons why the Algarve should be on your travel wish list.
Stand at the most southwestern point of Europe (Cabo de São Vicente)
This windswept headland, just a few kilometres northwest of Sagres, is famed as the most southwestern point of Europe. The iconic red lighthouse sits on the ruins of a monastery and can be seen from 60mi (97km) out at sea, making it one of the most powerful in the country. Until the end of the 14th century it was widely believed to be the end of the world – and as you watch the sun seemingly sink into the Atlantic Ocean, it’s easy to see why.
Enjoy a round of golf in Vilamoura
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The sprawling resort of Vilamoura may boast the largest marina in Portugal, but it’s best known for its six challenging golf courses – the championship Victoria Golf Course, the Millennium Golf Course, the Pinhal Golf Course, the Laguna Golf Course and the 27-hole Vila Sol Golf Course. The most famous, however, is the Dom Pedro Old Course Golf Club, designed by acclaimed British golf course architect Frank Pennink in the late 1960s and set amid towering pine trees.
Party at the strip in Albufeira
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The coastal town of Albufeira was once a quiet fishing village, but these days, there’s nothing sleepy about the popular tourist destination. Along with its sandy beaches, one of the biggest draws is Avenida Francisco Sá Carneiro, known locally as the Strip. This vibrant stretch is lined with open-air nightclubs and bars where the party lasts until dawn. If you’re looking for a bar, head to Matt’s Bar or Wild & Co., or party the night away at the wildly popular Club Heaven, Club Vida or Libertos Club.
Eat local fish in the fishing town of Ferragudo
Discover a quieter side of the Algarve at the picturesque fishing village of Ferragudo. Conveniently located at the mouth of the Rio Arade estuary – directly opposite the popular Portimão and Praia da Rocha – it offers a glimpse of traditional village charm. Wander through the winding cobbled streets of the old town to the riverfront, where you’ll find a cluster of waterfront seafood restaurants serving freshly caught fish. Or head to the popular beachside restaurant Rei das Praias, which has been serving specialities such as oven-baked fish with rock salt since 1976.
Take an architecture tour of Tavira
Often referred to as the Venice of the Algarve, the town of Tavira is characterised by its low-rise, whitewashed architecture with Moorish-style doors and rooftops – a mark of the Moorish occupation of Tavira between the eighth and 13th centuries. Spend a day wandering around its pretty streets and you’ll discover the ruins of a Moorish castle and two mosques. Even its famous seven-arched Roman bridge over the Gilão River has been discovered to be based on an original 12th-century Moorish bridge. There are also several impressive Renaissance churches and medieval houses with gothic details lining the Travessa de Dona Brites.
Relax on the Praia da Marinha beach
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This iconic beach near Lagoa is undeniably beautiful, with rugged orange limestone cliffs that seemingly melt into turquoise waters – and it’s no surprise that it’s become emblematic of the Algarve. Take in the panoramic views from the clifftop, then descend the long stair down to the beach. One of the most iconic features of the beach is the double-arched rock known as the Cathedral or the M Rock. The crystal-clear waters make it an ideal destination for snorkelling – just make sure to bring your own gear, as there are no shops nearby.
Swim to the Benagil Caves
© Jacek Sopotnicki / Alamy Stock Photo
The Algarve is home to some seriously spectacular rock and cave formations, but perhaps the most famous is Benagil Caves. Near the small fishing village of Benagil, the enormous cave – also known as Cathedral Cave – is renowned for the vibrant yellow and orange hues of its walls and cavernous ceiling, which is pierced by an almost perfectly round opening framing the sky above. While it’s possible to reach the cave by swimming, it’s not recommended due to the number of boats in the water. Instead, book a boat tour, or hire a kayak, canoe or paddleboard.
Learn about history at the Castle of Lagos
Building, Historical Landmark
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There’s more to the Algarve than azure waters and sandy beaches – it’s also home to plenty of ancient and medieval castles. The Castle of Lagos is one of the most impressive in the country, with well-preserved city walls and towers that surround the entire old town. It was originally built in Roman times and was enlarged and renovated in the 16th century. In 1755, it was almost completely destroyed by a tsunami and wasn’t rebuilt until the 20th century, when it was declared a National Monument.
Connect with nature at Ria Formosa Natural Park
Explore one of the most fascinating landscapes in Portugal at Ria Formosa Natural Park. This complex of lagoons, reefs and islands runs along the Atlantic coast between Manta Rota and Garrão, creating a diverse network of ecosystems. It’s home to plenty of wildlife, including the purple swamp hen, a blue-feathered bird with a striking red beak, once the rarest bird in Portugal. Start your visit at Centro de Educação Ambiental de Marim (Marim Environmental Education Centre), where you can plan a hike, or book a tour of the wetlands in a traditional fishing boat.
Eat local Pastéis de Nata
Bakery, Pastelaria, Portuguese, Pastries, $$$
© Rob Wilkinson / Alamy Stock Photo
No trip to Portugal is complete without tasting an authentic pastél de nata, the emblematic sweet treat that comprises a flaky puff pastry crust filled with egg custard and dusted with cinnamon. While they are most associated with Lisbon, the Algarve is also full of pastelarias (bakeries) serving up these delicious pastries. The family-run Padaria Central in Faro has been making acclaimed tarts since 1926, and Café DaRosa in the historic town of Silves serves them up in a pretty space decorated with azulejo mosaics – but perhaps the most acclaimed examples in the region are from Pastelaria Gombá in Lagos.
This is a rewrite of an article originally by Nina Santos.
These recommendations were updated on October 14, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.