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In an ideal world, a trip to the Algarve would last at least a full weekend to take in its pristine beaches, blue waters, and delicious cuisine. It’s still possible to see the many attractions this area of Portugal has to offer if you’re short on time though, including its resorts, golf courses, bars, seafood restaurants, clubs, and miles upon miles of coastline. Take a look at our guide to help you make the most of your time away.
The two main attractive spots that visitors flock to are Faro and Lagos – from there, people choose their onward destination depending on what they’re looking for. Parties or relaxation? Hip and modern, or quaint and traditional? The good thing is that the Algarve has it all.
Explore the Ria Formosa lagoon by boat
Ria Formosa is a beautiful blue-green tidal lagoon with mud flats that was recently designated one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Portugal. While truly beautiful, it may not appeal to those in search of an action-packed break – the boat tours are peaceful affairs made for lounging on deck and soaking up the sun, or taking an Instagram-worthy snap or two of the local birdlife and picture-perfect surroundings. Boat tours leave from several points in the area, including the departure zone in Faro.
Hit the shops
Whether you’re looking for a keepsake souvenir, just love shopping, or simply want to people watch, the Algarve is full of shopping opportunities, especially in Faro and Lagos. These spots are also great for finding cafés to enjoy a coffee and one of the area’s many sweets, which should be sampled as the Portuguese have a notorious sweet tooth for pastries, breads, puddings, and cakes.
Go on a driving or walking tour
Whether you’ve chosen to stay in one of the tourist zones, or you’ve strayed a bit off the beaten path to more secluded gems like the town of Tavira, stretch your legs and explore the area on foot. If you’re renting a car, take the opportunity to discover why everyone loves the Algarve’s beaches. Among the most popular are Praia do Camilo in Lagos, Praia da Marinha in Lagoa, Praia da Oura near Albufeira, and Ilha de Tavira. Other highlights include traditional Portuguese towns like Loulé, which has charming historical castle fortifications, and is home to some great markets. Try to visit the red-hued Silves Castle, just north of Albufeira, which gets its colour from red sandstone.
Get stuck into Portuguese cuisine
No matter which city you choose to stay in, there won’t be any shortage of restaurants for enjoying great southern Portuguese food – usually, that means seafood. Dinnertime may seem a little late, generally between 8pm and 10pm, which is common for Portugal. There are also plenty of spots to try frango assado (piri-piri chicken) and other traditional Portuguese recipes – many restaurants come with spectacular coastal and beach views. If you’re not sure where to eat and want options, the Vilamoura Marina offers many chic restaurants with in a striking setting.
Wind down with a cool cocktail
After dinner, why not find a cozy spot to sit and enjoy a glass of wine or a trendy cocktail? Aside from seafood and beaches, the Algarve is known for its nightlife, which begins right around dinner time. If starting early (or wrapping the night up early), visit a beach-side bar like NoSoloÁgua in Portimão for music and drinks with views over the sea. Party-goers will also have many options to keep the night going, especially near Albufeira.
Start the day right with a one-of-a-kind breakfast
Is there anything that pairs better with coffee than Portugal’s famous pastéis de nata? Maybe not! These caramelized egg custard tarts are a great way to start the day right. As a preferred vacation destination for many Europeans, the Algarve also caters to a wide demographic – breakfasts here include croissants, jam, cheeses, honey, and fruits, as well many venues specifically geared towards English-speaking visitors serving up an English breakfast, complete with eggs, beans, toast, and tomatoes.
Catch some early morning sun
The two best times to visit the beach in Portugal (especially in the Algarve) are mornings before noon, and afternoons after 3pm. Between noon and 3pm, the sun is at its strongest and locals know to retreat indoors (as a plus, this is a good time for lunch anyway).
Find a bargain at an outdoor market
Fresh fruit and vegetables, quirky clothing, and even more unique accessories can be found in many of the Algarve’s markets, and there always seems to be one going on somewhere in the area. Try to visit one of the gypsy markets for more variety and great deals.