This family-friendly resort has as many distractions for grown-ups as for kids, from water parks and water sports to sandy beaches with seafood restaurants selling some of the freshest fish in Portugal.
With its towering honeycomb cliffs and sparkling jade shallows, the Algarve resort of Praia da Rocha is a real looker – with the peak-summer crowds to match. Sporty, youthful and never taking itself too seriously, the most popular pastime remains bucket-and-spade fun, followed by dinners along the strip.
Praia da Rocha’s broad wedge of bright golden sand is one of the Algarve’s biggest and best beaches, backed by photogenic, craggy limestone cliffs. Descending down several flights of steps to find your base – make sure you travel light – you’ll leave behind the resort’s huddle of high-rise hotels to find soft sands, swimmable sea and vendors renting out paddleboards, kayaks and jet skis. While super popular, the sheer size of this beach means that there’s room for all: surfers lugging glossy boards; families juggling inflatables, picnics and parasols; and groups of kaftan-clad women headed for its clusters of loungers.
To the eastern side of Praia da Rocha beach, where it meets the Arade river, you’ll find Fortaleza de Santa Catarina. A 17th-century fort with panoramic views of the shimmering Atlantic, it’s a popular spot to walk up to for sunset, taking in the burnished cannons and clouds of bougainvillea at the top. With patches of graffiti and no real museum-style information, it’s a little run down – so more of a heart-pumping evening walk with views at the top than a full-on historical excursion.
Like much of Portugal’s Atlantic-pummelled coast, there’s great surfing in this neck of the woods. The waves are most reliable from October to February, with gentle breaks suitable for beginners, but there’s enough movement to take surf lessons year-round and most surf schools will help you find the best conditions during the summer months. Praia de Rocha is also famous for its Rocha Surf Shop, which you’ll find just behind Hotel Oriental on the main hotel strip. Head here to rent boards and wetsuits, or book a lesson.
There’s far more to this area than the beach. Bird-stalked nature reserves, echoing caves you can sail right into and even dolphin spotting are all reasons to jump on a boat for the day. Stroll to the marina to catch one of the frequent boat tours. Benagil Cave is one of the most popular spots, where sunlight pours through a natural skylight into a circular, hollow rock space where you can take a dip – spring and summer are the best times to spot dolphins and porpoises. Scuba divers can also get their underwater fix here, diving to shipwrecks sunk just offshore.
While Praia da Rocha is glorious, it’s a holidaymaker magnet – so it’s worth checking out the space on the honeyed scoop of Praia dos Três Castelos, practically next door, with its exotic-looking rock arch and limestone stacks. Offshore, rocky outcrops spatter the crystal-clear bay like leopard print. Journey a little further to Praia dos Careanos, a pristine, clean sweep of mustard-coloured sand with viewpoints you can climb to. Or there’s the quieter, pine-trimmed Praia do Alemão, with plenty of hefty rocks that cast a little daytime shade.
Expect a more low-key spin on a night out here than in the Algarve’s nightlife mecca, Albufeira. Laid-back Praia da Rocha excels at poolside, beach-clubby bars, Irish pubs and the odd casino. Grab a front-row seat for the sunset at the handful of bars that fringe the cliffs above the beach – al fresco Bar Cloque is a local favourite – before walking along the Avenida Tomás Cabreira and the parallel Avenida António Feu to be lured in by a selection of beats and eats.
If you have the freedom of a hire car – particularly advisable for families – world-class water parks are within a half-hour drive from the resort. Slide & Splash is the big-hitter, with its paintbox-bright, multicoloured slides wrapped around faux canyon rocks like giant snakes. There’s plenty of shallow paddling space for smaller kids, too. Zoomarine is hybrid water and wildlife park, with dolphin and sea lion shows, flamingos and aquarium tanks as well as tropical-feeling pools and waterslides. Further afield, Aquashow has a smaller selection of waterslides and a large lazy river, plus plenty of lawn space to spread a towel.
Visit the pretty, historic town of Silves for a culture fix
Topped by a Lego-perfect castle that’s skirted by whitewashed, russet-tiled houses, Silves is a Portuguese town straight out of a painting – and it’s only a 30-minute drive from the beach. The castle is thought to date back to the 8th century – check out its distinctive red sandstone battlement – and there’s a fun, modern archaeology museum to give you the lowdown on Neolithic and Roman findings in the area. But you’re mainly here to stroll around the bunting-strung, cobbled alleys of the picturesque old town, browsing artisan shops selling surfboards, cork hats, sandals and ceramics.