Are you visiting the Algarve with limited time to spare? While the entire region is picture-perfect and each town has its own story to tell, a few locales deserve particular attention. “Cool” may be a matter of personal opinion, but these towns are among the most noteworthy in Portugal’s holiday hotspot.
From its location in the rugged Costa Vicentina natural park to its status as a surfing haven, Aljezur is a top spot for nature enthusiasts and surfers. It is also a smart choice for those seeking delicious Portuguese cuisine, especially fresh fish. Charming, traditional, and laid-back, the Algarve’s northwestern corner offers a blend of Algarvean culture with a slight Alentejano hint.
Perhaps the liveliest town is Albufeira, a tourist-heavy destination that sits in the center of the coast, and it may also be the best town when looking for a party. In Albufeira, there is something for everyone from delicious chicken shacks to high-end restaurants, English-speaking bookstores, and art galleries. Many English-speaking expats find themselves in Albufeira since English is widely spoken, and it is also home to a number of unique attractions, like the Zoomarine Algarve.
Modern, resort-friendly and sophisticated, Vilamoura is an ultra-cool town filled with both beautiful people and gorgeous sights. Topped with fantastic restaurants, high-end hotels, shopping opportunities, and beaches, there are plenty of things to see and do, and the Vilamoura Marina is among the best evening destinations in the region. Vilamoura is also one of the top towns in the Algarve for golf.
Stunning cliffs, caves, and coast sum up the beautiful Lagos in a nutshell. This is another tourist-heavy town in the Algarve with vibrant day and night scenes, lively fish markets, historical landmarks, and a modern infrastructure. When visiting, be sure to swing by the Saturday market for fresh fruits, vegetable, and cultural products, then head to the nearby fish market to experience a true Algarvean scene.
Outdoor markets, beautiful souvenir shops, and cozy cafés or traditional tascas await you in Loulé, one of the best inland towns. While it may not be the most lively spot in terms of social scenes, it is a great choice for disovering historical and cultural treats and Loulé has become one of the more popular day trips for those needing a break from the busy coastal resort towns. This is also a good starting point for going on an adventure to visit smaller villages or even a few “ghost towns“.
Today, the regional capital of the Algarve is Faro but it was once Silves. This charming town is brimming with history and culture, ruins, and buildings turned into museums. The red Silves Castle and the Silves Cathedral are standout landmarks and the town is full of more cultural surprises from the charming homes along the cobblestone streets to bridges and the surrounding fortified city walls. Perhaps this is why many visitors head to Silves when exploring the Algarve.
One of Olhão’s claims to fame is that it has the largest fishing port in the Algarve. It is also located close to Faro, the regional capital, and sits close to the Ria Formosa natural park, so visiting both is easy. This adorable fishing town is also home to noteworthy fruit, vegetable, and fish markets, as well as traditional Portuguese streets, restaurants, and historical landmarks. If visiting in the summer, sync the trip with the Festival do Marisco (Seafood Festival) and try local specialties. Also, the beautiful town of Tavira is only a short 25 km drive away.