The Algarve is most famous for its coastline, where visitors come to bask on some of Portugal’s best Blue Flag beaches, wander the tiled streets of white-washed ports and tuck into fresh seafood. Whether you’re looking for family-friendly coves, a lively bar scene or traditional Portuguese culture, these top seaside towns on the Atlantic coast deserve your attention.
Cacela Velha, just 30km (19mi) from the Spanish border, is a hilltop village filled with white-washed cottages within the Ria Formosa Natural Park. Its main attraction is Praia da Fábrica, a long stretch of golden sand that shifts with the wind and tides, creating sparkling pools and lagoons. The village is protected by the remnants of a walled fort, which was ravaged by the 1969 earthquake. Visit in mid-July to experience the Noites da Moura Encantada festival – Nights of the Enchanted Moorish Women – to discover traditional arts and crafts, and more.
Aljezur sits away from the tourist crowds on the wild northwest coast of the Algarve. It’s shadowed by the atmospheric ruins of a hilltop Moorish castle that dates back to the 10th century, with white-washed houses spread below. Aljezur is a fantastic spot for foodies too, with plenty of restaurants and cafes serving fresh seafood and authentic regional dishes. Nearby, the protected Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina boasts black-cliff beaches with good surf.
Face dramatic, windswept vistas in Sagres, home to a 17th-century fort that clings to the coast. From here, you can watch huge waves crash to shore and wander clifftop trails towards Cabo de São Vicente lighthouse, which marks the most southwesterly point in Europe. Sagres itself is one of the prettiest seaside towns in the Algarve, with a small marina and port famed for its lobster fishing – though it makes a perfect base for surfers who come to ride the Algarve’s gnarliest waves.
The airport is generally all that most tourists see of Faro, but there’s much more to discover in the Algarve’s historical capital. Pass through a stone arch into the Old Town, which is lined with shuttered Portuguese relics that lead to Cathedral Square; here you can climb the bell tower for views over the coast. Faro is also a base for boat trips to the Ria Formosa Natural Park, a network of salt-water lagoons and sandy islands home to flamingos and marine birds.
Quarteira is one of the Algarve’s original resort towns, loved for its long promenade bursting with cafes and restaurants that spill onto the street. Its wide, sandy beach is perfectly positioned between Vale do Lobo – an exclusive beach resort backed by golf courses – and Vilamoura’s glitzy marina to the west. Aside from relaxing on the beach, you can mingle with locals at Quarteira’s fish and produce markets or shop for souvenirs at the gypsy market on the outskirts of town.
There’s a good reason why Albufeira is the Algarve’s top tourist haunt. Once a peaceful fishing village, the town now offers a blend of Portuguese charm and vibrant nightlife. By day, you can wander the cobblestone streets of the Old Town with its whitewashed Moorish architecture and then, when the sun goes down, hit the bars and clubs in the New Town’s strip. Then there’s the long stretch of golden beach backed by jagged cliffs, where you can hop on a boat trip down the coast.
This unassuming seaside town, just west of Albufeira, stands out for the remains of its 1667 fort, which sits on a promenade overlooking the beach. Walk west along the sand towards Galé, where a wooden boardwalk stretches across a bird-filled lagoon; or east along an almost-hidden coastal path for dramatic coastal views. Just inland, you’ll find Portugal’s best handmade pottery in nearby Porches.
Get a taste of local life in Portimão, one of the Algarve’s largest seaside cities. There’s a residential feel with modern apartment blocks sprawling out from the tree-lined Old Town, which is home to Portuguese-tiled buildings and seafood eateries. Portimão’s main beach, nearby Praia da Rocha, is famed for its surf-friendly waters and long sands littered with dramatic rock formations. Historically a shipbuilding and sardine fishing hub, Portimão is now the best place to book a boat trip to the Benagil Caves.
Swanky Vilamoura is a purpose-built resort town where the rich come to play. Picture million-dollar yachts bobbing in the marina, surrounded by high-end bars and restaurants, a casino and five-star hotels. The golfing set flock to Vilamoura for its six world-class courses but the town’s main attraction is the pristine, Blue Flag sands of Praia da Falesia. Regularly rated one of the best beaches in the world, Falesia stretches for 6km (3.7mi) and is lined with soaring, rust-coloured cliffs.
Families love Luz for its quiet sandy cove, which is lapped by kid-friendly shallow waters. To the east, you’ll spot Rocha Negra, a huge black rock formed over 150 million years ago by Monchique’s now dormant volcano. Hike up here for sweeping views over Luz and the Atlantic, where clifftop walking trails stretch on to Sagres. The town’s family-run Portuguese eateries serve up local seafood dishes here, or you can head up to the yellow-and-white fort, now a restaurant, that dates back to the 17th century.
Whether you’ve decided where you’re going to go or not, these places to stay will confirm your decision. Try one of the best hotels in the Algarve, or see our top choices for staying overnight in Praia da Rocha, now bookable via Culture Trip. Head over to Albufeira for beaches and museums, or explore what there is to do in Lagos before relaxing in one of these bars.