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Trip Planner Europe  /  Portugal  /  Algarve
(4.4/5 based on 48,000+ reviews for top 30 attractions)
Things to do: beaches, sightseeing, theme parks
Occupying the southernmost portion of Portugal's mainland, Algarve is wholeheartedly devoted to tourism and continuously ranks among Europe's top holiday destinations. Nearly 10 million annual visitors include Algarve on their itineraries, drawn mostly by the region's developed coastline, boasting nearly 200 km (125 mi) of impeccable beaches. Farther away from the water, the region offers an extensive network of hiking trails, ideal for active vacationers seeking a chance to explore a rugged southwestern corner of Europe once considered the very end of the world. If you need a few urban things to do on your vacation, head for the regional capital Faro, featuring a lively Old Town full of plazas, pedestrian lanes, and outdoor cafes. Add Algarve and other Portugal destinations to your travel plans using our Portugal itinerary planner.
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Algarve Holiday Planning Guide

Occupying the southernmost portion of mainland Portugal, the Algarve is wholeheartedly devoted to tourism and ranks among Europe's top holiday destinations. Nearly 10 million annual visitors include the Algarve on their itineraries, drawn mostly by the region's developed coastline, boasting nearly 200 km (125 mi) of impeccable beaches. Farther away from the water, the region offers an extensive network of hiking trails, ideal for active vacationers seeking a chance to explore a rugged southwestern corner of Europe once considered the very end of the world. For a taste of city life, head for Faro, the regional capital, with a lively old town full of plazas, pedestrian lanes, and outdoor cafes.

Places to Visit in the Algarve

Albufeira: Bustling Albufeira features an interesting fusion of modern tourist infrastructure and centuries-old architecture, complemented by an array of accommodations, pulsing nightlife, and easy access to some of the region's best beaches.

Lagos: Ringed by 16th-century defensive walls and packed with winding alleys, Lagos manages to retain its traditional charm while at the same time offering some of the region's most developed tourist facilities, a range of restaurants, and beautiful beaches.

Portimao: Despite its unattractive outer reaches, oft-overlooked Portimao is a sailing hub and boasts fantastic beach access, a quaint historical center, and a relaxing waterfront stretch, a result of its long history as an important fishing village.

Vilamoura: One of Europe's wealthiest and most extensive resort areas, Vilamoura offers nearly every seaside amenity imaginable, from casinos and malls to golf courses and water parks. Its popular Roman baths and ruins are also major tourist draws.

Guia: Just a few minutes by car from the popular coast around Albufeira, Guia is a primarily residential village, featuring an array of upscale guesthouses, vineyards, and the rumored origin of Portugal's famous piri-piri chicken.

Alvor: Set alongside an estuary, Alvor has long survived as a traditional fishing village, and as such you'll find much less tourist sprawl here than in other parts of the region. The town features low-rise apartments, cobbled streets, and uncrowded beaches.

Faro: Close to world-class lagoons, the Algarve's regional capital is the first point of entry for many visitors and a stronghold of local culture. The churches, homes, and plazas of the medieval city center show off a range of architectural styles, while the streets burst with bars and cafes.

Tavira: Thousands of years of history are on display in the streets of Tavira, one of the Algarve's most architecturally pleasant towns, where Roman ruins, Gothic churches, and pastel riverfront homes stand alongside a medieval core.

Sagres: A quiet retreat when compared to many of the Algarve's hectic tourist centers, remote Sagres and its selection of laid-back bars, cafes, and beaches lie next to a windswept peninsula jutting into the sea, surrounded by cliff faces and topped off by a magnificent fortress.

Praia da Rocha: A major stop on many Algarve itineraries, Praia da Rocha has long been considered one of the premier beaches in the region, accented by stunning cliffs, a coastal fortress, and long stretches of soft sand.

Things to Do in the Algarve

Popular Algarve Tourist Attractions

Zoomarine Algarve: Home to playful oceanic mammals and an array of other marine life, Zoomarine Algarve offers the exciting chance to swim alongside dolphins, explore aquatic conservation efforts, and indulge in an extensive water park featuring slides, rides, and a wave pool.

Marina de Vilamoura: Affluence is on full display at the Vilamoura Marina, the core of the city's shopping, dining, and bar district, where more than 1,000 luxurious vessels float surrounded by upscale hotels, casinos, and nightclubs.

Falesia Beach: Protected from coastal winds by a long stretch of rugged red cliffs, Praia da Falesia is one of the region's longest beaches at 6 km (3.7 mi), ideal for a seaside walk, a day sunbathing on the sand, or a splash in the ocean.

Praia Da Rocha: A premier beach in a land overflowing with world-class waterfronts, Praia da Rocha buzzes with visitors throughout most of the year. This pleasant shoreline boasts a combination of rocky cliffs, diverse dining, and irresistible golden sands, making it a must-see Algarve attraction.

Praia dos Olhos de Água: Blessed with a host of seafront restaurants and overlooked by the rocky cliffs so characteristic of the Algarve, Praia dos Olhos de Agua and its nearby fishing village exude a feeling of tranquility and calm perfect for a day in the sun.

Ponta da Piedade: The Algarve's spectacular rock formations are on full display at Ponta da Piedade, where a series of these splendid stones rises up to 20 m (60 ft) high. Kayak among them or chill out on a secluded beach.

Slide & Splash - Water Slide Park: Portugal's largest water park, Slide & Splash Water Slide Park is heaven for those wanting to take full advantage of good weather on their Algarve vacation, with pools, toboggans, enclosed slides, and plenty of kid-friendly play areas.

Praia Dona Ana: Dazzling visitors with its dramatic rock formations, protected grottos, and warm sandy stretches, Praia Dona Ana offers the opportunity to explore a rugged coastline or to simply kick back in a beach chair and enjoy the view.

Fortaleza de Sagres: Set atop a desolate, rocky outcropping overlooking the ocean, the imposing Fortaleza de Sagres, a 16th-century star fort, played an important role in defending the local seas from pirates and launching Portugal's prolific age of exploration.

Alvor Boardwalk: Take a stroll along the lengthy Alvor Boardwalk, which stretches for 3 km (1.9 mi) through a thriving estuary, featuring a series of bulky sand dunes, salty lakes, and marshland that still provides much of the local fish catch.

Planning an Algarve Vacation with Kids

Places to Visit in the Algarve with Kids

It's hard to go wrong on an Algarve holiday with kids, as the region is overflowing with beautiful beaches, family-friendly urban centers, and lots of wide-open spaces in between. Albufeira, Vilamoura, and the region's other large towns boast the lion's share of urban attractions, including a great selection of city beaches within easy reach of the town centers. Lagos alone has enough to keep most families entertained, from its beautiful city center and wealth of dining options to its gorgeous sands and relatively calm waters. Out in the far western reaches of the region, toward Sagres and Aljezur, you'll find all sorts of secluded coves and interesting rock formations, while heading inland can be a good way to enjoy the natural landscape and introduce the kids to a taste of traditional village life.

Kids will love wandering the winding streets and immersing themselves in the medieval charm of attractive Silves, Faro, and Tavira, while the adults tagging along can enjoy the many historical attractions packed within these city centers. Quinta do Lago makes good use of the mighty Atlantic with an array of water sports. When it comes to accommodations, resorts aren't limited solely to the cities, with stretches of coastline like that of Praia da Rocha offering plenty of big all-inclusives and facilities of their own.

Things to Do in the Algarve with Kids

You won't have to work hard to find things to do in the Algarve to fill up a family-oriented vacation, as the region's natural beauty and outdoor offerings alone can keep even the most rambunctious youngsters happy. Of course, an Algarve vacation would feel incomplete without a few days at the beach, and most tourist hot spots feature a nearby stretch of sand. Praia Da Rocha and Praia dos Olhos de Água are two of the most famous, but the list certainly doesn't end there. Meia Praia, Praia dos Pescadores, and Praia Gale all feature golden sands, kid-friendly waters, and convenient amenities. For variety, plan to spend a bit of time exploring the pristine natural diversity of Ria Formosa. This huge system of lagoons, estuaries, coastal marshes, tidal flats, and barrier islands is teeming with life, including chameleons, flamingos, and huge flocks of rare birds. Children can wander freely on long stretches of beach, splash in the lagoons, or explore the inland nature trails--or you can hop aboard the ferry to one of the nearby barrier islands. Ilha da Culatra is a true showstopper, and Albufeira Riding Centre offers a special kid-oriented trail ride that takes you into the rich interior, accompanied by beautiful views.

When it comes to cultural sites, castles are hard to beat as family favorites. You have many options, but Fortaleza de Sagres may take the cake for location: this remote fortress stands atop rugged Cabo do Sao Vicente, with the waves crashing against the cliffs far below and the vast blue of the Atlantic beyond.

You'll also find plenty of tried-and-true family attractions in the Algarve. If the kids need a break from the beach, try the famous Aqualand or nature-friendly Zoomarine Algarve, which combines water park attractions with education about marine conservation efforts. Mar Ilimitado near Sagres hosts dolphin-watching tours and a conservation center promoting eco-tourism, while Lagos Zoo boasts extremely clean facilities and allows you to observe a variety of animals from dry land. If your family likes to putt, indulge in some healthy competition at Family Golf Park, or race through the mud in the more competitive, teen-friendly environment at Karting Almancil Fun Park.

Tips for a Family Vacation in the Algarve

If visiting on a warm-weather vacation, keep in mind that the region's selection of beaches is absolutely massive, and though they can often be crowded throughout the year, they're almost always a solid (and free) option for a few hours of relaxation. You'll find they have plenty of room for the kids to run wild and splash around in the shallow sea, and as many of the more popular beaches have on-duty lifeguards, you won't need to worry about general safety. However, pay close attention to the beaches' colored-flag system, which will alert you to any dangerous currents or tides. While it'll generally be obvious, keep a close eye on the kids when on an unsupervised beach (checkered flag) and ensure they stay out of the water on an unsafe beach (red flag). When it comes to getting around, consider renting a car for the duration of your Algarve trip, as public transportation is quite limited between smaller towns, beaches, and sites. This way, you won't need to worry about catching infrequent buses, and you'll have easy access to all points of interest.

Dining and Shopping on Holiday in the Algarve

Cuisine of the Algarve

Seafood fresh from the Atlantic is inextricably linked with the Algarve's rich culinary heritage. Just about anywhere you travel on your trip to the Algarve, you'll find traditional Portuguese restaurants, known as "tavernas," offering an array of local catches. Fish is served in multiple styles, with one of the most traditional being "arroz de peixe" (fish rice): fresh fish cooked together with tomatoes, peppers, and rice, topped off with mint and cilantro. "Massada de peixe" is the pasta-based alternative. "Caldeirada," a fish stew made with wine, peppers, and herbs, delights the taste buds, while inland variations make use of sausages, bacon, and cabbage. Of course, one of the great pleasures of an Algarve vacation lies in simply asking for the fish of the day, or "peixe do dia," and getting a delicious, charcoal-grilled meal that's likely fresh from local fishermen. Mackerel, sardines, and tuna are all common, but you'll also find grilled "camarao" (prawns), "lula" (squid), "choco" (cuttlefish), and "polvo" (octopus). Note that dishes with cuttlefish and octopus (the latter especially popular in Santa Luzia) do not remove the squid ink; it's perfectly edible and indeed an important part of the preparation. Shellfish fans should try "feijoada de buzinas," bean stew with whelks. The beachfront areas surrounding Olhao, Tavira, Alvor, Faro, and the major tourist resorts are all fantastic places to sample these culinary creations.

Visitors not overly fond of seafood will find other options in the Algarve. In fact, the well-known and world-famous "piri-piri" chicken—a spicy roasted dish popular across Europe—is rumored to have originated in Guia. Try it there, in Sao Bras de Alportel, or elsewhere. If you're in the mood to do your own cooking, swing by one of the many legendary fish markets in the province to pick up some supplies of your own. Lots of towns and cities feature fish auctions and sales, but Olhao's impressive, bustling fish market tops them all. Be sure to arrive early to pick up some of the best pieces.

Shopping in the Algarve

Southern Portugal is a hot spot for all kinds of handmade ceramics, and the Algarve is no exception. Dishes, bowls, and tiles are widely available and are often beautifully painted. While you'll spot these dining accessories all over the place, look in major cities like Lagos, Lagoa, and Albufeira to find shops specializing in ceramic gifts and items. Alternatively, head to some of the region's many flea markets and farmer's markets, which hawk wares from antiques and brand-name knockoffs to homemade dishes and delicious fresh vegetables. You'll find the markets just about everywhere, but those in Loule, Tavira, Olhao, and Quarteira are particularly diverse and bustling.

Another interesting local industry is the production of cork, an age-old tradition that featured prominently in the region's economy. Cork-based items are available in many shapes and sizes, including coasters and decorations. However, this craft is an expensive one, so cork items may be pricey.

Know Before You Go on a Trip to the Algarve

History of the Algarve

Throughout its rich history, the Algarve has been tied to exploration and a diverse tapestry of cultural influences. The area surrounding the fortress of Cacela Velha in Vila Real de Santo Antonio served as an important point of reference for early Phoenician and Greek settlers and sailors as they traversed the ancient Mediterranean. The Roman Empire later extended its reach to Iberia, developing prosperous settlements flush with commercial enterprises and the arts. The Roman villa at Nucleo Museologico da Villa Romana de Milreu is a good example of some gorgeously preserved mosaics from this period, as is Vilamoura's Cerro da Vila. Paderne boasts a Roman bridge dating from the 2nd century CE. Alternatively, head for Câmara Municipal De Faro to see a variety of local artifacts, or the Roman ruins near the town of Estoi to get a sense of life in the area in the first two centuries CE.

After the fall of Rome, the Algarve was conquered by the Visigoth tribes, later falling to Muslim Moorish conquerors from North Africa during the 700s. This marked a critical turning point in the region's history, as Moorish rule would profoundly affect the culture, architecture, and development of both the Algarve and the Iberian Peninsula as a whole over the following centuries. In fact, the very name of the region, "Algarve," comes from the Arabic word for "the west": Al-Gharb. The Algarve's Muslim rulers built many fortifications around the region, consolidating their power and developing many of the area's cities. Several towns, including Albufeira, still bear vestiges of the Arab language in their names, while the remarkably preserved 11th-century Silves Castle attests to the city's heritage as the Moorish capital in the Algarve.

By the beginning of the 8th century, the Moors controlled all of modern-day Spain and Portugal. However, Europe began to push back in the mid 700s, launching a centuries-long series of campaigns to retake the Iberian Peninsula known as the "Reconquista." Over the following five centuries, Christian forces from across Europe, notably Crusader knights, poured into Spain and Portugal. Much of the area was recaptured by the Europeans and absorbed into the new Kingdom of Portugal by 1189, though Muslim rule endured in the south. In 1249 the Moors were finally driven from the region, leaving behind indelible marks that were absorbed subtly into the Algarve's still-developing local culture. For an interesting glimpse of this period of transition visit Paderne Castle, a 12th-century Arab fortress thought to be witness to one of the first displays of a Portuguese national shield, and Governor's Castle (Castelo dos Governadores), once a seat of Moorish power. After its independence, the Algarve remained a semi-autonomous kingdom within greater Portugal, a status that persisted, at least in name, until the establishment of the Portuguese Republic in 1910.

Portugal's power grew after the Reconquista, and in 1415 the new Portuguese Empire arose. Algarve would play an influential role as this ambitious imperial nation grew into one of the preeminent superpowers of its day. The influence of then-ruler Prince Henry the Navigator kickstarted the Age of Discovery, establishing a center of operations in the area of Lagos, and provincial Sagres became an important base for many of Henry's exploits. Legend has it that expeditions set off from the surroundings of Cape Saint Vincent. From here, Portugal sent ships, troops, and explorers to Africa, Asia, and South America, setting up colonies across the world. They in turn brought unfathomable riches back to the homeland, helping to fund opulent architecture across the province and country, including the remodeling of the Moorish-era Silves Cathedral and the Baroque-era Church of St. Anthony (Igreja de Santo Antonio).

However, one of the darkest times in the Algarve's history was yet to come. November 1, 1755, brought the destructive Lisbon earthquake, which obliterated the capital and caused a massive tsunami that wreaked havoc upon the Algarve. The huge wave, which infamously reached over the city walls of Lagos, nearly wiped out many important centers of trade and commerce in the region, laying waste to most coastal cities. Faro alone was mostly unharmed, as its sandy barrier lagoons protected it from the worst of the damage. It's thanks to this stroke of historical luck that buildings like the 13th-century Faro Cathedral and the city's old town survived intact.

Though the Algarve was long heavily dependent on agriculture and native crops, such as olives, grapes, and figs, as well as industries like winemaking, fishing, cork processing, and canning, the latter period of the 20th century saw huge changes, as more and more tourists flocked to the region's fantastic beaches. Budget flights, package holidays, and the increasing mobility offered by the European Union have all contributed to the Algarve's now massive tourism industry, attracting a huge number of expats from the United Kingdom and northern Europe.

Landscape of the Algarve

The Algarve is a region of contrasts, with gorgeous beaches juxtaposed against rocky shores and a vast, semi-desert interior. The western Algarve, wild and undeveloped, features a coastline of steep cliffs and rugged rocks accented by small sandy stretches, running from Odeceixe in the north to the area around Burgau and Luz in the south. Much of this coastline is covered by the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, home to several rare bird species and plants native to the region. These marshes and estuaries span much of the Algarve's maritime territory, appearing also along the southern coastline, particularly around Alvor and farther west around Olhao and Faro. Stroll along Alvor Boardwalk to see some of these intertidal habitats, which have been the lifeblood of the local fishing villages.

The Algarve's most popular beach zones lie along the south coast, such as the famed Praia da Rocha. Blessed with one of the greatest arrays of rock formations and cliffs anywhere on the planet, many of the coastline's most popular beaches showcase wide-open sand and towering sandstone walls. Praia da Marinha has a particularly diverse array of these formations, while Praia do Beliche, near the tip of the continent, wows with cliffs rising to heights of up to 40 m (131 ft). Nearby Cape Saint Vincent juts dramatically out into the Atlantic Ocean, marking Portugal's southwesternmost point.

Near the inland city of Monchique rises the Algarve's highest point, Montes da Fóia, protruding 739 m (2,425 ft) from the countryside and providing a stunning view over the area's dense pine and cork forests. Surrounding the peak is the Serra de Monchique, the Algarve's western mountain range and origin of several of the region's rivers. A hotbed of geothermal activity, this mountainous stretch of the province has given rise to natural spas like the famed Caldas de Monchique.

Holidays & Festivals in the Algarve

As a part of a majority Catholic country, it's no surprise that the Algarve celebrates major Christian and Western holidays, with big celebrations around Christmas, the New Year, and Easter. Various patron saints of villages and towns are also honored at different times throughout the year, such as Albufeira's tribute to the patron saint of local fishermen in August. At Easter in particular, keep an eye out for traditional holiday fare, including the famous folar cake.

The spring and summer months see plenty of festivals and celebrations, ranging from Monchique's sausage fair in March to May Day celebrations across the countryside. If your Algarve holiday takes you through the end of August, don't miss the famed Noite Branca festival: known in English as the "Festival of the White Night," this raucous get-together commemorates the end of summer with a massive street party. Locals and visitors alike traditionally wear white and celebrate in the center of town with music, dancing, and other performances, including appearances by fantastical characters. In September, the village of Vila do Bispo hosts a festival dedicated to the venerable (and delicious) goose barnacle, a local specialty. Autumn and winter bring a number of fairs and gatherings, including carnival-style fun at Faro's Santa Iria Fair and a huge display of traditional culture and crafts at the Loule Mountain Fair.

However, keep in mind during your trip that villages and towns throughout the Algarve host a huge array of local festivals and events, all with their own distinctive customs and celebrations, so be sure to check local listings on signboards or at information centers.

Algarve Travel Tips

Climate of the Algarve

A Mediterranean climate is a prominent feature of the Algarve despite the region's position on the Atlantic Ocean, with warm, dry weather year-round. The coastal areas don't receive much yearly rainfall, with the majority of rain falling inland. December, January, and February are the coldest months, and though freezing temperatures and snow aren't unheard of, winter in this corner of the world is mild. Summer months, peaking between June and September, are extremely hot and dry, bringing tons of constant sunshine perfect for hitting the pool or the beach. However, bring heaps of sunscreen and stay hydrated, as the blazing heat can wither you quickly while sightseeing in the Algarve. Spring and fall are very popular times to visit, as it's warm enough to sunbathe without extreme hot or cold swings.

Transportation in the Algarve

The Algarve's bus network has decent routes and covers the major tourist hotspots along the coast, and from the bigger cities you'll have easy access to other destinations in Portugal. Multiple companies ply this oceanic route, and some even offer value passes that provide unlimited travel on certain routes for set periods of time. However, keep in mind that weekend services can sometimes be extremely reduced and infrequent, so plan accordingly. A train line also connects Faro with Lagos and Vila Real de Santo Antonio, servicing the towns in between.

The region's rural interior and huge array of beaches mean that you'll likely need a car to get the most out of your Algarve vacation. Getting to more secluded sites off the beaten path on your own can be difficult without a vehicle. The convenient A22 highway runs nearly the entire length of the coast, stretching from the Spanish border in the east to the surroundings of Lagos in the west, and is a solid route for getting between cities on your Algarve itinerary. Don't forget that some roads in the region, including the A22, require you to pay a toll.

Language of the Algarve

Portuguese is the native tongue of the Algarve. However, due to the huge amount of tourism, you'll likely find that many locals are proficient in English, particularly those in the younger generation. That said, speaking a few basic words of Portuguese will go a long way toward making you stand out from the tourist crowd, and is sure to be appreciated by locals.

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