Portugal is one of Europe’s best value destinations, and the Algarve especially so. The UK Post Office, which keeps track of Europe’s best value holiday resorts, has placed the Algarve in the top position of most affordable holiday destination for several years in a row.
Even though the Algarve is already affordable, there are a few tips and tricks to making sure you get the best value for money possible.
When to visit
July and August are the two busiest, and consequently most expensive, months on the Algarve. This is when everybody comes to the Algarve, and the hotels, restaurants, and the airport at Faro are jam-packed with tourists from all over Europe. If possible, and if you want to make the most of your budget, avoid visiting during these two months.
June and September, although still popular, are considerably quieter. You can still sunbathe on the beach in either month, and accommodation is also likely to be much more affordable. If you’re seeking sun, sea, and sand, then there are the best two months to visit.
The Algarve isn’t just a summer destination, though. With over 300 days of sunshine per year, it’s suitable for year-round visits. In fact, winter is one of the best times of year to visit: it’s quiet, it’s cheap, and, although it’s warm, it’s cool enough to sightsee and explore.
There are two ways to save money on accommodation in the Algarve: either visit out of season, or go inland. Most inland towns are only twenty or thirty minutes from the coast by car and the savings you get from staying inland often mean that you’re able to factor car rental into your budget as well.
This is a big bonus. Although it’s not absolutely essential, having a car will make your holiday in the Algarve considerably more enjoyable. There’s a lot to see on the Algarve, but most of it is spread out. While public transport does exist, it doesn’t always go exactly where you want it to go and many services are infrequent.
Out of season (from October until March) many hotels will heavily discount their accommodation, and it’s possible to get a room or an apartment for a quarter of a price of what you would pay during the summer. The coastal towns are better connected by public transport and, while it’s better to have a car, you can easily get between many small towns by train.
The cost of eating out can quickly eat into any well-planned travel budget, regardless of where you are. In Portugal, the best deals can be found at lunchtime in the form of a “menu do dia.” For less than €10 – and often as little as €6 – many restaurants serve a three-course meal that comprises of a starter, main, dessert, and a coffee. Some touristy restaurants offer meal deals as well, but they’re usually more expensive and the quality is nowhere near as good.
The difference between the two restaurants is that the touristier one will have a large carefully-designed sign advertising their deal while the cheaper restaurant will have the menu written on a paper tablecloth and sellotaped to the window.
Pastelarias, or cafes, are your best bet for a cheap snack outside of lunch hours or on the weekend. Almost all will serve bifanas and pregos; Portuguese meat-filled sandwiches which typically cost between €1.50 and €3.
For those that are self-catering, the Algarve’s markets offer excellent value for money. In Portugal, markets are still where many people buy their vegetables, meat, and fish. Prices are not only cheaper than supermarkets, but the quality is typically more affordable as well.
3 of the Algarve’s best low-cost
The Algarve is home to some of the best beaches in Europe and, unlike many other European countries like Germany and Italy, entry is free. With so many beaches, it’s possible to visit a different beach every day for a fortnight and still not have covered even half of the Algarve’s beaches.
In autumn, winter, and spring, the Algarve is a popular walking destination. Walkers come to the Algarve for the variety of walks it provides: coastal walks in the Central Algarve, hill walks in Monchique, and scenic walks through the The Ria Formosa near Faro.
Learning to surf
Portugal is one of Europe’s most popular surfing destinations, and the Algarve is a fantastic place to learn the craft. There are several surf schools located in and around Lagos and Aljezur towards the West Coast, and most offer a beginners 2-hour surf lesson for anywhere between €15 and €30 per person.
Cost: €15-30 per person
Spend a day at the Algarve’s Waterfalls
There are two main waterfalls in the Algarve: one at Pego do Inferno near Tavira, and the other, Vigario Falls, near Alte in the Central Algarve. The waterfalls in Alte are best saved for autumn or spring, when there’s more rainfall, while the waterfalls at Pego do Inferno are usually suitable to visit year-round. Although these waterfalls are well-known locally, and their location can be easily be found online, they are relatively non-touristic. Both are a fantastic place to take a picnic and spend a day swimming and diving.
Budget Algarve in a nutshell
The Algarve can be a very affordable destination, especially with a little advanced planning. When you go makes a huge difference, particularly if you want to stay beside the coast. Your main cost after that is likely to be food, which can be made affordable by looking out for “menu do dias” and eating in pastelarias as opposed to restaurants.
Bio: James writes the travel blog Portugal, a blog about Portugal and all things Portuguese. He has spent time living all over Portugal: in the Algarve, Lisbon, and in the North of Portugal near Porto. He is almost always daydreaming about where he’ll visit next in Portugal.