The Algarve hugs Portugal’s Southern Atlantic coastline and consists of small fishing towns that have now sprung into cities that lure tourists annually to its sunny golden-sand beaches and rugged coasts with its relaxed atmosphere, budget prices, incredible food and world-renowned wines.
Portuguese draws all kinds of travellers, from gourmands to wine lovers and adventure junkies who are drawn to the windswept beaches in search of the next big wave. For nature lovers, you can explore spectacular natural rock formations, caves, or go on dolphin and bird-watching tours.
The best thing about the Algarve is that it has great weather almost all year-round making it a top destination for winter sun. What better way to spend the day than enjoying the beaches, eating freshly-caught seafood and taking in the relaxed vibe of the seaside towns.
Despite the growth in tourism in the past decades, the Algarve coastline still maintains its wild and rugged feel, there are endless stretches of beaches where you can escape the crowds and the prices for great seafood, local cuisine and wines make this a highly-affordable holiday destination.
We will show you how to enjoy the very best the Algarve has to offer in our ultimate travel guide to the Algarve.
This ultimate travel guide to Algarve will show you all the most beautiful places in Algarve, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Algarve and things to do in Algarve which will help you in planning a trip to Algarve.
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How to get to Algarve
The Algarve is relatively easy to reach by plane and the gateway airport is located in Faro. It is actually only a short flight away from most European cities, taking approximately 3 hours from most major European cities. Faro is an excellent base to start your exploration in the Algarve and is a well-developed city in terms of facilities, with shopping and a nightlife scene.
Portugal has an extensive network that connects with the European rail network, meaning that it’s easy to reach Faro from most of the major cities.
What to expect in Algarve
The Algarve, Portugal’s main language is Portuguese, but locals speak languages with ease and it will be no issue to communicate in English, French, German, Italian or Spanish. The coast is a popular hub for retirees and the Portuguese are well accustomed to speaking to people from different countries.
The local currency is the Euro and there are plenty of ATMs around the main towns where you can withdraw cash.
Eating and drinking is incredibly cheap in comparison to other European cities and you can enjoy a meal of fresh seafood and locally-caught fish for only €30 for two, local beers cost around €2. Tips are always appreciated and you can either round up or leave a 5 or 10 % tip.
As it’s a windswept coast, it’s recommended to bring a light jacket or hoodie for those windy days and also to bring some good walking shoes.
How to get around Algarve
The best method to get around the Algarve is to rent a car, this way you can explore the more rugged and wilder beaches of the region.
Alternatively you can get around on the local buses, that mainly serve workers and schoolchildren, so be aware of that when planning any trips as the timetables may not suit your plans. Also, the buses offer a reduced weekend and holiday schedule. For an excellent guide to buses in the Algarve, check out this website.
There is also Uber and taxi as a method of transport. Uber is a very reasonable method of transportation in Portugal.
If you want to explore some of the coastal towns from Faro down to Lagos, you can also use the local railway, and you can consult the map here to plan your route.
The best time to visit Algarve
The Algarve enjoys fabulous weather almost all year-round but if budget is a factor, it’s best to visit out of the high season between June and August and also to avoid December and January when sunseekers head there for some summer sun.
Travelling in April and May as well as from mid-September to the end of October are ideal for budget and weather-conscious travellers. The weather ranges around 20 – 24°C during these months. July is the hottest month to visit but temperatures are still pleasant.
July and September are usually the warmest months if you dare take a plunge in the freezing Atlantic Ocean. However, if you’re seeking waves for surfing, the best time to head there is in the winter months.
Things to do in Algarve
Hit the beach
See some of Portugal’s most stunning beaches on its wild and windy coastline. There are so many beaches to visit that we’ll only name a few of the most noteworthy ones. Praia da Falésia boasts nearly seven kilometres of beaches lined with soaring cliffs and is renowned as one of the best and longest beaches in Portugal. It’s also a perfect place to catch the sun setting over the azure waters of the Atlantic.
For another spectacular beach, head to Praia da Rocha which is also a great beach for surfing, atop the staggering cliffs is the Santa Caterina fort which dates back to the 17th century and is worth visiting if you’re heading here.
For endless dunes and blue flag beaches, visit Tavira island by boat, situated just off the coast of Tavira. Boats leave several times a day from Quatro Águas marina and in the summer a tourist train crosses the Santa Luzia bridge to the island. Crystal clear azure waters lap the eleven kilometres of beach and sand dunes.
Praia de Tres Irmaos is another noteworthy beach, distinguished by a stunning limestone double archway and can be found after traversing various beaches and coves. It should be visited at low-tide for easy access.
Explore the rock formations and caves
There are incredible limestone formations all along the coastline of the Algarve and the most renowned sites include Algar Seco where you can explore a blow hole that was worn by the seas and wind which is accessed by going down some steps carved directly into the rock, there’s also a tunnel to explore where you can see the caves from various perspectives. There’s also a boardwalk that lines the clifftop where you can take some spectacular pictures of the vistas over the Atlantic Ocean.
The most famous natural formation in the Algarve is the Benagil Sea Cave which can be accessed by boat from Benagil beach and consists of a series of caves and domes open to the sea. Remember to bring some good walking shoes or water shoes if you plan to explore.
Ride the waves
The Algarve is famous amongst surfers worldwide for its incredible waves. The windy coastline is regularly buffeted by tall waves and there are beaches for surfers of all different levels. For fun waves that suit all levels, head to Arrifana situated near Sagres. Another great beach for beginners is Amado beach, a sheltered cove where you can find good surfing almost all year round with consistent waves and Atlantic swells.
For more wild surfing, head to Castelejo Beach near Sagres which is a beach buffeted by westerly winds and is best visited in autumn for more challenging world-class waves, in summertime the swells are milder and smaller making it ideal for beginners.
Another great beach near Sagres is Zavial, which is suitable for intermediate to more experienced surfers with its fast waves.
There are also plenty of surf camps and surf schools all along the Algarve, including the
Algarve Surf Shop & School in Sagres, this is one of the older, more established schools and they organise everything from camps to lessons and surf trips. Albufeira Surf & SUP is also a great school which offers activities aside from surfing such as cliff jumping, kayak tours, and stand-up paddle boarding. A two-hour class starts at €35 per person or you a full-day class for €75.
Dolphin-spotting in the Algarve
The Atlantic coastline of the Algarve is blessed with diverse marine life and you can often see schools of bottlenose dolphins just off the coast during the months of June to September, but they can be seen almost all year round. The best tours are organised with marine biologist guides who will point out the different species from your RIB. Prices start from €40 per person. Check out tours run by Wildwatch for an unforgettable close encounter with wild dolphins.
The Algarve is home to a diverse selection of wildlife including many migratory birds and you can see and photograph the local wildlife on a personalised three-hour tour of Rio Formosa natural park accompanied by a biologist and use of binoculars and telescope. Prepare for an early start at 8:30am to head out to the natural park which often hosts over 20,000 birds in winter months. The price for a group of 1 to 4 people is €140.
There are so many watersports and activities you can do along the long stretches of the coastline of the Algarve including Kayaking, Stand-up paddle, scuba diving, flyboarding, jet ski, snorkelling, parasailing and waterskiing. Ocean lovers will be spoilt for choice! Most of the beaches that are popular with tourists will have various activities on offer ensuring that you will never be bored.
For those who love deep-sea fishing, head to Albufeira to Dpesca. They organise daily boat trips for you and your family to go out big game fishing in the Atlantic Ocean.
Another main draw to the Algarve are its stunning golf courses, some of them even designed by leading world-renowned golfers. Some of the best golf courses in the region include the 1000-acre, 18-hole course at the Monte Rei Golf & Country Club a short hop from the border between Spain and Portugal, designed by the famous Jack Nicklau. The Monte Rei resort also has plenty of facilities and apartments and villas to rent.
Another winner is the Penina Golf Course at the Penina Hotel, a five-star hotel who was the first to have 18-hole golf course in the Algarve named the Sir Henry Cotton Championship Course, nowadays the hotel offers three courses to suit all levels of experience.
Last but not least, the Vale de Lobo course is situated in the Vale de Lobo luxury resort and has two stunning courses and is one of the oldest in the Algarve. There are often tournaments there and plenty of facilities for all the family.
Lagos is a great base to explore some amazing beaches in the Algarve, including Meia Praia, Praia do Camilo and Praia de Dona Ana. The town itself is also ideal for a stroll, you can visit the Igreja de Santo António which is an example of the some of the most stunning Portuguese tiles and paintings. There’s also the Forte da Ponta da Bandeira which is a historic fort, some museums and a marina which is the spot to head to for water activities and dolphin-spotting tours. Not to mention the fantastic seafood and cuisine serving up goose barnacles, pork served with clams and delicious plump sardines.
There’s more to Sagres than surf. There are great beaches and also the spectacular Cabo de São Vicente which was once thought to be the very end of the earth. A hike to the lighthouse (which is free to enter) at the westernmost tip of mainland Europe is well worth it with the staggering cliffs diving down 250 metres into the Atlantic. There are also plenty of high-end restaurants side by side with more casual dining options and a trip to the working harbour located on the East of Sagres will give you a glimpse into what life has been like for centuries in this fishing town.
Tavira is a charming historic city which once was an important Moorish city during the 10th century. It has numerous monuments including the ruins of a Moorish castle, more than 36 churches including the stunning Igreja da Misericórdia and also several historic monasteries. The city is charming, scenic and easy to explore on foot. A day trip there would be sufficient. It’s also a gateway to the Ria Formosa Natural Park which you can access by boat and enjoy the gorgeous blue flag beaches and the crystal clear waters of the park.
Faro is the city that most people will fly into when entering the Algarve. It’s also the liveliest city in the Algarve, plenty of hotels, restaurants, shopping, nightlife and great seafood are available here. There is no beach in Faro but it borders the Ria Formosa Natural Park which can be reached by boat. In the city you can visit some historical landmarks including the Faro Cathedral which was built in 1251 and features some beautiful painted tilework or azulejos, there is also a tower where you can see some spectacular panoramic views of the city and the nearby lagoons. The spectacular neo-classical Arco de Vila which is the gateway to old Faro is also worth visiting and a stroll around the Cidade Velha or Old City is enchanting.
What to eat in Algarve
Portuguese cooking is fresh, seasonal and delicious though it is often simple. Dishes feature seafood and meat but there are vegetarian options which we will also provide here. Discover the rich flavours of Portuguese culture through their cuisine with our list of the best things to eat in the Algarve and where to eat them.
Piri Piri Chicken
This is a Portuguese classic and is mouth-watering grilled chicken in a spicy South-African marinade made of chillies, lemon and garlic, originating from the city of Guia and an example of food of international influence on Portuguese cuisine. The dish is said to have been brought back by Portuguese colonialists who returned in the 60s and 70s from places like Mozambique and Angola, bringing with them some of their favourite flavours.
As most of the Algarvian coastal towns were once thriving fishing villages, there’s plenty of incredible seafood on offer. There is an abundance of choice of prawns, clams, mussels, goose barnacles and various kinds of fish to savour.
Fresh, plump, grilled sardines are a must-try and there are even sardine festivals such as the annual Portimão Festival de Sardinhas that is held in June. The best time to eat sardines is in the summertime If you want to avoid any frozen fish.
Mêijoas à Bulhão Pato is a fantastic dish and a favourite in the Algarve for locals, consisting of clams steamed in white wine with garlic, coriander and onions served with delicious white bread ideal for mopping up that flavourful sauce.
Carapaus alimados or horse mackerel are also popular in the Algarve and are boiled and served up with salad and vegetables and potatoes.
Lulas grelhadas are squid stuffed with their own tentacles and are also a popular seafood dish in the Algarve.
Cataplana is one dish you must try in Portugal and actually originates from the Algarve. It’s a rich and flavourful stew is cooked in a clam-shaped copper dish and is usually made of seafood, shellfish and fish. It works like a pressure cooker and the stew is served piping hot and steaming from the very dish it was cooked in.
A portion is ideal for two and one of the best Cataplanas can be found in at Restaurante Noélia & Jerónimo on Rua da Fortaleza in Tavira.
Caldereida is another excellent seafood stew which is rustic and delicious stew and has close connections with former Portuguese colonies which serve up variations such as Caldereida de cabrito in Angola and Mozambique and a similar seafood stew is also served up in Brazil.
Porco com amêijoas à Alentejana
This incredible dish sounds strange at first, a combination of pork loin and clams, but it’s a winning combination. Originally hailing from Alentejo province, the dish was adopted all over the country and is a typical Portuguese dish that you must try.
Soft succulent pork loin is cooked in wine and garlic and served with clams and coriander and served up on a bed of thin slices of potatoes. You can find excellent pork with clams at Restaurante Centenario in Faro.
Sopa da Pedra
The name means “stone soup” and is said to have originated from a story of a monk on a pilgrimage who arrived in Almeirim, being too proud to beg for food, he knocked on the door of a house in the village and asked if he could borrow a pot to make his “stone soup”.
The disbelieving hosts invited him in to observe how he would make a soup out of stone and watched as the monk placed the stone in a cauldron and filled it with water. After a short while, he tasted the soup and asked if he could borrow some seasoning, and perhaps a little bit of chouriço or pork belly, which the lady of the house obliged.
Tasting the soup again he said that maybe some potatoes or beans would thicken the stew and once it was ready, he thanked the family, ate and removed his polished stone for the next time. This is the legend of how the stone soup was born.
Soups are popular in Portugal and this vegetarian dish is often considered one of the country’s national dishes. “Green soup” is a stew consisting of kale, onion, garlic and potatoes and makes for a hearty dish. Sometimes chourico sausage is added towards the end of the cooking process but you can also ask the chef to not include this. This dish is so popular that it is often served at special occasions such as birthdays and weddings.
This recipe is a rustic peasant dish where leftover stale bread is crumbled and boiled with coriander, white wine, garlic and olive oil until it has a thick, porridge-like consistency and sometimes is prepared ina. Fish broth or served with prawns. A raw egg is cracked into the soup before serving.
Algarve is actually a fertile wine-growing are of Portugal and the regions of Tavira, Lagos, Lagoa and Portimão produce excellent wine with a DOP status. Savour the Vinha Verde or “green wine” or try some different crisp white wines to go with your fish dishes and some robust reds to accompany any meat dishes. For wine lovers, the Algarve is a treasure trove of great wines that will be sure to pair nicely with any meal.
Where to stay in Algarve
Tourism is well-developed in the Algarve and there are plenty of different options for places to stay to suit all budgets, here we’ll give you some excellent choices from hostels to indulgent luxury stays. Airbnb is also a great options for long and short term stays.
This stunning resort is the ultimate in luxury, built upon a cliff facing the Atlantic Ocean and bordered with manicured lush gardens, this hotel has the Praia dos Tremoços on its doorstep. You can rent rooms with sea facing terraces and stunning views or opt for an entire villa which has either 2 or 5 bedrooms and include their own private pools.
The hotel has excellent facilities including an indoor and outdoor pool, spa, gym, golf course, tennis courts, kids club and 6 bars and 10 different restaurants onsite, ensuring that you’ll be spoilt for choice for activities and things to do. Experience five-star indulgence in the Algarve at this stunning hotel. Prices start from €538 per night in the high season.
Another luxury hotel which has world-renowned golf courses is ideal for keen golfers, families and couples on a romantic getaway. The hotel is located in the countryside and offers villas with 1 to 5 bedrooms and decorated with Portuguese architectural flair. 4-bedroom villas have their own private pools.
The hotel boasts 400 hectares of land, a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, four restaurants, two bars, swimming pools, gym and spa, kids’ club and tennis courts. Prices start from €270 per night in summer.
Experience a unique bed and breakfast in the Algarve, a fantastic budget option for travellers set in the peaceful tranquillity of the Algarve countryside. This 200-year old farmhouse only has five rooms, decorated in rustic style with natural wood and stone and all the modern amenities. The hotel is surrounded by lush gardens and boasts an outdoor swimming pool with stunning views of the coast.
The B&B is also only 20 minutes away from Faro airport and makes the perfect destination from an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Prices start at €175 for a room for two in May and June and goes up to €195 in peak season. Prices include breakfast.
This gorgeous hotel is a dream come true for surfers, situated just 13 minutes by foot from Sagres Point, a main surfing beach in the Algarve. The hotel is located within a nature park and has stunning views over the Atlantic Ocean. The style is minimalist and rooms are fully-equipped with all necessary amenities, some of the suits with 1 or 2 bedrooms have their own mini-kitchenettes.
The hotel has fantastic facilities including a pool which overlooks the Atlantic Coast, an indoor heated pool for colder weather, sauna and spa and also an on-site surf school. Bikes are also available for rent for those who want to explore. Prices are a steal and start from €104 a night.
On a budget but you want to enjoy an oceanfront view and all the mod cons of a luxury hotel? Auramar is a hotel just a few minutes from the beach, Praia dos Aveiros. The rooms are modest but the views can be stunning and it’s well worth getting an ocean view room.
What makes this hotel a great budget stay is that it has plenty of facilities to keep all the family entertained: kids’ pools, two outdoor pools, indoor heated pool, game rooms, spa and sauna offering various treatments. Parking and breakfast are also included in the price starting from only €69 per night.
For those on a shoestring budget, Hostel Casa d’Alagoa is the perfect option. Situated in Faro, in a beautiful building just a few minutes by foot to the main shops and restaurants in Faro’s old town. You can opt for mixed gender dorms which are equipped with lockers and fans, or private rooms with ensuite bathrooms.
Breakfast is included and there is also a communal living area, terrace, games room, BBQ and kitchen. You can also rent bikes from the hostel itself. The beds are comfortable and the location is perfect as a base to explore the Algarve. Prices start from €17.99 for a bed in a mixed dorm.
Tours to do in Algarve
Explore the caves of Benagil
Discover the stunning formations of the caves with a five-hour tour that takes you inside the cave itself, accessed by swimming on boards and inflatables to reach the cave. The tour departs from Lagos on a 40 minute drive accompanied by beer and sangria to the beach where you will swim the 60 metres to enter the cave.
This tour is only recommended for people who are able to swim. The trip ends with a view of the cave from above before returning back to Lagos. The trip starts from €40 per person and all inflatables, boards and life vests are provided, beverages and lunch are included as well as pick up and drop off service.
Explore the coast on a pirate ship
This BBQ boat tour allows you to explore the secret coves and gorgeous beaches of the Algarve in a pirate ship complete with billowing sails. Enjoy the views of Capela da Nossa Senhora da Rocha, Praia Sao Rafael and Praia da Marinha where you can snorkel and swim in the crystal clear waters before enjoying a BBQ lunch. Pick up is from Albufeira and the tour lasts around 5 hours. Prices start at €54 and include lunch. Drinks and hotel pickup are not included in the price.
Tour Ria Formosa in a catamaran
Explore the beautiful Ria Formosa Natural Park from Faro by catamaran on a three-hour sailing trip. Here you will see the diverse wildlife and learn about how the Ria Formosa sustained the local economy. This tour is organized with small groups and you will visit the gorgeous islands of Deserta and Farol. You will also see the lighthouse of Culatra Island and learn about oyster and clam farming in the Algarve. Hotel pickup and drop off are not included in the price of €25 per person.
Discover the Ponta da Piedade Caves and Beaches by kayak
This two-hour kayaking tour will allow you to explore the stunning and dramatic landscapes of the Algarve by kayak, allowing you to get up close to the amazing natural formations of the coastline. The tour begins on a catamaran departing from Lagos marina and you can enjoy the spectacular scenery on the way to the famous Ponta da Piedade caves.
You will also visit the beaches of Meia Praia, Batata, and Camilo with a guide and enjoy some free time to swim and snorkel and enjoy the tranquility of Portugal’s natural beauty. Prices start from €35 per person.
Day trips from Algarve
Day trip to Silves and Monchique
Discover unrivalled views of the Algarve from Silves andMonchique on this full-day tour. takes around 6 to 7 hours and begins with a hotel pick up from Lagos, Portimão or Lagoa. From there, you will head to the Moorish castle in Silves and also its stunning cathedral. Next, you will visit Monchique and discover the Caldas de Monchique natural thermal pools.
The trip will also allow you to savour the flavours of Aguardiente, or “fire water” manufactured by small producers in Medronho. You will also visit the highest peak of the Algarve at Mount Foia, Monchique to see incredible 360 degree views of the region.
Day trip to Seville, Spain
Spain is a short hop, skip and a jump away from the Algarve and you can spend the day exploring the vibrant city of Seville on this full-day guided tour. The iconic city of Seville is in the Andalucia region and has many attractions including the beautiful Plaza de España, Alcazar Palace, Cathedral and diverse neighbourhoods of Santa Cruz and the Jewish Quarter.
The trip also includes three hours of free time to explore. Discover Spanish tapas and enjoy a trip to another country on a day away from the relaxed vibes of the Algarve. Prices included pick up and drop off.
Day trip to Lisbon
Staying in the Algarve but still want to experience the vibrancy of the capital city of Lisbon? Well, this trip is for you. On this full-day tour, you can explore the historic region of Belém and visit the UNESCO heritage site of the Jerónimos Monastery, visit a castle and explore the city on foot with an expert guide for the day before heading back to the Algarve. Prices include pick up and drop off included in the price.
Recommended tours in Algarve
- Kayak and Snorkel Trip in Lagos
- Benagil Caves Tour from Portimao
- Half-day Ria Formosa Natural Park Faro Islands Boat Cruise from Faro
- Half-Day Algarve Countryside and Villages Jeep Safari
- Private Tour: Algarve Wine and Tapas Tour by Sidecar Motorcycle from Portimao
- 2-hour Kayak Tour of Ponta da Piedade Caves and Beaches
- Albufeira Dreamer Boat Trip
- Full Day Jeep Safari in Algarve
- Ria Formosa Natural Park Birdwatching Segway Tour from Faro
- Algarve wine tour and mountain discovery with lunch at mountain top
- Lagos and Ponta da Piedade by Convertible or Scooter from Portimão and Alvor