Already planning your next holiday? Forget France and Spain. If you want sun, sand and pristine water, it doesn’t get much better than Portugal’s southern coast. But if you’ve never been before, how do you choose where to stay in the Algarve when there’s such a superb choice of stunning locations in this part of the world?
Stay in the Algarve Capital – Faro
Faro is the capital of the Algarve and the site of its main airport, but it’s also a wonderful walled city with a lively history that includes extended periods of occupation by the Romans and the Moors, while it’s also endured attacks from the English too!
The old town is characterized by cool cobbled roads, whitewashed buildings with charming terracotta tiled roofs, and historic buildings like the Faro Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace.
The first place that I recommend you visit in Faro is the port of the city. Despite not being huge, it has a lot of charm. On the banks of it, there are some restaurants and a place to have a drink. It is quite lively and from there, you will be able to see (and also hear) the planes that leave Faro Airport. If you want, you can also jump on a boat tour here to see the region.
Another beautiful place to see in Faro is the Arco da Vila, one of the old medieval gates of the city. The door is characterized by having a small niche with the figure of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Once you cross it, you enter the historic center and oldest area of the city (Villa Adentro).
Tip: Rent a vehicle in Faro with Enjoy Car Hire and you can explore the rest of the Algarve on your own terms.
Delve into History in Lagos
Lagos is another legendary Algarve destination with much to recommend it. The stunning seafront has a fantastic, tiled promenade lined with pretty palm trees and a modern marina where boats bob gently in the breeze.
The town also boasts the lovely San Antonio Church and the 17th-century Bandeira Fort museum. If you venture out of town, you’ll adore the Ponta da Piedade sandstone cliffs which are permeated by smugglers’ caves, sea arches and grottos.
Lagos differs from other Algarve coastal cities in its history, a heterogeneous past visible in the variety of buildings and historical monuments. Among others, you can visit the Mercado dos Escravos, the first slave market in Europe. Take time to explore the historic center and lose yourself in its narrow cobbled alleys to enjoy traditional houses and the beautiful walled port that preserves the memory of the Age of Discovery during the 15th to 17th centuries.
The Fortress of Pontea da Bandeira, as well as the magnificent Castles of the Governors of Arab origin, are still preserved from that time. Very close to the castle, you can visit the Casa da Dízima, an interesting building through which you can take a tour of civil architecture from the 17th to the 19th century.
Lagos is one of the few towns in the Algarve that guards such a variety of historical buildings, which is a reason for its growing popularity as a destination for lovers of history and heritage.
Tip: The Onyria Palmares Beach House Hotel in Lagos is highly rated on Tripadvisor.
Dance the Night Away in Albufeira
Albufeira has attracted holidaymakers for generations and no wonder – combine golden sand beaches with azure blue waters and a lively nighttime economy with bars, cafes and restaurants aplenty serving fresh local cuisine and refreshing drinks, and you’ve got a recipe for pure pleasure.
Furthermore, with the Aquashow, Aqualand, and Slide and Splash water parks nearby, Albufeira is a great location for families as well as solo travelers and bachelor or bachelorette party weekend groups.
Without a doubt, one of the musts is to discover the beaches or “praias” of the southern coast of Albufeira. Small, charming coves surrounded by cliffs and rocky shapes that will lead you to imagine them as different animals. In addition to these remote beaches, an excellent option is to plot a route on foot or even kayak to explore caves along the coast. Benagil Beach, the most impressive cave in Algarve, and many others are accessible by sea. This means that you will have to rent a kayak or traditional boats that will take you to explore the coast in a different way.
If you are passionate about marine fauna, do not miss any boat excursion that will give you the opportunity to see dolphins in their natural habitat, swimming in the open sea. These routes leave from the Port of Albufeira Marina. But not everything is related to the marine environment. There are also water sports and activities that will allow you to enjoy the sea in a different way. One of the most exciting is parasailing which, in addition to giving you an adrenaline rush, will allow you to enjoy spectacular views of the Albufeira coast.
Tip: If you’re a fan of international cuisine, tuck into the superb sushi at Happy Sumo in Albufeira.
As you can see, Portugal’s Algarve has a little something for everyone.
If you’re a culture buff who loves looking at ruins and taking a step into the past, locations like Faro and Lagos practically ooze living history, plus they’re lively enough to satisfy the needs of families or other travelers who don’t necessarily desire wild nights out for the entire duration.
And in Albufeira, you have a pretty location where you can lounge on the beach by day and dance the night away in the company of fellow revelers – then get up and repeat the entire experience the next day!
If you want the best of both worlds, why not book a two center holiday and spend the first half socializing and dedicate the remainder to rest and relaxation?
Whatever your choice, I’m sure you’ll agree that the Algarve is awesome and has the potential to be one of the most unforgettable trips of your life. You could even skip the hotels and bring your campervan to Portugal for some more scenic living.
If you happen to find yourself further north, here are some things to do in central Portugal.
- Follow in my Footsteps: Spending a Week in Central Portugal
- Travel Advice: Finding the Best Accommodations in Santa Cruz, Portugal
- Follow in my Footsteps: Fish, Funiculars and 100-Foot Waves in Nazaré
- Follow in My Footsteps: The Santa Cruz That Isn’t on Google Maps
- Follow in my Footsteps: Visit the European Surfing Capital of Peniche
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.
- 5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
- Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
- Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?
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