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Algarve, Portugal, is arguably the best beach vacation destination in Europe. If you leave aside Greece and the islands, there aren’t too many places in Europe where you can enjoy a mild, warm climate even in the winter. While the Atlantic Ocean is too cold to be suitable for swimming, it surely is a paradise for surfers and water sports lovers. If you’ve ever visited Sagres and its beaches, you probably know what I’m talking about.
If you want a culturally rich, peaceful beach destination, where to enjoy amazing food, wine, and coffee, head over to Algarve, in Portugal. You won’t be disappointed!
Let’s see what you need to know to plan your Algarve, Portugal, vacation right away.
Where Is Algarve, Portugal?
Algarve is the name of the southern coast of Portugal. It starts at the border between Spain and Portugal, and it goes all the way along the coast, to end on the southwestern-most point of Europe, Cabo San Vicente (or Cape Saint Vincent, as you may also encounter it in some travel guides), right nearby the neat town of Sagres.
If you want to stay somewhere in the middle of this stripe, you can choose accommodation in Albufeira, Vilamoura, Guia or Pera.
If you want to be closer to the Spanish border, you can stay in Faro, in Tavira, or somewhere around it. Towards the western side of Algarve, you have Carvoeiro, Ferragudo, Portimao, Silves, Lagos or Sagres.
How To Get to Algarve
Although you can reach Algarve in a one day trip from Lisbon, I wouldn’t recommend you to do that. The coastline is way too beautiful to be part of a bucket list to check out while in Europe. Algarve deserves proper exploration, so you should consider staying here at least one week, if not more. In fact, I went there for two weeks and ended up staying for three full months, from January to March.
Getting to Algarve is as easy as flying into Faro, where the airport is. If needed, you can fly into Lisbon or Seville (in Spain) and take a bus to one of the Algarve cities or towns. The bus ride from Lisbon to Algarve takes about three hours. Seville is a bit closer, but you’ll also have a two-hour bus ride to get to Algarve.
There are also trains that connect Lisbon to most Algarve towns. However, you’d have to change in Tunes, so I’d suggest that you opt for the express buses.
While buses and trains are great, nothing compares to driving around Algarve. If possible, rent a car and set yourself an objective to visit each and every town in this lovely region of Portugal. The roads are very good and driving is easy. Keep in mind that during the high season you may have problems in finding parking.
When Is It the Best Time To Visit Algarve?
If you come here for golf, you’ll enjoy your time all year round.The same applies if you’re interested in visiting places, taking long walks, and enjoying great food.
If you also want to relax on the beach and to swim, you should come between June and September. In some years, May has also been great for the beach, but swimming in the ocean was still a foolish adventure.
If you are a writer seeking for a peaceful place by the sea, where to relax and keep those creative ideas coming, choose Algarve in the winter. There are no tourists, but you’ll still have a full load of restaurants and bars.
Where To Stay in Algarve
Choosing your base camp depends of what kind of activities you enjoy the most. If you love playing golf, for instance, you should choose Vilamoura, Albufeira or a town which is as close to your favorite gold course as possible.
If you enjoy surfing, choose Sagres, with its four beaches. For nightlife, shopping and tourist stuff, find accommodation in Albufeira.
Whatever your choice, you’ll have amazing beaches and breathtaking landscapes within walking distance. You’ll have natural parks, sand dunes, birds and wildlife. You’ll cross paths with wild rabbits while heading for the beach.
Life in the Algarve unfolds at slower pace than in most cities of Europe.
Located at almost 50 miles from Huelva (and from the Spanish border), Tavira has more churches than hotels.
If you come from Faro airport, you need to take the shuttle bus to Faro and then another bus to Tavira. The bus ride from Faro to Tavira takes about one hour.
The Moorish influence is still visible in this charming Portuguese town that spreads over the two banks of Gilao River. In fact, is is here, in Tavira, where the Gilao river meets the ocean. The area is considered a national park and it is home to lots of bird species.
The old center, the marina and the Roman bridge are as many great photo opportunities.
Tavira is a great spot for family vacations. It is also a great base camp for lots of day trips to other Algarve resorts or to Spanish cities such as Sevilla and Cadiz.
If you are in this area and you love octopus, remember to check out Santa Luzia, because they say it is the capital of octopus in Portugal.
Click here to see a list of the best hotels in Tavira, with prices and guest reviews.
Although Faro is the capital city of Algarve, most visitors use it only as a transition from the airport to the other resorts or towns.
I think Faro is underrated. I’m guilty of the same error, as I’ve only passed by it in my car, without even thinking to spend some time here. Even though you only need a few hours to visit the city, Faro can be a good accommodation option if you intend to visit the Ria Formosa nature reserve which is very close to it.
I’m yet to see an Algarve travel guide to mention Pera as one of the best places to stay. However, I can personally vouch for it, as I’ve spent three months in Pera, at Villas Barrocal. I highly recommend their apartments and their services. The staff is awesome, the apartments are fully furnished, everything is spotless clean, and the complex is 100% safe, as it is in a gated enclosure.
There’s a small swimming pool and a tennis court. Each kitchen has a dishwasher. There are several barbecue facilities on the property, so you can buy some fish and vegetables and grill them yourself.
The nearest beach, Praia Grande de Pera, is at about 2 minutes’ drive. If you choose to walk, you’ll cross an area with sand dunes and small plants that smell heavenly, as well as a field with almond trees and abandoned windmills. In January, all almond trees are blossoming.
Fisherman’s Beach at Armacao de Pera is at 5 minutes’ drive. If you prefer to walk, you’ll get there in about 20-30 minutes. There’s also the option to rent a bicycle, if you want some freedom without the hassle of renting a car.
Armacao de Pera is a mix of traditional Portuguese houses and modern buildings. Most part of the town is new and it lacks the character of Portuguese architecture. However, the beachfront promenade is neat and the beach bars are cool and lively. If you go to the beach by sunrise, you’ll see fishermen dragging their boats toward the water. Before sunset, the same fishermen return with the fish and seafood capture, awaited by thousands of noisy seagulls and by a tractor guy who helps them drag their boats on the sand.
If you prefer to stay in Armacao de Pera, check out this list of hotels. My recommendation is to choose a beachfront hotel, because the scenery is amazing. The 5km long beach is perfect for walks. By the end of the beach, there’s a beautiful natural reserve where you’ll see lots of birds and small animals.
Albufeira is the place to go if you want a lively nightlife with bars and restaurants that are open 24/7. The downside is that you’ll have to put up with a lot of noise. If this bothers you, find yourself another place to stay in Algarve and come to Albufeira only for shopping and to visit the old center, the marina and the beaches.
Click here for a list of Albufeira hotels with prices and client ratings and reviews.
Portimao is the largest town in the western Algarve. It is in the close neighborhood of Praia da Rocha, one of the most popular beach resorts in the Algarve.
If you want shops. supermarkets, retail parks and lots of fun activities and events, choose Portimao for your Algarve vacation. Here’s the list of Portimao hotels and vacation apartments on Booking.com.
Carvoeiro is one of my favorite villages in the Algarve. The coastline offers an impressive scenery with beautiful cliffs and with lots of opportunities for self-guided walks in the area.
Here you’ll find Marinha Beach and Benagil Beach with its instagrammable cave.
I found Carvoeiro to be the perfect off-season destination in the Algarve. It isn’t solely a beach resort but also a vibrant local community that lives and works here all year round. I almost felt like moving from my apartment in Pera to Carvoeiro, but I left Portugal before I had the chance to do it.
Here are some of the best hotels and apartments in Carvoeiro. Prices per night may vary a lot with the season and with the duration of your stay. To get the best deals, choose Carvoeiro in the winter. I promise you’ll be comfortable walking around in t-shirt and flip-flops.
Lagos offers the best of both worlds, the charm and the character of old style architecture, and the comfort of modern tourist facilities.
Lagos is suitable for older tourists, couples and families with children rather than for party loving groups. Here you won’t find the lively nightlife and the bars where you can drink until you can’t walk straight, and still order a last glass before you go. If you want to go to Algarve for parties, choose the Albufeira stripe for your vacation.
Vilamoura has a different look than all other villages and towns in the Algarve. It has a casino and several premium golf courses, and a marina chocked full of luxury yachts. You won’t see here the boats of those fishermen in Armacao de Pera. You won’t see the charming run down town houses that could use a layer of fresh paint. Everything in Vilamoura looks perfect, carefully polished and designed to please the eye.
If you want a luxury vacation in a world class hotel, fine dining, beach clubs with stylish sunbeds, golf courses and waterparks, Vilamoura is for you.
If you prefer an authentic Portuguese experience, choose Tavira, Lagos, Carvoeiro or Pera instead. Take a day trip to Vilamoura, though, because the town is really photogenic.
Silves has a very well preserved old center, a cathedral and a Moorish castle well worth a visit. Built on top of a hill, the castle offers a beautiful panorama of the surroundings.
The medieval look and feel of Silves set it apart from all other Algarve resorts. Wandering around those narrow cobblestone streets feels like traveling back in time.
If you want to have some fun, go to Silves in July-August to attend the Medieval Festival. People dress in medieval costumes, there’s music everywhere on the streets, and you’ll experience some samples of medieval entertainment.
The avocado which grows in the Silves region is absolutely delicious. You’ll find it in all supermarkets and groceries in Algarve.
Sagres is almost synonymous with the end of the world. It is the last town before Cape Saint Vincent, the southwestern-most point of Portugal and of Europe. Standing on those cliffs feels like you’ve reached the terminus point of the continent. Cape Saint Vincent (Cabo Sao Vicente) is one of the things to see in the Algarve.
Sagres has four beaches that are suitable for surfing. There are also several surfing schools here. If this is what you want from your Algarve vacation, you should choose to stay in Sagres.
Things To Do in Algarve, Portugal
One of the best things to do in Algarve, Portugal, is to explore the area. The gorgeous beaches, the cliffs, the rocks and the natural reserves are amazing photo opportunities that will leave you in awe.
Eating is another thing to do in Algarve. The food is amazing. All fruit and vegetables are fresh and juicy, the avocado is the best I ever tasted, and the local dishes are tasty and addictive. Try Caldo Verde, which is a soup with kale and chorizo sausages, Pastel de Nata, which is a vanilla custard tart to die for, and the suckling pig, which you may feel sorry for, but tastes delicious anyway.
The coffee is great wherever you go, as Portuguese people are in love with it.
Wine tasting is another thing to try in Algarve. There are lots of wineries and wine tasting tours you can join. Nevertheless, you can go to the supermarket, buy a dozen of wine bottles and organize your own wine tasting at home. I recommend Vinho Verde – this is not a brand but a type of very young wine which is a bit sparkling and very easy to drink.
I don’t play golf, but if you do, you’ll fall in love with Algarve. There are lots of high quality golf courses with all amenities a golfer needs to feel great.
The waves of the Atlantic Ocean are perfect for surfing. The Sagres area is perhaps the most popular among surfers from all over the world.
If you only want to get a nice tan and to relax on the beach, Algarve has some beautiful beaches you can choose from.
Which is your favorite Algarve, Portugal town or resort and why?