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Algarve Travel Guide, Portugal

Algarve is Portugal’s southernmost region, famed for its sunshine, pristine beaches, and extensive Atlantic coastline.

The distinguishing feature of the Algarve region is its coastline of limestone cliffs and rock formations. The dramatic color collision between the yellow limestone and the turquoise ocean water creates a lasting impression.

Algarve isn’t just a series of impressive seascapes. With plentiful fish, groves of orange, olive, almond, and fig trees, it’s also an epicurean wonderland.

The region is also full of charming whitewashed fishing villages, reminiscent of its Moorish past. Algarve was ruled by the North African Moors from 700 to 1200 AD. The impact of this era can be seen most keenly in the architecture and tasted in the cuisine.

Algarve’s villages are characterized by decorative chimneys, terracotta roofs, colorful tile facades, mosaic walkways, and accents of blue and yellow paint that frame household doors and windows.

Beyond the architecture, these towns offer a glimpse of local life. You’ll see older women sitting outside their homes watching all the passersby.

Gathered outside neighborhood cafés, groups of men play card games and read the latest soccer news. Fishermen fix their nets on the beach. And, cats and dogs freely walk the streets.

Algarve Coast, Portugal

Algarve Travel Map

DESTINATIONS

Western Algarve

Lagos

Ferragudo

Carvoeiro

Armação de Pêra

São Rafael

Faro

São Brás de Alportel

Eastern Algarve

Silves


When to Visit Algarve

Praia do camilo beach, Algarve, Portugal

Algarve is a very popular holiday destination. The season peaks in July and August.

When we visited in early June, we never felt as though it was too crowded or too busy. The temperature hovered between 27°C and 36°C.

We also re-visited Algarve in November, which was the perfect time for coastal hiking. If you’re interested in milder temperatures, fewer crowds, and wildflowers, come in Spring or Fall. 


Getting Around Algarve

Praia do Benagil beach, Algarve, Southern Portugal

We rented a car for our trip to Southern Portugal. Here’s our detailed 7 Day Algarve Itinerary.

We recommend using the Discovercars.com car rental reservation platform to search for and book car rentals in the Algarve, Portugal. This easy-to-use booking platform compares car rental deals from 500+ trusted providers, so that you can choose the best option for your trip.

Tip: If you can only drive automatic transmission cars, as opposed to manual transmission cars (stick shift), book your car rental as early as possible.

Check car rental rates here.


Electronic Toll Roads

Portugal’s highways and roads have excellent signs, making it relatively easy to get around. Beaches and towns have ample public parking. There are parking areas that are metered, but you’ll find a lot of free public parking spaces as well.

One thing that’s a bit different are the electronic toll roads. Unlike the typical toll booths you see in the States, Portugal has a wholly electronic system that records your use of and payment for using a toll road.

Because we rented our car in Portugal, the rental car company was able to activate (with our request) an automated method of payment (using a transponder device) for whenever we drove the A22.

If you’re traveling with a foreign license plate vehicle, you can purchase and activate a prepaid toll card, or purchase pre-defined journeys online. For more info on toll roads and payment, read this article.


Where to Stay in Algarve

Caneiros Luxury House and Suites, Ferragudo, Algarve, Portugal
Caneiros Luxury House & Suites

Because the region isn’t very large, you can base yourself in one or two towns, and explore from there. Here’s a summary of the best places to stay in Algarve:

Ferragudo | Best base for a quiet holiday. Great for couples. We recommend staying in One2Seven (midrange), or Caneiros Luxury House & Suites (luxury).

Lagos | Best base in Algarve for traveling without a car. Great for a friends’ trip. We recommend staying in 3 Marias Guest House (midrange) or Alto Mar Inn (midrange) in the town center.

Carvoeiro | Best base for a walking-themed holiday in fall, or spring. We recommend staying in O Quintal Guesthouse (budget), O Castelo Guest House (midrange), or Tivoli Carvoeiro (luxury).

São Brás de Alportel | Great off-the-beaten-path place to stay for 1-2 nights on an Algarve road trip. Check out Forever São Brás (budget), or Slow House d’Arco.

Odeceixe | Great place to stay in Algarve when exploring Costa Vicentina. Take a look at Monte do Cardal (midrange), AL-Odeceixe Verde (midrange), or Casas Do Moinho (luxury).

Learn More: Where to Stay in Algarve – Best Towns & Hotels


7 Best Things to Do in Algarve


1. Spend the Day at the Beach

Algarve Beach, Algarve South Coast, Portugal

From small intimate coves to broad stretches of endless sand, exploring Algarve’s beaches is an ever-unfolding adventure.

Over 80 beaches in Algarve are marked with the prestigious Blue Flag, which is an eco-label award for beaches and marinas that demonstrate good practices with regards to water quality, environmental management, safety and services, and environmental education.

Beaches awarded with the Blue Flag will fly the Blue Flag emblem during the official bathing season.

With over 200 kilometers of coastline and nearly 100 beaches to choose from, deciding which beaches to visit is a challenge, and a good problem to have.

These are our favorite beaches (from west to east):

  1. Praia do Burgau
  2. Praia do Camilo
  3. Praia dos Três Irmãos
  4. Praia do Carvoeiro
  5. Praia da Marinha
  6. Praia Nova (next to Praia da Senhora da Rocha)
  7. Praia de São Rafael
  8. Praia dos Arrifes
  9. Praia dos Olhos de Água
  10. Praia de Cacela Velha

2. Visit Ponta da Piedade

Ponta da Piedade, Lagos, Algarve, Portugal

Ponta da Piedade is a section of coastline located 2 kilometers from the city center of Lagos.

The coastal landscape of caves, grottoes, and arches reveals what natural elements have sculpted over thousands of years.

We enjoyed walking the cliffs and taking in various vantage points of the area. We also walked down the steep staircase to the “beach” – which is a generous term for a platform that extends into the water.

You can start a boat tour from the bottom of the staircase. There are also a lot of organized kayak excursions that you can book in Lagos.


Explore the Coast by Boat

Here are some guided excursions that start in Lagos:

75-Minute Boat Cruise to Ponta da Piedade

2-Hour Kayak Cave Explorer Tour

Benagil Sea Cave Tour

Dolphin Watching with Marine Biologists

Ponta da Piedade Kayak Tour


3. Stork-Watching in Silves

Storks, Silves, Algarve, Portugal

Silves is a traditional town located in Western Algarve. Historically, the town served as the capital and defensive stronghold of the entire region during the rule of the North African Moors (700 – 1200 AD).

You can see remnants of this Moorish era in the town’s huge 7th-century red brick castle, 12th-century city walls, and defensive gates. The castle was the stage for many battles and sieges in the 12th century.

Today, this charming town’s most notable residents are white storks. Their giant nests are prominently positioned on columns, old chimneys, and buildings all over town.

It’s illegal to disturb or destroy a Stork’s nest in Portugal, as storks return to their nest each year to raise their families.

When we visited in early June, we saw dozens of storks flying, foraging, and feeding their young.


4. Visit Olhão’s Fish Market

Olhão is a coastal town in Eastern Algarve. At the town’s waterfront, there are two market buildings: Mercados de Olhão.

One building sells vegetables, fruits and spices, and the other houses the fish market – the largest in Algarve.

As you enter the fish market, you’ll see a plentiful display of regional fish, including black scabbardfish, monkfish (tamboril), posta corvina, turbot (pregado), white sea bream (sargo), bream (dourada), sole (linguado) as well as dried codfish (bacalhau).

Each fish variety is marked with a placard detailing the commercial name, price, production method (método de produção), fishing zone/catch area (zona de captura), and fishing art (arte da pesca).

The space is loud and lively with men and women whistling as they gut, chop, clean and sell the fish.

When to Visit | The fish market is open between 7 am and 1 pm., but from our experience, it’s best to come before 11 am. 

Address | Mercado Avenida 5 de Outubro, Olhao 8700-306, Portugal | Google Maps


5. Hike the Algarve Coastline

Seven Hanging Valleys Trail, Algarve Coastal Hike, Portugal

When temperatures allow, hiking the coastline offers an incredible sensory experience. From the vantage point of the coastal cliffs, you can see secluded beaches, grottoes, sea caves, and uniquely sculpted rock formations.

There is also an abundance in coastal vegetation that makes for a visual and aromatic journey.

Wild thyme, juniper thickets, white sea daffodils (Pancratium maritimum), sea holly (Eryngium maritimum), cotton weed (Otanthus maritimus), and various cacti plants grow plentifully along the coast. 


The Seven Hanging Valleys Walk

This is a nature trail extending 6 km from Marinha Beach to Vale Centianes Beach. Notable stops along the way are the Alfanzina lighthouse, Carvalho Beach, and Benagil Beach.   

Trailhead | Marinha Beach, or Vale Centianes Beach

Distance | 12 km out-and-back

Time Needed | 4-5 hours

Learn more | Seven Hanging Valleys Trail


6. Fisherman’s Beach at Armação de Pêra

Fisherman's Beach at Armação de Pêra, Algarve, Portugal

Armação de Pêra is an old fishing village turned holiday resort town. The origin of the town’s name is a reference to the fishermen from Pera who used tuna nets (armação) to catch fish.

The tuna fishing industry has existed here since before the 15th century.

Upon visiting, head directly to the “Fisherman’s Beach,” where there’s a collection of small huts used by local fishermen to rest and store their equipment.

The beach is littered in fishnets and boats, offering an authentic glimpse of this region’s oldest industry.

You can taste the fresh catch by visiting one of the seafood restaurants located along the beach. We ate freshly prepared Arroz de Marisco at Restaurante Bùzio.

Because this seafood dish is made from scratch, it takes time – but wow is it worth it!

There are many beachside restaurants serving seafood, including Arte Náutica.


7. Visit Pousada Palácio de Estoi

The Estoi Palace is a 19th-century rococo building that’s been converted into a hotel.

As a visitor, you can see several rooms with decorative plaster ceilings, walk the palace grounds, and enjoy a meal in the hotel tea pavilion.

The pink-coral palace is surrounded by beautifully manicured French-inspired gardens.

Enhanced by statues, fountains, azulejos tiles, and groves of orange trees, the palace grounds are definitely a must-see if you’re in the area.

Address: Rua São José, Estoi, 8005-465 Faro

Book your stay at Pousada Palácio de Estoi.


What to Eat and Drink in the Algarve

Seafood Pasta, Beachside Restaurant in Algarve, Portugal

Portuguese Custom: Couvert

In restaurants, waiters/waitresses will bring you a choice of different meal starters (known as couvert) to your table without an explicit request.

These starters typically include bread, butter, and olives. They may also include cheese, sliced sausage, and sardine spread.

The couvert is not complimentary, so make sure the waiter/waitress removes what you don’t want to eat from your table. You are obliged to pay for what you try, and what’s left on your table. So, if you just want the olives, just say “Azeitonas.”


Regional Gastronomy

Arroz de Marisco | Razor Rice with seafood. The seafood generally consists of clams, prawns, mussels and other fish. It’s similar to paella, but a bit more broth-y. This dish serves a minimum of two people and is prepared freshly when you order it. You may wait up to 30 minutes, but it’s worth it.

Cataplana de Peixes e Mariscos | Cataplana of Fish and Shellfish is a regional dish served in a pot. The base consists of onions, peppers, potatoes, garlic, and coriander. Fish and shellfish are added afterward. This dish also serves a minimum of two people and is prepared freshly when you order it.

Frango Piri Piri (Chicken Piri Piri) | Piri Piri is a spicy pepper. Chicken Piri Piri is roasted/barbecued chicken that has been marinated in a flavorful sauce containing crushed piri piri, citrus peel, onion, paprika, oregano, basil, tarragon, and lemon juice.


Where to Eat in Algarve

Rei das Praias, Algarve, Portugal

Rei das Praias is a beach restaurant and bar situated at the hidden Praia dos Caneiros in Ferragudo. Grab a drink and watch the sunset. Reservation recommended. Address: Pr Caneiros Praia dos Caneiros, Ferragudo 8400-272 Portugal

Ysconderijo is a Portuguese-Asian fusion restaurant in São Brás de Alportel. The presentation, ambiance, and quality of the food is outstanding. They also offer various sangria pitchers that will win you over. Reservation recommended. Address: Rua Gago Coutinho, 45, São Brás de Alportel 8150-151, Portugal

Frango da Cidade is a small eatery serving roasted chicken to a predominantly local client base in Olhão. The service was so kind and friendly, even though we were pantomiming what we wanted to order. Coming here feels like you’re walking into your grandma’s kitchen.Address: Rua Teofilo Braga 51, Olhao 8700-520, Portugal

Restaurant Ramos is an unassuming restaurant located near the Faro Airport. We ordered the Cataplana Pargo ou Cherne, which is a regional seafood specialty prepared in a lidded round-bottomed skillet and made with lots of love. Definitely come here if you’re staying near the airport and you have a few hours to enjoy a meal. Address: Rua Professor Doutor Egas Moniz 179, Faro 8005-275, Portugal

Babugem is a restaurant in Sagres with indoor and outdoor seating. They offer a daily menu of freshly-caught fish as well as chicken piri piri. Address: Praça da República 1, 8650-327 Sagres, Portugal



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Algarve Travel Guide, Portugal

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Moon & Honey Travel is an independent blog created by two passionate hikers. We are able to provide free content to you, because of ads and affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Happy travels and happy trails,

Sabrina & Kati