Veer off the beaten path, and immerse yourself in the Algarve’s lesser-known towns and villages for a vacation free of crowds. Secluded, golden-sand beaches, old fortress ruins and more sleepy fishing towns with charming seafood restaurants than you can count – it’s not hard to see why the Algarve is Portugal’s most popular tourist destination. While the entire region is picture-perfect and each town has its own story to tell, a few of them deserve particular attention. Here, we list some of the most noteworthy places in Portugal’s holiday hotspot.
From its location in the rugged Costa Vicentina Natural Park to its status as a surfing haven, Aljezur is a top spot for nature enthusiasts and surfers. It’s also a smart choice for those seeking delicious Portuguese cuisine, especially fresh fish. Make yourself at home in one of the town’s beachfront houses, villas or glamping spots. Charming, traditional, and laid-back, the Algarve’s northwestern corner offers a blend of Algarvean culture with a slight Alentejano hint.
One of the Algarve’s liveliest towns is Albufeira, a tourist destination that sits halfway along the coast – and a magnet for partygoers. In terms of eating out, there’s plenty on offer from barbecue chicken shacks to high-end restaurants and casual cafes. You can also find English-language bookstores, owing to the town’s thriving immigrant community, and a number of unique attractions like the Zoomarine Algarve. If you’re looking for your own apartment, you’ll be spoilt for choice with the range of options available.
Modern, resort-friendly and sophisticated, Vilamoura is an ultra-cool town with easy access to several pristine beaches. These are plenty of high-end hotels in town, but many visitors prefer to take advantage of the high standard of rentable private apartments instead. Wherever you stay, there are plenty of shops and attractions to keep you busy – the Vilamoura Marina being among the best of them, particularly when lit up in the evening. Vilamoura is also one of the top towns in the Algarve for playing golf.
Tall cliffs, deep caves and rocky coastlines sum up the beautiful town of Lagos – another big draw with plenty going on during the day and at night, from lively fish markets to busy restaurants and bouncing bars. When visiting, be sure to swing by the Saturday market for fresh fruit, vegetables and cultural souvenirs, before heading to the lively fish market to experience a snapshot of everyday Algarve life.
Outdoor markets, beautiful souvenir shops and traditional tascas (cafes) await you in the inland town of Loulé. While it may not be the most lively spot in terms of nightlife, it’s a great choice for discovering historical and cultural attractions like the old market and Loulé Castle, which dates back to the 2nd century. It’s become something of a day-trip destination for those needing a break from the busy coastal resort towns. Loulé also makes a great base for those on a mission to find one or two of Portugal’s famous ‘ghost towns’.
Today, the regional capital of the Algarve is Faro, but it was once Silves. This charming town is brimming with history and culture, with ruins strewn across the centre and some old buildings turned into museums. The red-brick Silves Castle and the Silves Cathedral are standout landmarks – the best way to see them is to arrive early and beat the crowds.
One of Olhão’s claims to fame is that it’s home to the largest fishing port in the Algarve. It’s also located close to Faro, the regional capital, and sits close to the Ria Formosa Natural Park. So, visiting both of these destinations is relatively easy. Check in to your own home from home, and, then, set off on a ramble through town. You’ll find lively fruit, vegetable and fish markets filled with vendors and customers – and a great selection of restaurants for lunch. If visiting in the summer, try to line up your trip with the Festival do Marisco (Seafood Festival) for the chance to taste local specialities.