As cities like Lisbon and Porto have regained their popularity, the Algarve coast has been doing just fine. For decades, Portugal’s southernmost region has been an alternative to the busy beaches of Spain, beloved for both its stunning scenery and affordability.
With sun, sand and sights, the Algarve is an ideal getaway for holidaymakers. If you’re looking to plan your first trip to the Algarve, here are some useful tips for traveling to the Algarve to help you make the most of your visit.
1. Go Beach Hopping
A lot of what makes the Algarve such a great summer destination is the sheer number of beaches it has to offer. Look at most travel tips for the Algarve and you’ll find a list of beach recommendations. That’s because there are countless different beaches, each with their own look and strengths.
Stay in any of the main cities in this part of Portugal and at least a few different beaches will be within easy reach. For instance, walk west from Praia da Rocha outside Portimao and you’re hit with one gorgeous sand beach after another. On the other hand, ones like Marinha Beach aren’t close to any major town, but are still begging to be visited.
2. Explore the Cities Behind the Beaches
When people travel to the Algarve, they tend to have only the beach in mind. After all, the Algarve is known for its epic beaches wedged beneath rocky cliffs, and rightly so. But spend all your time on the sand and you’ll miss the beauty and culture that can be found a few blocks away. The historic centres of Faro and Lagos both have some important cultural landmarks, from the Arco da Vila and the Cathedral of Faro to the sights around Jardim da Constituição in Lagos.
3. Venture Inland
That being said though, you can even leave the coast entirely and still have a good time. I think one of the best traveling tips for the Algarve is to head inland and experience the Algarve hinterland. This rustic part of the country can be just as fascinating as the seaside, as it substitutes beaches for castles and countryside.
Towns like Silves and Loule both have impressive castles in their centres, not to mention quaint streets to wander. Then there’s the beautiful Palace of Estoi with its ornate tilework and nearby Roman ruins. Even just listing those three towns, it’s clear there’s another dimension to the Algarve you won’t want to miss.
4. See the Coast by Sea
Still, the reason you choose to visit the Algarve is its coast, but there’s more to the coast than beaches. This part of Portugal’s coast is defined by the crumbling limestone rock cliffs that break up the beaches. These awesome cliffs are found everywhere, from Albufeira to Praia da Rocha and all the way out to Sagres. One of the more famous coastal spots is the Ponta da Piedade which is full of arches and grottos. Another is the iconic Benagil Cave, a regular on Instagram.
Typically, the best way to see these attractions is from the water. In the case of Benagil Cave, that’s the only way to get there. This either means trying to do it on your own, which comes with safety risks, or doing what most people do and take a boat tour. It’s good to do touristy things occasionally, especially to see sights like these.
Here are some popular boat tours from the Algarve:
- From Lagos: 75-Minute Boat Cruise to Ponta da Piedade
- From Albufeira: 2.5-Hour Dolphin Watching and Caves Cruise
- From Portimão: 2-Hour Boat Tour to Benagil Caves
Note: Boat tours frequently sell out, especially during high season, so make sure you buy them well in advance.
5. Don’t Be Fooled by Its Size
Unless you are content on seeing one town and sitting on one beach, chances are you’re going to want to move around to see more of the Algarve. If you’re thinking that the Algarve isn’t a big place and that should be easy, I hate to break it to you; the Algarve is deceptively large.
With a coast that stretches roughly 150km, it takes time to get from one end of the coast to the other, especially with so many places to stop by and visit. This is important to remember when planning a trip to the Algarve, as you don’t want to end up missing out on somewhere special.
6. Take Public Transport
While tours of the Algarve or driving yourself around are ways to go, the cheapest and simplest approach is to use the region’s trains and buses. That’s because while rental car prices go up in peak season, the cost of train tickets stays the same.
Running from Lagos to Faro and stopping in Portimao and Albufeira, the coastal train connects many of the Algarve’s most popular destinations. If you’re planning frequent train trips, look into a Tourist Travelcard. You’ll also find fairly frequent buses connecting major destinations from these bigger cities to smaller, out of the way spots.
7. Stay in the Smaller Towns
When visiting the Algarve, people often choose to stay in bigger cities like Faro and Lagos. Sure, there’s some practicality to that, but it’s not the only way to go. Smaller towns like Tavira, Sagres and Carvoeiro have something completely different to offer than those cities. Yes, you may still find some flashy hotels. But instead of beach resorts that you could find anywhere in Europe, you’ll hopefully find unique places to stay that you could only find in Portugal and the Algarve.
8. Come in the Off-Season
Since the Algarve is primarily a beach destination, you may think it’s only worth visiting in summer. That is when you’ll get hot and sunny days, ideal for sunbathing on the beach and swimming in the water. But summer isn’t your only option. The Algarve is really pleasant during the shoulder season, especially in May and June. Even October and April still offer nice days.
This time of year also has the added benefit of being much quieter, as it avoids summer school holidays. That means the beaches are emptier, tours aren’t sold out, and accommodation is cheaper. This is one of the more underrated Algarve travel tips.
9. Eat at Local Restaurants
When you’re somewhere like the Algarve, it’s easy to fall into the habit of eating familiar food. The Algarve has had decades of practice accommodating holidaymakers, so finding something like an Irish pub or pizzeria is super easy. But stick to those places and you miss out on sampling some fantastic Portuguese cuisine, especially the seafood.
My suggestion would be to seek out smaller types of restaurants away from the waterfront. They often feel more intimate, have more attentive staff and are cheaper. For instance, you’d have better luck finding these places in Portimao than you would in Praia da Rocha.
10. Enjoy Yourself and Relax
At the end of the day you’re coming to the Algarve for vacation. So relax, have some lazy beach days and treat yourself to some tasty seafood. Hopefully, these travel tips for visiting the Algarve should make all of that even easier.