How many things to do in Algarve? Probably many of us would be wrong in answering this question. The Algarve is one of the many pearls of Portugal, a paradise for those who love to surf and enjoy the mild climate throughout the year. Sheer cliffs, ocean waves and endless beaches: these are the postcards of the Algarve, but they are only a small part of what the southern coast has to offer.
Brief foreword on the Algarve
“How many things to see do you want there to be in southern Portugal!”, this might be the typical exclamation (as wrong as it gets) in response to the article’s opening question. My answer, however, is that you can spend days and days in the Algarve without ever getting bored and having different experiences every day.
Between sea-related activities, inland excursions and city visits, 10 days may not be enough. Prior to my trip to the Algarve, about which I described at length in the article “Traveling in Algarve in Portugal” I read several articles pertaining to 3-4-5 days in the Algarve and now I wonder how this is possible. The distances are close, it is true, but the things to see in the Algarve are really quite a lot: my wish is that you can enjoy them calmly and not just in a hurry to put the flag of the classic “been there/ done that.”
After this necessary introduction, let’s get down to business. Here are my suggestions of things to see in the Algarve, I have broken them down for you by area. Before organizing this trip, one of the difficulties was figuring out where each place was located, this way you can better understand where they are located.
Things to Do in Algarve: east of Faro
If you want to visit the Algarve in its entirety, you should not miss the part east of Faro. I had a chance to explore it in the last few days of my trip and Tavira and Faro really impressed me.
1 – Faro and its Portuguese atmosphere
The capital of the Algarve is the most populous city in the region, about 60,000 inhabitants, just under twice as many as Albufeira and three times as many as Lagos. Paradoxically, despite being more urban than the others, Faro is distinctly authentic and Portuguese.
I like to emphasize this because of Portuguese in Lagos, let alone Albufeira, I have seen little of it. Faro is often idealized as a gateway town and many tend to bypass it.
There is more traffic, it is true, and if you are with a rental car it may be a bit more complex to find parking downtown (follow my directions in the appropriate post about the city). Nevertheless, it is a relaxing town where you can enjoy endless evening strolls while shuttling between restaurants and clubs that are less rowdy than in Albufeira.
How and when to visit? Early in the morning, when the sun is still not too hot and people are not invading its streets. Visit the Cidade Velha (old town) and walk through its alleys until you discover the Sè of Faro, or the cities cathedral.
Want to discover Faro with a guided tour? CLICK HERE to view the tour.
2 – Tavira and the island of Tavira
How can we not include Tavira among the best things to see in the Eastern Algarve. This beautiful Algarvian town “beats” the beautiful city of Silves on points.
If Silves, near Albufeira, had appealed to me, Tavira enchanted me.
Tavira is bisected by the Rio Gilão, whose estuary lies just near the renowned beach of Ilha de Tavira. The city developed mainly west of the river, where the famous Tavira Castle is also located.
The best way to visit it is to wander through the maze of cobbled streets and alleys that make it up. I recommend: enjoy the serenity of Tavira and visit at a slow pace. It is a wonderful excursion from Faro, even more beautiful when combined with a half-day at the town beach.
3 – Ria Formosa Natural Park (Parque Natural de Ria Formosa)
If you arrive in the Algarve with a flight over Faro you will have the opportunity to see this beautiful park from above. Among the things to see in the Algarve is definitely nature of which the Ria Formosa Natural Park is one of the best “exponents.”
It covers as much as 60 km of coastline and is composed of salt marshes and large swampy areas. The main island is Ilha da Barreta, also called Ilha Deserta, precisely because of its overtly wild appearance.
You can visit the park via guided boat tours (try THIS TOUR to discover the Deserta Island and Farol), birdwatching (CLICK HERE for the 25 € tour to the Ria Formosa lagoon) or kayak tours. A great solution for an alternative day in the silence of nature.
Things to Do in Algarve: between Faro and Albufeira
4 – Albufeira and its social life
Are you British and need to have a bachelor/bachelorette party? Then the place for you is Albufeira. The description does not give credit to the city. I will try to explain myself better.
If this is not the first article you are reading about what to see in the Algarve, it is quite easy that in the articles written by my Albufeira colleagues you have read that it is not the place to go if you are looking for peace and quiet.
They are right. It is. Albufeira is definitely mundane and lively, but that does not mean it is to be avoided. On the contrary, including the town within your trip to the Algarve, will allow you to spice up your itinerary.
After all, you will be able to choose your preferred area of Albufeira. You have to consider that it is basically divided into two:
- the old town: you will find the right mix of fun and quiet clubs. I mean, it’s not like live music is so unwelcome.
- “the strip“: the area of young people, and therefore of discos and deafening noise.
Strolling around Albufeira during the day is quite pleasant, thanks in part to the fact that it overlooks the beautiful Praia dos Pescadores. I recommend visiting it at sunset, when it is cooler, and then continuing the evening by having dinner in town.
I spent no less than 3 nights in Albufeira; I had the chance to explore it in every sparkling street. In order to avoid sleepless nights, it is recommended to stay a few kilometers outside Albufeira. In this regard, I recommend the hotel Lost & Suites (click to view hotel) just 6 kilometers from the town where I really enjoyed my stay.
5 – Igreja Matriz de São Lourenço
A short distance from Faro, near Almancil I recommend stopping at this particular Baroque church completely covered in the fantastic Portuguese azulejos. In 1755 a strong earthquake occurred here that affected the entire Algarve, but not only. The Convento do Carmo in Lisbon is an example of how impactful that event was, I also told you about it in the article on 20 things to do in Lisbon.
Well, the Igreja de São Lourenço de Matos remained unscathed. Only five tiles came off the vault studded with azulejos. Something absolutely mystical.
6 – Praia da Falésia (and relax)
Praia da Falésia, more than a thing to see in the Algarve is a thing to do. Yes, because once you see it, you will have to enjoy the sun and the sea, or rather ocean, protected by the huge cliff behind you.
This beach is only a 15-20 minute drive from Albufeira. It is really characteristic. It is an equipped beach in several places, hundreds of meters apart,ideal for relaxing in the Algarve sun. Highly recommended.
Things to Do in Algarve: between Albufeira and Lagos
The area between Albufeira and Lagos has the most places to visit in the Algarve. Between hikes, magnificent beaches and really pleasant villages, you are spoiled for choice.
7 – Dolphin school sightings
In item No. 7 on this list of things to see (and do) in the Algarve, we find one of the most exciting experiences of this trip to southern Portugal.
The area around Albufeira and Lagos is a destination for schools of dolphins that choose these waters because they consider them to be calm for breeding. Boats (speedboats, dinghies or large boats) depart from both towns in the direction of dolphin sightings.
Many of these tours also include a visit to Benagil Cave and an overview of the entire stunning coastal stretch of this area of the Algarve.
As I understand it, the boats communicate with each other and as a result dolphin sightings are virtually guaranteed.
I have selected a few tours for you that I recommend you consider. I struggled quite a bit to find one the way I wanted. In my case I wanted a large boat to avoid jolting since my girlfriend was pregnant.
It was only after several searches that I was able to figure out which one was the best, in my case the first among those recommended below.
- Albufeira: Dolphins + Benagil – big boat (X-RIDE company, 1st on the list)
- Albufeira: Dolphins + Benagil – speedboat (DREAMER company)
- Lagos: Dolphin sighting by dinghy (BLUE FLEET company)
Portimão: Dolphins + Benagil by boat
8 – Benagil Cave
As mentioned in the previous point, Benagil Cave is a must-see among the things to see in the Central Algarve. It is a cave excavated by the erosive action of the sea over thousands of years. It presents an opening on what we could call the “ceiling” and two other arches overlooking the sea. Inside, 100 meters of one of those beaches to be counted surely among the most beautiful beaches in the Algarve.
How to visit the Benagil cave in the Algarve?
There are several ways to visit the most beautiful cave in the Algarve.
By boat with tours from the Algarve’s small towns
As mentioned in item #7, in addition to there being tours that include dolphin spotting, there are some that are just related to the caves that the Algarve coast is composed of. For example, you might consider:
- From Albufeira: Stunning 4-hour Sailing Boat Tour (CLICK HERE)
- From Lagos: Algarve Boat Tour and Benagil Cave
- From Portimão: FULL Cave Circuit Tour
By Paddle or Kayak with an organized tour
A myriad of tours (CLICK HERE for all the tours) will lead you to discover the cave and the beach, here are a couple of very interesting ones:
- From Portimão: Catamaran and kayak to the caves of Benagil (AMAZING)
- From Benagil beach: Kayak tour at sunrise or sunset (AFFASCINATING)
Kayaking independently from Benagil beach
At the nearby beach, you can rent kayaks and reach the cave with very few strokes of the oars. You could then continue along the coast to Albufeira to discover the other magnificent caves and beaches. CLICK HERE to rent a kayak for 1 1/2 hours.
Walking along the route of the 7 Suspended Valleys
You certainly won’t be able to enjoy the sea or lie on the beach inside the cave, but seeing this natural beauty of the Algarve from above also has its reason. You will have to walk a section of the 7 Suspended Valleys trek.
Swimming from the beach
There is also this option that I mention so that I can advise against it. The beach is very close, in a few strokes you can reach it, but given the traffic of boats, kayaks and speedboats, it is definitely not a safe option. Better the kayak absolutely.
9 – Route of the 7 Suspended Valleys
Fancy trekking the stunning cliffs of the Algarve? The 7 Suspended Valleys Trail is just the thing for you. A trail about 6km long that encompasses much of the coast east of Carvoeiro and provides grandiose panoramic views of the ocean and the sheer cliffs. It starts from Praia Vale Centianes and continue to the stunning and famous Praia da Marinha, passing above the Benagil Cave.
It is considered a moderately challenging hiking trail, at this link you can find the complete map so you can organize your trek or, if you prefer to do it safely you can opt for this organized hike with a guide.
Please note: it is not necessary to do it all, you could also think of doing only a section of it such as, for example, the one from Praia da Marinha to the opening on Benagil Cave.
I forgot: why is it called the path of the 7 hanging valleys? More than valleys we should speak of canyons, in fact the name comes from the inlets in the sea created by the erosive action of the sea.
10 – Visit Silves and its castle
Up to this point we have only talked about the Algarve sea, or at any rate the coastal strip. Among the things to admire and see in the Algarve is also the hinterland and in this case this beautiful town only 30 minutes drive from Albufeira.
Silves, nestled on the Rio Arade, spreads over the hill on top of which is one of the best-preserved castles in the entire Algarve: the Castelo de Silves. From here there is a complete overview of the city and surrounding territories.
Silves is much, but much, more relaxed and laid-back than the coastal towns. From the evidently less touristy rhythms and costs, it is a lovely place to discover in a half day, allowing yourself to be enveloped and influenced by this slow pace with a “vacation smell.”
11 – Carvoeiro, among the best villages in the Algarve
As soon as I arrived on the beach of Carvoeiro it almost felt like, pass me the comparison, I was in one of the 5 terre. One road arriving, the other leaving the village, at the end a beautiful beach from which depart the various excursions to the idyllic places nearby and, finally, a cliff scattered with villas and restaurants overlooking the sea.
A splendid mix for one of the must-see places in the Algarve, spending a half-day at the beach or enjoying a sea-view break. About 2.2 kilometers away, continuing eastward, is the Praia da Centianes, a place from which to begin the trekking of the hanging valleys.
12 – Ferragudo, white houses and slow pace
A tiny fishing village composed of small streets and white buildings sprung up on the estuary of the Rio Arade (the same as Silves) opposite the touristy Portimão. If you want a slow-paced day, add Ferragudo to an itinerary that includes Silves and Carvoeiro.
There is an air of great tranquility here; after the short climb to the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição you can enjoy the panoramic view of all the surroundings.
Warning: if you want to reach Ferragudo with the navigator, do not select Ferragudo only, because it will display the center in the wrong place, while it is definitely further along. Go ahead and park on rua de Infante Santo.
13 – Praia da Marinha
Considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world Praia da Marinha is a must-see among the places to visit in Agarve. It is one of the most prominent points of interest located along the stunning coast west of Albufeira, characterized by a huge number of cliffs and related hidden coves.
It is a gorgeous beach that you can reach by car, or on foot in case you take the Seven Suspended Valleys walk that passes right near both the beach and at Benagil Cave located a short distance away.
Via a flight of steps, you can descend and spend a few hours in a magical place. The beach is not equipped.
14 – Relaxing at Meia Praia
I include Meia Praia beach in this paragraph of things to see in the Algarve between Albufeira and Lagos only for geographical reasons. Actually Meia Praia is one of the main beaches in Lagos, in fact it is only about ten minutes, if not less, from the city.
It is a huge beach, miles and miles long, where the view manages to sweep from one side towards Ponta da Piedade and from the other towards Portimão. A beach where it is almost impossible to find chaos. I would have liked to spend a lot more time there; in fact I was only there for one day.
Do you have more time than me and maybe you are also traveling with your children? This is a beach to devote a few more days to if you love the sea.
Things to Do in Algarve: from Lagos to Sagres
The part of the Algarve coast west of Lagos is the wildest, after all, it is the part that opens to the full ocean. Nevertheless, it is full of charm and places to visit.
15 – Visiting Lagos
With its 25,000 inhabitants, Lagos rises along the banks of the Rio Bensafrim and is the flagship city of the west coast. Actually, there would also be Sagres, but, as I will explain in the next paragraphs and as you can ascertain on the spot, it is not even possible to compare the two.
Lagos is very touristy. When researching pre-departure information, I thought Lagos might be the most quaint in the Algarve. It probably was a few years ago; now it is much beaten down by tourism and perhaps has lost that Portuguese spirit that I found more in Faro.
I say this with good reason, since I stayed for no less than five nights at the Luzmar Villas (CLICK to see the hotel) just a few kilometers from Lagos.
The historic center of the city is of definite interest accomplice also to the fact that Lagos was the main capital of the Algarve until 1755, the year of the disastrous earthquake that involved most of Portugal.
In addition to the beautiful city center to tour in a half day, Lagos enlivens its narrow streets at nightfall. Mild-mannered tourism than Albufeira invades the town in search of restaurants, small stores, and a few good after-dinner cocktails.
However, Lagos is the reference point and base for visiting the entire western side of the Algarve. Its surroundings are home to the majority of things to see such as Ponta da Piedade, a phenomenal place a few kilometers west of town that I will tell you about in item #16 of things to see in the Algarve.
Lagos, as well as other cities in the Algarve, is building many new residential areas. These areas are becoming the destination for many Europeans looking for good living, consistently mild weather…and low taxes.
16 – Ponta da Piedade, a must-see
Not sure how to spend one of your days in the Algarve near Lagos? There are so many things to see in the Algarve that I don’t think you have such problems, but I give you the solution: visit Ponta da Piedade.
This magnificent promontory 2km from Lagos is a concentration of everything that is the Algarve: nature, sea, cliffs…a warm wind and the sun that accompanies you throughout the day. The sandstone cliffs give way to several routes, each with special views ranging from the blue ocean horizon, to the cliffs towards Luz or Lagos with, in the background, the beautiful Meia Praia.
Decides and dozens of stacks for an incredible stretch of coastline that can be visited in several ways: on foot (arriving by car), or via kayak or organized tour.
From my point of view, try to see it both by sea and land. The view from the sea is always something special and in these places everything is even more magical.
For a tour from Lagos by kayak I recommend:
- Exploration from Lagos Marina (more than 1,000 positive reviews)
- 2-hour tour with catamaran and escort (RECOMMENDED)
I recommend seeing them both ways. Also by visiting Ponta da Piedade on foot (pardon the pun). Once you arrive near the observation point (look for the Farol da Ponta da Piedade on the navigator), park by the side of the road.
From here you have the option of reaching the Miradouro immediately or, continue first to the left on the new wooden piers that lead to the viewpoints towards Lagos and its beaches. This is also a splendid side of Ponta da Piedade to visit.
17 – Sagres in the Deep West
A surfing hotspot, a very interesting town beach, a fortress a few hundred meters away from the center and four windswept streets. That is in a nutshell the description of Sagres.
In itself Sagres has the charm of being THE village in one of the wildest places in all of Portugal. Just as Portugal’s lonely planet suggests, “…pervaded by an end-of-the-world atmosphere….”
Things to see in Sagres include the fortaleza and, the westernmost place in the Algarve. Both are the spots where those who want to see a beautiful sunset concentrate.
18 – Sunset at
Among the things to see in the Algarve to count are its sunsets. And what better place than? It is connected to Sagres by a long road with no detour, only direction: the westernmost point of the Algarve.
At the end of this long road of 7 km and about a 10-minute drive, every evening hundreds of people flock to watch the sunset over the ocean, some armed with dinner. If you want to see a sunset, this is the perfect place…with one caution: cover up well because the wind whips hard and when the sun’s rays leave, the cold sets in (in early July it was 18 degrees with wind).
19 – Carrapateira and the Vicentina Coast
The Vicentina Coast represents the western side of southern Portugal. This stretch of coast is divided between the Algarve and Alentejo.
Wide beaches, lots of wind and lots of wetsuits plying the ocean waves, this is the summary of the beaches that turn to the west: different from those in the south, in some respects definitely more fascinating, as well as wild.
Carrapateira, a town with an unpronounceable name, is the highlight of this part of Portuguese territory. It is a surfer’s paradise. Visit the Pontal de Carrapateira, the neighboring beaches or try an exciting horseback ride along the coast (CLICK HERE for the tour).
You may also be interested in this one-day excursion with pickup directly from your hotel. A guided tour of the Costa Vicentina that also touches Aljezur and part of the lower Alentejo.
20 – Relax at Praia do Amado
Do you love surfing or want to try your hand at it? Well, Praia do Amado is where you need to go.
You get there by taking a paved road that branches off the main road just before the center of Carrapateira. A few kilometers of disconnected road before a large dirt parking lot. Impossible to take a wrong turn: boards under your arm and an indefinite number of campers underscore the fact that you have arrived at the right place.
The beach is truly spectacular. One can have fun surfing, or get lost watching others surf. The important thing is to relax in front of the ocean.
Want to try your hand at surfing? CLICK HERE for a surf lesson at Praia do Amado.
5 More Things to do in the Algarve
In addition to things to see, I have prepared a short list of things to do in the Algarve, although I have actually already included some of them for you in the previous paragraphs.
You will find many fish dishes in the Algarve, but there is one you cannot miss: cataplana. It can be fish-only, meat or mixed (algarvian). It is cooked in a special double pot and usually the portion is for two people. It is not easy to digest, but it is unmissable, so let the digestion deal with it.
Taste the Amarguinha (with lemon)
In the Algarve I found several interesting liqueurs, including the Amarguinha. Discovered almost by accident at the end of a dinner in Sagres, this almond liqueur with an alcohol content of around 20 degrees is great at the end of a meal. My favorite version is with lemon juice. If you are passing through Faro, I recommend a trip to the Columbus Cocktail & Wine Bar: ask for an Amarguinha Sour.
Surfing on the Vicenza coast
Why not give it a try In addition to Praia do Amado, which I have already told you about extensively, the entire coast has surf schools. If you want to try something new and love contact with the sea, surfing is definitely worth considering.
In addition to those mentioned above, the advice is to take as many kayak tours as you can. The coastline is phenomenal and kayaking allows you to reach phenomenal coves and beaches, not only in Benagil or Ponta da Piedade.
Buying Algarve cork products
The Algarve is rich in cork forests. There are many small stores selling quality products related to this 100 percent natural material. We found a great one in Tavira on Rua Ercolano (I hope I am not misremembering).
Where to sleep in the Algarve
As explained in my Algarve itinerary article, I considered 3 bases: 3 nights in Albufeira, 5 nights in Lagos (Luz) and 2 in Faro, here are the hotels I recommend.
Albufeira: Lost & Found – Guesthouse & Suites – facility a 10-minute drive from the center. It is ideal because it enjoys great peace and quiet. Each room in the hotel is independent and has its own private access. In case you want to cook, there is also its own kitchen with everything you need. It also has a nice little central garden with a few small tables, great for relaxing at any time of the day. Excellent cleanliness. Value for money: 9
Alternatively -> CLICK HERE for all the hotels in Albufeira
Lagos: Luzmar Villas – real cottages located in the greenery of Luz, a 15-minute drive from Lagos. Again, this is a great way to avoid traffic, noise and enjoy the manicured green spaces of a very nice facility. Value for money: 8
Alternatively -> CLICK HERE for all the hotels in Lagos
Lighthouse: Casa da Avò Bia – no glitz, a clean guesthouse (there are only 2 rooms) with a large, comfortable common area. The ultimate in independence within walking distance of Faro’s cathedral. Value for money: 7
Alternatively->CLICK HERE for all the hotels in Faro