With the mild climate of the Atlantic Ocean, soft sandy beaches, mouthwatering cuisine, and inspiring coastal scenery; it’s no wonder that Portugal’s Algarve is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Europe.
We’ll explore the best things to do in the Algarve, from relaxing on dreamy beaches, to exploring coastal caves, teeing off at some of Europe’s leading golf courses, to getting lost in the charming old town.
We will also add some heritage to follow, such as the church of San Lorenzo decorated with beautiful blue tiles, or the monumental gate of Arco da Vila in Faro.
Let’s explore the best things to do in the Algarve:
1. Ponta da Piedade
The headland south of Lagos is simply stunning.
Tormented limestone piles and cliffs are reddish tones and honeycombed with natural arches and caves.
You can walk down the steps to the crystal clear water, which is completely protected by rocks and has an attractive emerald color.
To experience it all, take in the views from the headland, which stretches to Cape St. Vincent in the west, before returning to Lagos to board a motorboat to explore the caves and creeks.
2. Falecia Beach
Pushing forward nearly seven kilometers, it is a golden sandy beach, and the cliffs are dotted with various ochre colors.
The competition is tough, but this is probably the biggest beach in the Algarve and one of the longest in Portugal.
Those cliffs have a lot to do with it, as the combination of pale sand, azure sea and russet rocks makes this a beautiful walking destination in the off-season.
There is a cliff top trail through a pine forest with panoramic views.
Come sunset, the light is very good.
3. Cape St Vincent
On this promontory in Sagres, you’ll be standing on the most southwestern tip of Europe.
Geographical significance aside, it is also a jaw-dropping setting, with cliffs 75 meters above the ocean and cinematic views of rocky seascapes to the north and east towards Cape Sagres.
There has been a lot of naval battles in the sea near the cape, where there is a lighthouse built in 1846 on the foundations of an abandoned monastery.
There are now several gift shops and a small but valuable museum about the cape and its history.
4. Playa da Rocha
Another awesome beach, Praia da Rocha combines the Algarve’s rugged coastal scenery with its pristine sand and rolling waves.
You can take pictures at the foot of the strange rock formations, and if you don’t mind climbing, you can explore the secret beaches of these huge carved rocks along the coast.
The main part is an expansive low-shelf beach where surfers can ride the waves.
Behind and to the east is the 17th-century fortress of Santa Catarina, designed by Neapolitan military planner Alexandre Marseille.
5. Church of San Lorenzo
There is an 18th century Baroque church in Loule that you should see for yourself.
If the painted exterior is unassuming, the interior will just blow your mind.
The walls and ceiling are completely covered with a fine blue glaze (traditional tin glazed tiles) dating back to the 1730s.
They are so widespread that the church is often called the Igreja de Louça (Chinese church). These tiles were made by Policarpo de Oliveira Bernardes, who is recognized as one of the masters of art, and depicts scenes from the life of St. Lawrence.
Another place to admire the rough red rock formations of the Algarve is in Carvoeiro, not far east of the resort center.
The ocean has eroded the cliffs here, creating small holes, caves and small rock outcrops.
There is a boardwalk at the top of the cliffs, giving you some great photo opportunities of the grottoes that have been blasted by the ocean.
More intrepid visitors can walk down through steps etched into the rock for a better view of the cave.
7. Tavira Island
This is a long and narrow barrier island several hundred meters from the city of Tavira.
You can get there by boat, from the city’s marina and nearby Quatro Águas, or cross the bridge in Santa Luzia and catch the tourist train that runs in summer.
As soon as you arrive you’ll know why you’re crossing; even by the high standards of the Algarve, the Blue Flag beaches on the island of Tavira are out of this world.
They continued on for 11 kilometers, to a wide stretch of soft white sand surrounded by dunes.
8. Dolphin watching
At all the major marinas along the Algarve you will see advertised ocean cruises.
Such as deep sea fishing, but the experience you really cherish is dolphin watching.
The ocean near the Algarve is teeming with common and bottlenose dolphins, so your expedition is almost guaranteed to be a success.
The curious nature of these creatures also makes this easier, with up to 50 pods accompanying you before you know it.
The best companies bring a marine biologist to give you more insights into dolphin habits and physiology.
9. Lagos Old Town
It is a pleasure to stroll through the historic center of Lagos.
It is surrounded by large blocks of old walls, which were updated in the 1500s on an older Moorish defense.
Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Lagos was the capital of the Algarve, and you’ll learn about its status at the town’s museum, which has centuries of history or artifacts, including coins dating back to the 4th century .
You can spend the rest of your time wandering the narrow cobblestone streets and visiting historic buildings such as the 15th-century slave market (Lagos was once the center of the European slave trade) and the Baroque Church of San Antonio Blue glazing decoration.
10. Arco Davila
In 1812, one of Faro’s Moorish seaside portals underwent a neoclassical update.
It was commissioned by the Bishop of Faro, Francisco Gomez de Avilar, and drafted by the Italian architect Francisco Xavier Fabbri.
There is a bell tower (crowned stork’s nest), clock, balustrade, and in the alcove above the portal is a statue of Thomas Aquinas hewn from marble.
As you walk through the portal, you can still see traces of the original Moorish stonework.
It’s thrilling to know that you’re on the same path as the city’s centuries-old visitors.
11. Forte de Nossa Senhora da Rocha
The promontory near Lagoa is a fortified wall dating back to before the arrival of the Moors in the 8th century.
There isn’t much evidence of the fort being demolished in the 19th century, but you’ll find an ancient hideaway with a terracotta tile roof.
The whitewashed walls and cliff-top location create an almost ethereal scene.
You can peek through the doors of the church or bathe in the magnificent ocean views overlooking the adjacent Praia Nova and Praia da Senhora da Rocha beaches.
Almost everything is on the coast so far, but the Algarve has a vast hinterland.
This is the most picturesque place around the Serra de Monchique, the mountain range that serves as a buffer zone between the Algarve and the northern Alentejo.
These include Pico da Foia, which at over 900 meters above sea level is the highest mountain in southern Portugal.
Outside of summer, Monchique is the best place for walks in the area, on cool hills covered with strawberry trees.
A hillside above the town houses the remains of a 17th-century monastery, while the centre of Munchique is also delightful with its cobblestone streets and whitewashed houses with stained windows and door frames.
Until the 1960s, golf was virtually unheard of in the Algarve.
Fast forward 50 years and it’s a very different story.
Here are the best golf destinations in Europe.
Given the size of the region, the choice is incredible: 42 pitches across 35 different clubs, so it’s fair to say that no matter where you’re in the Algarve, you don’t have to travel far for a round.
A few best to remember are Oceanico in Vilamoura, Palmares near Lagos, a pair of innovatively designed courses at Quinta da Ria and Quinta do Lago.
14. Water Park
These are always mandatory if you are on holiday with kids, luckily the Algarve has some water parks that can compete with the best in Europe.
Side & Splash in Estômbar is the largest in Portugal and one of the largest in continental Europe, with 16 slides and pools and nearly two hectares of open grass for sunbathing.
Aquashow Park in Quarteira may be suitable for older children, as some slides are not for the faint of heart, such as FreeFall, the tallest slide in Europe at 32 meters.
Meanwhile, the Zoomarine Algarve has an animal park with live shows and a new ‘beach’ area with a wave pool, fine white sand and waterslides.
15. Algarve Food and Drink
In the Atlantic, it’s no surprise that fish and seafood are sacred in the Algarve, whether it’s crab, oysters, squid or a shellfish mix in rice.
But the fish that came up the most were the humble sardines, grilled to perfection and served with a salad and white wine.
Chicken piri-piri is another star; it’s grilled chicken marinated in a sauce made from piri-piri peppers, originally imported by Portugal from its former colony in Mozambique.
If you want an authentic accompaniment to your morning coffee, you can buy a soft de nata at the bakery.
This is a delicious egg tart flavored with almonds.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Algarve, Portugal
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