The Algarve is Portugal’s most southerly region and the country’s prime tourist area. Home to more than 100 miles of Kodak-moment coastline, there are plenty of Blue Flag beaches, beautiful countryside dotted with Moorish villages and vibrant cities such as regional capital Faro, Albufeira and Lagos.
Stretching from the Spanish border in the east to Europe’s most southwesterly point at Sagres, there are plenty of places to stay, from excellent villas, to exclusive hotels. Or check into on the traditional ‘pousadas’, beautiful state-run hotels.
As well as the beaches and wild walking holidays, the Algarve is a world-class, award-winning golf destination.
Getting there/getting around in The Algarve
Your flight to the Algarve will most likely arrive at Faro Airport, a booming hub for low-cost airlines.
Car hire is readily available for independent travellers. There are train stations in all main towns between Lagos and Vila Real de Santo Antonio in the east and there’s public transport in all main areas.
Beaches in The Algarve
Between Faro and Manta Rota, the eastern beaches on the islands of the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve are justly famous, offering the warmest waters and reached only by small ferries.
A special place is Ilha Deserta – Portugal’s southernmost point, reached in high season from Faro’s Porta Nova Pier.
Praia da Mareta in Sagres is one of the most popular beaches in Portugal and Praia da Luz in Lagos is another favourite.
Other excellent quality beaches that families will love include Odeceixe, Arrifana, Ferragudo, Carvoeiro, Albufeira, Quarteira and Monte Gordo.
Surfers will love Praia do Castelejo, a sandy beach on the rugged Costa Vicentina (in the west) with strong breaking waves.
Sightseeing in The Algarve
You should definitely spend some time in Faro, pottering around the city’s grand square of Praca de Dom Francisco Gomes and the Moorish Old Town.
The Moorish influence is also obvious in Lagos, so head there to see the historic fortifications and pretty marina, as well as the waterfront site of the Old Slave Market, the first to be built in Europe.
Head up to the small town of Monchique, hike the forests of the Serra de Monchique, or more energetically, the region’s highest point, the peak of Foia at 2,972ft.
Take a picturesque drive up to the ‘Barrocal’, the inland region of the Algarve, past carob and almond trees, citrus orchards and little vineyards.
Family attractions in The Algarve
This is a fab family choice with excellent hotels, sandy beaches, jeep safaris, horse riding, go-karting, mountain biking, boat trips, river cruises and lots of watersports.
Kids will love the area’s two great waterparks – Aqualand, The Big One, at Alcantarilha; and Slide and Splash further west near Lagoa, considered one of the best in Europe.
The Aqua Show Fun Family Park, at Semino is good fun and there is a zoo in Lagos. Near Albufeira is Zoomarine, an oceanographic theme park which also offers a dolphin interaction programme.
There’s plenty to keep kids amused in Faro, including the Maritime Museum and Science Museum.
Day trips in The Algarve
The delightful western inland town of Silves was once the Moorish capital of the area so head there to see the impressive, red, sandstone castle dominating the town.
Don’t leave without heading even further west to see Sagres and the Fortaleza de Sagres (Fortress of Sagres) honoured as a monument of national importance.
Lisbon and Seville are also possible day or overnight trips.
Eating out in The Algarve
You’ll find a wide range of international options in cities and resorts but excellent local fish and shellfish are musts on any menu.
Clams cooked in a cataplana – a copper pan – with ham, cockles, onion, garlic, white wine and spices are delicious. More rustic and hardy mountain dishes include stewed chickpeas and cabbage and home-cured sausages.
Figs feature in many a dessert and anyone with a sweet tooth will be in heaven trying arroz doce, a lemon and cinnamon-flavoured rice pudding and delicious custard-filled tarts, pasteis de nata.
Also be prepared to try the fiery local brandy, aguardente de medronho made from the arbutus berry. The Algarve’s wine-growing region is divided between Lagos, Portimao, Lagoa, Albufeira and Tavira.
There are many places to eat out in Faro and Albufeira, or go and show off in Vilamoura, an exclusive marina harbouring dazzling yachts, sophisticated restaurants and nightlife and a casino.
Nightlife in The Algarve
The Algarve’s four key marinas – Lagos, Portimao, Albufeira and Vilamoura – are ideal for a pre- or post-dinner waterfront stroll. Vilamoura, Monte Gordo and Praia da Rocha all have casinos.
Faro is a university town so has plenty of bars and clubs with a young, cool vibe. There is also plenty of nightlife in Albufeira, Vilamoura, Quinta do Lago and Portimao.
Jazz is very popular in the Algarve with festivals year-round – from Portimao’s May, Glorious May to Faro’s Jazz in Winter International Jazz Festival.
Shopping in The Algarve
Be on the look out for bright pottery, wicker baskets, cork goods, knitwear and leather shoes, bags and belts – all good value and typical of the area.
For a market packed with local flavour, head to Loule’s Saturday retail-fest in a town known for its excellent copper goods, wrought-iron work, candles and clogs.
Visit the traditional Cerāmica d’Alte, if you want beautiful pottery and traditional Portuguese decorative tiles.