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Last Updated on February 15, 2022 by Ella
With over 300 days of sunshine per year and a warm climate all year round, the Algarve is one of the most popular regions in Portugal for travellers to visit! Beloved by both Portuguese and international travellers, there are plenty of fun things to do and see here.
With miles of sun-soaked beaches, fun watersports to try, and a tonne of history in the region, it’d be almost criminal not to see the Algarve on your trip to Portugal! The only question is, with so many brilliant towns and cities to visit in the Algarve, where do you even start?
That’s where this post comes in! If you’re looking for a list of the very best towns in the Algarve, as well as plenty of suggestions for things to do, unique places to visit, and plenty of hidden gems, carry on reading!
The Best Towns to Visit in the Algarve, Portugal
Lagos is a historic and lively town situated on the beautiful west coast of the Algarve. As a holiday destination, it has a tonne of fun things to do. We’re talking dazzling beaches, varied nightlife, and a charming historic centre that still has its traditional feel.
When in Lagos, don’t miss the Municipal Market, the Ponta da Bandeira fort (built in the 17th century!) and the small Santa Bárbara chapel, which is covered in beautiful tiles and has the most magnificent view over the sea!
Feel like relaxing on a beach instead of sightseeing? In Lagos, that’s no problem. Lagos has a staggering 11 beaches available for you to sunbathe on. Praia Dona Ana, Praia da Luz, Praia de Porto de Mós and Praia da Batata (which translates to Potato Beach – bizarre!) are my personal favourites.
Make sure you take the time to visit Ponta da Piedade. It’s one of the most amazing landscapes in the Algarve, formed over a million years ago. If you join this epic boat tour around Ponta da Piedade and you won’t be disappointed. You’ll get up close and personal with this awesome landmark and explore it from another point of view. Pictures here are a must!
If I haven’t already convinced you to visit Lagos, it’s worth mentioning that it’s an inexpensive place to visit, and attracts a young, laid-back backpacker crowd.
One of the best places to visit in the Algarve is the town of Tavira. With very pleasant temperatures and some of the calmest beaches in the Algarve, as well as ancient monuments and very charming streets, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Tavira.
When visiting this town, you’ll discover 21 churches, an ancient Arab neighbourhood, ruins of a castle where you can enjoy a fantastic view over Tavira, a bridge of Roman origin and alleyways you can get lost in!
Tavira is one of the best options for a slow-paced trip with the whole family. It’s also close to the Ria Formosa (which we’ll talk about later in this post!) and its islands. This makes it a great base for exploring other areas in the Algarve.
Despite its stunning beaches and mild climate all year round, Faro is not the Algarve’s main tourist destination. Instead, it’s mostly just the gateway to the Algarve. That’s because flights from all over Europe and the rest of the world arrive here.
Most Algarve visitors land in Faro and then travel straight to their final destination. However, if you spend some time in Faro you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Located just 6 km from the airport, the historic centre of Faro will astonish you.
Highlights include its ancient cobbled alleyways, which feel like they have been frozen in time, and its beautiful cathedral. From the cathedral you can enjoy a magnificent view over the Ria Formosa.
Tiles, or Azulejos, are one of the most famous art forms in Portugal. Scattered around the old town, you will find several Portuguese Azulejo panels that tell the story of Faro. In addition to these panels, pay attention to the street signs. They’re all made out of these famous tiles, and most of them are quite old.
Faro is a university town, so, unlike many Algarve towns, it’s lively all year round! Since it’s a university town, it goes without saying that it has buzzing nightlife! To recover from all the partying, head to the closest beach to Faro, Praia da Ilha de Faro. It’s accessible by a bridge that connects the mainland to one of the Ria Formosa’s Islands.
Albufeira is a coastal city in the southern Algarve region of Portugal. It was once a quiet fishing village, but its stunning beaches soon became well-known. Now, it’s one of the most popular towns to visit in the Algarve!
Local fishermen now use the modern marina, which is also a base for diving, dolphin watching and boating. Surrounded by colourful apartments and with a seafront promenade, this is a lovely place to stroll around and watch as the fishermen haul in their catch.
The city’s nightlife is undoubtedly the liveliest in the region, with the wildest parties and people! Cheap drinks and a young crowd make it the go-to choice for groups of friends travelling together. If you want to join the best party in Albufeira I recommend booking yourself a spot on this summer boat party, which will be unforgettable!
Despite the party crowd, Albufeira is also a popular option with families, and there are plenty of resorts around the city. If you are travelling with family (and especially with children), this dolphin watching boat trip would be the perfect activity! During this tour you can watch wild dolphins swimming freely in their natural habitat, the ocean!
The first Algarve hidden gem town on this list is Alcoutim. It’s a town located on the border with Spain and the two countries are separated only by the Guadiana River.
One of the main points of interest in this town is the medieval castle. It was built in the second half of the 13th-century to monitor river traffic and protect the town from possible attacks by Castilian forces.
You can also walk through the streets of this quiet Algarve town and admire the beautiful houses, the Church of São Salvador and the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Conceição. To end your visit, there’s nothing like enjoying the calm waters of the Pego Fundo River beach.
The Ruins of Montinho das Laranjeiras are one of the top places to visit in Alcoutim. Heavy floods in 1876 uncovered this archaeological treasure, a Roman villa. It was later discovered that the villa was occupied by the Romans, Visigoths and the Moors!
In March, the Contraband Festival in Alcoutim promotes the arts, combined with memories of other times when smuggling was a way of life in this border town. In August there’s another local fair, where the county’s villages invite everyone to taste their unique delicacies and get to know their arts and crafts.
If you are looking for a quiet place to rest and relax, Alcoutim is one of the best towns in the Algarve to do that!
Vilamoura is one of the best luxury resorts in Europe because of its sunny days and fantastic beaches. In fact, there is so much to do in Vilamoura that it is difficult to choose the most interesting activities to add to your itinerary!
In summer it’s very common to see the Vilamoura Marina full of impressive luxury yachts, sports cars and beautiful people. This is where the rich and famous come to holiday on the Algarve, and the place oozes money.
The town’s nightlife is very energetic (but a bit more expensive than elsewhere on the Algarve!) and hosts some of the regions’ most famous parties. If you have the cash to splash, there is also a casino!
The best experience for those who want to go to Vilamoura is to take a yacht trip along the coast. It’s not even expensive (just €42 per person) and is a unique opportunity to see how the other half lives!
If luxury experiences aren’t your thing, I’ve got you! Aquashow is one of the very best water parks in the Algarve, and very popular with families. It has a tonne of waterslides, as well as one of the largest water roller coasters in the world. It reaches speeds of over 70km an hour!
Home to the most impressive landscape in the Algarve, Sagres has steep, towering cliffs that descend into the crashing waves below. This town is the southwestern tip of continental Europe, so the force of nature here, with wind and crashing waves, is extreme!
Since the Middle Ages this tip of Europe was called “the end of the world”, as legend has it that locals thought it really was the very edge of Earth! Sagres has two points of interest that you won’t want to miss: Cabo de São Vicente and the Fortress of Sagres.
The Fortress of Sagres is located on the cliffs and was built in the mid-15th century to protect this part of Portuguese territory. Inside the fortress you won’t find much more than the small Church of Nossa Senhora da Graça and a compass rose. Be aware, though that this place offers some of the most fantastic views over the Atlantic Ocean. It’s great for pictures!
Cabo de São Vicente is perfect for nature lovers and was classified as a nature reserve in 1988. That’s not surprising given the number of species that have chosen this site as their home. These include sea otters, herons and Bonelli’s eagles.
It’s also close to the beautiful Costa Vicentina, where you’ll find plenty of Instagrammers snapping photos of its dreamy beaches. The best way to discover this coast is to join a jeep tour.
Due to its great location and great waves, Sagres is one of Portugal’s main destination for surfers. The Sagres surfing community is very tight-knit. In fact, the majority of the town’s tourism industry focuses on surfing!
Visiting Loulé rarely features on the “must-visit” lists for those visiting the Algarve. Don’t let its secret status discourage you, though. There are plenty of reasons to visit this off-the-beaten-path city.
Start your visit at its medieval historic centre, which is the archaeological, architectural and cultural source of Arab influence in the region. You’ll notice that its busy streets are full of character.
Loulé is a city different from all other places in the Algarve and its “genuine Portuguese atmosphere”, as us tourists perceive it, has started to attract more and more visitors. Another advantage it benefits from is its proximity to Faro airport!
The city has a more commercial nature, given that it’s less popular than Lagos or Tavira. However, this also allows it to maintain more authenticity in the cultural traits of daily life in the Algarve, and this is its great asset.
If you want to live as a Portuguese, try going to the local markets, which take place every Saturday morning and on the 23rd of every month, as they are market days! You should also visit the market in front of the Convento de Santo António, where the Moroccan art of bargaining is still customary.
For more info, check out my Loulé travel guide!
The small Portuguese village of Benagil gets its fame mainly due to the Benagil Cave. This cave is one of Portugal’s most iconic landmarks and constantly appears at the top of people’s Portugal bucket lists.
Over the years getting to the cave has become easier, and local operators have started offering more boat tours. This has caused an increase in the number of boats that visit it, not only from Benagil but also from other areas of the Algarve.
Even though the cave is not far from Benagil beach, it is not advisable to swim to the cave due to the tides that can be very strong and can change suddenly. If you want to stay safe and see the cave it’s best to take a boat trip, try stand up paddleboarding, or head there in a kayak.
East of Benagil beach is Praia do Carvalho, or smugglers beach, and access to it is restricted by a somewhat hidden stairway. It’s just a few meters from Benagil and is appealing if you’re looking for privacy and a little adventure. You won’t find any cafes or restaurants here, but what you will find is clear waters perfect for snorkelling!
West of Benagil is the Marinha beach, and if you are adventurous you can venture out on a walk along the cliffs to get there.
Located just over 10km from Faro, the Estói Palace is another wonder you can’t miss when visiting the Algarve.
Despite having a relatively recent history, as it was built in the mid-19th century, this palace and surrounding property are one of the most beautiful spaces you can find in this region. Even some Portuguese people don’t know about this place since it’s such a hidden gem!
The palace is the only Rococo-style palace with French-style gardens in the Algarve, which gives it a special charm. In addition to the gardens, you can also admire the lakes, fountains, statues and fantastic tile panels. We all know how much Portuguese people love their beautiful tiles!
Nearby, and also with a strong historical connotation, are the Roman ruins of Milreu. Here you’ll find a luxurious manor house, spa, oil and wine presses and agricultural facilities, revealing the lifestyle of a family of high social and political status.
Portimão has a centuries-old history and is currently one of the best cities to visit in the Algarve. It attracts plenty of visitors due to its beautiful beaches, but the city also has other places you can’t miss.
When visiting the city, head to the beautiful Portimão Museum. It opened in 2008 and is located in an old canning factory built in the 19th century. Here you can learn more about the history and culture of Portimão and its connection to the sea and fishing.
Wanting to get lost in the city? Take the opportunity to lose yourself in the beautiful streets and admire other points of interest such as the Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição and the Church and College of the Jesuits!
Before leaving Portimão, go to Fortaleza de Santa Catarina, located at the mouth of the Arade River. Here, you can enjoy the beautiful view over one of the most famous beaches in Portugal, the fantastic Praia da Rocha. It’s one of my favourites!
A great way to get to know these areas is to join this half-day jeep tour through the Algarve mountains, visiting small traditional villages and savouring the Algarve drink, Medronho.
In the past, Carvoeiro was a sleepy fishing village. Nowadays it’s one of the most beautiful towns in the Algarve that every traveller should have on their wish list! The landscape of enchanting white houses beside limestone cliffs, bathed by the sea of crystal-clear turquoise waters, is irresistible!
Besides the fantastic beaches you will find there, such as Praia do Carvoeiro, Praia da Marinha and Praia do Vale Centeanes, you have plenty of other points of interest that you can’t miss.
After taking in the blissful views, head out on a walk along the 570-metre path that connects the site of the ruins of the Nossa Senhora da Encarnação Fort to Algar Seco. This walkway reveals the beautiful cliffs and natural “windows” sculpted by the erosion of the sea and the wind, especially in Algar Seco.
Ria Formosa, a wetland located in the Algarve, is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal. It stretches along 60km of coastline, from the mouth of the River Ancão (Loulé) to the beach at Manta Rota (Vila Real de Santo António).
It’s a lagoon system consisting of two peninsulas and five long islands: Barreta, Culatra, Armona, Tavira and Cabanas.
Part of the system is a Natural Park and a crossing point for thousands of birds during the spring and autumn migratory periods.
Boat trips along the Ria Formosa are increasingly popular, allowing you to discover, in just a few hours, the various islands and beaches that you will have the pleasure of choosing from during your vacation.
Ria Formosa is perfect for beach-lovers! If you prefer a quiet place, Ilha da Barreta (also known as Ilha Deserta – Deserted Island) is perfect for you. It stretches for almost 10 km and you’ll hear nothing but nature whilst sunbathing there.
Vila Real de Santo António
Visiting Vila Real de Santo António is about discovering the most southeastern municipality of Portugal, on the Algarve coast. The town is on the mouth of the Guadiana River, and on the opposite riverbank is Spain.
This may not be the most obvious destination in the Algarve, but it still has incredible things to see, such as Cacela Velha, Manta Rota and Monte Gordo. Here the beaches are extensive, and the water is the most pleasant you will find in Portugal!
You can also try golfing here as the landscapes of Vila Real de Santo António’s golf courses are breathtaking.
If you prefer visiting cultural places, the historic centre of Vila Real de Santo António is perfect for you. It was built by the same creator of Baixa de Lisboa, so you know it’s pretty! Here, make sure you go to the marina to check out the luxurious moored boats there and gaze across at Spain on the other bank of the river!
Silves is one of the oldest cities in Portugal, and it’s one of the best towns to visit in the Algarve. Stand-out attractions are its two monuments with centuries of history, the castle and the ancient church of Silves.
Its particular architecture bears witness to the historic presence of the Moors in this region. The castle, also called the “red fortress” because of its colour, is at the top of Silves, and is the best place to view the city.
If you are into architecture, you should visit the Silves Municipal Archeology Museum. The museum exposes the archaeological finds discovered in the city, mostly in the castle and in the archaeological nucleus of Cerro da Rocha Branca.
The museum was built on the site of a 16th-century dwelling house where a water reservoir was discovered. The reservoir therefore became the centre of the museum. You can actually see the water running from there!
If you’re ready to get spooky, pay a visit to Alcantarilha’s Chapel of Bones, which is in the historic town centre. This creepy chapel contains more than 1500 human bones! There are rumours (without any reliable evidence) that these bones were from Jesuit friars who perished in the region.
No matter where the bones come from, everybody agrees that the chapel is beautiful but spooky.
Silves also has beaches, more specifically in Armação de Pêra, that barely see any international tourists. If you prefer to have an authentic experience in the Algarve, Silves might be the place!
As you can see, there are many wonderful towns to visit in the Algarve, and I hope this post has inspired you to book your trip! I had a wonderful time there, and I’m confident that you will too!
Got any questions? Let me know in the comments below!
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