Sitting at the far southern end of mainland Portugal is a region of shimmering gold-sand beaches and crystal-blue waters, where golf courses roll over the dunes and beer bars creep up to the lapping Atlantic. Welcome to the Algarve. But is Algarve worth visiting?
Our answer? Absolutely. A visit is a must. The Algarve spans 155 kilometers from east to west and has three natural borders: The Atlantic Ocean to the west and south, the Spanish border in the east, and a collection of low mountain ranges dividing it from the rest of Portugal. Within are some serious treasures and some of the most jaw-dropping coastline this side of Amalfi.
This guide will showcase the joys of the whole province. It will answer is Algarve worth visiting by focusing in on the finest sands, the most amazing activities, the enviable climate, and a whole load more about this uber-popular holiday destination. Let’s begin…
The beaches – obviously!
Who doesn’t love a beach? Well, the Algarve is famous for them! There are so many to choose from – hundreds, in fact. They fall into two main categories: The southern beaches and the western beaches. The first are the most famous. They have the iconic golden sands and the gold-tinged cliffs, running below resort towns like Albufeira and Faro. The latter are wilder, wave-lashed, and prime territory for surfers.
One of the most stunning, with its iconic sculptured rocks, jutting out into the sea, is the Praia da Marinha beach in Lagos. If you only visit one beach during your trip, then we recommend to make it this one. The Ilha Deserta beach on Barreta Island, lays just off the coast of Faro. That definitely lives up to its name, which means Deserted Beach in English. To get there take you must take a ferry which takes 35 minutes and costs 10 euro – it’s well worth the trip if you are looking for remote ambience.
Go west and you’ll find Praia de Vale Figueiras, a large sandy beach within the Costa Vicentina natural park. Measuring a kilometer long by 75 meters wide, is an empty and remote stretch of raw beauty. Arrifana is there too, offering beginner surf waves and high cliffs, as is Praia da Amoreira and its glinting yellow bay cut through by a wiggling river.
Because the climate is fantastic
Although not on the Mediterranean, the Algarve is known for its Mediterranean climate. Countries that are lucky enough to benefit from this enjoy warm summers (like, very warm!) and mild winters.
It seldom rains in the Algarve, which means the air can get quite dry, but how dry depends on which side of the Algarve you are in. In the east, adjacent to the Spanish border, there’s A LOT less rainfall than out on the west side where the Atlantic Ocean brings in the moisture. Summers are typically hot and filled with sunshine – we’re talking a whopping 3,000 hours of the good stuff each year, along with regular average temperatures around 80 F (the mid-20s C).
If you are visiting during the winter months then it’s still possible to get some warmth and plenty of rays. Temperatures rarely fall below zero but there have been January highs of 61 F (16 C) on occasion. Better options for beach lovers are the spring and the fall, which usually manage temperatures in the low 70s but have WAY fewer crowds overall.
TL;DR: The Algarve is balmy almost all year and has a fantastic climate for would-be holidaymakers looking to hit the beach!
The enthralling history
If you are interested in historical attractions, then the Algarve has plenty to offer. From Roman ruins to Christian churches and Moorish castles, you won’t be disappointed in these parts. After the fall of the Roman Empire, history tells us that the Algarve fell under Muslim rule for 500 years, until 1189, when it became part of the Portuguese Kingdom.
Many archaeological sites reveal that amazing story. Head to the beautiful Castelo de Silves, a well preserved Moorish castle dating back to the 8th century. The Castle of Castro Marim, meanwhile, is a medieval castle that was once controlled by the Knights Templar. Prices to get into the castles vary, with some being completely free (check out Castle Tavira if you’re on a budget), and others, such as the Silves Castle, costing in the region of just 3 euros per person. The point is that it’s rarely expensive!
Other places of historic interest which we recommend you see are the Lighthouse at Cape Saint Vincent and Old Town Faro. The first sits at the most south-westerly point in the country, keeping watch over the rugged coastline. Built in 1846, its stands 79 foot high and is a photographer’s dream. Then there’s Old Town Faro. Here you can find many museums and beautiful Roman passages to stroll through, along with Baroque churches that go back more than 500 years.
The range of hotels
Boasting 150 clicks of stunning coastline and over 25 individual resorts, the Algarve offers an accommodation type for everyone. Whether you are looking for luxury five-star hotels or a backpacker hostel, there’s plenty to choose from. And the Algarve is also a huge golfing destination, so there’s an abundance of gorgeous golfing escapes to choose from for those bringing the clubs in tow.
The largest of the resorts are Albufeira, Lagos, and Praira da Rocha. Bustling with life, these offer energetic nightlife and an array of large beachfront hotels and are suitable for couples or families. Vilamoura, with its large marina, golf courses, beautiful beaches and casinos, is frequented by many celebrities. Lagos, Tavira and Faro offer a more cultural experience, while the western shoreline, from Aljezur to Sagres, is better for villa escapes or surfer shacks near wilder beaches.
Here are some of the finest hotels in the region to check out:
- Pousada Palacio de Estoi – Small Luxury Hotels of the World ($$$) – A truly exquisite hotel set in a handsome palace of the 1800s amid the green hills of the inland Algarve, this establishment is one to think about if you’re coming here on the honeymoon.
- Lucas House 1 ($$) – Bag yourself a pad within eyeshot of the beginner-friendly surfing waves of Arrifana with this beachfront cottage that sleeps up to six at any one time.
- Casa dos Arcos – Charm Guesthouse ($) – There are lovely dorm rooms in this characterful property near the Albufeira Old Town. Quirky and kitschy, it has a nice outdoor space to boot.
The food (especially the seafood)
With the Algarve stretching 100 miles along the Atlantic, it may not surprise you to learn that freshly caught fish and seafood is a large part of the staple diet in these parts. Anything from grilled sardines to prawn linguine or freshly caught crab and lobster makes the Algarve one of the best places in Europe to sample the bounty of the sea. There is a huge selection of restaurants and taverns to pick from, too, often dotting the beachfronts and promenades right by the water’s edge.
The average cost of eating out is around 20 euro for two people, which includes a bottle of house wine. A main course costs around eight euro and a glass of wine 1.5 euro. Prices tend to vary depending on location. For example, it will cost you a small premium to eat on a beachfront location in a four-star restaurant, but a lot less to dine on street food from kiosks deeper in the town center.
Some of the most iconic dishes to sample in the Algarve include:
- Conquilhas a Algarvia – Onion, garlic and coriander provide the hit of flavor to the broth here, while freshly plucked clams offer the protein, forming one of the region’s most iconic dishes.
- Cataplana de marisco – Seafood lovers rejoice, this platter of sizzled fish and seafood usually includes wild herbs, loads of garlic, lemon juice, and squid or lobster.
- Feijoada – A staple dish of the Algarve’s inland areas, Feijoada is a meat and bean stew that’s made with lots of meat and rich red wine.
- Caldo verde – Refresh yourself on a hot summer’s day with some chilled soup that contains potato and kale.
The rich traditions and culture
With history comes culture and traditions, and the Algarve definitely does not disappoint in these areas. The people of Portugal are greatly influenced by both European and North African heritage, especially in the south. That comes out in the region’s music, dance, and an array of art and crafts…
Throughout the Algarve, you will a common trend of hand-painted pottery and ceramics. They display colorful decorations and motifs that draw on the Moorish peoples of Morocco and beyond. Workshops are in abundance and you can try your hand at the craft of pottery if you’re feeling creative.
Music and dance are very important here, too. They say that these cultural expressions are a reflection of the soul, and you can see that in the dance troupes who perform regularly in the villages during the summer months. Be sure to book in to see some Fado music while you’re here, too. It’s a plaintive, painfully emotional brand of singing and performance that’s common throughout Portugal but truly unique within Europe.
It’s easy to get to
Algarve’s capital of Faro is just a three-hour flight from many major European destinations. It’s also linked to loads of places by loads of airlines, including uber-cheap seasonal flights with the likes of easyJet and Ryanair. They come in from hubs like London all throughout the peak season from around April onwards, and it’s sometimes possible to score tickets for less than 20 euros a pop.
You can travel to Spain across the River Guardiana. The ferry sails from Vila Real de Santo Antonio in Portugal to Ayamonte in Spain and the journey time takes 15 minutes. It’s also possible to drive down on the main highway from Lisbon in about five hours, though we’d recommend taking the prettier but longer coast road for the better views.
For getting around the Algarve, there is a good train service which runs regularly along the coast between Lagos in the west and Vila Real de Santo Antonio in the east. Car hire is also a good option to explore the region more fully. There is a good major road, which ha access to coastal towns and villages, along with the mountains and hills deeper inland.
Portugal is now legendary territory for surfers. The whole country gets the full hit of the dominant west and northwest swell systems that roll through the Atlantic Ocean. Down in the Algarve, those hit the beaches to offer epic waves of all types and for all levels.
The western side of the region tends to have the bigger, more powerful sets. Beaches like Ponta Ruiva, Praia da Bordeira, and Beliche can all see strong, double-overhead packs crashing into their cliffs and sand stretches. These are wild and remote places that are basically never too busy, reached on the western coast roads that run north from Sagres.
Then there’s the southern side of the Algarve. The beaches there tend to be more protected from the open Atlantic, which means they’ll have smaller waves on bigger days but can be flat when its small. The upshot? They are fantastic learning spots for beginner surfers, and there’s plenty to get stuck into all the way from Sagres to Faro.
Portugal is a darn lively place to be come the summer months. Lisbon and Porto are probably the two main hubs for nightlife. However, the Algarve also has its own offering; an offering that comes with more beer-soaked surfer bars and DJ-pumping all-night clubs than you can shake a bowl of seafood casserole at!
Albufeira is the standout place to mention here. It’s the hedonism hub of the Algarve. Between the Old Town and The Strip (a long run of bars, clubs, sports clubs, and pubs) on the eastern side of the town, there’s one of the region’s highest concentrations of places to dance and shindig. Most people will start at the beach bars, though – the options that sit atop the cliffs of Praia de Albufeira and Praia dos Pescadores are fantastic for sundowners.
That’s not it. You can cruise north to enjoy more chilled evenings in the surfer bars of Arrifana. You can hit Sagres to mingle with board riders and backpackers. There’s also Lagos, the only true city of the Algarve, where local breweries sit shoulder to shoulder with sports pubs and rock dives.
Is the Algarve worth visiting? Our conclusion
So, is the Algarve worth visiting? The Algarve is one of the most enticing regions in the whole of Portugal – scratch that, the whole of Europe! Bathed in sun for much of the year, it runs from rugged surf beaches on the open Atlantic to more family-friendly sands on the south coast. Along the shores are historic towns capped by Moorish castles but also thumping party resorts with dedicated strips of pubs and clubs. The food here showcases some of the freshest and zingiest around, too, with seafood stews and spicy rice dishes with their roots in North Africa. Basically, there are LOADS of reasons why you should add the Algarve to your itinerary this year!