Sitting at the extreme bottom tip of the country, this wave-bashed Portuguese town has one foot on the golden beaches of the southern Algarve and another in the wilder bays of the west. It’s now a hip and happening surfer retreat, a major sun-seeker destination, and something of an alternative hotspot to the buzzing resorts closer to Lagos and Faro. But is Sagres worth visiting during your Portugal adventure this year?
That’s what this guide is here to help you with. It will run through several of the main highlights of the destination, outlining the top things to do, what you can expect from the local sands, the region’s hotels, and the unique historical sights.
What we think you’ll discover is a place of real charms and quirks, dramatic nature and inviting ocean waters. Mhmm…from the frothing swells of Tonel Beach all the way to the olive-dotted inland hills, this guide aims to outline why it’s a big ‘yes’ from us whenever we’re asked is Sagres worth visiting?
Known for its abundance of excellent yet challenging surfing spots, this Portuguese town is a bit of a surfer’s dream come true. In fact, Sagres is thought to be one of the top upcoming surfing destinations in Europe, and there are quite a few reasons why…
Located on the southwest tip of the Algarve, it benefits from having two coasts, meaning plenty of opportunity for just the right wave. If your surfing skills leave a bit to be desired, you might want to head to the beaches of Mareta and Martinhal in the southern part, where the waters are relatively calm. However, for the more advanced, Praia do Tonel provides stronger waves that can hit multiple overheads on occasion.
The winter and autumn months provide the best swell for surfing in Sagres. That’s when strong NW swells come through the Atlantic, sometimes strong enough toe move around and give waves on the southern Algarve beaches to the east of the town. Beginners should find there’s plenty to keep them going in the summer, though it’s much calmer between May and August.
Sagres sits right at the intersection of the two sides of the Algarve. That puts the popular southern coast of Portugal right on the doorstep to the east, but also the wilder western coast just to the north. Both areas are replete with amazing beaches for all sorts of traveler. More on those a little later, though, because there’s a handful of sands right there in the middle of the town center to get through first…
You’ve got four in walking distance of central Sagres. For relaxation, you are best to head to the eastern side, to Praia do Martinhal, where the waters are calm and you are sheltered from the stronger winds. Mareta Beach is similarly protected but even closer to the main beach restaurants and shops – it’s also got sunbeds for rent. To the west, Praia do Tonel is the main urban surf spot and an altogether wilder affair that’s better for experienced swimmers, not families.
Those with a car can also head out to explore oodles more beaches. Within 30 minutes’ drive of Sagres are:
- Praia do Beliche – A beach that looks like an ancient amphitheater, what with high cliffs and zigzagging paths down from above.
- Praia do Zavial – A fantastic winter surf spot on a beach that showcases pure Algarve bliss in the warmer months. You get golden sand and turquoise water.
- Praia das Furnas – The start of the cliff-backed beaches of the southern Algarve that dress the postcards, Praia das Furnas has cliffs and teal seas.
- Praia da Bordeira – Big surf breaks crash into this wide and windy beach to the north of town, where you can hike boardwalk paths through wetlands and find plenty of space on the sand.
For those vacationers who prefer to get their thrills on land, Sagres has plenty up its sleeve. You’ll find hiking trails by the bucket load weaving and winding over the rugged cliffs by the coast, and over the lusher inland hills that roll out into the heart of the Algarve. Some leave right from the edge of the town itself. Others are better done with your own rental car, since trailheads can be 20-30 minutes’ driving out of Sagres.
Here’s a look at just a few hiking areas in the surrounding region that you should be sure to have on the menu if you’re keen to hoof it on the paths…
- Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina – This vast coastal reserve spreads north from the town all the way into the next region of Portugal. It’s got a path the whole way along, meaning you can hike through the heather meadows to other surf beaches like Arrifana if you have a few days to spare.
- Ponta da Piedade – There are some short but seriously breathtaking trails on the cliffs above Ponta da Piedade to the east of Sagres. They’re your chance to glimpse the uber-dramatic bays of the south Algarve – think gold-tinged cliffs and craggy rock stacks.
- Vale do Nobre – A rustic part of the Algarve that runs through vineyards and farms 10 minutes’ drive inland from Sagres.
The chilled vibes
If you’re looking to escape the general tourist buzz that usually goes hand in hand with vacationing in the Algarve, then look no further: Sagres is that little slice of peace you require. Although it can get a bit busier in peak times, it’s still not a patch on many of Portugal’s other uber-popular destinations – places like Albufeira and Faro just along the coast.
This town has still managed to retain its chilled, fishing-villag-type character. Instead of rowdy strips of bars, it’s got quaint tavernas and little surf shops, cafes, and bars. You can picture sunning yourself on the unspoiled beaches by day and unwinding in the plazas, cold beer in hand, by evening.
The great thing about Sagres is that you can escape to the livelier and busier resorts if you really want to. Albufeira is less than an hour’s drive away, while Lagos, the big city, is even nearer. But you can also head to the lesser-known surf towns of the western Algarve, which each have a similarly laid-back feel – places like Aljezur and Vila do Bispo.
A love of seafood is enough reason alone to make Sagres worth visiting. While there may not be as many dining options available as some of the bigger spots in Portugal, what is on offer is top-notch. After all, this town is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on most sides!
For the best seafood in town, A Tasca is a must. With a terrace overlooking the marina, and a menu that offers a variety of tasty seafood delicacies such as lobster, oysters, and mussels, it’s one not to be missed. Mains average about €15 a head there and the wine is also great value.
And don’t worry, you won’t starve if you’re not a fan of seafood. There are plenty of other Portuguese and international cuisines on offer in Sagres. Places such as Nortada and Villa Velha are the go-to for a bit more menu variety – think steaks with piri piri and red pepper soups. Then there’s Mum’s. This cozy spot is quirky at its best. Decorated with retro TVs, radios, books, and toasters, the largely vegetarian restaurant definitely offers a unique dining experience after a session on the surf breaks.
To stand at the edge of Europe
Cabo de San Vicente, or Cape St. Vincent, is the most southwestern point of mainland Europe. It lies just 10 minutes’ drive out of Sagres town, opening up to sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean. Until the 14th century, people believed that this was literally the end of the known world, since explorers hadn’t managed to navigate anywhere beyond and the Americas were still virtually unknown to Europeans. In fact, many explorers are said to have spent time here before setting off to find new lands over the water.
Taking in a sunset at the cape is definitely one to add to the itinerary. In fact, the Romans called the spot Promontorium Sacrum (or Holy Promontory), believing it to be a magical place, mainly because the sunsets seem much bolder and brighter than anywhere else. The spot can get a touch crowded in the evening hours, though, so try to get in early to secure the best viewing space.
There’s also more than just the views. You can come to see one of the most powerful lighthouses in Europe, the ruins of a monastery destroyed in a 1755 earthquake, and perhaps even some rare Portuguese sea otters or two swimming below. One word of warning: The winds at Cabo de San Vicente can be quite extreme, so take extra care around the cliffs. Also be sure to wrap up a bit warmer than your usual Portugal clothing choice!
The incredible Fortaleza de Sagres
Last but not least in our reasons of what makes Sagres worth visiting is the Fortaleza de Sagres. This great citadel dates back to the 15th century, to a time when the Portuguese coast was often a target of pirates and other European powers. It clings to the headland to the south of the town, gazing out at the straits of the Atlantic Ocean on two sides.
Built after a command by Prince Henry the Navigator, it was constructed with just one wall, as the rest of the protection came from the steep cliffs on the other sides. It is also thought to be the site of a navigation school he founded. Today, the walls and entrance are all that remains of the original structure, however, after being restored in the 20th century, it’s now one of the biggest tourist spots in Sagres.
Besides the fort itself, the site boasts an impressive early navigational wind compass-rose, a small chapel, and spectacular sea views. You may also get the chance to watch with awe as the fishermen risk their lives sitting at the cliff’s edge on the hunt for their next catch. Entry to the fort is around just €3 each.
Is Sagres worth visiting? Our conclusion
So, is Sagres worth visiting? You bet it is! First off, this town sits in arguably the most dramatic location in all of Portugal. Salt-sprayed cliffs soar straight from the Atlantic on both sides, looming high above legendary surf beaches that are punctuated by gnarled rock stacks. Elsewhere, there are rolling hills and dunes covered in heather for hikers who want to explore the Algarve’s wild western coast, not to mention stunning beaches of golden powder stringing along to the east. There’s also fantastic surf on offer, some great hotel choices, and a good mix of traditional Portuguese seafood, all in a place that’s not quite as overly developed as the major resort towns that put the region on the map.