A Destination Guide to Algarve

 

The Algarve encompasses the southernmost region of continental Portugal and is one of the country’s prime tourist destinations. This should come as no surprise. The Algarve is considered to offer the best weather in all of Europe and it offers all the benefits you’d associate with that – outdoor activities, pristine beaches, extraordinary wildlife, world-class produce, etc.

Basically, if you’re after some time spent in a sunny paradise, the Algarve is for you! The Algarve offers a winning blend of cultural activities and stunning natural landscapes. From eating traditional Portuguese dishes in historic towns and villages to seeing some of the most exceptional flora and fauna in Europe on the Ria Formosa Lagoon, a trip to the Algarve will not disappoint.

Below you’ll find our guide to traveling in the Algarve. And while you’re here, please check out our guided tours from Porto to see the variety of places we like to take visitors to highlight Portugal’s extraordinary food, wine, history, and scenery.

If you have any questions about our tours, please get in touch.

When are the best times to visit the Algarve?

The Algarve has such good weather and so much to offer in the way of things to do that you could travel here at any point in the year. However, we suggest the following travel times based on our experience.

April-June or September-October: Avoid July and August, and you’re likely to avoid the busiest tourist crowds. Traveling just before or after the peak months also offers warm and sunny weather but is not overwhelming.

This being said, the months of July and August may be just what you’re looking for if you want scorching hot days on the beach. And the larger crowds offer their festival-like atmosphere.

If traveling to the Ria Formosa for its world-famous bird populations, then Autumn is the time to go.

What should you pack for your trip to the Algarve?

A visit to the Algarve won’t entail any extreme conditions you’ve not seen before, and any helpful packing list for your Portuguese travels should be focused on comfort before all else.

  • Light clothing is ideal for days spent at the beach and exploring the Algarve’s historic towns. Bring with you a light rain jacket or umbrella in case you get caught in a rain shower and a sweater or two for when temperatures drop in the evenings. You may also want to consider the range of activities you will participate in. Casual drinks on the boardwalk? Shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops are perfect. Wine tasting in a high-end Portuguese restaurant? You may want something a little less casual.
  • Good shoes/sandals for hiking. The Algarve possesses many treasures, but its stunning natural landscapes are undoubtedly the greatest. From epic dunes along the coast to shady stretches of woodland or the salt marshes of the Ria Formosa, the Algarve’s diversity is best enjoyed on leisurely hikes – good footwear is a must. (The cobbles in Portugal’s historic towns can also be slippery, so make sure your footwear has a good grip!)
  • Sunglasses and suncream will be your best friends for long days spent outdoors. Nothing can spoil a sunny holiday faster than sunburn, so protect your skin!
  • Cash is another must-have item on this list. While most bars and restaurants will accept card payments, the occasional business may accept cash only. Having a suitable amount of Euros on you is simply best practice.
  • Be sure to pack plenty of swimwear. The Algarve is an amazing destination for swimming, surfing, and a whole host of other beach activities.
  • Ensure you have an electrical adapter for the phones and tech you bring with you – being without a phone in a foreign country is never fun!
  • Finally, for safety, bring a money belt and keep a photocopy of your passport. Portugal doesn’t suffer the epidemic levels of pickpocketing that you find in some other European countries, but where there’s tourism, there are opportunistic criminals! Beware of your surroundings, keep an eye on your possessions, and safely keep money and cards in a dedicated money belt.

How to Get Around the Algarve

The Algarve is the perfect destination for making use of a rental car. The diversity of the region’s landscapes and scope of attractions means a car is a beneficial option to have. The roads and signage across the Algarve are good, and having a car will provide you with maximum flexibility.

However, those who don’t drive or don’t wish to rent a car won’t be short of alternative modes of transport. For a romantic encounter with the beauty of the Algarve, consider traveling by train. You can reach the Algarve from Lisbon by train and, once in the region, trains can take you between many different towns and villages.

Those who are happy to ride the bus will be pleased to know that the Algarve’s bus network had an overhaul in 2021 and is better than ever. The bus network, known as Vamus Algarve, covers almost all the region’s main destinations.

For something truly memorable, take a ferry to the islands of Ilha da Culatra or Ilha da Armona. You’ll get to enjoy matchless sea views and may even spot a dolphin or two!

Finally, if you’re in need, the taxis in Portugal are generally dependable and not too expensive.

How much should you budget for your visit to the Algarve?

Considered one of the least expensive destinations in Europe, Portugal offers travel experiences for those on any budget.

If you’re in the Algarve and sticking to a tight budget, you can find excellent accommodation deals through Airbnb and various hostels. Tasty food can be picked up cheaply in supermarkets or modest bistros and cafes. And when looking for entertainment? Make nature the centerpiece of your holiday.

For those on a more flexible budget, the Algarve offers plenty of luxury experiences for days when you feel like splashing out. You can certainly enjoy the good life here, from high-end accommodation to fine food in exclusive restaurants.

Our research suggests travelers looking for a low-cost experience in the Algarve should budget for spending 50 Euros per day, those with some flexibility, 100 Euros per day, and those wanting to splash out, about 250 Euros per day.

Must-See Sights in the Algarve

You’ll find no shortage of things to do and see in the Algarve, but the following suggestions are among our top picks.

Ria Formosa

One of Portugal’s seven natural wonders, the Ria Formosa lagoon is an area of immense natural beauty. Home to some of the most extraordinary bird populations in all of Europe (including thousands of flamingos), the natural diversity of the flora and fauna of the Ria Formosa make this a must-see for nature lovers.

A series of sand bars protect the lagoon from the sea, making this the ideal habitat for many plant and animal species. Beaches, birding, hikes, boat trips, and world-class fresh food are just some of the things to enjoy in this enchanting area.

Faro

The Algarve’s capital city and many visitors’ first Algarve stopping point. Faro is home to many significant historical monuments, such as the city’s ancient defensive walls, its 13th-century cathedral, and the many 18th-century neoclassical buildings found across its Old Town.

Enjoy atmospheric walks through the town’s picturesque center, indulge in some first-rate cuisine, go shopping in the city’s modern shopping precincts, or to one of the many beaches within the vicinity of the town.

Tavira

The small coastal city of Tavira offers all the charm of the Algarve at its most traditional. As the Portuguese representative of the Mediterranean Diet as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO, the food in Tavira is unquestionably a highlight.

For centuries Tavira has been a center for fishing, and the area’s classic dishes are accordingly based on fish.

Serra do Caldeirão

Forming a border between the Algarve and Alentejo regions, the Serra do Caldeirão mountain range is an excellent choice for outdoorsy types. Enjoy the revitalizing effects of nature as you hike across these beautiful hills. Although known as a mountain range, the Serra do Caldeirão doesn’t exceed 598 meters, making them walkable for those at most levels of fitness. In this idyllic landscape, you’ll cross streams and rivers and get to admire an array of colorful wildflowers – a gorgeous part of the Algarve.

Lagos

Lagos is one of the most vibrant towns in the Algarve, offering guests lots of choices when it comes to eating, drinking, and shopping. The resort town is also within walking distance of some magnificent cliffs, caves, and grottoes. For stunning views of the Algarve’s distinctive limestone cliffs, head to Praia de Dona Ana. This sandy beach is naturally sheltered by its surrounding cliffs and makes an excellent spot for some swimming or snorkeling.

For those looking for cultural activities in Lagos, the town possesses medieval castle walls and several interesting historic churches. In the 15th century, it was from Lagos that Prince Henry the Navigator set off on his famous journeys of exploration, kickstarting Portugals age of navigation.

Food in the Algarve

Foodies will never be stuck for places to eat in the Algarve. The region’s coastal nature and year-round fabulous weather mean there is never a shortage of quality seafood and locally-grown produce. Whether you’re hungering for a no-frills lunch in a local barsa or haute cuisine prepared by award-winning chefs, you’ll have plenty to choose from.

If you want to try some foods typical of Algarve cooking, look for Conquilhas à Algarvia (clams and Portuguese sausage prepared with a mix of herbs), Cataplana de marisco (seafood stew), Javali (wild boar meat), or Doce Fino do Algarve (slight marzipan treats, often shaped like fruits).

 

And, of course, with this being Portugal, there’s lots of wine to sample!

Yes, the Algarve may not be as famous for its wine as the Douro Valley (read about that region with our Douro Valley Guide), but the Algarve has four wine-producing areas of its own: Lagos, Portimão, Lagoa, and Tavira.

The weather here is fantastic for growing grapes, so you’ll find a range of styles and flavor profiles on offer – enjoy!

 

This brings a close to the Algarve. We hope you’ve found this guide helpful for your break in the Algarve.

If you want to learn more about the tours we offer, take a look at our All-Inclusive Private Day Tours in Portugal, and if you have any questions, please get in touch.

 

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