Best Places to Visit in Algarve
The Algarve is the southernmost region of Portugal and one of the most popular holiday destinations in Europe. The province boasts some of the country’s most beautiful beaches and an amazing coastline, with hot, dry summers and short, mild winters. Warm sea temperatures and mild winds add to its appeal.
The Algarve is a land of contrasts and there is so much to do. More than fifty percent of Portuguese tourists spend their holidays here. The popular and more developed central area offers lively coastal resorts, great tourist facilities and some of the best golf courses in Portugal.
Further east, a series of sand islands and lagoons form part of a beautiful, protected natural park with a distinctly Spanish air surrounding border towns and villages. To the west, a very different Algarve beckons. Wilder and more remote, it’s a place to escape the crowds and a place where surfers try to communicate with the restless Atlantic.
Have a look at our list of the Best Places to Visit in Algarve and make your trip enjoyable.
10 Best Places to Visit in Algarve
Let’s explore the top 10 Most Beautiful and Best Places to Visit in Algarve:
Busy Faro is the capital of the Algarve, and its international airport is the gateway to southern Portugal for many tourists. Faro, the largest city in the region, has a population of around 50,000 and is a modern industrial and manufacturing centre.
However, what tourists want to visit is the Old Town. Faro’s Cidade Velha is surrounded by fortified defensive walls and rests on Roman and Moorish foundations. The town was severely damaged in the 1755 earthquake, and most of what you see today dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
Cobblestone streets and tree-lined squares surround this iconic cathedral. If you go further, you will find many cafes and restaurants hidden among regular houses and artisan workshops. An excellent museum showing treasures unearthed in the area and further afield.
The nearby Esplanade has a small marina beyond, with an expansive lagoon and wetlands teeming with marine life. This beautiful natural park also consists of numerous islets and huge sandy beaches and has its own magnificent beaches, including those named after the city.
2. Vila Real de Santo Antonio
You’re as likely to hear Spanish as Portuguese here, because it’s almost as close as Spain before crossing the border. In fact, the shops and markets of Vila Real de Santo António are dedicated to the Spanish, but there are also many tourist attractions to explore in this quaint border town.
Located on Avenida da República, the excellent Arquivo Histórico Municipal documents the region’s nearly extinct sardine and tuna canning industries in a free, live, interactive exhibit.
The beautiful main square, Praça Marques de Pombal, features a stunning mosaic of sunlight radiating from the central obelisk surrounded by orange trees and many charming cafes and restaurants. A fun-filled pastime is to take the ferry from the pier near the marina to the Spanish border town of Ayamonte, with its colorful tapas restaurants and traditional-style delicatessens. The ferry also carries cars and takes about 20 minutes to cross the Guadiana River.
A 10-minute drive north of Vila Real is the spruce village of Castro Marim, home to a magnificent 13th-century castle. Open to the public, its massive ramparts offer views of the surrounding coastal Reserva Natural do Sapal Natural Park.
The barren and sparsely populated interior of the Eastern Algarve is rarely visited and often off the tourist map. But about 40 kilometers north of Villarreal is the picturesque border village of Alcutim.
The drive alone is worth the detour. Don’t take the IC27 dual carriageway, but follow the road that hugs the Guadiana River, a wide, winding waterway that forms the natural border between Spain and Portugal. This riverside gem adds a touch of whitewash, and the little village looks like it was created by the imagination of a talented artist.
Once a strategic river port controlled alternately by the Greeks, Romans, and especially Arabs, Alcudia was later built by King Fernando I of Portugal and King II of Castile. He played a role in the peace treaty signed by Henrique in 1371.
A sleepy and peaceful Alcoutim still greets its visitors today. The best way to start your tour is to explore the 14th-century castle (the entrance fee includes admission to the small archaeological museum next to the main entrance). The walls of the fort offer stunning views of the neighborhood and the Spanish village of Sanlúcar de Guadiana, located across the river.
There is a regular ferry service between the two villages, but there is another definitely exciting way to cross the river. On the Spanish side, above Sanlúcar, is the world’s only cross-border zipline operator. Besides flying from one country to another, you also cross a time zone – there is a time difference between Spain and Portugal.
To the east of the Algarve, near the coast, Tavira is one of the most beautiful towns in the region. Situated on the banks of the wide Geelong River, this place is a destination known for its historical heritage, a past shaped by the Romans and later the Moors, and it’s riverside settlement topped with a fortress that can still be seen today.
The pitched roofs that define many of Tavira’s buildings are unique in this part of the Algarve. The same goes for the number of churches that adorn the old town – 21 in total. Across the river is an elegant bridge built on Roman foundations in the 17th century.
Walking along the river is one of the best ways to see Tavira. The palm-fringed gardens come alive in the summer, and the nearby market offers fresh fruit and vegetables. Ferries leave from the marina to Ilha de Tavira, a favorite sun-seekers destination and one of the few islands in the area that allows camping.
The Algarve’s busiest fishing port, Olhão is associated with the sea, and some of the area’s best seafood restaurants are located on the city’s lively street, Avenida da República.
Another reason to call Olhão is to check out the incredible harbor market, which is the largest and most active on the coast. Open at dawn, the fish market is gorgeous, dazzling, dazzling and silvery, the freshest you can taste. Complementing this Atlantic harvest is a rural riot of freshly picked fruit and vegetables, a farmer’s choice for delicious country meals.
Although it exudes a distinctly North African flair with its clusters of kasbahs of whitewashed flat-roofed houses, Orleans is devoid of major tourist attractions. But the seaside town makes an ideal base from which to explore the pristine Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. Visitors can discover an abundance of wildlife in its various habitats along a wonderful network of nature trails.
Away from the coast, Loule is a busy market town with a unique character and fascinating history. The town is famous for its indoor fruit and vegetable market, one of the busiest and most interesting in the Algarve. A late 19th-century red-domed building is lined with stalls, huts, and kiosks with distinctive horseshoe-shaped windows. Sunday mornings fill the surrounding streets on Saturday mornings when farmers from remote areas come to sell their produce.
Loule has always been a vibrant commercial centre. The Moors built a thriving trading post on the Roman basis and built a fortress here in the 12th century to protect their interests. You can stroll along the walls and enjoy the view of the old town and there is a small museum on the grounds.
Arab influences are everywhere. Wander through the back streets of Loule and you’ll find the remains of the Islamic bath, whose Turkish Baths are also Al-‘Ulyà. At the beautiful 16th-century Capela Nossa Senhora da Conceição decorated with stunning glazed tiles, some floors reveal the foundations of a 12th-century Moorish house. Explore more and you’ll stumble upon the Igreja Matriz de São Clemente. The high bell tower of the church was originally used as a minaret.
About 25 kilometers northwest of Lollé, Alte is a picturesque village at the foot of the mountains and dotted with flowery gardens. To soak up the town’s quirky local color, tourists can wander the narrow cobbled streets with charming white houses or relax in one of the many cafes.
At least five championship golf courses are clustered in and around Vilamoura, making this luxury beach resort a favorite for those looking to practice their swing or improve their handicaps. Some hotels offer guests other benefits, such as discounted golf course fees and a free shuttle to and from the clubhouse.
Vilamoura is also synonymous with Portugal’s largest marina facility, which offers 825 berths and can accommodate vessels up to 60 meters long. Lined with designer boutiques and expensive restaurants, the Esplanade is great for people-watching, especially in August when the Lisbon Jets set foot on the boards worn by their top designers.
It is a family-friendly destination with lots of kid-friendly activities. The pier is the starting point for shore excursions and other water sports activities, and you can rent pedal boats on the sandy beaches of Praia da Marina. Elsewhere, Family Golf Park is an old Roman-themed 18-hole mini golf setup.
In fact, the Romans were here, and the area boasts the ruins of the Museu Cerro da Vila, a 2nd-century villa complex with sunken tubs, salt pans, and stunning mosaics.
Albufeira is the destination of choice for many Algarve vacationers. Its central location on Portugal’s south coast makes it one of the most accessible resorts in the region and a favorite with tourists from Europe and beyond.
Perched on a sandstone cliff above a wide sandy bay, ancient Albufeira was once a quiet fishing village with nothing more than whitewashed cottages, a chapel and a church. Stepping back, it was the Romans who built a fort that was later fortified by the Moors.
Little is left of its assets, but what Albufeira lacks in historical interest makes up for in its vibrant spirit and resort vibe. The neon-lit streets of the town illuminate many hotels, cafes, restaurants and entertainment venues. Excellent leisure facilities exude all-around appeal and Albufeira is often the first choice for families.
But the biggest attraction of this destination is its beaches. Some of the best sandy beaches in the Algarve are within walking distance of the resort, with stunning cliff-backed coves surrounded by warm shallow waters. That’s why Albufeira is the tourist capital of the Algarve.
Historically associated with the Algarve’s once thriving canning industry, Portimão has transformed itself into a destination for tourists who prefer to stay in an urban setting but still avoid the beach holiday setting.
The second largest city in the region, Portimao enjoys an enviable location overlooking the banks of the Arad River. Home to award-winning museums and a famous theater complex, the city has earned a reputation as one of the region’s most vibrant cultural centres. It is also the international port of call for luxury cruise ships bound for the Mediterranean.
An eclectic array of attractions and activities are within easy reach. The award-winning Portimao Museum is one of the top tourist attractions in the region. Housed in a former cannery building, the museum documents the history of the town’s fishing and canning traditions using cutting-edge interactive effects. Rare artifacts from the prehistoric, Roman and Islamic periods are also on display.
The open sea, a magnificent artificial reef – a first in Portugal – attracts diving enthusiasts from all over the world. Meanwhile, inside, the Formula 1 Standard Track hosts the Sports Car Championship and other high-profile races.
The modern marina at the mouth of the estuary just steps away from one of the Algarve’s most famous beaches, Praia da Rocha – a beautiful strip of golden sand in front of the bustling tourist resort of the same name.
10. Serra de Monchique
Another alternative to the Algarve’s beach landscape is the Serra de Monchique, a rolling mountain range that provides a dramatic insight into the region’s western countryside. The slopes of Monchique are surrounded by fragrant wildflower meadows overgrown with chestnuts and eucalyptus, and the lush habitat sustains abundant wildlife.
A network of nature trails that run through shady woodlands as far as Fóia, 900 meters above the Algarve’s highest point. On a clear day, the magnificent panorama includes the entire western landmass of the region, including Lagos and Sagres and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
The delightful mountain town of Monchique is a great base from which to explore the area and is famous for its traditional crafts: look out for the Cadeiras de Tesoura, an x-shaped folding wooden chair based on an ancient Roman design.
The Romans were the first to use the warm, healing waters to feed Caldas de Monchique, a fascinating hot spring hidden in a forested valley at the foot of the Serra. Surrounded by a cobbled square, the modern thermal spa offers bed and breakfast accommodation with a restaurant, cafe art gallery and an enticing menu of treatments and rituals.
Hope you like our choice of the best places to visit in Algarve. If you think there are some more beautiful places to visit in Algarve, we should cover them. Write us below in the comment box.