Stretching 150 km along the southern coast of Portugal, the Algarve is arguably one of the most beautiful and varied coastlines in the world.
You can find solitude on sandy islands, action-packed golden beaches with amazing nightlife, and the famous breathtaking cliff-backed shorelines that have taken over Instagram. There are also charming towns packed with cafes, restaurants, bars, shops, and lots of cobblestone streets to wander through when the sun goes down.
If you are looking for resorts and nightlife, the east and center of the long coastline is where you should base. The west is a little quieter and more rugged. If you are looking for the best of both worlds, head to my favourite spot — Lagos.
Lagos sits right on the coast with an old town that is surrounded by a 16th-century wall enclosing picturesque plazas, cobbled lanes, churches, charming restaurants, fantastic nightlife and more. Many of the hotels, guesthouses, hostels, and rental apartments are located outside of the old town but are easy to walk to. There are also a lot of grocery stores and markets if you are wanting to self-cater.
Nearby beaches offer every type of activity imaginable, but you are also close to the rock backed nooks that you can climb down to if you are looking for a more secluded spot for the day.
Portugal has fantastic train and bus networks that you can use to get all over the country. You can access Lagos from Lisbon by train, and there are also coastal trains that run back-and-forth along the cost if you would like to visit different towns and beaches during your stay.
You can pre-buy your tickets on the Comboios de Portugal website. (TIP: The first-class ticket is usually only a few Euros more than the regular class. If you are looking for more space, a quieter car, and free wifi consider sitting in a first-class car.)
When to go
As with any location with a beach, as soon as summer hits locals and tourists alike flock to the sand and clear blue water of the Algarve. The summer months will find towns and beaches packed with people and temperatures soar.
By October, the tourists clear out, but if you are (like me) okay with hitting the beach in around 20-degree weather (78-degrees Fahrenheit), then the fall and spring are lovely times to visit. You'll be sharing the town and beaches with locals, some expats, and the odd tourist, and prices will also be significantly lower.
Watch out for
The beaches and towns along the Algarve are some of the busiest areas in Portugal in the summer months and the pickpockets know it. Keep your eye on your belongings, especially when laying on the beach.
Be careful if you decide to search out a cliff-backed beach, as the cliffs can often be unstable. And, make sure you are aware of ocean conditions — some areas can experience dangerous currents and winds.
Surrounded by a historic wall, there are only a few paved roads that cars, and pedestrians, can use to access the town of Lagos through curved entryways.
The streets of Lagos are paved with unique patterns laid out in cobblestones. Buildings are painted white, orange, pink, or blue, or are covered in stunning Portuguese tiles.
Sun drenched streets make the tile-covered buildings in Lagos look even more beautiful. This shot was taken on my visit there in November when it was still hot enough to lay on the beach all day, but not hot enough to be packed with tourists.
Cafes, restaurants, and charming souvenir shops spill out into the cobblestone pedestrian street in Lagos.
One of the famous cliff-backed, secluded beaches, Praia do Camilo is a bit of a hike to get down to but is SO worth it. It is about a 40-minute walk from the heart of Lagos, but there are also local buses that will drop you off near this spot.
A rock face at Praia do Camilo from the beach level. To the left is a passage through the thick cliff that gives you access to a smaller, more private beach on the other side.
The homes that are located outside the city walls are colourful, covered in stunning flowers, and are often available for rent if you are looking for a base to have a longer stay in the area.
Because of the year-round beautiful weather, even in November, these stunning flowers were in full bloom.
There are hiking trails along the coast from Lagos heading west to a historic lighthouse. They take you past incredible views, to the top of staircases that lead you to secluded beaches, and go for miles.
Near the lighthouse, there are caverns in the rock that can be accessed by boat. If you aren't interested in the hike, there are boats that leave from Lagos that will give you the ocean-side view of the cliffs.
Looking east from the top of the cliffs near Lagos, you can see other whitewashed towns dappled along the coastline.
The golden sand and stunning blue waters of the Praia Dona Ana, located just outside of central Lagos.
I was surprised to see how many unique and colourful shells are washed up on the beach every day — most of them completely intact. The beaches of the Algarve are a beachcombers dream!
Gotta love having a quiet, secluded spot to set up a selfie at sunset! Nothing better than getting that perfect shot for Instagram :)
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