Though most people tend to see the Algarve as all about the beaches and a holiday on the Med, there’s far much more to this sun-baked corner of Portugal. There’s actually a load of fascinating culture and history, superb cuisine and enthralling adventures to be had, though we’d be the first to admit that the beaches are pretty special too, with lots of sand and wonderfully clear water. But while you’re enjoying one of our fantastic villas in Algarve, you may well want to take some time out from all that sun worship to explore everything else the region has to offer – so we’ve put together this handy travel guide to give you a little help and inspiration!
Why visit the Algarve?
The Algarve has been on the tourist map since the ‘60s yet this beautiful and diverse region is not all heavily developed. Away from the high-rise resorts is a natural, unspoiled coastline that’s well worth writing home about – a network of wide sandy stretches and rocky coves, edged on one side by clear-as-glass water and on the other by a sweep of distinctive red-hued cliffs. Venture inland and you’ll find verdant woodland, punctuated by pretty white-walled market towns and fascinating Roman ruins. Coupled with fantastic rustic Mediterranean food and excellent local wines, the Algarve is undeniably alluring.
Our mini Algarve guide to the best sights
- Faro – Wander the atmospheric Old Town.
- Golf – Choose from around 35 top-of-the-range courses.
- Silves – Visit the castle at this charming Moorish town.
- Caldas de Monchique – Soak in hot springs at this thermal spa town located in the cork-forested interior.
- Praia da Arrifana – Ride the waves at this surfing mecca.
- Tavira – Traverse the Roman bridge at this elegant fishing town, west of Faro.
- Ria Formosa Natural Park – Discover an unspoilt paradise teeming with birds, flora and fauna
When to visit?
Let’s start with a statistic: the Algarve has over 300 days of sunshine a year. That sunshine can be felt even in February when temperatures sometimes allow for alfresco lunches. Dinners outside are less likely as nights can get cold at this time of year. Early spring is pretty with warm temperatures, fields of wild flowers, fragrant blossoms and fewer crowds. Come May, the sea starts warming up too.
The sun is at its strongest over the summer months of July and August, which coincides with peak tourist season. September and October tend to be much quieter, but still have some of the last straggling remnants of the summer’s heat. Most of the Algarve’s little rainfall occurs in winter.
Getting around the Algarve
- Airport: Travel from UK to Faro Airport, the only airport in the Algarve.
- Public Transport: Two reliable bus companies, Eva Transportes and Renex, service the Algarve and also head inland too via Loulé. Trains run along the coast between Faro and Vila Real de Santo António, and between Faro and Lagos.
- By Bike: While the roads in the more built-up coastal stretches can be busy, the Algarve’s rural bike routes offer a very enjoyable, although often hilly, way to explore some of the region’s smaller villages. Guided tours are available and you can hire bikes around Albufeira and Faro.
- Taxi: Taxis in the Algarve are easy to spot: they all have a sign saying ‘taxi’ on the roof. They are available from the stands at the airport. In towns you can hail from the street, although it’s usually better to call from a hotel or restaurant when you are ready to leave.
- Car Rental: Car hire is very popular in Portugal and gives the maximum freedom. Roads are good, and many of the coastal routes boast sensational sea views, though motorways do have toll charges. Pick up a car at the airport, where Hertz, Avis and several other reliable companies, can be located.
- If you are en route to pretty Tavira, east of Faro, take a detour to discover the tiny, whitewashed village Santa Luzia. Join the locals in eating octopus at the harbour-side restaurants, and after lunch, take the vintage train to wide and lovely Barril beach on the Ilha de Tavira.
- For an off-the beaten track beach, head to Zavial. But instead of joining the sunbathing hordes here, drive onto the next headland to secret spot Ingrina. This picture-perfect cove has silky sand and an arc of turquoise water. The calm sea is great for swimming and there’s an excellent restaurant with a laid-back vibe serving daily fish specials. You could easily idle a day away in this idyllic setting.
- For sensational views that will give you a real perspective, head to the highest point in the Algarve: Foia, the summit of the magnificent Monchique mountain range. From your elevated vantage point at 900 metres, you’ll be able to look out over the lush rolling carpet of cork and pine trees, eucalyptus scrub and orange groves. On a clear day, you can even see as far as the northern mountain ranges. Be prepared for much cooler temperatures up here and a few unsightly communications towers at the summit itself.
- You may well be planning a trip to Sagres, on the southwest peninsular, as part of your holiday in the Algarve. After all, this historical village was the domicile of Prince Henry the Navigator, the 15th-century explorer and cartologer. However, not many people know that this is also one of the best places in the Algarve to catch a sunset. The stunning vista of the white fort atop the red cliffs with burnt orange sun hitting the shimmering sea behind it, could well be your most memorable holiday moment.
- Just eight kilometres east of Faro is the large fishing port of Olhao, home to one of the biggest indoor fruit, vegetable and fish markets in the Algarve. A veritable explosion of colours and smells, the market is also a fantastic opportunity to see an authentic, untouristy part of everyday life in the Algarve. The cafes that line the streets around the market a great spot to chat to locals and sample freshly cooked seafood.
Algarve travel guide for families
If you’ve come to the Algarve with your family, expect to have a jam-packed itinerary – there is a lot to occupy you and your brood here. Our selection of resorts in the Algarve are particularly family-friendly, with activities, entertainment and great facilities.
With a climate that is dependably sunny, staying steadily warm and dry from May to September, it makes sense to start in the Algarve’s great outdoors. As we all know, busy children are happy children, and in the Algarve you can cherry pick from the plethora of child-friendly outdoor pursuits.The beaches are the best place to begin: older kids can learn to surf in the baby waves, little ones can explore rock pools and budding ornithologists can bird-spot in the sand dunes. Out at sea, the family can take a boat trip to explore hidden caves and perhaps even do a bit of marine wildlife spotting – what little explorer wouldn’t want to see a dolphin on their holiday? Back on shore, tennis lessons, waterparks and treetop climbing adventures will add to the long list of amazing experiences that await your family in the Algarve.
- One of the main appeals of the Algarve is its coastline, and thanks to the fact there’s some 125 miles of it, you and the kids will have plenty of opportunity to play on the beach, as well as indulging in some slightly more exhilarating activities!
- Dream Wave Algarve offer several sorts of boat cruises around the Algarve’s coast, but the kids are bound to be utterly spellbound by the one that takes place on a pirate-themed sailing vessel.
- Older kids might be more tempted by the challenges at Albufeira Surf and SUP. Everyone can try their hand at surfing, and stand-up paddleboarding is an easy and low-impact water-sport if you’re feeling a little less energetic.
- Also heading out from Albufeira is Dolphin Driven, which can take you out on an exciting (and ecologically responsible) excursion to see some dolphins in the wild.
If this guide is going to prove anything, it’s that heading in the opposite way to the sea is a great way to keep everyone entertained too! The Algarve’s beautiful interior doesn’t just provide some beautiful landscapes to hike or bike around – there’s some serious fun to be had too.
- Top of the list must be Parque Aventura, which will bring the family together in a whole new way as you traverse a challenging treetop tour on bridges and ropes – and children as young as four are welcome on the easiest routes.
- Sport-mad kids might enjoy a few games at the Valo do Lobo Tennis Academy, where they can sharpen their game and make new friends at the same time. Better yet, there’s leisure facilities that parents can enjoy while the kids improve their serve!
If these fantastic tips have got you inspired, be sure to take a look at our incredible list of the best family activities in the Algarve.
- Ingrina can be found near the village of Raposeira, and its gentle and shallow waters are great for smaller children. Older kids can enjoy exploring the rocks that surround the beach, and there’s a nearby restaurant to make sure everyone’s fed and watered.
- Meia Praia near Lagos is a bit more lively, and you’ll find a huge range of beachgoers enjoying the atmosphere no matter when you turn up. There’s plenty to do and plenty of places to eat, so it’s a good choice if you’re looking for a more active day over relaxing.
- Galé Beach is fairly central and can also get quite busy, but the rock pools are great for adventurous little ones.
Things to do in the Algarve on group holidays
Taking a holiday with a group of friends is one of the best kinds of breaks: long days leave plenty of quality time for catch-ups and chats. But getting the balance between lazy days and fun activities takes a little planning. The beauty of the Algarve is that there’s a fantastic range of activities to keep everyone happy, from surfing to cycling, as well as a sun-drenched climate that makes it possible to enjoy getting out and about all year round.
You might canoe on the sparkling turquoise waters of the Atlantic one day then try a spot of wine tasting the next. Add a bicycle tour of whitewashed Moorish villages, a dolphin safari on your own private charter and a bout of bird-spotting in a lush nature park onto the agenda, and you’ve got yourself a truly memorable holiday your friends will be raving about for some time. Take a look at our fun-filled ideas and start planning your group holiday.
- The further inland you go in the Algarve, the more of the region’s landscape you’ll get to see. Rocky outcrops and groves of orange trees vie for space, creating a land of stark contrast and beautiful colours. There’s many ways to see it, from day-long hikes to bike rides, or you could always rent some snazzy wheels for that extra touch of glamour.
- Bike My Side is a great alternative to the average tour – you’ll be whisked around the countryside in a motorbike side car!
- If you’re looking to cycle, Bike A Wish can not only provide you with bikes to hire but can also take you on guided tours tailored to your tastes – you can visit historical sites, local landmarks or even sneak in some horse riding as part of your trip.
- Something a bit different (but perhaps slightly less hair raising) is to see the Algrave by Segway – you can rent one through Algarve by Segway.
- Taking advantage of the Algarve’s expansive coast is a must if you and your friends fancy some high-octane activities. There’s a huge amount on offer including diving, sea fishing, windsurfing and more.
- Or why not hire a boat through Southwest Charter? The skipper will do all the hard work, but you can kick back in the stern or enjoy the thrills of life at sea at your leisure.
We have more inspiration when it comes to things to do, why not read our top 7 things to do in the Algarve.
- If you’re up for broadening your cultural horizons a little bit and feel like experiencing some of the more sophisticated things to do in the Algarve, there’s a surprising amount of museums and churches just ripe for exploration. You might have to head out of the more developed towns and cities to find them, but that’s all part of the fun!
- An interesting day trip can be found at Novacortica, a factory that showcases one of Portugal’s premiere products – cork. You’ll be shown around the floor and given an introduction into the production of cork, as well as an insight into a fascinating local industry.
- Natura Algarve runs tours that explore the swamps and wetlands – and they even provide you with your own set of binoculars, as well as stopping on the picturesque island of Cultura for a spot of lunch. As well as the more famous port, Portugal’s wine scene is burgeoning. As a result, you won’t just be able to enjoy a tasty tipple with your dinner, but you can visit a number of wineries and vineyards for some top-notch tasting.
- Quinta dos Vales produces some of the Algarve’s best wines, and as well as the tasting tours available, the estate maintains a beautiful flower garden that contains numerous artworks and sculptures by local artists.
- The coastline of the Algarve isn’t all sandy beaches – there are some beautiful wetlands off the coast of the city of Faro that’s home to some wonderful birds and wildlife – so grab your binoculars or head on a boat tour to explore the other side of Portugal’s coastal landscape.
A foodie’s guide to the Algarve
Whether it’s a casual feet-in-the-sand beach café, a bustling market-side restaurant or a rustic hilltop eatery, dining out in the Algarve will mean sampling the fantastic Algarvian produce – all sourced from the sea, the forested hills and fruit-filled groves. Seafood understandably plays a big part in the menu of almost every establishment: octopus, squid, sardine, bream and lobster are in abundance, whilst Iberico pork, sheep’s cheese and black pudding are also big in the region. If you want to indulge in some haute cuisine on your holiday, the Algarve has some fantastic Michelin-starred restaurants delivering impressive and innovative creations. Fortuitously, the Algarve wines happen to pair quite happily with the high-quality Algarvian ingredients. The fertile soil and fine climate of the Algarve is ideal for growing grapes and though it can’t claim the cachet of Douro, for instance, its burgeoning wine industry is producing some superb reds. Here are some of our suggestions for experiencing the best of the Algarve’s food and wine.
- You can enjoy some of the finest dining on the Algarve at the Ocean Restaurant in Alporchinhos. Boasting two Michelin stars, the name might give you a bit of a clue as to what kind of food is on offer, but the sumptuous preparation and indulgent menus are something that’s really worth savouring.
- Sao Gabriel in Quinta do Lago can also lay claim to a Michelin star, but don’t expect super-chic surroundings. The restaurant enjoys a cosier, more rustic feel, so it’s great for intimate dinners where the food is just as spellbinding as the ambiance.
- For something a little less formal but just as impressive, try the beachside eats available at Ferragudo’s Restaurante Rei das Praias. With sumptuous and relaxed decor, wonderful views and the freshest of seafood on the menu, it’s a relaxing and totally unique experience – and you can even get a massage if you need to relax just a little bit more!
- A dish that sums up everything that’s wonderful about cuisine in the Algarve is the cataplana – seafood in a delicate, savoury broth served in a hinged copper pot. They’re usually made to share, so grab a friend and order up.
- There’s also the famous Portuguese piri piri chicken to try – trust us, it leaves Nando’s in the dust.
- Another meaty treat is Ibérico pork, which comes from the highly prized Black Iberian breed of pig. It makes fantastic ham, but you’ll also see it on menus grilled with a range of sides.
- You can get some amazingly fresh seafood on the Algarve, and while it’s worth trying a range of what’s on offer, a trip to the region isn’t complete without a plate of grilled sardines. Simple, delicious and utterly unforgettable.
- And for dessert (or as a little pick-me-up with a nice cup of coffee) you’ll find pastel de nata sold pretty much everywhere. This small custard tart is a national treasure in Portugal, and if you’re really lucky you can grab them warm and freshly-baked.
For more delectable suggestions, take a look at our blog on the best foodie experiences in Algarve.
That brings our jam-packed Algarve travel guide to an end – we hope you’ve found plenty of information, handy tips and places to visit to add to your upcoming itinerary! If you’re still looking for a place to stay, have a look at our collection of stylish Algarve villas – some with pools, some near the beach and others just a short walk to a local village! If you need some help or have any questions, our concierge team are on-hand!