The Algarve coast is the ideal vacation spot in so many ways, giving visitors everything they could ever desire from a beach destination. Perfect weather, pristine beaches, red and yellow limestone cliffs, quaint little towns, and an abundance of activities are just a few of the things you can expect on the Algarve coast. The region is divided into 16 municipalities, but the two extremities are only an hour and a half apart. Each city along the coast has its unique character but offers equally stunning and iconic beaches for which the Algarve is famous. So, in this guide, we will share what we thought were the best cities to visit in the Algarve and what you can do there.
Faro: The Busy One on the Algarve Coast
Coming from Spain, we started our adventure through the coast in Faro, the capital of the Algarve. This is one of the busiest cities, being a travel hub with an international airport. Faro feels like a popular tourist destination and is outfitted with a collection of resorts and skyscrapers. Most people stay in Faro just to relax at the beach, explore the historic sites and take day trips to nearby parts of the coast. And others prefer to skip it altogether.
If you choose to stay in Faro, explore the historical center and Moorish architecture, laze by the beach or surf, and visit the boardwalk that takes you through the diverse ecosystems of the Ria Formosa Natural Park, where you can bird-watch.
Tavira: The Prettiest One
Take a day trip to Tavira, a charming and traditional little town closer to Spain. It also has beautiful beaches and lagoons but offers a more local experience as the town doesn’t receive as many tourists. Visitors love staying in Tavira for how quiet it is in comparison to the other cities on the coast. Tavira also boasts some impressive Roman architecture, like its medieval castle and the seven-arch Roman Bridge.
Golf lovers will enjoy a day trip to Vilamoura. Located on the opposite side of Faro, it is a city built especially for tourism and full of luxurious resorts. After the golf course, head to the marina for refreshments and enjoy a stunning view.
Albufeira: The Energetic One
It’s easy to see why Albufeira is the most popular town on the coast and one of the best cities in Algarve. The charming historic center, white-washed buildings, dramatic cliffs, colorful tiles, and shops…what’s not to love, which is why it gets extremely crowded in high season. But luckily, the city divides into two parts – the rowdy and the sleepy. So, if you want to be in the middle of the party scene, stay in the center or head to the upper side to escape the noise. When we came in November, the city felt almost deserted, so that’s another solution – come during the off-season. There may not be as much happening, and some venues will be closed, but you won’t have to share Albufeira with swarms of tourists.
Staying in Albufeira, you will be spoilt for choice with various dining options. As for activities, you can explore the historic sites in the old town, enjoy the beaches and go whale watching.
Carvoeiro: The One with Natural Beauty
Carvoeiro is a well-maintained small fishing village that is incredibly picturesque. We are not sure if it was the golden rock formations against the white houses in colorful frames or the iconic caves, but this town is spell-binding.
The town is very calm and has many natural sights, which is what we love. There are a few adventures you can embark on. You can follow a long system of boardwalks along the edge of the cliffs called Algar Seco. They guide you to the stairs carved into the cliff and take you closer to the water, where you can explore hidden caves.
And, of course, no trip to Algarve is complete without visiting the famous Benagil caves. They are located only a fifteen-minute drive from Carvoeiro, but you can also get there on a boat tour. It’s a naturally formed enormous sea cave with a tiny beach inside and a hole at the top that lets in sunlight. The unique shape and rock color are a sight you have to see.
Lagos: The Historic One
Lagos is another lively city on the coast but is also known as the one with the most history. The Lagos Castle is among the most impressive in all of Portugal. It was built in Roman times, then it was almost completely destroyed by a tsunami, and wasn’t rebuilt until the 20th century.
And if you didn’t think the sea color could get any more turquoise, wait until you get to Lagos! There is an abundance of beautiful beaches that make this city so popular. The one we recommend is Praia do Camilo, which is so fun to get to. The soaring cliffs protect the beaches from waves, so the water is calm and pleasant to swim in when it’s warm.
There are many water activities in Lagos too. You can learn how to kitesurf in the local lagoon or explore caves on Stand-Up Paddle boards, kayaks, or by boat. After the Benagil caves, be sure to see the Ponta da Piedade rock formation. It is located near Lagos, is the other must-see on the Algarve coast.
Sagres: The Laid-Back One
Located on the western extremity, Sagres is a small village not affected by mass tourism; hence there is not much to do apart from surfing and taking in the spectacular views. The town’s position allows for three types of waves, ideal for surfers of any level, which is why plenty of surf shops and schools exist in the area. The tip of the tiny peninsula is adorned with Sagres Fortress, and the next tip over is the Lighthouse of Cabo Sao Vicente, both of which offers arguably the best views on the Algarve.
In Sagres, you will also notice many visitors living out of their vans. A coast that is relatively small but jam-packed with towns to explore is a road trip paradise, indeed. It is up to you if you choose to stay put in one of the bigger cities and take day trips or see them all on a big road trip. But the Algarve coast is meant to be explored at a slow pace. Taking in what the cities and villages have to offer, indulging in seafood, pasteis de nata, and local wines, and maybe learning a new sport. Once you’ve picked your favorite town, you can keep coming back to it again and again.
Our Seaside Stay at Vilas Marrocha
And speaking of coming back again and again, we were fortunate enough to have friends who offered their lovely home for us to stay in. They were back in the states tending to their Tennessee inn, Timber Rock Lodge, while we enjoyed their beautiful four bedroom villa, complete with a beautiful water view. If you are looking for a place with a sea view that sleeps eight, you can contact the booking agent at firstname.lastname@example.org and request Vila 151. We HIGHLY recommend it! It is located in a gated community and has perfect access to incredible hikes along the coast, in an uncrowded location.
Now that we have seen the best cities in Algarve, we are headed to the beautiful city of Lisbon, so continue our journey with us around Portugal.
Taking a hike on the beach below our villa on the Algarve coast!