A Sightseeing Guide to the Algarve
During our week-long trip in the Algarve region of Portugal we tried to see as much of this beautiful region as possible. Top of the list are various beautiful beaches and interesting rock formations. However the Algarve is also home to some charming cities and seaside towns. In spite of the mostly rainy weather during our trip we were quite impressed by the beauty of some of the beaches. In this sightseeing guide to the Algarve we will show you 22 things to see and do in this region of Portugal and maybe some of them will make their way into your trip itinerary as well.
If you wish to read more about our travel route, we wrote a seperate post on our Algrave Travel Route and Cost. This trip was actually our first trip ever doing vanlife. Thus we wrote down some of our thoughts after our first vanlife experience in a seperate post as well.
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Praia da Amoreira
Let’s start at the most northern point of our trip. We stayed in a campsite only five minutes away from Aljezur called “Parque Campismo do Serrão”.
The campsite is located in the middle of nature and from there you can start a mini hike towards the “Praia da Amoreira” beach. The hike leads you trough some lush green hills and past what seemed to be an abandonned town all the way down towards the beach.
If you do not wish to hike there, there is a road that leads up directly to the beach, but since we stayed nearby we thought it would be nice to walk there and experience the lush green vegetation of the natural park in contrast to the mostly rocky sights of the rest of the Algarve.
Spot storks at random places
Before our trip to the Algarve, we did not realize how many storks there would be. They nest at the most random places, be it in Aljezur on a tree trunk of a tree that was cut off, or in Faro on top of historic buildings. It was kind of fun though to look around and spot the nesting locations of these beautiful birds, so definitely keep an eye out for them!
Praia da Bordeira
This beach was actually quite a highlight for us! The beach is located not far away from the town of Carrapateira. On the left side of the beach there is a parking lot that can be accessed from Carrapateira. Since the parking lot is located on top of a hill, you get a beautiful view over the whole beach. What makes this beach so special is the sheer amount of sand that is on this beach.
There are some wooden stairs and boardwalks that give you access to the beach itself. When we were there, the weather was not ideal, but the wind made for some beautiful huge waves. It was quite a treat to just sit there and watch them crash on the sand.
Praia da Arrifana
Praia da Arrifana is a beautiful beach located at the bottom of some steep cliffs. There is a town on top of the cliffs that offers a great view over the beach. We only did a quick pitstop here before continuing further north.
Praia do Amado
Praia do Amado is a more popular beach among surfers on the Atlantic west coast. It can be reached from Carrapateira via a small road. Even if the road is rather narrow it was still managable for a van. There is a parking lot just next to the beach and a small beach hut as well as a surf school.
Miradouro da Cordoama
Continuing further south, there are many beautiful beaches one next to the other, often seperated only by cliffs. The beaches of the west coast along the Atlantic Ocean all have a more wild and untouched feel to them. Waves are bigger and people are few. We liked these beaches quite a lot. However it is impossible to visit them all if you have limited time. After visiting a few already, we decided to head a little further down, skipping a few beaches. However you should not skip Miradouro da Cordoama! You can reach this viewpoint from Villa do Bispo. Since the viewpoint is high up on the cliff, you have a marvellous view over Praia da Cordoama and depending on the weather you can see quite far up and down the coast.
Farol do Cabo de São Vicente
Cabo de São Vicente is the southwesternmost point of the European continent. The lighthouse that sits here is considered to be the brightest lighthouse of Europe.
Several civilisations considered this stretch of land to be a sacred ground. For instance the Greek and Romans thought it was the end of the world and considered it as magical. During the course of history there were also some naval battles around the Cape St. Vincent.
You can reach the lighthouse by following the N268 from Sagres. There is a free parking lot right in front of the lighthouse. When we visited there were even some foodtrucks. The lighthouse itself can also be accessed for free!
Sagres is a small portuguese town in the western part of the Algarve, not far away from Cabo de São Vicente. The town itself is super small and doesn’t have much to see or do. The highlights here are Praia da Mareta, a beautiful beach located on the east side of Sagres. It is really popular among surfers. There were several groups of surfers on their boards in the water when we visited. There are cliffs surrounding the beach which makes for some beautiful viewpoints.
Another highlight of Sagres is its fortress which was used as a base for sea expeditions in the 15th century. We did not enter the fortress but if you wish to do so the entrance fee is 3€.
Watch some impressive waves
The fortress of Sagres is located on top of a cliff. So when visiting the fortress, make sure to take some time to just sit down somewhere near the cliff and watch the waves crash beneath your feet. For us there is something therapeutic about watching waves. We saw some of the most impressive waves from this spot. When we were in Sagres it was quite windy though so I don’t know how the waves are normally. Another spot where we saw some great waves was when visiting Praia da Bordeira.
Praia do Zavial
This was actually the first beach we visited on our Algarve trip. It was our lunch break on our first day while driving from Faro to Sagres. To get here we took a small road leading through some green meadows down towards the beach. There is a restaurant at the end of the road with some good views of the beach!
Praia da Salema
Salema was a small fishing village until the 1980’s. Today its main income comes from tourism, but there are still some fishermen left, whose boats can be found on the beach. Parking in Salema was not as easy as in other locations but there is a small parking lot a little further inside the village.
Praia de Porto Mos
We visited Praia de Porto Mos on our way to Lagos, since it is located not far away from the city. There is a big parking lot just in front of the beach. This beach is not huge but it made for a great morning stroll.
Ponte Romana de Lagos and Ponta da Piedade
Located at the foot of Lagos, there are several small beaches enclosed by beautiful cliffs. The most well known sight here is a small stone bridge that suspends over the water between two rocks. You can reach Ponta Romana de Lagos by following a path through tunnels which are carved inside the cliffs and lead you from one beach to another. Make sure though to visit when the tide is low as most of them are completely under water at high tide.
Ponta de Piedade is located further south next to a lighthouse with the same name. It is an area that is well known for its stunning rock formations. There are several viewpoints here and many people visit them by doing kayak tours.
Lagos is a port, located at the mouth of the river Bensafrim and is one of the most visited cities in Portugal. Historically speaking it is more than 2000 years old and used to be an important port during the portuguese “Age of Discovery”. On a more dark note it also used to be at one point in time the centre of European slave trade. Lagos used to be a high-profile city, until a big part of it was destroyed in the earthquake and following tsunami of 1755.
Lagos was the city we enjoyed visiting the most. The streets are really beautiful to walk through due to the fair/white and the iconic tiled house fronts, which line the streets. The city is rather touristy with many restaurants and souvenir shops, however we still enjoyed strolling through the streets of Lagos. At the shore there is a small fort and the city is very close to some really stunning small beaches and rock formations.
We always managed to find parking in front of the harbour alongside the N125 or a little up the street on a small parking lot overlooking the beaches next to the fort.
Praia do Alemão
Praia de Alemão was definitely one of our favorite beaches in the Algarve. We parked just above the beach on a lot next to a street called Urbanização Vau da Rocha. There where several vans and campers also parked there when we arrived. From here we followed a small path down to the beach. The beach is located in between the typical rock formations the Algarve is known for. When the tide is low, you can walk past the rocks from one beach to another and continue walking towards Portimão for a while. We walked until we reached Praia do Amado, before turning back around. This beach is also perfect for enjoying some sun and spending time relaxing on the beach. Praia do Alemão was relatively calm in terms of people when we visited, the closer we got to Praia do Amado the busier it was.
Praia dos Caneiros
This beach is located east of Portimão. It is not that big and it was not that spectacular compared to some other beaches we visited, but we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon here.
Praia de Carvoeiro
Praia de Carvoeiro is a small beach located next to the town of of Carvoeiro. This beach is also the starting point of some tours, amongst others towards the cave of Benagil. When we visited it was close to lunchtime and all the tours we were interested in for visiting Benagil were already sold out, so if you wish to catch one, be here early in the morning.
Located right on the beachfront are some restaurants and cafés where you can enjoy a drink and some food with a view onto the beach.
Algar Seco is located only a short walk from the town of Carvoeiro. We actually visited Algar Seco first and then made our way into the city, since parking was easier that way with the van. I would recommend this spot for anyone who wishes to explore some rock formations up close. There are several small paths leading through the rocks and there are some amazing photo spots. On top of the rocks there is a long wooden walkway alongside the shore!
Praia Grande de Péra
This beach stood out among the others because it is just a more than two kilometers long sand beach with normal sand dunes behind it, in contrast to the typical rock formations or cliffs that can be found on the other beaches. On the east side of the beach you can however find some of the rock formations again. This beach is perfect if sou wish to take a long uninterrupted walk on the beach!
The city of Albufeira has a more than 2000-years old history. Due to its location on top of the rocks, Albufeira was nearly impossible to conquer. The Moors lived here for a long time and actually also gave the city its name (from the arabian word “al-buhayra” meaning “lagoon” – apparently because of a lagoon which formed in the lowlands). Similar to Lagos, Albufeira was also destroyed during the earthquake and following tsunami in 1755.
The city of Albufeira from today caters mostly towards tourists. There are numerous bars, restaurants and clubs, especially in the parts of the city which are located at a lower elevation. The city’s Old Town is located on top of the rocks. There is an old town hall, hospital and bell tower which can still be found. A beautiful feature of Albufeira are the white facades a lot of the buildings have.
Praia da Falesia
Praia da Falesia is one of the more well known beaches in the Algarve. When visiting this beach we also understood why quite fast. The beach and most importantly its cliffs are absolutely stunning. They are composed of sand and clay and the continuous erosion of the cliffs creates these beautiful formations. In the process the beautiful red and yellow-white colors of the cliff’s materials come to light.
The beach is six kilometers long and makes for a beautiful walk. In between the cliffs there are sometimes walkways which give you access to landscapes we would have never thought are in Europe if we had only seen a photo of them!
Faro was the start and endpoint of our trip, since we flew in and out of the city’s airport. This city was definetly the biggest city we visited on our Algarve trip. Faro shares a similar history to the other cities in the Algarve reagion as in: it has a port and was therefore widely used as a base for oil, fish and wine production. In 713 the Moors conquered the city and used it as a base for their dynasty in the Algarve. In 1217 during the time where the Portuguese reconquered the Algarve, Faro was plundered by crusaders. The city grew more and more over the decades and after the big earthquake it became the seat of government for the Kingdom of the Algarve – due to the fact that it was less destroyed than other cities.
Faro actually had quite good parking options. We did walk a bit into the city centre but parking was free. We strolled around the harbour, the Old Town and the shopping streets in the city centre and enjoyed our time quite a bit. A highlight for us was the Chapela dos Ossos inside the Carmo church (entrance fee 2€). The chapel is built out of skulls and bones of monks and does have an eerie feeling to it, I am not going to lie. What we also liked were the numerous stork nests, which were located on numerous roofs in Faro.
Things we missed
Here we want to mention some of the things that we would have liked to see but did not get around to. Maybe they will find a way into some of your itineraries:
- The cave of Benagil: We tried to visit the cave, but in between parking with a van in Benagil itself (impossible) and finding a tour that we liked it sadly just did not work out in the end timewise.
- Silves: The city is located a little more inland and is known for its beautiful castle and rich history.
- Reservoirs: More inland there are several dams which create beautiful reservoirs.
- Loulé: A city mostly known for its markethall.
- Beaches: In the Algarve there are always more beaches one could have visited!