The Best Holiday Guide to the Algarve

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The Algarve, Portugal - A Tourist Holiday Guide

The Algarve is the beautiful coastline that extends along the southern side of Portugal and this region provides stunning beaches, historic towns and enjoyable holiday activities. The Algarve is blessed with a fantastic climate, with weather suitable for the beach lasting from May through to mid-October. Southern Portugal provides exceptional value for money and the variety of different towns means that the Algarve is suitable for all types of tourist, be that families, couples or party goers. This article has been written to provide a summary and introduction to the major towns of the Algarve, and to aid you select the ideal destination for your holiday.

Praia de Faro

The stunning beach of the Praia de Faro

Practicalities for The Algarve

The Algarve is served by Faro airport, and this airport is conveniently positioned in the middle of the Algarve. The majority of tourists who visit the Algarve will be based in the section of coastline that extends from the Praia de Rocha to Vilamoura, all of which are located to the west of Faro airport. Outside of this area more traditional and quieter Portuguese towns can be found.

Summary of the Finest and most Popular Towns in the Algarve

Tavira – The Algarve’s Hidden gem

Tavira is a delightful town that is situated on the banks of the slow flowing Gilão River. The town of Tavira has reminded unchanged despite the advent of mass tourism, and provides the visitors with a charming town centre of cobbled streets, lined with traditional houses, which lead all the way up to the ancient castle. The glorious beaches on the Ilha de Tavira are reached by ferry and the route passes through the protected series of mudflats and salt water lagoons of the Ria Formosa Natural Park. Tavira is laid-back, traditional and our personal favourite town in the Algarve. For a guide to Tavira please visit (link opens new window)

tavira algarve

The river front of Tavira

Tavira Quick Summary
Ideal For - Couples who wish to discover the unaltered side of Portugal, or any visitor looking for a peaceful relaxing holiday in a wonderful town.
Not suited For - Party goers, since Tavira is a traditional and calm town. Families with older children, as Tavira is a long way from the water parks, zoos and adventure that most children want to visit during a holiday.

Albufeira – The Algarve’s Most popular resort

Albufeira is the most popular resort town of the Algarve, and this is because it excels at everything wanted for a holiday destination. The beach is massive, there are great holiday activities and the pretty old town is crammed full of restaurants, shops and bars.

Albufeira the algarve

The massive beach of Albufeira

For groups and party goers there is “the Strip”, a road full of themed bars and outrageous clubs, which is just far enough (2km away) from the Old Town not to annoy other tourists. As Albufeira is the largest resort, the summer season is much longer, and there are still things going on during the low or off season. There are many enjoyable day trips from Albufeira for those visitors who wish more than just a beach, while the massive all-inclusive hotels are great for tourists who simply wish to relax.

Albufeira Quick Summary

Ideal for – Generally most visitors. There are great facilities, fantastic hotels and well over a 100 different places to eat out at.
Not suited for – Visitors who wish to escape the summer crowds, Albufeira is very busy in the summer and prices sometimes reflect this.

Lagos – History and Stunning Scenery

Lagos is on the very western edge of the Algarve and is one of the region’s most fascinating and interesting towns. Lagos is set on a stunning coastline of massive sandstone cliffs, wide beaches and crystal clear waters. Within the vicinity of Lagos is the Dona Ana beach, which is considered to be the finest in the Algarve, while further along the coast are the stunning cliff formations of the Ponta da Piedade.

lagos algarve

The historic centre of Lagos

Lagos has an important history as a major trading town, a rich history that is reflected in the varied sights throughout the town, which include the fort, a slection of pretty churches and even an ex-slave market. From Lagos there are enjoyable day trips to the small fishing village of Sagres, or north into the Algarve hills. For a guide to Lagos please click here (opens new window)

Lagos Quick Summary

Ideal for – Visitors who want more than just sun, cheap food and drink. Active couples who want to visit and experience a lot during their holiday.
Not suited for – Party animals; the night life is more restaurant and food based. Ponta da Piedade lagos

The Ponta da Piedade coastline, near Lagos

Vilamoura – The Algarve’s Exclusive Town

Vilamoura is the super-rich’s playground in the Algarve. The whole town was purpose-built as an exclusive destination that is focused around the larger marina and is filled with million dollar yachts. The town boasts six championship-grade golf courses and is the location to be based for a golfing holiday, just expect expensive green fees. Vilamoura is smart, stylish and trendy, and completely without the signs of neglect found on the edges of many other Portuguese towns.

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The marina in Vilamoura is the central hub of the town

Vilamoura Quick Summary

Ideal for – Golf holidays, an upmarket holiday in a very exclusive area
Not suited for – Bargains or visitors on a tight budget.

Faro – Under-Rated Transport Hub

Faro is often over looked as a tourist destination, being primary used as a transport hub for the airport, train or bus services, but this beautiful city has a lot to offer. Faro boasts a charming historic centre, which is circled by ancient Moorish walls, and a pleasant pedestrianised shopping zone. Departing from the marina there are boat tours which explore the Ria Formosa National Park and visit some of the quietest beach in the Algarve. Faro’s main beach, the Praia de Faro, is surprisingly low-key considering it is just a 5 minute bus journey from the airport. For a guide to Faro please click here.

Faro portugal

The historic centre of Faro overlooking the Ria Formosa national park

Faro Quick Summary

Ideal for – Short stays (1-2 nights) or as the first destination due to the close proximity to the airport. The great transport links means that Faro is a good base from which to explore the Algarve.
Not suited for – Sun worshipers, the main beach is a 15 minute bus ride away.

Praia de Rocha – Good alternative to Albufeira

Praia de Rocha is a large and hectic summer resort, that crams in visitors during the summer season. There is a massive beach (larger than Albufeira’s beach), which on following the coastline changes into little coves hidden behind giant sandstone cliffs. The resort has countless bars, restaurants and shops but has a much more modern appearance than Albufeira. 2km north of Praia de Rocha is the large but sleepy town of Portimão; for beaches and nightlife it's better to be based in Praia de Rocha, andnot Portimão. Praia de Rocha is suitable for families as well.

beach Praia da Rocha

The massive beach of Praia da Rocha

Praia de Rocha Quick Summary

Ideal for – Families and young couples wishing a fun and social holiday
Not suited for – Visitors seeking cultural or historic sights.

Quarteira – Budget Vilamoura

Quarteira is where the non-millionaires of Vilamoura live and work, but it is just a 10-minute walk from Quarteira along the coast to it’s exclusive neighbour Vilamoura. Quarteira has a much better beach than Vilamoura and a pleasant promenade extends for the length of the beach. Quarteira offers great value accommodation, food and drink but the town has very bland appearance with large apartments, hotels and none of the Portuguese charm found in other locations. Quarteira is much quieter and smaller than Albufeira or Praia de Rocha.


The promenade of Quarteira beach front

Quarteira Quick Summary

Ideal for – Great value and golf holidays
Not suited for – Visitors seeking culture, history or a pretty Portuguese town.

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The best guide to the Algarve