The best independent guide to the Algarve
The best independent guide to the Algarve
The Algarve is the beautiful southern coastline of Portugal. It is a region blessed with glorious sandy beaches, picturesque fishing towns and a glorious climate, all of which combine to create the perfect holiday destination.
The Algarve is wonderfully varied; there are pristine beaches for families, waterparks parks for thrill-seekers, buzzing nightlife for partying or historic towns for a cultural trip. Along with the vibrant towns, there is over 200km of stunning coastline, a mountainous interior and tranquil nature reserves, all to discover.
For a holiday destination the Algarve is a hassle-free destination; the region is very safe, hotels are of a high standard, English is widely spoken, and the Portuguese are welcoming and hospitable.
For your holiday, the Algarve is a hassle-free destination; the region is very safe, English is widely spoken, hotels are of a very high standard, and the Portuguese are welcoming and hospitable. As well as being an outstanding holiday destination, the Algarve is also one of the least expensive destinations in Europe (Post Office data from 2019), and is significantly cheaper than Spain, Greece or France.
There is so much to love about the Algarve, and we adore the region, so let us help you plan your trip to this fantastic region, with our free and independent guides.
Related articles: Highlights of the Algarve - The best beaches - Family holiday guide
Ferragudo is a traditional Algarve fishing village
With over 200km of coastline, 25 different resort towns and countless small villages, there is a lot of choice for your holiday to the Algarve.
The majority of tourists take their holiday in the central and western regions of the Algarve; between Lagos to the west and Vale do Lobo in the east (there is a map later in this section).
This region is close to the excitement of the Algarve, with its waterparks, mega-family-hotels, buzzing nightlife and vibrant holiday atmosphere. For a conventional 7-to-14-day holiday (family, couple or group) this is the area you wish to be based in.
The beautiful beaches just to the west of Praia da Rocha (which can be seen in the background)
The four largest resort towns of this region are Albufeira, Lagos, Praia da Rocha and Vilamoura, and all four boast beautiful beaches, great nightlife and endless holiday activities.
Albufeira is the most popular holiday destination of the Algarve, and has something to appeal to everyone. There is the party focused "Strip", a street of bars, clubs and excessive revelry, while 2km on the other side of Albufeira is the "Old Town" a favourite with families and ex-pats.
Vilamoura is more sophisticated and refined, being centred around an exclusive marina and renowned for its four golf courses.
Praia da Rocha is lively and exciting, and traditionally attracted a young age of visitor, but recently has be reinventing itself as a more luxurious holiday destination.
Lagos is our personal favourite, as it is more of a vibrant city than a holiday destination. Lagos has the most Portuguese character of the four main resorts and combines a historic city with beautiful beaches.
The Forte da Bandeira once guarded the entrance to Lagos harbour
If you are seeking a more relaxed holiday destination, then consider one of the smaller Algarve towns (and there are many great choices!). These are great if you are travelling with young children or don't want the hecticness of a bustling resort town. Recommended smaller towns in the main tourist region of the Algarve include Carvoeiro, Alvor, Olhos de Agua and Praia da Luz.
Carvoeiro is a pretty town and popular holiday destination
Outside of the Algarve’s main tourist area
The east of the Algarve is much less touristy, and provides a more authentic Portuguese experience.
Much of this coastline (between Faro to Tavira) is lined by the lagoons and waterways of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, and a ferry is needed to reach the beaches. This reduced access to the beaches means that there are fewer mega-hotels and sprawling villa complexes.
The town of Tavira is a highlight of the east Algarve, and has the perfect mix of Portuguese culture, characterful town, along with gorgeous beaches a 15min ferry ride away.
The western Algarve coastline (north-south coastline between Sagres and Odeceixe) faces the might of the Atlantic Ocean. This is a region of staggering beauty, with towering cliffs, wild wind-swept beaches and powerful seas. There is almost no tourist development here.
The arid interior of the Algarve is very sparsely populated, and rise up to the mountains around Monchique.
The map below shows the location of the best resort towns in the Algarve. The large resort towns are shown in green, the best medium sized towns in yellow and the finest villages in blue.
The large resorts (green): 1) Lagos 2) Praia da Rocha 3) Albufeira 4) Vilamoura
Medium size resorts (yellow): 1) Alvor 2) Carvoeiro 3) Armação de Pêra 4) Olhos de Água 5) Quarteira 6)Tavira 7) Monte Gordo
Small villages (blue): 1) Praia da Luz 2) Porto de Mós 3) Ferragudo 4) Galé 5) Cabanas
The Algarve has hot dry summers, pleasant springs and autumns, and winters which are mild but unpredictable.
The height of the tourist season is from July through to August and this is when the beaches are packed and hotels are sold out.
June and September tend to be popular months with couples, being outside of the school holidays and without the hordes of children, but there is still fantastic weather and a buzz about the region. September is actually the busiest month of the year, as non-child couples head on holiday.
The weather is suitable for spending time on the beach from May until October, and at the end of October the smaller resort towns close down for the winter.
Quick summary of the main resorts within the Algarve and links to the specific destination guides
(Note: links open new tabs)
Our favourite places in the Algarve - Tavira, Carvoeiro and Lagos
Best large resort town - Lagos, Albufeira or Vilamoura.
Best smaller resort town - Carvoeiro, Praia da Luz or Alvor
For young children - Most all of the central Algarve (just not the Strip in the Albufeira)
For teenagers - Albufeira to Olhos de Agua, and Praia da Rocha,
Where to party - Albufeira, Praia da Rocha or Lagos
For a mature and relaxing holiday - Tavira, Alvor, Praia da Luz, Carvoeiro or Olhos de Agua
Expats favourite - Olhos de Agua and Albufeira
Exclusive and stylish - Vilamoura or Vale Do Lobo Region
Historic and cultural - Lagos, Tavira, Faro or Vila Real de Santo António
Stag or hen do's - The Strip in Albufeira (Stag do guide here)
Somewhere different - Faro, Tavira, Carvoeiro or Monte Gordo
Golfing Holiday - Vilamoura, Albufeira or Quarteira
Surfing Holiday - Sagres
In winter - Albufeira, Lagos or Olhos de Agua (the Algarve is not a winter sun destination)
Escape package tourists – Vila Nova de Milfontes, Burgau, Vila Real de Santo António
If the Algarve is sold out or is too expensive in the summer - Lisbon or Porto
(Lisbon and Porto both have great beaches, cheap flights and lots of accommodation, ideal for families and couples)
Some of the most enjoyable Algarve holidays come from a touring or multi-destination trip. Each of the coastal towns has a very distinct atmosphere and appeal, and there are not long distances separating them.
Popular routes combine the calmer and relaxed eastern Algarve (Tavira or Vila Real de Santo António) with the buzz on the central Algarve (Vilamoura or Albufeira) then with the history and authenticity of the western Algarve (Lagos, Portimao or Sagres).
Related articles: Touring holiday ideas
The Algarve makes for a great destination for a family holiday, both for young children or teenagers. For young families there are calm, smaller resorts (Alvor, Praia da Luz, Carvoeiro) with pristine beaches and safe sea waters.
Teenagers will love the buzz of the central Algarve, with its theme parks, water parks and numerous thrill activities (though parents may grumble about the expensive entrance fees....)
Overall, the Algarve is a hassle-free family destination, English is widely spoken by all, children will be welcomed in all restaurants/shops/cafes, and supermarkets stock all common goods and brands.
We have been visiting the Algarve with children and families for many years, and often the main complaint is why did they not discover the Algarve sooner!
Related articles: The Algarve for families
It’s finally the end of college, university or the summer break from listening to the monotony of your boss, and you and your group of friends need a dose of summer sun and fun; then the Algarve is the destination for you.
It is perfect for days lounging on the beach and fun-packed nights with a smattering of holiday-based activities. The Algarve is vibrant and social but is not as extreme as Bulgaria, Ibiza or Cyprus. Also, the Algarve does not have the ridiculous prices of the Balearica Islands.
To get the most from the Algarve, always be within walking distance of the larger resort towns (Albufeira, Praia da Rocha and Lagos), and visit between June and September. And most importantly don’t forget travel insurance!!!!
Portugal is rightfully becoming one of the most popular destinations for US tourists; there’s history, culture, and diversity, while still being one of Europe’s least expensive countries to visit.
The Algarve is one of the most beautiful regions of the country, but it cannot be fully seen in just an extremely short excursion from Lisbon. If you’re planning to visit the Algarve, allow sufficient time (five or more days) and embrace the relaxed pace of life of the region.
As indicated before, hotels need to be booked well in advance during the summer. For a cultural trip head to Lagos or Tavira, while for 5-star/golfing break visit Vilamoura. Public transport does not have the same social stigmas as in the US, and buses and trains are widely used by everyone.
Warning, please read
There have been a number of sham residential letting websites, which have appeared on the internet, with bogus or copied listings (often of real apartments).
These websites look professional (guarantees, refund polices etc) and often the comparative prices are significantly cheaper.
Only ever book an apartment through a trusted website (booking.com, homeaway.co.uk etc) and never pay for accommodation by bank transfer. For more details please see the TripAdvisor forum post:
(link opens new link)
Note: This type of scam is not just limited to the Algarve but is found in all major tourist destinations. The Algarve is just ripe for it, as demand for accommodation outstrips supply.
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 da 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.
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 Tavira-Algarve-Portugal.com (link opens new window)
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.
The river front of Tavira
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.
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.
The massive beach of Albufeira
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 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 selection 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.
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.
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 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 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 da 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 da Rocha is the large but sleepy town of Portimão; for beaches and nightlife it's better to be based in Praia da Rocha, and not Portimão. Praia da Rocha is suitable for families as well.
Praia da 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 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 da Rocha.
Quarteira Quick Summary
Ideal for – Great value and golf holidays
Not suited for – Visitors seeking culture, history or a pretty Portuguese town.