The best independent guide to the Algarve
The best independent guide to the Algarve
Albufeira and Faro are two of the largest towns of the Algarve. However, while both are fantastic holiday destinations, they cater for very different types of tourists.
Albufeira is a young, thrill-seeking and action-packed holiday destination, which is situated on a series of beautiful sandy beaches. When compared to Faro, it has the most activities, the wildest nightlife and is most tolerant of excess. The New Town (and The Strip) of Albufeira is Portugal's go-to destination for group holidays (such as stag and hen parties) or those wanting to party all day long.
The Old Town area of Albufeira is much more family-focused, but still boasts a buzzing nightlife, vibrant atmosphere and a huge variety of restaurants and bars. It should be noted that the excess culture of Albufeira may be too much for some people during the summer.
Faro is a calm and historic city with a distinctly Portuguese atmosphere, with a holiday here focused more on day trips, history and culture. The main issue with Faro for a conventional holiday is that there are no beaches close to the city centre, and an expensive ferry or long bus ride is needed to travel to them.
This lack of beaches close by has kept Faro free from mass tourism, but means it is not really designed for families or excitement-focused holidays. Where Faro excels is as a base from which to explore the central Algarve, or a place to visit as part of a touring holiday.
Faro and Albufeira are at the two extremes of the holiday spectrum. If you are new to the Algarve and planning a single-location holiday, you may prefer something in between these extremes. Great alternatives include Lagos, Tavira, Carvoeiro and Alvor.
Albufeira is renowned for its nightlife and vibrant atmosphere
Whereas Faro is a much calmer, historic city.
Albufeira lies at the heart of the buzzing tourist region of the Algarve, while Faro (33km to the east) is the largest city of the central Algarve.
The towns are situated on very different coastlines. Albufeira boasts stunning sandy beaches and picturesque cliffs, while Faro opens out onto the lagoons and calm waterways of the Ria Formosa nature park. There are beaches near Faro, but they are found on the southern side of the Ria Formosa and a ferry or bus is needed to travel to them.
Albufeira and Faro also have very different atmospheres. Faro has a city vibe with an authentic Portuguese feel, whereas Albufeira is heavily tourist-focused, with barely a word of Portuguese being heard here. A high percentage of Albufeira's permanent population are ex-pat Europeans, while residents of Faro are almost entirely Portuguese.
In summary, Albufeira provides a conventional holiday destination, whereas Faro offers a more authentic Portuguese experience and is better suited as part of a touring holiday.
The magnificent beaches of Albufeira – this is the Praia dos Pescadores.
The view from the top of the Se cathedral in Faro over the Ria Formosa nature park.
Albufeira has two very distinct areas, the Old Town and The Strip (sometimes referred to as the New Town and officially known as Areias de São João).
The Old Town is the historic centre of Albufeira, filled with pretty cobbled streets and whitewashed houses that lead down to the beautiful Praia dos Pescadores beach. Albufeira's Old Town tends to cater for families with teenagers, couples over 30, and those on golfing breaks.
The Strip is the Algarve's most popular party destination, making it the perfect choice if you are 18 to 25 or in a group (such as a stag or hen trip) and want to party all night long, before lounging all day on a beautiful beach. The Strip is too hectic for families and too tacky for anyone looking to experience a bit of Portuguese culture.
When comparing Albufeira with Faro, it is always best to consider Albufeira as two completely separate areas, offering very different types of holiday.
Insight: The whole of Albufeira has unfairly gained a reputation for excessive partying and general craziness. This is true of the relatively small area surrounding The Strip, however the Old Town, the Marina area and the far eastern side (Santa Eulália to Olhos de Água) are perfectly suited for families or couples seeking a relaxing beach holiday.
Neon lights beckon the night owls to The Strip's lively party scene.
The Old Town is characterised by its distinctive charm
If you're planning a family holiday with young children (3 to 11) during the peak season (July to August), then the Santa Eulália and Olhos de Água areas of Albufeira are your best option.
Faro is not really suited for a conventional family holiday, as it is a long journey to the beaches and has the atmosphere of a large city.
The New Town of Albufeira would be totally unsuitable for families, with excessive drinking, partying and noise continuing late into the night. Albufeira Old Town is suitable for families, but it is often still too hectic for families with young children.
The far eastern side of Albufeira (from Santa Eulália to the town of Olhos de Água) is where many of the Algarve's mega-hotel complexes are situated, with their swimming pools, children's clubs and family activities. This area is far from the chaotic Strip and is ideal if you are after a hassle-free, family package holiday.
If you are planning a family holiday with teenagers, Albufeira Old Town makes a better choice than Faro, as it is closer to all of the excitement of the central Algarve, with its water parks, theme parks and general buzzing atmosphere.
Albufeira wants to be a family holiday destination.
The simple decision is whether you want to party or prefer somewhere a little more cultural with a Portuguese atmosphere.
For a lively holiday that verges on the excess, then The Strip and its surrounding area is where to be based. The Strip is packed with themed bars, inexpensive food venues and buzzing nightclubs, all crammed with thrill-seeking British, Dutch and German tourists.
Add to this excitement the pretty Praia da Oura beach - and numerous activities - and you have the makings of a fantastic holiday. This will be a trip where not a single word of Portuguese is heard, and could be easily described as tacky (classless) by some. The Strip is the Portuguese version of Benidorm, Magaluf or Sunny Beach (Bulgaria).
On the other hand, Albufeira Old Town retains its traditional Portuguese character and has a much older vibe. There are many decent bars and a lively nightlife here, but average visitors will be in their mid-thirties.
Faro tends to attract slightly older visitors and has a much calmer atmosphere. There is decent nightlife in the city, but it caters for a mix of Portuguese and foreign patrons.
Insight: A good alternative if you want somewhere less hectic than Albufeira is Lagos.
Benagil Cave is always a popular trip from Albufeira.
The shoulder season (May to June or September to October) is a fantastic time of year to discover the Algarve. The weather is cooler than the extremes of summer, and everything is slightly less busy.
At this time of year, Albufeira (Old Town) and Faro excel in their own unique ways and make fantastic holiday destinations.
Albufeira (Old Town) is much calmer than in the summer, but still offers its wide selection of restaurants and activities, along with its beautiful beaches. This is a great season to relax on the golden sands, eat well and socialise with similar people.
In comparison, Faro makes a wonderful base at this time of year for taking day trips to discover the central Algarve region. From here you can easily visit Olhão, Loulé, Quarteira and Tavira by using public transport.
Insight: Albufeira is fully open from Easter until the end of October, and this is generally when the weather is warm enough for spending time on the beach. The Strip calms down outside of the peak season and can actually be a fun night out for all ages during September and June. If you go expecting buzzing nightlife in May or October, you may be disappointed.
The historic quarter of Faro (the Cidade Velha) is a delightful maze of cobblestone streets and quaint plazas
When it comes to romantic holidays, both Albufeira and Faro have their unique charms and offerings.
In Albufeira, couples can find romantic escapes especially in the quieter areas like the Old Town or the serene beaches towards the east. Imagine strolling hand-in-hand along the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, dining al fresco at a quaint restaurant, or watching the sunset from the Praia dos Pescadores. For those seeking a more vibrant experience, the lively atmosphere and beautiful beaches of Albufeira can add an exciting element to a romantic trip.
Faro, on the other hand, offers a more laid-back and culturally rich experience. It's ideal for couples who appreciate history and a more authentic Portuguese atmosphere. Picture wandering through the charming streets of the old city, exploring historical sites like the Sé Cathedral, and enjoying intimate dinners at local Portuguese eateries. The natural beauty of the Ria Formosa nature park provides a stunning backdrop for romantic walks and peaceful boat trips.
Ultimately, the choice between Albufeira and Faro for a romantic getaway depends on what kind of experience you are seeking. Albufeira is perfect for couples who want a mix of beach relaxation and lively entertainment, while Faro is more suited for those looking for a quiet, culturally immersive experience.
The Sé de Faro Cathedral
If you are considering Faro and Albufeira for your holiday, you might also be interested in these additional locations:
• Lagos: Visit Lagos for a blend of historical charm and natural beauty. Its stunning beaches, ancient fortifications, and the spectacular Ponta da Piedade make it a must-see destination.
• Tavira: Tavira offers a glimpse into traditional Portuguese life. Its Roman bridge, historical architecture, and proximity to tranquil beaches like Ilha de Tavira provide a peaceful and authentic experience. Tavira guide
• Carvoeiro: Carvoeiro, a picturesque fishing village, is now a vibrant tourist spot. Famous for its cliffs and sea caves, it's perfect for scenic walks and coastal exploration. Carvoeiro guide
• Alvor: Alvor combines historical allure with natural beauty. Enjoy its old-world charm, scenic lagoon, extensive boardwalk, and historical sites, making it ideal for a relaxed and varied holiday. Alvor guide
• Vilamoura: Vilamoura is synonymous with luxury and leisure. Its large marina, world-class golf courses, and lively nightlife offer a sophisticated and upscale holiday experience. Vilamoura guide
• Praia da Rocha: Famous for its vast golden beach and stunning cliffs, Praia da Rocha is perfect for sun-seekers and nightlife enthusiasts. It combines natural beauty with a vibrant resort atmosphere. Praia da Rocha guide
• Armação de Pêra: A charming blend of old and new, Armação de Pêra offers beautiful beaches, a historic fort, and a bustling promenade. Ideal for families and those seeking a quieter getaway. Armação de Pêra guide
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