The best independent guide to the Algarve
The best independent guide to the Algarve
The Algarve is the beautiful coastline of southern Portugal, a region rich in culture and staggering in beauty.
Along the 150km of pristine coastline are over 25 diverse resort towns. These range from relaxed and picturesque hideaways through to bustling towns that offer non-stop holiday excitement.
This sheer variety makes the Algarve a fantastic holiday destination, whatever kind of holiday you are seeking. There are calm and safe beaches for families, historic towns for a cultural holiday or buzzing cities where you can party all night long.
Below is an interactive map of the Algarve, highlighting the major resort towns and finest holiday destinations.
The yellow pins show the larger and livelier beach towns (ranked 1 to 8). The green pins highlight the smaller and calmer beach destinations (ranked 1-9). The grey pins show the non-coastal towns and cities (ranked 1-7), which are ideal for a cultural holiday, or as day trips.
The best largest resort towns - 1) Albufeira, 2) Lagos, 3) Praia da Rocha and 4) Vilamoura 5) Alvor 6) Armação de Pêra 7) Quarteira 8) Monte Gordo
The best smaller resort towns - 1) Tavira 2) Carvoeiro 3) Cabanas 4) Olhos de Água 5) Praia da Luz 6) Burgau 7) Sagres 8) Vila Real de Santo António 9) Ferragudo
The best non-beach destinations- 1) Silves 2) Faro 3) Olhão 4) Loulé 6) Monchique 5) Castro Marim 7) Portimão
You probably know what style of holiday you are seeking, and the following section provides a quick summary of the best locations for each holiday type.
Best overall destination -
Lagos, Albufeira or Tavira
For families with young children -
Carvoeiro, Praia da Luz or Alvor
For families with teenagers -
Albufeira, Praia da Rocha, and most all of the central Algarve
For history and culture -
Lagos, Tavira, Faro, Olhão or Silves
Where to party -
Albufeira, Praia da Rocha and Lagos
Stag or hen do -
“The Strip” in Albufeira (Stag do guide here)
For a relaxing holiday -
Tavira, Alvor or Carvoeiro
A small village setting:
Burgau, Cabanas and Praia da Luz
Golfing Holiday -
Vilamoura, Albufeira or Quarteira
Class, style and where celebrities holiday -
Vilamoura or Vale Do Lobo region
Somewhere different -
Faro, Tavira or Alvor
Surfing Holiday -
For a Christmas holiday -
Albufeira, Praia da Rocha or Lagos
Portugal’ s best resort towns, not in the Algarve -
Cascais, Sesimbra, Nazaré or Vila Nova de Milfontes
The following section provides a description of the major holiday destinations within the Algarve.
If you are seeking a fun-packed holiday, Albufeira is the destination for you.
Albufeira is the largest and liveliest resort town in the Algarve, and is able to offer something for everyone. At the heart of Albufeira is a charming historic centre, while “The Strip” (2km to the east) is crammed with themed bars and late-night clubs.
The beach of Albufeira is one of the best of the region, and its beautiful sands and clear waters extend along the length of the town. The bustling nature of Albufeira means there is always something happening, and the town boasts an endless supply of holiday activities including; theme parks, water parks, boat tours, jeep safaris and party boats.
The only downside to Albufeira is its popularity; during the summer it will be incredibly busy, and all hotels fully booked. As Albufeira has given over completely to tourism, do not expect to hear much Portuguese spoken; even the town’s residents are mainly retirees from other European countries.
Related articles: Our Albufeira guide - Albufeira sights and activities
Tavira is our favourite holiday destination in the Algarve. The town is situated in the less touristy eastern Algarve, and provides an authentic Portuguese experience which is easy to fall in love with.
Tavira has an extensive range of hotels, restaurants and bars, but has not succumbed to mass tourism, and retains its distinctive character and heritage.
Tavira is a great base from which to explore the eastern Algarve, with day trips to Olhão, Vila Real de Santo António and Faro, all accessible by train. Tavira is one of the most historic locations in the Algarve, and even if you do not have a holiday here, you should certainly visit as a day trip.
The only issue with Tavira is that the beaches are on a sandbar island south of the town, and the only way to reach them is by a short ferry ride (15min).
Related articles: Our Tavira guide
Lagos is a historic seafaring city which has transformed itself into a popular holiday destination. The city lies along a stunning coastline with its vast beaches, dramatic cliff formations and powerful Atlantic waves.
Lagos is the ideal holiday destination if you want more than just beaches for your holiday. It is a vibrant city boasting a range of activities, sights and day trips. Being a major city there is a wide selection of restaurants, bars and shops, and is a good location for an out of season holiday.
The one downside to Lagos is the long distance from Faro airport, which means a long and expensive transfer, unless you rent a car.
Related articles: Our Lagos guide
Carvoeiro lies on one of the most beautiful sections of the Algarve coastline, a region of golden cliffs, hidden cove beaches and turquoise sea waters. The town has a relaxed and calm atmosphere, making it ideal if you are holidaying with younger children or with older relatives.
Carvoeiro is close to all of the action of the central Algarve, with its water parks, theme parks and activities, but is not overwhelmed by the summer holiday mayhem. Surrounding Carvoeiro are many residential and summer houses, and this makes the region is popular for villa rentals.
The one drawback to Carvoeiro, is that public transport is very poor. If you are planning to explore the surrounding region you will need a rental car.
Related articles: Our guide to Carvoeiro
Praia da Rocha overlooks one of the finest beaches of the Algarve, and is a lively and bustling resort, very similar to Albufeira. The beach is amazing, the summertime nightlife is epic and there are numerous exciting daytime activities to make a memorable holiday.
Praia da Rocha was once a classless-themed-bar resort, but is presently attempting to transform itself into a more sophisticated and stylish destination, with designer beach clubs, swanky hotels and an expensive marina complex. Praia da Rocha is a great summertime alternative to Albufeira, Lagos and Vilamoura.
Praia da Rocha is not for all, having no trace of its Portuguese identity or culture. The modern resort town has completely taken over the fishing village that was once there, and the characterless town could be any European beach resort.
Warning: Praia da Rocha is the resort town situated on the beach, 3km inland is the city of Portimão. Portimão is a relaxed residential city, but probably not where you want to spend your summer holiday…..
Related articles: Our guide to Praia da Rocha
Cabanas is as much an opposite of Praia da Rocha as it could possibly be. This tiny village is calm, peaceful and a favourite with retirees and expats who frequent the numerous cafes that line the harbour front. From the harbour, a small ferry crosses to the deserted beaches on the Ilha de Cabanas.
Our opinion: Little known Burgau, on the far western Algarve, is very similar to Cabanas, but has a more Portuguese atmosphere.
Vilamoura is a sprawling resort town which encompasses four golf courses, a large marina complex and two beautiful sandy beaches. The town has a reputation for sophistication, style and being one of the most expensive destinations in the Algarve!
Of the larger resort towns in the Algarve, Vilamoura has the more mature atmosphere. This is a destination for chic meals overlooking the marina, rounds of golf at world class courses and glamorous nights spent at designer beach clubs.
Vilamoura is centrally located in the Algarve and offers a wide selection of holiday activities and attractions. If you are planning a golfing holiday Vilamoura is always a good choice.
Related articles: Our Vilamoura guide
Faro is a characterful and historic city, that lends itself more to a cultural city break than a conventional summer holiday beach resort destination. Within Faro is a delightful old quarter, a pretty fishing harbour and shopping streets aimed at Portuguese patrons.
Faro opens out on the mud flats and lagoons of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, which are sheltered from the sea by three sand bar islands. It should be noted that there are no beaches close to Faro, and a bus or ferry ride is needed to travel to the sand bar islands.
Faro is a convenient destination if you are arriving on a late flight.
Advice: For a cultural tour of the historic towns of the Algarve consider the route; Faro, Tavira, Lagos, and take day trips to Silves and Olhão.
Related articles: Faro introduction