The best independent guide to the Algarve
The best independent guide to the Algarve
There is so much to see and do within the Algarve region.
Your holiday to the Algarve could be packed with numerous enjoyable day trips, and discover the very best of the region.
There are the historic and characterful towns of Tavira, Lagos and Faro, there are the lively resorts of Albufeira and Praia da Rocha or the unspoilt coastlines of Sagres.
A holiday in the Algarve can be relaxing, but it can also be thrilling, cultural and packed with new experiences. This article will detail the best day trips in the Algarve.
Note about public transport: There is reasonable public transport connecting the major town along the coastline and inland to Silves and Loule. If you wish to be visiting more remote regions a car is highly recommended.
Related articles: Top 10 Algarve - Best beach
The top 10-day trips within the Algarve are:
3) Far western Algarve (Sagres, Cabo de São Vicente, Burgau)
9) Vila Real de Santo António
The map below shows the best day trips in the Algarve.
The towns are marked in blue, the best natural features of the Algarve are shown in green, and the theme/waterparks are in yellow.
Towns for day trips (blue) 1) Sagres 2) Burgau 3) Lagos 4) Alvor 5) Praia da Rocha 6) Portimão 7) Ferragudo 8) Monchique 9) Carvoeiro 10) Albufeira 11) Vilamoura 12) Quarteira 13) Loule 14) Faro 15) Estoi 16) Olhão 17) Tavira 18) Castro Marim 19) Vila Real de Santo António
Theme/water parks (yellow) 1) Slide & Splash 2) Aqualand 3) Zoomarine 4) Aquashow Park
Natural sights (green) 1) Cabo de São Vicente 2) Ponta da Piedade 3) Benagil Caves 4) Praia da Marinha 5) Praia da Falésia 6) Ilha Deserta 7) Parque Natural da Ria Formosa 8) Cemitério das Âncoras (anchor cemetery)
Note: Lisbon is a fantastic city but is too far for a day trip from the Algarve. If you wish to visit Lisbon plan to be there for at least two days or three days to include Sintra. (Our Lisbon guide)
The following section will provide details of each of these towns, and links to further in-depth information.
When tourists imagine the quintessential Portuguese town they are thinking about Tavira.
This delightful town straddles the Gilão river, and boasts over thirty churches, a castle, and cobbled streets lined with traditional tiled houses. There is no prettier town in the Algarve than Tavira, and being located in the much quieter eastern Algarve, it still retains its authentic Portuguese atmosphere.
Along with being the finest town in the Algarve, Tavira is also close to pristine beaches, which situated along the seaward side of the Ilha de Tavira.
Related articles: Tavira guide
Tavira is bursting with character
Lagos was historically was a centre for seafaring and exploration.
The city contains a diverse selection of tourist attractions, including the ornate Igreja de Santo António, the Bandeira fort and the Mercado Municipal. The charming historic centre is full of cafes, shops and restaurants, while at the end of the estuary is a modern marina complex.
South of Lagos is the Ponta da Piedade, one of the most beautiful coastlines of the Algarve. This dramatic headland formed of golden sandstone rocks has been carved into unique features by winter storms.
Related articles: Introduction to Lagos
The historic centre of Lagos and the estuary leading to the modern marina
The Ponta da Piedade headland is one of the finest natural features of the Algarve
Sagres is at the far western side of the Algarve, and is a wild and rugged region of towering cliffs, vast beaches and powerful seas.
These huge waves make Sagres a favourite for surfing, while the ramshackle appearance of the town conceals an underling trendy vibe.
The wind blasted landscapes, and untamed natural scenery surrounding Sagres is very different from the tranquillity found in the rest of the Algarve. This is a fantastic day trip destination if you are an outdoors person or appreciate natures raw beauty.
Your day trip should include Sagres fort, which is protected on three sides by 30m high cliffs, and a visit to the Cabo de São Vicente headland.
Related articles: Sagres guide
The harbour of Sagres is on the sheltered side of the peninsula
The Cabo de São Vicente is the south-western tip of mainland Europe, and up until the 14th century was thought to be the end of the known world. This is a barren and dramatic landscape, with ferocious Atlantic waves battering the giant cliffs and the ceaseless winds prevent any meaningful vegetation from growing.
A visit to the Cabo de São Vicente will not be long, but you will want to visit.
Huge waves, massive cliffs and strong winds at the Cabo de São Vicente
During the Moorish era (9-12th century) Silves was an important trading town and defensive stronghold, which ruled over much of southern Portugal.
The town is dominated by a massive red brick castle, and is one of the best-preserved Moorish buildings in the Algarve. Below the castle are cobbled streets, an ancient cathedral, impregnable town walls the and the slow-flowing Rio Arade.
Being slightly inland Silves has barely been altered with tourism, and still retains its distinctly Portuguese atmosphere.
If you are going to take one day trip from Albufeira, Silves should be it.
Related article: Silves introduction
The view over Silves
The statue of King Sancho I, who laid Silves to a 3-month siege in 1189
Faro is one of the most overlooked destinations in the Algarve but has a surprising amount to offer you as a day trip.
The compact historic centre is encircled by ancient city walls and contains a gothic cathedral, baroque city hall and the ruins of a citadel. The modern city centre lies outside the city walls, and is filled with pleasant pedestrianised shopping streets and pretty plazas.
The Igreja do Carmo church is one of the most visited sights of Faro, due to the macabre Capela dos Ossos - bone chapel.
Faro is on the edge of the salt-marshes and lagoons of the Ria Formosa nature reserve, and these mudflats are a haven for seabirds and small marine life. To best explore the Ria Formosa join one of the boat tours which depart from the harbour.
Related articles: Faro introduction – The bone chapel
The old quarter of Faro
The Arco da Vila is the ornamental gat into the old quarter of Faro
Albufeira is the largest resort town of the Algarve and is a fun place to visit.
The town has two distinct areas; the Old Town and the Strip. The Old Town is centred around the original fishing village and comprises of whitewashed houses (now restaurants bars and hotels) and cobbled streets that led down to a magnificent beach.
The Strip is the party area of Algarve, offering all-day drinking promotions, wild nights and a place recover during the day. If you want a crazy night out Albufeira' Strip is the place to head to.
Related article: Albufeira introduction
Albufeira has a glorious sandy beach
Loule is a traditional Portuguese market town and a great destination to experience authentic Portugal.
The daily market is housed in a Moorish inspired building, and includes stalls selling fresh produce, handicrafts, and gifts. Behind the market is a warren of cobbled streets lined with traditional workshops and houses.
On Saturday mornings, Loule comes alive with an additional two markets; a farmer's market hosted in the town centre, and a bustling gypsy market on the edge of the town.
Note: The Loule market is closed on Sundays, so it's best to avoid planning a trip on Sunday.
Related article: Loule guide
Loule is a pretty place to visit as a day trip
Olhão is a hard-working fishing town, and one of the only towns within the Algarve whose primary industry is not tourism.
Along the harbour front is a pretty park and the distinctive market building, while inland is the fisherman’s quarter with its cubic houses.
Olhão has an authentic Portugal atmosphere while the unkept appearance adds to the character of the town.
Related article: Olhão guide
The fish market in Olhão sits along the harbour front and was inspired by Moorish architecture
Vila Real de Santo Antonio sits on the banks of the mighty Rio Guadiana, overlooking the Spanish border. The town has a grandeur beyond its size, and the centre is lined with impressive Baroque architecture.
As part of the day trip, it is possible to cross the Guadiana River by ferry to the Spanish town of Ayamonte.
Related articles: Vila Real de Santo Antonio
High in the Algarve hills the peaceful town of Monchique.
This is a location to escape the hustle and bustle of the coastal towns, and the mountainous region is ideal for hiking, cycling or simply admiring the scenery. A popular hike is to Mount Fóia (902m) the highest point of the Algarve.
Slightly further downhill is Caldas de Monchique, a spa town with natural spring waters at 30C and offers supposedly healing properties.
There are many wonderful viewpoints and hiking routes near Monchique