The best independent guide to the Algarve
The best independent guide to the Algarve
The Algarve is one of the best value holiday destinations in western Europe, costing considerably less than a comparable holiday to Spain, Greece, France or Italy.
The Algarve region boasts a glorious climate, stunning beaches and lively beach towns, along with the welcoming disposition of the Portuguese. For a holiday, the Algarve offers a wide variety of accommodation types to suit all budgets, while food and drink can be exceptional value. It is also served by all of the low-cost airlines, which fly into Faro airport.
This guide will provide tips and advice on getting the best value holiday to the Algarve, while maximising your budget.
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The single biggest factor that will impact the cost of your entire holiday is the time of year you choose to visit.
Accommodation prices in the peak season (July and August) are typically 60 per cent higher than in the low season (November to March), with flights following a similar trend. If you are not tied to school or work holidays, June and September are fantastic months to visit the
Algarve for a budget-friendly break. For a family holiday, the summer half-term and Easter holidays provide much better value than the summer months.
Flights and accommodation will be the biggest costs of your entire holiday, and these are the areas where the largest savings can be made. There is one simple way to maximise your savings - book your flights and accommodation as early as possible to ensure the lowest prices.
No matter what time of year you are travelling, the prices of flights and accommodation will increase as the date of your holiday approaches.
If you are serious about the Algarve then book everything today, as it will be more expensive next week. If you are not yet sure about your holiday destination, do your research this week and book next Saturday (as most flights and hotels are booked on a Sunday). Next month there will be less choice, and that bargain holiday you saw this week will no longer exist.
Insight: During our many years of writing about Portugal, we have always seen a massive increase in summer holiday hotel sales immediately after Christmas. Bargain hunters plan this far in advance, with retirees and ex-pats booking their flights to Portugal as soon as the low-cost airlines release tickets (around 9 to 12 months in advance). If you truly want to save money on your holiday, you need to act fast.
Sadly, the Covid pandemic has changed all of the travel industry for the worse. Holidays are now much more expensive and can’t be gauged on what you remember paying in 2019/2018. The best prices for flights and accommodation are what you see today.
Also, last minute deals are a thing of the past. Flights never drop in price closer to the date of departure. Out-of-season hotels may lower prices, but any savings will be offset against the increased price of flights.
The Algarve is a varied and beautiful holiday destination, with over 22 different beach towns and villages to choose from. There are the lively resort towns of Albufeira, Vilamoura and Praia da Rocha, through to the pretty villages of Praia da Luz, Alvor and Cabanas, along with the characterful cities of Lagos, Faro and Tavira.
These destinations may be very varied, but the actual holiday costs, once you are there, are not that different. The amount of money you spend on your holiday (for comparable food, activities and nightlife) will be very similar in all of the beach towns.
Insight: What will be different for the beach towns, is the number of tourist-focused restaurants and bars (expensive) compared to restaurants/cafes designed for locals, which will be cheaper. Vilamoura will have more tourist-focused restaurants than a place like Olhão. The cost of activities will be similar in all of the resort towns.
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To get the best price for your accommodation, always book early and only choose a hotel or apartment that provides what you need.
Self-catering apartments, hotels and rental houses all have their advantages and disadvantages, and it is up to you to work out which is the best for your holiday.
A rental house or apartment offers the advantage of having your own space, as well as allowing you to prepare your own meals, which can mean a massive saving for a family. However, a hotel will have a better pool complex and more on-site facilities, especially for children. An apartment in a hotel with a very basic kitchen can provide a combination of both, but will often cost more.
Insight: Going all-inclusive is not a great choice in Portugal. There are few options, and food can be average and offer poor value for money.
Villas can be a fantastic choice for a holiday, but always check the exact location before booking as they may be a long distance from the beach or town centre. There are taxis and ride-hailing apps (Uber/Bolt) available, however these can be an expensive drain on your holiday budget.
Money saving advice: Many hotel booking websites allow you to reserve hotel rooms without paying a deposit. This is a great option as it means you can book an initial hotel at the lowest/earliest price, but is risk-free if you find something better or cheaper later on.
Warning: Only ever book accommodation from reputable websites, as in the past, there have been a number of fake listings and websites. Never pay for accommodation via a direct bank transfer, as there is no recovery process if something goes wrong.
As with accommodation, book your flights as soon as possible to get the best prices.
The main airport of southern Portugal is Faro Airport and is served by many of the low-cost airlines and international airlines.
Insight: Never fly into Lisbon for an Algarve holiday, as it requires a 2.5hour train journey to Faro and then a slow regional train to your resort town. A transfer will cost an eye-watering €210.
When selecting your flight, always check the prices of all of the airlines. At peak times (Friday evening, all day Saturday and Sunday evenings), the low-cost airlines will have similar prices to the conventional airlines.
Hidden fees are a plague of modern flying, so only book what you need. Generally, a 17kg hold bag is enough for two adults (or two children) for a summer holiday to the Algarve. A single hold bag works out better value than two small cabin bags.
There is very limited public transport in the Algarve and most visitors book a private transfer or a shared transfer.
The only real option for public transport from the airport is the Aerobus that links to Albufeira, Lagoa, Portimao and Lagos. Unfortunately, there are only six daily departures during the high season (May to September). The latest timetable can be seen on the Vamus Algarve website:
(Note: The Aerobus route is 56)
Private transfers are not that expensive if booked far enough in advance, with a transfer to Albufeira costing around €35, Vilamoura €30 or Lagos €75.
The best transfer company in the Algarve is Yellowfish, and their website can be found here: www.yellowfis
Shared transfer can be a cheaper option if traveling as a couple, but again must be booked far in advance. Many shared transfers completely sold out during the 2022 summer season, with less organised tourists being forced to take expensive taxis or Ubers!
The Algarve has amazing waterparks and theme parks (such as Slide ‘n Splash, Zoomarine and Aquashow Park), but entrance fees can be expensive (around €28 per adult and €17 per child).
One of the best free activities in the Algarve is a day trip to the beach, and the region has many outstanding sandy beaches that are open to the public (there are no private beaches in Portugal).
Inexpensive holiday activities include day trips to the towns of Silves, Faro, Loule or Lagos, all of which can be easily reached using public transport.
If you are based near Lagos, you could visit the beautiful cliff formations of Ponta da Piedade, or if based in the central region you could hike the stunning Hike Seven Hanging Valleys Trail.
Boat trips combining dolphin-watching and a tour along the coastline provide a good value, half-day activity and are highly recommended.
Food and eating out can be very cheap in Portugal.
At the start of your holiday, do a big shop at one of the supermarkets (Pingo Doce, Lidl or Continente) to pick up all of the holiday essentials you will need - but that can cost a lot when out and about - such as water, snacks and alcohol.
Eating out can be inexpensive in the Algarve, and the trick is to eat at places where locals tend to go. In all Portuguese towns there will be a selection of ‘Tasca’ restaurants. These are café-restaurants where you will find noisy but welcoming patrons, stereotypically grumpy waiters and walls covered with football memorabilia.
However, these serve some of the best and most authentic food in Portugal. For lunch, they will often offer a ‘meal of the day’ for less than €8, and drinks will be much cheaper than in the tourist restaurants.