Portugal, aren’t only confined to the coast.
Firstly, you can book boat tours to the cave from various spots along the coast – which can be ideal if you’re staying further away. However, boats aren’t legally allowed to go on the caves beach. So, if you wish to go into the cave and have access to the beach, you’ll want to book a kayak tour along the coast or, even better, hire kayaks from the beach nearby when you arrive. When I have friends visiting, this is the one thing to do in the Algarve that I always recommend – hike the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail or the Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos, as it’s known in Portuguese.
Between the Algarve coast and the neighbouring region of Alentejo, hills rise slowly before turning into mountain ranges. The Serra de Monchique is the highest and most notable and provides a verdant playground – a far cry from the coastal resort towns.
Best things to do in the Algarve FAQs
Of course, it’s impossible to fit every spot and activity into a blog post – even when I’m writing whole guidebooks for the region, it’s a squeeze. So, in this list of the best places in the Algarve to visit, I’ve focused on the region’s main destinations, which cover most of the Algarve’s top experiences for first-time visitors or those returning for a second visit.
On arrival at miradouro (viewpoint), which in itself is one of the best places to visit in the Algarve, a panorama spills out before you. Take the staircase towards the fishing boats and descend through the rocks to the water below.
From lounging on idyllic island beaches and exploring castle-crowned towns to hiking along epic clifftop trails and relaxing in a mountain spa, there are numerous things to do in the Algarve other than visiting the beaches.
Caldas de Monchique is one of the Algarve’s best places to visit. Since Roman times, people have retreated here to make use of the high-alkaline thermal waters for relaxation. Villa Termal Spa Resort has a stay or spa package, while the nearby springs make for an ideal walking and picnicking area.
Couples are spoiled with romantic things to do in the Algarve. Consider a wine tasting and lunch in one of the region’s vineyards, a private boat tour around the caves and cliffs, or a hot air balloon ride followed by a champagne picnic.
Before diving into my suggestions of the ten best places to visit in the Algarve and what to do there, here are a few of the most frequently asked questions I get about planning a trip to the Algarve.While I was also guilty of this when I started holidaying here many years ago, since living in the Algarve, I’ve realised what a mistake that was. The city now only has a beautiful Old Town (Cidade Velha), but you can find some of the best things to do in the Algarve in and around the regional capital.
The Seven Hanging Valleys Trail and Benagil Cave
This wild and windswept land is where you’ll find me when I want to clear my head or enjoy a beach walk with fewer footsteps in the sand. Somehow it remains something of a ‘hidden Europe’ beach destination.
For a more laid-back stay, pick an inland location or a smaller tourism destination such as Carvoeiro, or opt for one of these more unusual places to stay in the Algarve.
To surf and see the sunset at the ‘end of Europe’
Alternatively, you can take a boat trip into the Ponta de Piedade – some tours also include dolphin spotting beyond. However, I’d personally suggest taking the kayak trip around the headland as I found this much more impressive as you can get closer to the cliffs. There are plenty of stands selling tours in Lagos, so you don’t need to book in advance, but it might be advisable if you’re coming during the main holiday seasons.
For the Algarve’s most beautiful town and a postcard-perfect castle
To island hop, lounge on the idyllic beaches, and devour seafood
Ria Formosa: to lounge on the islands
The town’s most famed natural attraction is Ponta de Piedade, a dramatic headland of rock formations rising from the ocean. To reach the best viewpoint of this scene point, you can follow a loose clifftop and road trail from the town. En route, you’ll pass some of the Algarve’s most impressive beaches, such as Praia dos Estudantes and Praia do Camilo.
Portugal has long been a haven for surfers, and Sagres is the place to be on the south coast. Not only is this one of the best places in the Algarve to visit to ride the swell, but there are plenty more adventure activities, such as coasteering experiences jumping from nearby cliffs.
Silves is where my love for the Algarve started, and now, nearly 30 years later, I still adore this slightly inland town. The cliche-ready village, Silves delivers quaint cobbled streets, whitewashed buildings with ochre roofs, and a castle crowning it all.
While Silves is perhaps my favourite place to visit in the Algarve’s inland, but many visitors don’t make it to the inland towns. So, it’s the first inclusion on my list of Algarve hidden gems. Give it a read to discover more of the best things to do in the Algarve, such as hunting out waterfalls, staying in renovated whitewashed villages and palaces, and exploring the remains of Roman villas.
A short drive or bus journey from Faro, you’ll find plenty more historic attractions too, including the beautifully renovated Palace of Estoi – you can actually stay there – and even some Roman villa ruins.
Some of the best things to do in the Algarve are concentrated around the area, such as sailing along the river from Portimão to reach the town and enjoying wine direct from the source with a vineyard tasting (it’s usually cheaper to book direct).
To experience a more laid-back and charming Algarve, visit museums, and spot flamingos in salt pans
Choosing the best place in the Algarve to stay will very much depend on the kind of holiday you’re seeking. Albufeira is the most touristy area, with plenty of resorts for families or party holidays. If you’re seeking luxury Algarve hotels, look around Vilamoura and Quinta do Lago. Surfers should head to the West Coast or Sagres, while Lagos makes for a well-rounded base.
If you’re looking for hiking trails and serene scenery, then you’ll find some of the most active things to do in the Algarve in these parts. The region’s highest peak, Fóia, tops out at just over 900 metres and can be reached by car. You’ll have spectacular panoramas across the Algarve and the Atlantic Ocean on a clear day.
Be sure to explore the Old Town’s cobbled streets. Dip into the Municipal Museum inside a former convent to learn more about Moorish and Roman past before climbing the cathedral tower to admire the view. Much of the mediaeval walls remain, and you can circle this on the lagoon-facing waterfront.
You’ll also find some decent half-day and full-day hikes here, ideal if you want a day in the mountains. The trail to the Barbelote Waterfall is my favourite of the loop routes and starts and ends near Fóia.
For a lively Old Town, late night antics and more awesome beaches
That said, it’s easy to see why so many people do love it – and Albufeira remains the ‘tourism capital’ of the region – so it’s impossible to exclude it from this list. Primarily because many of the most popular things to do in the Algarve, such as day tours, boat trips, and beach days, can be easily accessed from here.
Most notable is the Old Town, where a slightly traditional theme remains. Back from the beach, friendly family-run tabernas are still operating, while a small archaeological museum provides a peek into the past. On the flip side, you have the Strip – a revelry-heavy run of late-night party joints – which has oddly made Albufeira a destination for both families and stag parties.
Sagres and Cabo de São Vicente
Some of the best places to visit in the Algarve can be found along this stretch of coastline, such as the award-winning Praia da Marinha – one of Portugal’s most beautiful beaches – the often crowded Benagil Cave, and many more smaller sandy bays.
If you’re not a surfer, then fear not, there is an abundance of excellent surf schools to learn at in and around Sagres. You’ll also find a few of the other best things to do in the Algarve here, such as visiting the 15th-century Fortaleza de Sagres (Sagres Fortress) and venturing to the rugged headland where Cabo de São Vicente lighthouse dutifully overlooks the rough Atlantic waves.
Tavira has long been one of my favourite places to visit in the Algarve, and happily, it hasn’t changed as much as some of the region’s more touristy destinations.
To be honest, I’m not a massive fan of Albufeira itself. While for many, this is the best place to visit in the Algarve – hence there being so many resorts in Albufeira – I find it a little too touristy and overdeveloped these days. It’s hard to imagine it was once a fishing village.
Other things to do in the Algarve’s town of Tavira include visiting the Ponte Velha, an ancient bridge often mistaken for Roman, learning about the region’s Moorish history at the Núcleo Museológico Islâmico, and taking in the panoramas from the castle ruins atop the town.
Other things to do in Faro include visiting the city’s island beach, a 20-minute bus journey away, enjoying some excellent bars and restaurants – personal tips include Los Locos and Epicur wine bar – and heading out on dolphin-watching boat trips.
For something a little more special, you can even stay on some of these islands at this bungalow-style accommodation, onboard this houseboat, or at Ilha de Tavira’s municipal camping site.
The best way to experience the cave with very few visitors is to come at sunrise before the kayak rentals, and tour boats start for the day. For this, however, you’ll want to have collected your kayak rental the day before or bring your own. If you’d prefer to explore the coast but see some less touristy spots, consider an alternative Algarve sea cave tour.
Some of the beaches along this rugged stretch of coast are only possible to access via water. If you want a more serene spot of sand, then there are some fantastic locally-operated SUP tours you can book to explore these bays and coves.
There’s also some idyllic accommodation along this stretch. While surf lodges feature heavily, you’ll also find some ocean-view hostels and plenty of rural accommodation, such as this hidden-away reclaimed whitewashed village, which was once left to ruin, but recently saved by a co-op of individual investors.
In the town itself, you’ll find plenty of great places to eat, drink and party inside the Old Town. There’s also some history and heritage to discover here, including the staple churches and an utterly random collection in the Museum of Lagos. Most harrowing is the history of the Mercado de Escravos, the site of Europe’s first slave market; just don’t expect the space to share the entire story or horrors of Portugal’s colonial past, it’s sadly lacking in context.
Companies I usually recommend are Ocean Vibes which offers a dolphin and wildlife spotting tour led by the super-passionate marine biologist Alfredo, and Solar Boat tours, which are particularly good for bird watching, as the boats are near-silent compared to traditional motorised vessels.
For history, culture and museums, plus a more local city life
For verdant-hill hiking, waterfalls and thermal-spring spas
To follow the cliff trail to the awe-inspiring Ponta de Piedade and then party all night
There are plenty of things to do in the Algarve for families. Popular options include heading to a waterslide park – Slide & Splash and Aqualand are my favourites – visiting the SandCity attraction or taking a boat tour to spot dolphins in the wild.
A well-deserved member of the ‘7 Natural Wonders of Portugal’, this protected natural park is also a haven for wildlife. Mediterranean Chameleons, bird spotting – especially the seasonal flamingos – and plenty of seahorses call this part of the Algarve home, while dolphins are often sighted a little further out. Spanning some 60 kilometres across the central Algarve’s coast, the Ria Formosa, a labyrinth of lagoons, salinas (salt pans), marshes, barrier islands and dunes, is one of the best places in the Algarve to visit.
While this is often mistaken for the most westerly point of mainland Europe, that title actually goes to Cabo da Roca, closer to Lisbon. However, even if it doesn’t hold the accolade, catching the sunset over the cliffs here is still one of the top things to do in the Algarve.
There are a lot of different boat tours available to tour the Ria Formosa, although they all vary in quality and environmental credentials.
Travellers often skip the Algarve’s capital city of Faro as it’s frequently seen as an airport gateway rather than one of the best places in the Algarve to visit in its own right, especially for a winter city break in Europe.
The main reason to visit Tavira though – beyond just soaking up a slightly more ‘authentic’ Algarve is to see some heritage buildings and visit Tavira museums. Known as a town of churches – there are 37 of them – there is no shortage of heritage buildings to admire, such as the converted Convento de Tavira, now a luxury hotel.
Some of the best things to do in the Algarve can be found within the Ria Formosa’s vast area. Hop between the idyllic and beautiful islands to lounge on the soft sands, kayak in the tranquil interior lagoon waters, or set off by bike or on foot to the salt pans’ trails.
It’s also an excellent place to come for those typical things to do in the Algarve; surfing, topping up your tan and hiking. The Rota Vicentina compromises two multi-day hiking trails – one coastal and one inland – which traverse the boundaries of the Algarve and the Alentejo region. There are also plenty of shorter one-day routes you can take. If you don’t fancy strapping on your boats, the gorgeous and secluded bays and beaches make for an ideal road trip.