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Have you ever dreamed of embarking on a journey where the allure of the powerful Atlantic Ocean meets the freedom of the open road? Imagine yourself cruising along a stunning coastline with the wind in your hair, sand under your wandering feet and endless possibilities ahead.
This is what I experienced in June when my friends and I dove into an unforgettable road trip along the Algarve region in southern Portugal. It’s one of the most famous areas of the country, and it’s not difficult to understand why.
We explored the picturesque town of Tavira, the vibrant streets of Albufeira, the hidden caves of Benagil, the captivating cliffs of Lagos and Sagres and more. The Algarve charmed us with its diverse landscapes, warm and friendly locals, delicious food and a plethora of exciting outdoor activities.
Enchanting Appeal of Algarve’s Cities and Towns
Places like Faro, Albuferia, and Lagos embody the region’s picturesque charms. Their whitewashed buildings and vibrant rooftops create a striking contrast against the vivid blue backdrop. Wandering through their winding streets, you’ll find yourself enchanted by the colorful tiles adorning their facades. Plus the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting from cozy cafes and the allure of boutique shops offering unique treasures.
Planning a last-minute trip to Portugal?
Top Experiences and Tours in Portugal:
- See the sights with a tour of Madeira: Skywalk, Porto Moniz Volcanic Pools, and Fanal Tour
- See Lisbon on the Lisbon: Pena Palace, Sintra, Cabo da Roca, & Cascais Daytrip
- Explore more with this tour of Fátima, Nazaré, and Óbidos Small-Group Day Trip from Lisbon
Where to stay in Portugal:
Faro is the Algarve’s administrative capital, nestled in the mesmerizing Ria Formosa lagoon. The area has beckoned humanity since ancient times, drawing people from the Paleolithic age to the culmination of prehistory. The earliest settlements in this locale date back to the fourth century BC. This resulted in an intertwining the rich tapestry of human history with the captivating allure of its natural wonder.
Be sure to walk around central Faro and explore its architecture, quirky shops and bars. Don’t skip the city’s neoclassical Arco da Vila on the site of the gate. It was part of the original Moorish wall. The monumental archway leads to the charming old town with winding cobbled streets, where you will also find Santa Maria Cathedral.
For dedicated foodies, I recommend having lunch at Old Tavern, tucked away in Largo D. Alfonso Street in the middle of the old town. I’m not usually a huge fan of octopus, but their delicious fried octopus dish totally converted me.
Albufeira is a former fishing village that has become a major holiday destination. It has amazing sandy beaches and a busy nightlife strip. If you’re a party animal, Albufeira will welcome you with open arms, luring you to immerse yourself in its bustling nightlife scene. I must warn you, though – the center is quite touristy. If that’s not your thing, you’ll probably enjoy this city more during the daytime.
It’s well worth meandering around the lovely winding streets that go up and down the hill, where you can marvel at the colorful houses and shops while soaking up breathtaking views of the beach and the waterfront promenade. Don’t miss the modern marina, a hub for boat trips and water-based activities, such as kayaking, diving and dolphin-watching.
Lagos stands as a significant city deeply rooted in history. It has a remarkable array of historical landmarks and structures that bear witness to its diverse past. Notable architectural marvels encompass the exquisite Santo Antonio church, the Mercado dos Escravos (Europe’s inaugural slave market) and the charming Bandeira Fort, an emblem of the 17th century.
Wandering through the historic center is effortless as you navigate its narrow cobblestone streets, admire the traditional houses and soak in the picturesque waterfront. Few destinations in the Algarve can rival Lagos in terms of the sheer variety of its historical edifices, which accounts for its popularity as an ideal day trip in this region.
Whether or not you’re already familiar with the famous pastel de nata, I recommend stopping by Padaria Central while you’re in Lagos. This local bakery makes the tastiest pastel de nata I’ve ever had. It’s an exquisite delicacy, with its flaky, golden crust encasing a lusciously creamy custard filling that dances on your palate, leaving a tantalizing hint of caramelized sweetness.
The Algarve’s coastal beauty is nothing short of awe-inspiring, especially around Lagos and Albufeira. It beckons you to indulge in the pristine golden beaches, the feeling of the warm sand between your toes while the gentle waves rhythmically kiss the shore.
From secluded coves to expansive stretches of sand, each beach boasts its own unique charm. The vastness of the ocean stretches before you, its turquoise hues blending seamlessly with the clear sky above. As you gaze upon the coastline, towering cliffs emerge, a testament to nature’s artistry, sculpted over centuries by the relentless force of the ocean.
You absolutely can’t skip a visit to Benagil Beach. From there, you can book various tours by boat, kayak, or paddleboard to visit the Benagil Cave, a true Portuguese gem that has garnered widespread acclaim. This massive sea cave boasts a beach within its cavernous confines, adorned with a remarkable hole in the ceiling and “doors” that frame a direct view of the ocean.
The cave’s splendor is truly breathtaking, far surpassing the allure portrayed in mere photographs. The only downside for some may be the multitude of visitors flocking to embark on tours. The cave’s popularity makes it nearly impossible to avoid crowds once the weather warms. Accessing the cave on foot is impossible, and due to its popularity, booking your tour several days in advance is essential.
The Seven Hanging Valleys Trail
Apart from water sports, ascending the cliffs to embark on a hike along The Seven Hanging Valleys Trail is well worth the effort. The hike will treat you to mesmerizing vistas along the rugged and untamed coastline.
Spanning approximately 12 kilometers, the entire trail commences at Praia da Marinha Beach and stretches all the way to Praia do Vale de Centeanes. This region is undeniably sublime, ranking among the most breathtaking places I have encountered in all my travels.
Praia de Marinha
For those who want to refresh after an active day spent beneath the scorching sun, Praia da Marinha offers ideal solace and serenity. To reach the beach, you’ll have to walk down the stairs. Once your feet touch the sand, a cave opening on the left side of the cliff wall comes into view.
Don’t be fooled by its modest entrance. Venturing through the cave passage, you will discover a small secret beach known as Praia do Pau, tucked away amidst coastal cliffs and rocks; an exhilarating find for those who relish adventurous and unpredictable travel moments.
A Trail of Beautiful Beaches
Another tantalizing hiking experience combined with beach hopping can be found in Lagos. Experience the enchantment of a wooden pathway stretching from the city toward the picturesque Ponta da Piedade lighthouse. This scenic trail offers a feast for the eyes, treating you to awe-inspiring vistas and encounters with the grandeur of nature.
For a moment of relaxation, I highly recommend descending the stairs that lead from the trail to one of the stunning beaches: Praia do Pinhão, Praia de Dona Ana, Praia do Camilo, Praia do Pinheiros or Praia da Balança. To fully appreciate the tranquility, aim to visit in the morning when the crowds have yet to arrive. Some of the beaches tend to get busier around 1 pm.
If you’d like to venture slightly off the beaten path, consider visiting Tavira. It is perched upon the mouth of the Gilão River that flows through the inlets and lagoons of Ria Formosa Natural Park.
The old town center exudes an undeniable charm with its iconic white Portuguese houses, cobblestone streets and an ambiance that transports you to a simpler time. Explore the medieval Tavira Castle to treat yourself to panoramic views of the town. Peek into the Santa María do Castelo Church, which houses the tombs of valiant knights fallen to the Moors.
Take a boat to Tavira Island, departing regularly from the town center’s Rua Jose Pires Padinha. Upon arrival, you can indulge in one of many delightful food options before unwinding on the expansive sandy beach.
You can also make your way to Sagres, where history and natural beauty collide. This quaint fishing village boasts stunning vistas, ancient fortresses and a laid-back ambiance that will transport you to another era.
Head to the Farol do Cabo de São Vicente, a lighthouse located along the coastal peninsula at the “end of the world”. This is a rocky headland with enormous, steep cliffs staring into the west, towards the Atlantic Ocean.
The place feels almost like a natural cathedral, with powerful, untamed waves crashing against the cliff walls. It created the intricate musical duet of wind and water that only nature could compose. I suggest going there later in the evening, as it’s the perfect spot to watch the sun setting directly into the ocean.
The highlight of our road trip was the surfing scene around Sagres, so if you’re interested in trying this adventurous water sport, this is just the spot for it. Book a morning class with one of several surf schools in Sagres and feel the exhilaration of riding the waves amidst the awe-inspiring coastal beauty that will leave you craving for more.
Praia do Castelejo & Praia da Cordoama
In the afternoon, venture to Praia da Cordoama and Praia do Castelejo, two scenic and uncrowded beaches with towering cliffs and sandy shores kissed by foaming waves.
The appeal of the Algarve lies in its ability to delight with its varied scenery and welcoming locals, ensuring an unforgettable experience for all who visit. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a foodie, a nature lover, or a thrill-seeker, this region really does have something for everyone. So, pack your bags, hit the open road, and let the Algarve unfold its magic before your eyes.
If You Go
Author Bio: Nina Kamenic is a teacher, writer, and adventurous soul fueled by wanderlust and a deep passion for travel. With an insatiable curiosity, she embarks on journeys to uncover hidden gems and breathtaking landscapes. Through her blog and Instagram, Chasing Latitudes, Nina shares her vibrant experiences, inspiring others to embrace the thrill of exploration, as well as encouraging a deep connection with diverse cultures and a profound love for the world’s wonders.