Finding the Best Spots in the Algarve from Sagres to Tavira

Finding the Best Spots in the Algarve from Sagres to Tavira  
I spent a week in the Algarve this August and was blown away by what the region has to offer. After gathering and testing lots of local tips from Portuguese friends and family – cross-referenced with top travel magazines such as Conde Nast as well as travel blogger guides and Tripadvisor scores – I’ve compiled this very special post to help guide you towards all the best spots in the Algarve from Sagres to Tavira…
 

Where to Stay

The Algarve is actually not a place but a region, occupying the southern end of Portugal. Most of the towns and places to see are found along or near the coast, with the exception of Monchique. The best way to think of the Algarve is divided into three: west (Sagres to Carvoeiro) central (Armação de Pera to Vilamoura) and east (Faro to Tavira).  
Map of Algarve

Map Credit: James Martin, Wandering Portugal

  Unless you plan a road trip, staying overnight in at least 2-3 places over a week or so, you won’t be able to do it all. Therefore, most people pick a base, driving out to some of the top spots nearby. But for more adventurous travelers, I highly recommend touring the entire coast from Sagres to Tavira. Whatever you decide, there are some really phenomenal, instagrammable hotels to choose from. From Portuguese pousadas (see post) like Pousada do Infante in Sagres or the pink Palácio Estói (also a Small Luxury Hotels of the World member) near Faro to exceptional design hotels like Vila Monte also near Faro, boutique hotel Casa Mãe in Lagos, and big five star resorts such as Pine Cliffs and Vila Vita Parc near Armação de Pera.  
   

Western Algarve

Best for a little bit of everything. Western Algarve is jam-packed with things to do and see, including the most insta-famous beaches, iconic rock formations, and breathtaking viewpoints from Sagres, Lagos and Monchique.
 

Sagres

Sagres is the southernmost point of Portugal and home to the small historic village where Prince Henry the Navigator once lived. It’s one of those places you visit to feel small, like a single drop in the ocean, as you stand on the edge of steep cliffs covered in sea spray. But for the local Portuguese fisherman, it’s a top spot for earning a day’s living. Around here, the best place to eat grilled fish is at the no-frills Bugagem, confusingly also known as Babugem. Whatever it’s called, this simple restaurant serves up some of the freshest fish – all locally caught of course – among other seafood delicacies such as Portuguese octopus salad. A tip for photographers, would be to head back to the lighthouse in time for sunset.  
 

Monchique

Sagres is the most southern point, while Monchique is the highest point of the Algarve. Needless to say, the views from up here are quite something. As the only inland area on this list, Monchique provides the only green contrast to all the yellow and orange tones of the limestone coast. Unfortunately, this makes the area prone to summer forest fires, especially in August when temperatures reach their peak. Although affected by a devastating forest fire this year lasting 7 days, remarkably, there were no fatalities. To explore the area, spend a night or two at the beautiful thermal spa resort here called Villa Termal das Caldas de Monchique. For foodies, Tasca do Petrol and Luar da Foia are two of the most recommended restaurants around here, but if it’s chicken piri-piri you’re after, which just happens to be the local specialty, it’s A Rampa.  
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when the sun goes down, you go up

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Lagos

The town centre of Lagos looks eerily similar to my hometown of Cascais. Some of the streets are near identical and I can imagine after a few drinks I might forget where I am! The town is a typical Portuguese fishing town with its squares, statues and calçadas (cobbled pavements). Ponta da Piedade is the main attraction here. It’s a viewpoint next to a lighthouse with stairs going down to the many grottos and beaches where you can kayak or hop on a boat tour. Praia do Camilo and Praia Dona Ana are two of the most beautiful small beaches in the area, while Meia Praia is the big beach. For a quick bite, try the Croissanteria. For seafood tapas, definitely visit Cervejaria Dois Irmãos.  
 

Alvor

Alvor

One of my favourite places in the Algarve was definitely Alvor. This is where you’ll find Praia dos Tres Irmãos, named after the three rocks that jut out of the ocean. If you keep walking towards the rocks on the left when facing the sea, keep going through the caves to reach the famous Caniço restaurant built against the cliffside (and check out their program for parties). The waters around here are warm and clear, with several cool little bars on the beach, sometimes playing live music. Another top recommended restaurant is Restinga and for more beaches, check out Praia do Alemão. For wildlife and bird lovers, there’s the Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve at the Alvor estuary (and see section below on Eastern Algarve).  
 

Portimão

The Algarve has several marina towns, including Portimão, halfway between Lagos and Albufeira. Across the bridge is where you’ll find Ferragudo, which has one of my favourite seafood restaurants, Sueste. The grill is outside the restaurant on the harbour’s edge, which makes for a spectacular view. The specialty here is a large red prawn called “carabinieros.” Order a selection of Portuguese seafood to start and share a grilled fish as a main with their local salad on the side. Washes down great with a cold “imperial” beer or “espumante” sparkling strawberry Sangria. Another recommended restaurant here is called Rei das Praias, up from Praia dos Caneiros.  
 

Carvoeiro

The Benagil Cave is an absolute must-see, but to get the best experience, arrive by 9.30 am to beat the crowds or visit during off-peak. We went around 1 pm in August and it was absolutley rammed. Although we still went, I really wish we’d gone earlier, as by 1 pm the cave was packed and full of people with too many boats coming and going. We had pre-booked our kayaks with Taruga Tours, but you can also easily swim there (if you’re a swimmer) as it’s only 100 m away. The best beaches nearby are the insta-famous Praia da Marinha and Praia de Carvoeiro.  
   

Central Algarve

Best for family vacations, staying in a villa or at large five star resorts, fine dining, golfing, yacht tours from the marina, nightlife and other popular tourist activities. Another advantage of choosing central Algarve as your base is that western and eastern Algarve are both within easy reach.
 

Michelin Fine Dining

Portugal has just two restaurants with two Michelin stars each, and they’re both in the Algarve. Ironically, they’re also both headed by Austrian chefs. Ocean restaurant, inside the impressive five-star holiday resort Vila Vita Parc is the second restaurant in Portugal to ever receive the coveted second star, while Vila Joya was the first. Vila Vita Parc has several restaurants and bars on its property, including the popular up-market seafood beach restaurant Arte Nautica. Since food prices are generally quite low in Portugal, Michelin dining here is generally better value than a lot of other countries and an opportunity not to be missed. Heinz Beck of 3* Michelin fame has a restaurant here called Gusto, which was recently awarded its first star, also visit São Gabriel in Almancil.  
 

Albufeira

Albufeira is the most developed region of the Algarve. It also has one of the worst reputations as a cheap party town à la Agia Napa or Magaluf. But if the occasion calls for a sleazy night out, Albufeira’s your gal. I haven’t been here since I was a teenager but I recall it used to be a lot of fun… In case you find yourself here, I was recommended to try a shisha bar called Casa do Cerro that’s up and away from the central town and strip but didn’t have the time to check it out. Although very touristic, the old town centre is still worth a visit during the day, and the best nearby beach is Praia da Coelha.    

Vilamoura

Vilamoura is essentially a resort town that was built in the early 1970s, founded by a banker. It was designed and built as an up-market resort, which is why it looks much more purposefully developed than it’s neighbour Albufeira. It’s a popular choice with families, as there are plenty of large villas for rent as well as child-friendly facilities that make even pushing a pram to the giant Falesia beach a breeze. The top attraction here is the Marina, with its yachts, bars, restaurants, hotels, and even a casino.  
  For foodies, a nice contrast to the more touristic looking restaurants is Tasquinho O Manel, a simple yet popular tasca at the end of the Marina, or Retiro do Camponês in Vale Judeo a short drive away, specialising in “arroz de lingueirão” razor clam rice and “Carne Alentejana” of pork with clams.  
  Vilamoura is also a top pick for nightlife, with plenty of beach and sunset parties, although my favourite spot is Jardim da Villa. It’s a great place to come early around 10 pm before it gets busy to enjoy a cocktail on a deck chair listening to music. Conveniently, there is also a nightclub next door called Bliss for continuing the night.  
   

Eastern Algarve

Especially if travelling during peak season, Eastern Algarve offers a break from the density of tourism to the west. Best for unspoiled nature, off-the-tourist-track, cultural heritage, playing golf, bird-watching, peace and relaxation…
 

Faro

Faro may be best known for its Airport, but it’s also home to the Ria Formosa National Park, one of the 7 natural wonders of Portugal. The park’s unique landscape of marshes, lagoons and sand islands, such as Ilha da Barreta (Ilha Deserta), stretching over 60 km attracts people looking to connect with nature. This part of the Algarve is by far the quietest and remotest. The main activities here are hiking, fishing, swimming and bird watching, due to the rich diversity of bird life. Take the Ludo trail after sunrise for the best chance to see some flamingos! Catch a boat to Ilha da Barreta from Faro, visit the small town of Cacela Velha and head down to the beach. For lunch, walk across the wooden bridge over the lagoon at Quinta do Lago to Gigi’s.  
 

Tavira

Tavira is one of the most charming cities of the Algarve and full of gorgeous azulejos. The pace of life here is much calmer than what you’ll find elsewhere. Indeed, the eastern part of the Algarve is the least populated and touristic. And the perfect end to a hectic Algarve holiday. Another off-the-tourist-track town nearby to visit is Santa Luzia. From here, you can hop on a train for €1 to visit Praia do Barilla.  
   

Have you been to the Algarve?

Share your favourite spots in the comments below!

 

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8 Comments

  1. 30 Nov 2018 / 12:12 pm

    wow .. very nice picture !!
    Thanks for sharing such a great informative post it really helpful and amazing so keep it up and all the best.

  2. 10 Oct 2018 / 1:53 pm

    The Algarve is so beautiful, so many fantastic spots

  3. Cory S
    21 Sep 2018 / 3:19 pm

    Putting this high on my to-do list now. Looks amazing.

    • 21 Sep 2018 / 4:46 pm

      I think you would absolutely love it. The seafood is among the very best in the world. I would definitely suggest doing it as a road trip.

  4. 20 Sep 2018 / 5:23 pm

    Wow!!! These images are simply gorgeous! What a beautiful place for adventure, discovery and romance. Thank you so much for putting this incredible location on my radar.

    • 20 Sep 2018 / 5:37 pm

      Thanks Denay! Indeed, the Algarve has so much to offer. Hope you get to go someday soon!

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