Casa Igreja, Cacela Velha, Algarve

Itinerary: My ideal 7-day Algarve road trip

This post may contain affiliate links.

Golden shores with gently lapping waves. The smell of grilled sardines and sunscreen. Trees heavy with figs, lemons and olives. White-washed villages watching slow days pass by. I love the Algarve, especially in the summer, and it’s not hard to see why Portugal’s southern coast is a favourite destination for beach holidays.

Below you’ll find my 7-day Algarve itinerary that details the spectacular beaches, small fishing villages, amazing food and unusual things that I like to do down here.

7-day Algarve itinerary road trip overview

My style of beach vacation is part adventure, part beach time, part brilliant food experiences, so if you’re looking for an itinerary that is mostly countless days flopped on lounge chairs by the pool or at the beach, this is not it.

For me, the Algarve has two main parts to explore and with this 7-day road trip you’ll see the best of both. 

If you’ve seen photos of the dramatic golden cliffs that rise ruggedly above turquoise seas then you’re looking at some of the most famous beaches of the western Algarve. Here you’ll explore Lagos, Sagres and some of the most beautiful and famous beaches and Benagil Cave.

Towards the east the Ria Formosa, an expansive wetland system, creates a barrier between the ocean and the mainland. Here you’ll find less beach resorts, golf clubs and sunburnt British tourists, and more laidback historic villages like Olhão and Tavira. Catch a ferry to one of the sand bar islands and enjoy slow afternoons on expansive white sandy beaches with few others around you.

I think the best week-long Algarve holiday balances the best of both sides of the coast, just as this 7-day Algarve itinerary and road trip does.

If you have any questions or want help planning your own Algarve trip, reach out and we can chat.

Accommodation in the Algarve

The Algarve is Portugal’s summer playground, so you’ll find plenty of resorts and hotels, self-catering apartments and holiday homes for rent. There are stacks of all-inclusive golf resorts, but you’re not going to need a travel plan for that!

In this 7-day itinerary I’ve given a few suggestions for beautiful places I’ve stayed or would love to stay, but where you go and what type of accommodation you seek is entirely up to you.

Read next: Where to stop between Lisbon and Lagos

What would I have done differently? 

I’m writing this 7-day Algarve itinerary retrospectively based on a handful of Algarve road trips that I’ve taken over many summers. There are a few things we did that I wouldn’t repeat or tips I travel the coast by.

  • I’d avoid staying in Sagres. I definitely encourage visiting the southwestern point of Portugal to see a spectacular sunset and visit the Cape Saint Vincent lighthouse and the fortress, but I wouldn’t suggest staying there. It’s notoriously very windy and cold, something we didn’t know when we spent three August nights wrapped in jackets.
  • I’d spend less time at the western end of the coast, and more time towards the chilled-out east. I find now when I return, I gravitate towards the quieter, historic eastern villages behind the Ria Formosa. But, of course, everyone is different.

Planning a trip to Portugal? I can help! ✨ Book a one-on-one video call and get custom help organising your perfect Portugal itinerary, filled with artisan finds, fantastic restaurants, and the best destinations. Find out more about my Portugal travel planning service here.

7-day Algarve road trip itinerary

Day 1: Drive to Lagos, choose an aquatic adventure

106km \\ 1 hour and 40 minutes driving, but it depends on where you arrive

Morning: Make your way towards Lagos

Welcome to the sunny Algarve Coast. There’s a few ways to reach Portugal’s southern coastline. You can fly into the Algarve airport in Faro and pick up a rental car. Or if you’re already in Lisbon, the drive south takes around three hours.

I really recommend having a car to explore the Algarve as this way you’ll get the most out of your stay. But if for some reason you can’t rent a vehicle the coast has an okay regional train that runs east to west, and a bus network. You can supplement these with Uber/Bolt rides to get where you need. 

Tip: Never used Bolt? It’s usually a touch cheaper than Uber in Portugal. Use my code “RPJUB” to save.

Either way, to reach the town of Lagos you’ll have to cut across the coast driving west so for lunch I can recommend a couple of stops.

The tiny fishing village of Ferragudo looks like a postcard. Tiny boats bob in the harbour, a castle overlooks the beach to one side and small white-washed houses with colourful doors snake up cobbled streets covered in blooming purple bougainvillea. Along the Arade River, every restaurant seems to have a huge outdoor grill on the street where the catch-of-the-day is salted and leftover charcoal. A Ria is one of those spots.

Alternatively, pull into Portimão and try Taberna da Maré. This well-known seafood restaurant executes a brilliant cataplana, which is a seafood stew cooked in a giant copper clam. 

Related Blog: What to eat in the Algarve

Afternoon: Choose your own fun in Lagos

While Lagos might seem like a fun beachside playground now, this town was once a hugely important seaport during the Age of Discoveries, with links to famous explorers like Henry the Navigator. Surrounded by medieval city walls, you can wander the historic centre to explore classic white-washed Algarvian homes trimmed with ochre yellow, and visit the 17th-century Forte da Ponta da Bandeira.

But the main reason to make Lagos your base is the breathtaking beaches. Nearby you can pop to the iconic Praia Dona Ana with its stunning cliffs and crystal-clear waters, or spend the afternoon lazing on the expansive Meia Praia with its golden sands.

Things to do in Lagos:

  • Explore picturesque cliffs, hidden coves, and sea caves with a boat tour from Lagos
  • Embark on a guided kayak or stand-up paddleboard adventure
  • Visit the Slave Market Museum, which sheds light on Lagos’ role in the transatlantic slave trade
  • Shop at the local mercado to buy fresh fruit and local produce
  • Chase thrills with adventure water sports, like windsurfing, kiteboarding, or jetboating
  • Go dolphin watching with a boat safari
  • Discover local history and culture at the Lagos Regional Museum
  • Join a quad bike tour along the coast
  • Tee off at a nearby golf course, such as Palmares Golf or Boavista Golf & Spa Resort

For dinner you could join this food tour of Lagos and taste your way across the small city and get to know the fresh produce and local dishes of the Algarve.

Alternatively, look for a local restaurant in town like Casinha do Petisco.

STAY: Lagos

I’ve usually booked a little apartment or room in Lagos, but next time I’d love to stay the gorgeous Casa Mãe, a little boutique guesthouse within the city walls. Choose somewhere cute in Lagos as you’ll spend the first three nights here.

Day 2: Famous beaches of Lagos, sunset in Sagres

90km \\ 1.5-2 hours driving 

Morning: Hop the famous beaches near Lagos

While the entire Algarve coastline offers access to incredible beaches, the western Algarve is most famous for its dramatic orange cliffs and one-of-a-kind spots. My favourite is Praia do Camilo, which – judging by the reaction from my partner’s Portuguese family – may have been a nudist beach until they added the easy-access staircase. It’s a tiny beach, so go early before the crowds arrive. 

If lazing on the beach is too slow-paced, choose to walk coastal paths to Ponta da Piedade. This real-life postcard is a series of orange cliffs carved by the sea and time. You can wander down on foot, but the best way to explore is with a kayak tour as you can dip in and out of the sea caves and explore the cliffs to their full potential.

Afternoon: Go west to Sagres

After lunch make your way west. It’s worth pausing for coffee in the cute village of Burgau. It holds the nickname “Santorini of Portugal”, but honestly I don’t see the resemblance. Between here and Sagres you’ll find plenty of wilder, quieter beaches, so choose to follow a goat track down to the sea and spend a few hours in the sunshine. 

Note: If you’re keen to surf, you may need to keep driving to the true west coast for the swell.

When you’re ready, continue to Sagres, a town on the very south-west corner of Portugal that gets whipped by the wild winds of the icy Atlantic. Even in the middle of summer, you’ll need a jacket or more.

On the way into town you’ll spot Ceramica Paraiso, a warehouse filled with beautiful Portuguese-made pottery. It’s an essential stop, and you won’t miss it – the outside is covered in colourful ceramics. If you’re in the market for new plates, bowls, cups or mugs then take a look here as everything is usually just a few euros at most.

As the evening draws near, make your way to Sagres. Here you can visit the Cabo de São Vicente, eat the “last bratwurst before America”, and visit the fortress. Bring jackets, wrap yourself up and find a spot atop the cliffs to watch as the sun sinks into the ocean in the most spectacular fashion. 

Tip: If you don’t have a car, you can find plenty of tours that will take you Sagres. This sunset jeep tour looks great, or there’s this highly rated half-day Sagres tour from Lagos. If you’re adventurous, you can even try Coasteering.

For dinner you could try Retiro do Pescador. This Portuguese spot serves great classic Portuguese, and if you can’t est in choose to get a takeaway frango no churrasco (grilled chicken) for a cliff-top sunset picnic.

I’ve detailed all my Algarve food tips in my guide on Where To Eat in the Algarve guide.

STAY: Lagos

Day 3: Benagil Cave, Wine Tasting or Seven Hanging Valleys Trail

92km \\ 1 hour, 45 minutes driving 

Morning: Kayak or SUP into Benagil Cave

The incredible Benagil sea cave has become one of the Algarve’s most popular things to experience and there’s a couple of ways to see it. At the small fishing village of Benagil you’ll see plenty of boat tours and equipment hire stands. I’ve done both and despite my not-so-smooth landing, I preferred to hire equipment and paddle into the cave.

While the boat tours are really cool, you’ll only zip into the cave and you won’t get to stand on the expansive sandy beach within. Instead I’d choose to hire a kayak or standup paddleboard for an hour and make the short journey from the shore into the cave. 

Tip: I’ve also seen some tour companies do a kayak and boating combo, where you kayak or SUP for around 90 minutes, go into the cave, and then get to relax on a boat as it zips you to various rock formations and a beach to swim at.

You can hire boards or book a boat on the spot, but if it’s the busy season (June – Sept) I’d recommend booking ahead. There are loads of boat and kayak tours online and booking ahead guarantees you’ll get to explore it.

Afternoon: Taste wine at Morgado do Quintão

Sometimes life in Portugal can feel like a dream, and sitting at a communal long, white-clothed table beneath a 2000-year-old olive tree to taste Algarvian wines felt unreal. One summer a friend organised an afternoon of wine tasting with local homemade snacks at the glorious Morgado do Quintão, a vineyard founded by the Count of Silves in the 1800s. Still owned by the same family, they make small quantities of wine using the native grapes from the estate’s old indigenous vines. 

Linger longer at the vineyard, taking time to wander between the vines and soak up the relaxed atmosphere. 

Alternatively, you could stay by the coast and walk the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail, go for a seaside lunch in Carvoeiro, or spend time on the sand at the famous Praia da Marinha.  

If you do head inland, near the vineyard lies the ancient town of Silves, the capital of the Arabian kingdom of Al-Gharb. At the top of the town sits a red Moorish castle, and once a year the annual Medieval Festival is worth stopping for.

Read about the best events and festivals in Portugal each year

STAY: Lagos

Day 4: Piri piri chicken & Olhão

108km \\ 90 minutes driving 

Morning: A slow cross-Algarve road trip to Olhão

It only takes 70 minutes to drive from Lagos to Olhão, but there’s plenty worth stopping for along the way. Make a slow exit from Lagos this morning as there’s no need to rush in this part of the world.

It’s likely you’ve heard about Portuguese piri piri chicken, and the dish actually originates in the Algarve at the small town of Guia. You’ll pass close by on the way to Olhão, so time it right for an early lunch and pull up at Ramires or O Ribeirinho for churrasco frango (grilled chicken). 

If you’re too early for lunch, you could pull in at Porches Pottery or Olaria Pequena on the way, or drop into a nearby beach.

After lunch, continue east.

Afternoon: A beautiful tiled church + beach time

If you’re a fan of azulejos like I am, make a quick stop at this small baroque church from the 17th century. The Igreja de São Lourenço in Almancil isn’t big, but is well worth the time to explore the priceless tiled interior.

Continue towards Olhão, my favourite Algarve town. It’s hard to explain why I love this destination so much. Maybe it’s the rooftop terraces tiled in terracotta that look out over the Ria Formosa. Maybe it’s the weathered locals who have spent a lifetime by the sea. Maybe it’s the slower pace of life. From the historic waterfront market halls to the winding alleyways, the lesser-known eastern Algarve town is a place to appreciate the simple things and really just relax.

If you’re eager for beach time, board a ferry to paradise. The eastern part of the Algarve is less popular with beach-goers as the Ria Formosa wetlands gets between the open ocean and the mainland. But for a couple of euros you can take a relaxing ferry boat through the marshlands from the towns of Faro, Olhão or Tavira to reach a number of large sand islands such as Ilha do Farol, Ilha da Culatra and Ilha da Armona. 

On these islands life is really simple. You’ll walk sandy paths past a tiny town of holiday and fisherman homes, past one or two restaurants or bars and reach an endless sandy stretch of sand. The closer to Spain, the warmer the water. 

Return to town in time for dinner. I’m a huge fan of Chá Chá Chá, a modern Portuguese restaurant with a focus on seasonal eating.

STAY: Olhão (or Tavira)

Related Blog: 14 best things to do and see in the Algarve

Day 5: Olhão Market & beach day

12km \\ 20-minute drive to dinner – most of today will be by boat

Morning: Olhão Market

Twin massive red brick market halls line the seafront and contrast the otherwise entirely white-washed old town. Said to have been designed by Gustave Eiffel himself (yes, the man of Eiffel Tower fame), one is dedicated to fruits, vegetables, cheese and meats, while the other is just about seafood. 

As one of the country’s great fishing ports, Olhão’s local mercado is the place to shop for the freshest fish, clams, mussels, oysters and crab. Keep an eye out for special delicacies like muxama, an aged prosciutto-like tuna delicacy, cured anchovies and dried octopus eggs.

Personally, I love buying local oysters, prawns and shellfish here, cooking them up back at my apartment or taking the oysters down to the beach for a seriously luxe picnic without the price tag. I usually pick up local salt, homemade piri piri sauce, almond-stuffed dried figs and artisanal cheeses here too. 

While you’re in the Algarve you need to seek out a rodizio de peixe grelhado (grilled fish buffet). My favourite spot is Vai e Volta in Olhão where for around €13 you can eat as many plates of grilled fish as you like. It’s only open for lunch and the price includes bread, olives, steamed potatoes, tomato salad and açorda de alho (essentially mashed bread and garlic). Metal tray after metal tray stacked with tasty local fish grilled on charcoal will arrive at the table. Generally you’ll receive a mix of all different types of fish, but you can nicely make requests with the waiter at times if there’s something you prefer.

Afternoon: Ria Formosa Cruise or beach time

Grab your beach bag, a stash of market goods and board a ferry to one of the islands mentioned yesterday. You can choose to spend this afternoon lazing on one of the white sandy beaches soaking up sunshine and sea breezes. 

You have four choices for getting around the islands:

Or if the idea of crossing the water seems like too much effort, I have discovered a couple of beaches with more direct access. In Fuseta, a 20-minute drive from Olhão, you can laze on the golden sands of Praia da Fuseta Ria just off town. Or it takes 15 minutes to walk out to Praia do Barril near Tavira, and you take a small tourist train back if you get tired.

For dinner, I suggest two spots outside of Olhão. In nearby Fuseta go to Casa Corvo. We stayed in this village for a week once and visited this relaxed and unpretentious place three times just to repeat the magnificently sweet grilled prawns. Incredible.

Or slip into Os Fialhos, a hidden gem in Pinheiro. Here you can enjoy the best shellfish including fresh oysters, clams, mussels and pipis plucked straight from the Ria Formosa while looking out over the water.

I’ve detailed all my Algarve food tips in my guide on Where To Eat in the Algarve guide.

STAY: Olhão

Day 6: Castro Marim, salt spa, seafood & Cacela Velha

102km \\ 97 minutes driving

Morning: Castro Marim + a salt spa

Jump in the car for a big day trip east. Put Castro Marim in the GPS. From high on the hill this ancient town looks over salt fields, the Guadiana River and Spain, a strategic point with a long history. The best place to soak in these views is from the 14th-century castle walls that give you a bird’s eye view over the town too. There’s a torture museum inside too, if that’s your vibe.

 Afterwards, head down to the flats and reward yourself with a float at the salt spa Água Mãe. This one-of-a-kind experience is really cool and worth doing. While some people love rolling in mud and floating in the extremely salty water, I found the salt so intense and didn’t love the stinging sensation! Still, a cool thing to do and worth trying once.

Related Blog: My favourite towns in the Eastern Algarve

Afternoon: Beach time + a seafood feast at Cacela Velha

For lunch, choose something light or pack a picnic to enjoy at the beach. Venture towards Cacela Velha, a tiny tiny white-washed village set high above sea. If you visit at low tide, when you can walk across from the hilltop aldeia to the oceanfront beaches. 

Just be sure to return in time for what I consider one of my life’s most memorable meals. At 4.30pm sharp the doors of Casa da Igreja burst open and three young men waltzed out with more tables, ready for the non-stop onslaught of orders. Oysters, clams, fresh presunto, flaming chouriço, bottles of white wine and generous mounds of bread flew across the square. 

This popular seafood shack spills out through the plaza and I suggest showing up 10 minutes early – like we did – and wait with dozens of others in a religious-like silence for the show to begin. 

STAY: Olhão

Day 7: Tavira

57km \\ 1 hour driving

Morning: Explore Tavira

Pause in Tavira this morning, one of the prettiest towns in the Algarve. This white-washed gem dates back to the Bronze Age and it was here the Phoenicians made one of their first settlements. Wander over the Roman Bridge, tour the castle gardens, Roman ruins, and through cute squares. You could take a ferry out to Ilha de Tavira, but there’s more to explore on the mainland.

For lunch, Tavira has some great options including Cercle, Nó de Gosto, A Mesa, and Ti Maria.

Tavira, Algarve, Portugal

Afternoon: Choose your own adventure

It’s the final afternoon of your 7-day Algarve road trip, so perhaps you have to return the car, have a flight to catch in Faro, or need to drive back to Lisbon or on to Seville. 

If you have the time you could…

Want personalised help planning your ultimate Algarve holiday? I can help – lock in a call with me and we can design your southern Portugal vacation or 7-day Algarve road trip itinerary together.

Read next… 

Enjoyed this article? Support my work and buy me a coffee to say thanks! 

Picture of Daniela Sunde-Brown

Daniela Sunde-Brown

I'm an Australian travel and food writer who has called Lisbon home since 2018. To help others explore Portugal, I write deep stories about Portuguese traditions, regional dishes, local artisans, and sustainable fashion and ceramics
Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Headshot of Daniela Sunde-Brown in a tiled dress with a straw hat on

Olá, I'm Daniela

I’m an Australian travel and food writer who has called Lisbon home since 2018. To help others explore Portugal, I write deep stories about Portuguese traditions, regional dishes, local artisans, and sustainable fashion and ceramics 🙂

– buy me a coffee –

Latest Posts

Join the list

Subscribe to my newsletter and receive the latest stories once per month