Algarve – fresh seafood, iconic beaches

I have to confess, I’m in love with the eastern half of the Algarve. At this end you’ll find quaint fishing towns, cubist architecture, the better type of tourists and excellent little restaurants serving oysters and clams plucked straight from the Ria Formosa. Locked in by this diverse wetland, you need to take short ferry rides to reach quiet sand island beaches. But it’s worth the hassle as at this end both the ocean and the people are warmer.

That said, don’t skip over the western half of the Algarve. It’s here you will find those iconic beaches with golden cascading cliffs and turquoise waters. Hop your way from one beach to another, snapping pictures and marvelling at the towering rocks.

If you love to surf or want to learn, turn the corner to the west coast surf beaches, stretching from windy Sagres until the Alentejo Coast. Here bigger, wilder, quieter beaches await. 

Essential Algarve guides

7-day Algarve road trip

Where to eat in the Algarve

My favourite eastern Algarve towns

Best places to visit in the Algarve

1. Olhão, the cubist town

The charming, character town of Olhão, perched on the edge of the Ria Formosa feels as though time has paused.

2. Benagil Cave

Hire a kayak and paddle into this impressive and popular sea cave.

3. Lagos, to the west

This big town with a historic heart is a great base to explore the iconic beaches of the western Algarve.

4. Sagres, end of the earth

Sagres is a windy surfer’s haven, and has one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.

5. Tavira

Named one of the prettiest towns in the Algarve, this white-washed gem dates back to the Bronze Age.

6. Cacela Velha

This tiny white-washed village set high above sea is an essential the spot for seafood.
Daniela in Tavira

Best things to do in the Algarve

  • Choose from 150+ beaches for the day
  • Feast at an all-you-can-eat fish barbecue
  • Kayak into Benagil Cave
  • Eat grilled chicken in Guia
  • Taste medronho liquer in Monchique
  • Buy pottery at Ceramica Paraiso
  • Taste wine at Morgado do Quintão
  • Wander Ferragudo village

Food tip… Don’t miss out on an all-you-can-eat fish barbecue. In the Algarve you’ll find restaurants offering rodizio de peixe grelhado (grilled fish buffet). My favourite spot is Vai e Volta in Olhão where for around €13 you’ll have metal tray after metal tray stacked with tasty local grilled fish arrive at your table.

Where to stay

If it was my first time in the Algarve I’d try to see both the east and west. If you have a week in the Algarve, split your time between both halves by basing yourself in Lagos and then Olhão or Tavira for a few days.
Towards the popular western end, near Lagos and Portimão, you’ll find big seafront hotels such as Tivoli Carvoeiro or the luxury Vila Vita Parc Resort, and gorgeous stays like Casa Mãe.
At the eastern end, look for charming heritage hotels like the Palacio de Estoi, nature stays like Moinhos das Marés, or architectural gems such as Casa Modesta.
In Olhão I love the heritage buildings with huge rooftop terraces where you can enjoy the sunset and grill market produce. You could try Casa Do Pescador, Kasa Blanca, Casa Cubista, and Casa das 3 Andorinhas. I’ve stayed at Pension Bicuar before, which is a great budget guesthouse with a rooftop.

What to eat

Seafood. Almonds. Oranges. Here’s a guide on what to order while holidaying in the Algarve.

With my tasca budget and Michelin palate, I hunt for the best tabernas, cervejarias and marisqueiras that locals love as much as blow-ins like us. These are the best places to eat in the Algarve.

Getting to the Algarve

International arrivals

The Algarve is hugely popular as a beachside playground for Europeans. If you’re coming from outside Portugal, you can fly into Faro with many low-cost carriers. From Faro you can either take the train to neighbouring town or rent a car.

From Lisbon

The Algarve is a 2.5-hour drive from Lisbon (with expensive toll roads). If you wish to use public transport, the train from Lisbon’s Oriente or Sete Rios stations takes around three to four hours. You’ll reach Albufeira, terminating in Faro – so to reach Lagos it is faster to take a direct private coach service.

How to get around

Personally, I think a car is the best way to explore the Algarve. With the freedom of a rental car you can easily bounce between different beaches and towns to soak in as much holiday sun as possible.

If you have to rely on public transport, there’s a regional train line that runs along the Algarve Coast. It’s not the fastest service in the world, but it will get you where you need to go and it is complemented by a local bus network. 

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