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Best places to visit in the Algarve other than beaches

Are you looking for the best places to visit in the Algarve? You came to the right place!

The Algarve is the southernmost region of Portugal. It is famous for its beaches and climate and it regularly tops the list of best beaches in Europe.

Thanks to the all-year-round sunshine the region is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe.

Many tourists stick to the beautiful coast to relax and enjoy life.

Don’t worry if spending complete days at the beach is not your cup of tea. The Algarve has something for everyone, from surfers to families with children to retirees looking for a little peace and quiet!

This Algarve post will give you some insights on what to expect when visiting this place.

There is a really good chance that this post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission (for which we are deeply grateful) at no extra cost to you.

Best tips for your Algarve Road trip

Here is an overview of the most important things to know before traveling to the Algarve.

Flights:

Click here to find cheap flights to Faro and Lisbon. We also have an overview of the cheapest airline tickets sites.

Where to stay:

Further in this post, we share some amazing Airbnbs and vacation homes. If you prefer staying in a hotel or resort check out these posts: Best family resorts in the Algarve and best couples resorts in the Algarve.

Renting a car:

A car is quite useful to explore the Algarve.

For our latest trips, we’ve found the best cars at Discover cars. This is a website where you can quickly and easily compare the prices of different rental companies. All rates include the CDW and we like that the deductible is already clearly shown on the comparison page. The fuel policy included mileage, and the cancelation policy is also clearly stated.  Most cars are cancellable up to 2 days in advance without any fees.  In some cases, a fully refundable deposit is taken at the time of booking.

Tours:

We recommend booking popular tours, such as the Benagil cave tour, in advance. Especially when traveling during peak season.

Travel insurance:

Don’t forget to get travel insurance. Drawing up a travel insurance policy may seem expensive at first but it can potentially save you a significant sum, significantly more than the small insurance fee.  Good travel insurance covers things like medical expenses, trip cancellation, overseas medical costs, evacuation, baggage damage or loss, and theft. 

If you still need to take out insurance, have a look at World Nomads

Best places to go in the Algarve

Charming fishing villages, picturesque beaches, thrilling waterparks, exciting water sports, and more… We’ve been 3 times to the Algarve already and the region has surprised us over and over again.

The combination of cultural attractions with magnificent nature and numerous water activities, and all that topped with a fantastic climate, is sure to keep even the most diverse family pleased.

Here are the best places to visit in the South of Portugal.

Tavira Portugal
Tavira

Best cities to visit in Algarve, Portugal

There are many beautiful cities in the Algarve region, each of them has its own vibe. Some are catering to those looking for a relaxing holiday while others are ideal for those who are into partying into the wee hours.

Here we share a list of the ones you should absolutely not miss.

Lagos

Lagos is one of the most well-known cities in the Algarve.

It’s surrounded by popular beaches and is always lively. It is very touristy and if you’re looking for a traditional charming Portuguese place Lagos can be a turnoff.

On the other hand, if you like relaxing on the beach all day long without any hassle, this might be your place to go.

Because of its location, Lagos is one of the best places to stay to visit the western Algarve.

Wonder where to stay in Lagos? Check out this post in where we share a list of amazing vacation homes in Lagos.

For an overview of the best places to stay in the Algarve, click here.

Tavira

Tavira is almost the complete opposite of Lagos.

This town is located in the less-visited eastern Algarve. It is a cultural city with beautiful architecture.

You will also find some great restaurants that serve fresh seafood dishes.

Next to Tavira is the stunning Ria Formosa lagoon, one of the seven natural wonders of Portugal.

For an overview of the best places to stay in Tavira, click here.

Vilamoura

Golfers will enjoy a stay in or near Vilamoura.

This new upscale town is rich in golf courses.

At the marina, you can feast your eyes upon the many luxury yachts. It’s also the place to go for all kinds of water fun. You can choose from dolphin safaris, jet skiing, water skiing, paragliding, and more…

Here you can find 12 wonderful vacation rentals in Vilamoura.

The above is only a small selection of the cities along the Algarve coast.

Read Also:

Here’s a selection of 11 cities with stunning beaches, friendly people, and lots of activities – these might be the best cities to visit in Algarve.

Praia Do Camilo near Lagos
Praia Do Camilo near Lagos

Best beaches to visit in Algarve

The Algarve coast counts over 200 kilometers of incredible beaches.

Some of the most popular ones are located around Lagos and are therefore easily accessible.

In some cases, you can hop out of your car and directly feel the sand in between your toes but usually, these gems of beaches will require a little more effort to get there. In most cases, you will need to go down a flight of stairs to reach the beach.

And then there are the true hidden gems that can only be reached hiking and are ideal for those that want absolute peace and quiet.

Smaller beaches such as Praia do Camilo can become crowded in summer but their larger counterparts Meia Praia and Praia de Vale do Lobo never really feel busy. The latter is located near Quinta Do Lago, Portugal’s most affluent region. That makes this beach a great destination for celebrity spotting.

Next to the marina of Vilamoura is Praia da Falésia, another mind-blowing beach. This beach is famous for its stunning red cliffs and they also gave the beach its name. Praia da Falésia means “Beach of Cliffs”.

The color of the cliffs is even more outspoken during sunset and we guarantee that, even if you’re not a beach-goer, you will enjoy a beach walk during sunset.

You can also enjoy a cocktail in the beach bar or join one of their sunset parties that are known to continue well after dark.

The colors of the cliffs are also beautiful to admire from the air.

For a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can book this paraglide and paratrike flight that will take you over this beautiful beach and the chic marina of Vilamoura. We had a blast!

Or our full review about paragliding in the Algarve. 

Check prices and availability:
Paraglide and paratrike

Benagil Cave - Algarve caves boat tour
Benagil Cave

Visit the Benagil Cave

Benagil Cave is a true natural wonder. Many superlatives are used to describe the rocky Algarve coast with its many caves. The Benagil Cave is far and away the most impressive one of them all.

Two things set the cave apart from the others.

First is its sheer size, the cave is so big that it there’s a small beach inside and that it has 2 separate entrances. Second, there’s the wide-open hole at the top that lets the sunlight through.

To really appreciate the cave you have to see the inside. Therefore boat, SUP and kayak tours are the best way to visit the Benagil cave.

To add to the experience you can also hike to the top and see the hole from above.

It’s however not possible to see inside the cave when you’re standing on the top.

The hole looks just like the other holes you see when you hike along the coast and you have no idea how big the cave is when you stand above it.

The Benagil Cave is probably the number 1 Algarve attraction and there are several tours that go to the caves. Here we have listed them along with their pros and cons.

Algarve - Ponta Da Piedade - Portugal
Ponta Da Piedade

Admire the rocky coast at Ponta da Piedade

The stunning cliffs of Ponta da Piedade can be found not far from Lagos. The beautiful masterpiece of rugged sea pillars and delicate limestone arches is a feast for the eyes. Even more so during sunset when the stunning coastline shows a warm golden glow.

Ponta da Piedade can be admired from land and from water.

You can drive to the lighthouse at Ponta da Piedade from where it’s only a short walk to the cliffs. Be aware that the parking lot fills up fast in the high season.

To see the cliffs from the water you can either join a boat tour, a kayak tour, or a SUP tour. These tours usually leave from Lagos and last anywhere between 1 and 2 hours.

Kayakers, SUP’ers, and tours with small boats will be able to get close to the rock structures and underneath the largest arch called “The Cathedral”.

Here is an overview of all the Ponta da Piedade tours.

Check prices and availability:
Ponte da Piedade tours

The Lighthouse at Cabo de Sao Vicente
The Lighthouse at Cabo de São Vicente

Enjoy a romantic sunset at Cabo de São Vicente

Cabo de São Vicente is the westernmost tip of the Algarve. It is known for its 75-meter high almost vertical rugged cliffs and the tough waves smashing against them.

It is near what has always been a busy merchant shipping route that, because of the rough sea, was hard to navigate. The first improvised lighthouse at this location dates back to 1520.

The current beacon was built in 1846 and is one of the most powerful to be found in Europe. It can be seen from a distance of 60 km.

Visitors to Cabo de São Vicente cannot only witness this dramatic landscape, they can also see the ruins of a former monastery. Part of the building has been renovated and now belongs to the lighthouse.

There are also some good birdwatching opportunities.

The colorful European Bee-eater, known for its long beak and bright green plumage, is often spotted in the area.

Occasionally sea otters can be spotted at the bottom of the cliffs.

On clear days it is a good idea to postpone your visit to the late afternoon, bring some drinks and snacks, and linger around to catch the sunset.

This is one of the best places to visit in the Algarve to watch the sunset.

Sagres is a great area to stay when visiting this part of the Algarve. Here is an overview of the best vacation rentals.

Dolphins are almost always seen on a dolphin tour
Dolphins are almost always seen on a dolphin tour

Go Dolphin Watching

Dolphins are such playful and curious animals that they love to swim with the many tourist boats that sail along the Algarve coast.

If you’re joining a caves tour you should not only admire the beautiful coast but also keep your eyes peeled for these cute animals, there’s a good chance you will see them relatively close to your boat.

To increase your chances of seeing dolphins you can join a dedicated dolphin watching boat trip where you will be looking for different species of dolphins for a full hour and 45 minutes.

This tour which starts in Lagos is also led by an experienced guide who, during the trip, will tell you more about the animals and their habitat.

Check prices and availability:
Dolphin watching tour

Kitesurfers in action in Costa Vicentina in the Algarve
Kitesurfers in action in Costa Vicentina in the Algarve

Surfing

The Algarve is known for its amazing beaches and superb waves, no wonder that it also knows a true surfing culture.

There are several surfing hot spots along the coast and novice surfers will have no problem finding a school to improve their skills.

Some beaches have more swell than others. Here’s a small selection to get you started.

Praia do Amado is very popular and frequently the scene for surfing competitions. You will find some surfing schools in the area and the wave action is usually also good for beginners.

Praia da Arrifana is a stunning beach on the west coast of Portugal. The beach has tall cliffs which keep it sheltered and provide excellent conditions for rookie surfers. There are numerous surf schools in the area.

You also have Odeceixe. This is the absolute classic and the place that everyone thinks of first when they talk about surfing in the Algarve.

Algar Seco
Algar Seco with the Boneca in the background

Algar Seco

Algar Seco can be found close to the popular town of Carvoeiro. Despite being so close to this tourist hot spot this natural gem feels still largely untouched.

It is a series of spectacular caves, tunnels, and rock formations that resemble intricately carved sculptures. Some of them carry names such as the “Boneca”, a rock that resembles a doll and is best seen from the sea.

To reach it you follow the Carvoeiro boardwalk and descend a flight of stairs.

Once at the bottom you can explore the labyrinth of stairs and tunnels and admire this impressive masterpiece of mother nature.

Just next to Algar Seco is a small natural pool. It can be ideal for a refreshing dip but know that the water is quite rough at times. The huge wave action combined with the sharp edges of the rocks had us decide to skip this pool.

Algar Seco is at least as beautiful seen from the sea than from land.

Almost all boat tours that leave from Vilamoura, Portimão, and Albufeira will take you to both Algar Seco as well as Benagil.

Just some of the many slides in Slide and Splash
Just some of the many slides in Slide and Splash

Visit a waterpark

The summers can be sweltering hot in the Algarve. You can cool off in the crystal clear blue water of the ocean but it is even more fun to get some thrills while cooling down in one of the many water parks.

The two most popular water parks are Slide & Splash near Portimão and Zoomarine naar Armação de Pêra.

Slide and Splash

Slide & Splash is an aquatic park in the strict sense of the word.

There are numerous slides for both young and old. We initially thought that a half-day would be enough but we ended up staying in the park for a whole day.

The slides are great and there are more than enough to keep you busy for a while.

They’re working on a new section of the park that will probably open in 2022.

Check prices and book your tickets:
Slide & Splash

Zoomarine

Zoomarine is a combination of a theme and water park.

We had a busy but fun day when we visited it last summer.

The park was created around the dolphin show, which is still the main attraction of the park.

These days there are numerous other animal and bird shows as well as an acrobatic performance.

When not attending one of the shows you can relax at the artificial beach or go down the park’s slides.

Compared to slide & splash the number of slides is limited but there are so many shows going on in the park that we hardly found the time to do them.

Check prices and book your tickets:
Zoomarine

The Ludo trail passes some salt flats in the Ria Formosa
The Ludo trail passes some salt flats in the Ria Formosa

Ria Formosa

The Ria Formosa is a coastal lagoon that hugs the Algarve coast for 60 kilometers from Faro all the way to Tavira.

It is a paradise for nature lovers and certainly for bird watchers who can spot more than 140 bird species, including the rare Western Swamphen.

Birds can be spotted all year round as many birds from the north come to winter in the mild climate of southern Portugal.

The landscape of the Ria Formosa is very diverse and includes salt marshes, freshwater lagoons, dunes, woodlands, and more. It has been recognized as a nature park in 1987.

Take a Ria Formosa boat tour

To see the beauty of this region you can join a Ria Formosa boat tour that will sail through the park’s channels and stops at one or more of the barrier islands where you find charming little towns and unspoiled beaches.

Go hiking

Another way to discover Rio Formosa is by hiking.

You can hike the Ludo trail, a highly-rated trail that starts close to Faro airport.

It will take you past saltpans, lagoons, and scrubland. You’re almost certain to see Flamingos and several species of wading birds. Most of the trail is exposed so it is best to do this early in the morning or towards sunset, this is also the best time to spot the birds.

Make a Segway tour

Instead of hiking the Ludo trail, we opted for a Segway tour.

Something different for once, and most importantly, less sweaty during the hot summer days.

The tour covers part of the Ludo trail and goes further to Quinta Da Lago where you will ride along the golf course and between stunning million-dollar villas before heading back following the boardwalk.

Highly recommended!

Check prices and availability:
Segway Tour

or read our complete guide on how to visit the Ria Formosa.

Discover beaches

Tucked away in Ria Formosa you will find some picturesque beaches.

Cacela Velha beach is separated from the mainland by a wide lagoon. The beach is usually really quiet because of the long hike, or boat trip, that is required to reach it.

Barril Beach is much more popular. Most people know it from the Cemitério das Ancoras, a monument in honor of the fishing community.

At the beach, you will find all facilities, shops, as well as restaurants. A mini-train connects the beach with the parking lot.

Hiking Rota Vicentina
Hiking Rota Vicentina

Escape the crowds at Vicentine Coast Natural park

This region is officially called “Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina”.

Portuguese are holidaying here in summer but the region is not yet that well-known among foreigners.

It is located along the west coast of Portugal but its beaches and rocky coastline are not inferior to those in southern Portugal and the lack of crowds, compared to peak season in the Algarve, only adds to the pristine experience.

Vacationing on Portugal’s Vicentine Coast won’t be like anything you can find anywhere else.

The environment is not only nostalgic but features a breathtaking seascape.

Venture off on hikes along the coastline where you’ll be rewarded with empty beaches, vast landscapes, and a wealth of wildlife to observe.

To explore the region on foot you can follow the Fishermen’s Trail, named one of the 6 most beautiful coastal trails in the world by Condé Nast.

We hiked part of the trail and we wholeheartedly agree with this guide.

If you are looking for an amazing 14 day Portugal itinerary, click here.

Views on the impressive cliffs seen from the 7 Hanging Valleys Trail
Hiking the 7 Hanging Valleys Trail

Hike the seven hanging valleys trail

This 6km long out-and-back coastal trail is without any doubt the most popular hike in the Algarve. It runs from Praia da Marinha to Praia de Vale Centeanes. It’s a long walk, but absolutely worth it.

This is a linear 6 km trail.  At the end you will need to take a taxi back or come back the same way making the total length 12km.

The trail lingers around the top of the cliffs passing many caves, some of Algarve’s most scenic beaches, as well as many Algarve points of interest, such as the Benagil cave.

Along the way, you will be rewarded with many stunning views of the rocky coastline and the turquoise blue ocean.

The walk is generally flat with some descents and climbs as you pass a beach. You can hike in either direction.

There is a car park at each beach so you can start at any of these beaches and split up the trail as you wish.

The Carvoeiro boardwalk
The Carvoeiro boardwalk

Carvoeiro boardwalk

The Carvoeiro boardwalk is only 600 meters and runs from the Nossa Senhora da Encarnação Fort to the Algar Seco caves parking lot. It is a well-maintained and wide wooden boardwalk that is also accessible for wheelchairs.

The boardwalk is stunning in itself but the best part about hiking the boardwalk is the little side trips you can make to the cliffs.

About halfway the boardwalk is a first gate where you can descend a combination of natural and man-made steps to the bottom of the cliffs. At the bottom awaits a mesmerizing maze of caves and tunnels.

Once at Algar Seco you can see the “Boneca” rock, so-called because it resembles a doll when seen from the sea. Here again, you can descend a flight of stairs and wander around the beautiful limestone rock formations.

Here is also a natural pool but the water was quite rough when we were there so we decided not to go in.

Murals Street art Olhão Algarve Portugal
The beautiful murals in Olhão

Discover the beautiful street art in Olhão

The first thing a visitor will notice when they enter Olhão is the large number of street art on the walls.

This started with four talented artists who decided to brighten up the walls of dilapidated buildings by painting scenes depicting how life used to be in this town.

The murals are based on archive pictures and are stunningly beautiful, they include women working in canning factories and fishermen returning with their catch.

It’s not hard to find these murals, they are close to the Olhão fish market.

You will also see plenty of modern-day murals as you drive along the main road (N125) through Olhão.

Sunset at Faro Beach
Sunset at Faro Beach

Watch the sunset in the Algarve

A perfect way to start and end your day is by watching the sunrise and sunset over the picturesque Algarve coastline.

The best place to see the sunset is obviously from one of the many viewpoints along the coast where you can see how the cliffs gradually get their golden glow.

The winner for the best sunset spot would be Cape São Vicente, as mentioned here, but you don’t need to drive all the way to the southwesternmost point of Portugal to witness amazing sunset spectacles.

Ponta da Piedade is another beautiful spot to watch the sunset. It’s utterly impressive at any time of the day and you can’t go wrong heading to this Algarve attraction for sunset.

Praia Da Falésia is another top-pick. The beach is known for the red cliffs and it almost looks like the rocks are on fire when the sun goes down.

A sunset in Ria Formosa is also a unique experience. The birds are less active during the hottest hours of the day, but once it starts to cool down, they spring back into action. A visit to Ria Formosa offers excellent bird spotting opportunities.

The only thing missing is a cocktail? Not to worry! At Praia Da Falésia, Praia de Faro, and numerous other beaches are beach bars where you can sip cocktails with your toes in the sand while enjoying the sunset.

The marina at Vilamoura
The marina at Vilamoura

Nightlife in the Algarve

Even after sunset, there is still a lot to do in the Algarve. You will find numerous Irish pubs and sports bars in all major cities in the Algarve.

If you want the party to go on into the wee hours you should visit one of the nightclubs. They are located around Vilamoura and Albufeira.

In Vilamoura, the place to be is the marina while in Albufeira you need to head to a street called “The Strip” which is lined by all kinds of bars.

Thanks to the great climate you don’t need to leave the beach to find a good party. During summer many beach bars host weekly parties.

FAQ you may have about the Algarve

  • What is the nicest part of the Algarve? The whole of the Algarve is stunning and as you explore the coast you will discover many beautiful places. We personally find the southwest of the Algarve a bit too touristy and therefore prefer to stay more to the east towards Tavira. However, it would be a shame not to visit the southwest as there are many beautiful places such as Ponta da Piedade.
  • What is the prettiest town in the Algarve? We are in love with Tavira which does not mean that there are no other beautiful cities. Olhão, with its street art, is also a charming town. During our last visit, we also took a trip to Vila Real de Santo António, a village at the very edge of the Spanish border. It still felt very authentic and definitely not touristy.
  • What should I not miss in the Algarve? You haven’t been to the Algarve if you haven’t seen at least one of the amazing beaches. That said, the Ria Formosa is an area you can go back to again and again. It remains impressive. The Benagil cave, although touristy, is also not to be missed when you go to the Algarve.
  • What are the best places to visit in Algarve without a car? Due to the limited public transport, having a car in the Algarve is really recommended. If you do not have a car, it is best to stay in one of the main tourist cities such as Albufeira, Lagos, or Vilamoura. All boat tours leave from these cities and land tours offer pick up from the hotels in these cities. Here you can find more info about car rental in Portugal.
  • Best places to visit in Algarve in winter. The Algarve is a tourist hot spot in summer but it is also an excellent destination for a winter trip. You will be able to witness all the hot spots, such as Ponta da Piedade and Algar Seco without the summer crowds and without parking stress. Cacela Velha and other quaint little fisherman towns in the Algarve feel also much more authentic when they are not overrun by hordes of tourists. Here’s more info about the Algarve in winter.

Conclusion

Now that you have read this article you have an idea about all the things you can do in the Algarve. As you can see, it is a versatile region where you can enjoy a relaxing holiday, but at the same time, the Algarve also knows how to fascinate sports enthusiasts.

Whether you come to play a round of golf, partake in the many water sport activities, or discover the cultural heritage of the region, the Algarve won’t disappoint you.