The Algarve is many things. It’s a golfer’s paradise, coastal retreat, foodie heaven and historical treasure trove, all rolled into one. Adventures here are seemingly endless. From Alvor to Albufeira, and all the places beyond and in between, there’s a bounty of quaint fishing villages, secluded coves and hidden gems to discover.
Holidaymakers flock here in their millions throughout the year to experience southern Portugal’s magic. And you can do just the same. Arrive to a lush slice of coastline, cloaked in green and fringed by incredible golden beaches, then embrace your intrepid explorer to tick off the best things to do in the Algarve. Here’s our pick of the top ten:
- Ponta da Piedade
- Praia da Marinha
- Ria Formosa Natural Park
- Tavira Island
- Praia São Rafael
- Benagil Caves
- Praia da Rocha
1. Ponta da Piedade
The Algarve’s natural beauty is world-famous, but it reaches a crescendo at Ponta da Piedade. This striking piece of headland, less than two miles from Lagos, mesmerises with its dramatic limestone formations. Along the clifftop, wooden boardwalks wind through lush flora and a red-topped lighthouse marks the land’s edge. It’s here where you’ll also find a series of jaw-dropping rocks jutting out from the sapphire waters of the Atlantic. Follow the steps that zigzag down the cliffside and enjoy the incredible views along the way. At the bottom, waves lap at the rocks and hidden caves create an air of mystery. It’s wildly beautiful and without doubt one of the best things to do in the Algarve – don’t miss it.
2. Praia da Marinha
You may recognise the Algarve’s beautiful landmark, Praia da Marinha. Its azure waters, steep orange cliffs, dramatic limestone rock formations and golden sand make it a postcard favourite - but it’s even better in real life. Seek out its secluded location, sandwiched between Armação de Pera and Carvoeiro. You can admire its beauty from the wind-swept clifftop - see if you can spot the famous M-shaped rock structure - then make your way down the steps onto the shore itself for an afternoon of sunshine.
Immerse yourself in authentic Portugal at the inland town of Estói. With its brightly-painted doors, whitewashed buildings and leafy squares, this pretty village oozes charm. But the real draw here is Pousada Palácio Estói. Clap your eyes on its blush-hued façade and you’ll soon see why. Dripping in rococo styling, this 18th century palace has since been turned into a luxury hotel and the incredible grounds are open to the public.
Head through the swish reception, along a saloon-style room clad in extravagant plastering and out into the French-inspired garden. A series of columns pepper the lawn, a miniature maze swirls around a tinkling fountain and colourful tiles embellish walls. It’s a truly magical setting – you’ll feel as if you’ve landed in a film set. Move deeper into the garden, down the steps, and you’ll find rows of lush orange, avocado and lemon trees heavy with fruit.
Oh Alvor…this quaint fishing village will charm your socks off. Its narrow streets are filled with colourful houses, a vision of pale pinks, deep oranges and bright turquoise, juxtaposing those in traditional whitewashed style. It’s best to just simply wander and you’ll soon end up in front of a dazzlingly-white church with sunshine-yellow accents. Continue down to the waterfront, an expanse of marsh land dotted with fishing boats. It’s sensory overload here. The scent of freshly grilled fish wafts through the air, inviting you to sit down and enjoy the scenery, where the water gleams in the sunshine. Grab a cocktail from one of the harbourfront bars and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.
5. Ria Formosa Natural Park
Embrace the Algarve’s rich natural tapestry at Ria Formosa Natural Park. This coastal lagoon has a collection of barrier islands, marshes, saltpans and dreamy beaches to explore, while vivid pink flamingos are among the birds that call this section of protected coastline home. Cruise around it by boat, pedal along cycle paths or embark on a leisurely guided walk. Whichever mode of transport you choose, you’re in for a day of nature at its very best.
6. Tavira Island
Tavira Island is emblematic of paradise in Portugal. Stretching for 11 kilometres, this tropical island, east of Faro, is home to some of the Algarve’s finest beaches. Pack your bags (and a picnic) for a day by the sea and spend the daylight hours on its white-sand shore. Sink into the soft, clean sand, then enjoy a refreshing swim in the clear Atlantic waters. To get here, you can jump on one of the regular ferries departing from Tavira.
7. Faro Old Town
History doesn’t always fit into a museum. Sometimes it swathes the streets – and that’s true of Faro. The city’s waterfront is stuck in a beautiful time-warp, though dusted with modern bars, restaurants and shops. The result? A perfect blend of old and new. Your first glimpse of it is at Jardim Manuel Bivar. Get a selfie with the ‘I Heart Faro’ sculpture, then amble through the leafy plaza, where locals play lively games of cards, to Arco da Villa. From the 19th century gateway, a cobbled street curves gently upwards, delivering you in front of the city’s cathedral. Elsewhere, there are dazzling medieval churches to view and pretty streets to wander.
8. Praia São Rafael
Another day, another beach – that’s life in the Algarve. There are so many striking patches of coast to choose from, but this is among the best. Just down from Albufeira Marina, Praia São Rafael has a gorgeous backdrop for your sunbathing sessions thanks to its stunning tangerine-tinged cliffs. The sand is silky, the water clear and the view amazing. It’s a great place for snorkelling and swimming, with kayak and paddleboard hire available, too.
9. Benagil Caves
More of Mother Nature’s magic can be experienced at the Benagil Caves. Hop aboard one of the boat tours departing from the nearby harbour and cruise out through the waters to this jaw-dropping wonder. Once inside, you can pad along the golden sand and turn your gaze skywards to admire the swirling colours of the cave’s ceiling and sun beating down through the hole in its roof. You can also peer down through the hole from the cliffs above for a totally different perspective.
10. Praia da Rocha
If you adore beaches, make a beeline for Praia da Rocha. Tucked below a cluster of high-rise hotels, this wide sandy slice of coast is seriously blissful. Descend the cliff steps and meander along the shoreline using the boardwalk that forms the beach’s backbone or enjoy the relaxing feel of sand between your toes. There’s ample room here for you to set up camp for the day, along with a wide variety of beach bars and cafes for midday refreshments.
Can’t wait to experience our pick of the best things to do in the Algarve and more? Book a getaway to Portugal’s southern coast now with Jet2holidays.
Posted: 23rd Feb 2019.