The south of Portugal is easily one of the most vibrant tourist regions in Europe. Infamously popular with Brits, the Algarve covers more than 5,000 km2 and has more than 400,000 permanent residents. As a coastal beach destination, the diverse and historic portion of Portugal rivals the best Mediterranean resorts in Spain.
The Algarve is not all sun and sand however. For many veterans of the region, this may come as a mild shock. Ancient architecture, ruins, rugged scenery, traditional village charm, national parks, phenomenal cuisine and viticulture punctuate much of the Algarve. Sure, the region delivers on the typical package holiday front. Nevertheless, for visitors who crave more, the Algarve is replete with authentic departures from the usual golf club, spa and pub crawl party scene.
Albufeira’s “Strip” is a premier nightlife district that rivals counterparts in Ibiza and the Costa del Sol in terms of popularity. The city is the undeniable tourist hub of the Algarve, with close to 40,000 people and scores of hotels slammed up chock-a-block against the coast.
With over 45,000 residents, the city of Portimão is a significant community within the Algarve. The Praia da Rocha is a famous Portimão beach and the city is a notable stop on the famous Lisbon-Dakar rally route. All in all, a good place to lay low and relax.
Be forewarned: if purpose-built holiday destinations are not your cup of tea, you may want to stay away from Vilamoura in favor of less explicitly tourist-centric Algarve towns. Otherwise, the 20 km2 beach resort and marina is a gem.
Lagoa is what I love most about the Algarve. A small town of just over 6,000 people, with a deep history and palpable sense of culture, tradition and heritage. All up against a coastline with at least twenty superb and rustic beaches (and many Blue Flag beauties to boot).
As the former capital of the Algarve, Silves is vitally important within the region. The municipality of more than 30,000 people has some great points of interest to explore, from Silves Cathedral to a Moorish castle built between the 8th century and 13th century.
Anyone who loves Portuguese beer is probably familiar with Sagres. The famous brand of native cerveja and small Algarve town share the same designation. Although not a frenetic tourist haven by any stretch of the imagination, Sagres Point is a magnificent promontory in use as a ceremonial site since the Neolithic Age.
Remarkable to think that Tavira is only 160 km west of Seville, Spain. There is no excuse then, not to make a foray into this pretty Algarve town if you happen to be in the fine Andalusian city. Tavira, home to 25,000 people, packs a legacy that dates back to the Bronze Ago.
Monchique is one of Portugal’s pre-eminent health spa and sulphur bath resorts. The town is nestled in a wooded area away from the coast, amid the splendid peaks of the Serra de Monchique. As a result, Monchique’s combination of hot springs and spectacular agricultural bounty offer up a totally different side of the Algarve.
Lagos is a coastal town that provides both beach and history to Algarve tourists. You get it all here, from the phenomenal 18th century Igreja de Santo António to the brilliant white sand confines of Meia Praia and Praia da Dona Ana. For scenery, local cuisine and architecture, Lagos is about as good as it gets in the Algarve.
Faro however, is our top must-see destination in the Algarve. The capital of the region (and district of Faro, which covers the exact same territory) is a wonderful mix of historic landmarks and natural points of interest. From the beaches of Ria Formosa park to the incredible UEFA four-star Estádio Algarve, Faro is the veritable gem of the Algarve.
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