Algarve, Portugal Travel Guide - where to go, what to experience, where to stay, what to eat and drink

Algarve

Algarve Travel Guide

Algarve is Portugal’s southernmost region, famed for its sunshine, pristine beaches, and extensive Atlantic coastline. The distinguishing feature of the Algarve region is its coastline of limestone cliffs and rock formations. The dramatic color collision between the yellow limestone and the turquoise ocean water creates a lasting impression. 

Algarve isn’t just a series of impressive seascapes. With plentiful fish, groves of orange, olive, almond, and fig trees, it’s also an epicurean wonderland. 

The region is also full of charming whitewashed fishing villages, reminiscent of its Moorish past. Algarve was ruled by the North African Moors from 700 to 1200 AD. The impact of this era can be seen most keenly in the architecture and tasted in the cuisine. Algarve’s villages are characterized by decorative chimneys, terracotta roofs, colorful tile facades, mosaic walkways, and accents of blue and yellow paint that frame household doors and windows. Beyond the architecture, these towns offer a glimpse of local life. You’ll see older women sitting outside their homes watching all passerby. Gathered outside neighborhood cafés, groups of men play card games and read the latest soccer news. Fishermen fix their nets on the beach. And, cats and dogs freely walk the streets.

 

When to visit Algarve

Algarve is a very popular holiday destination. The season peaks in July and August. When we visited in early June, we never felt as though it was too crowded or busy. The temperature hovered between 27°C and 36°C. If you’re interested in milder temperatures, fewer crowds, and wildflowers, come in Spring.

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Algarve, Portugal Travel Guide

Algarve Travel Guide Overview

  • Getting Around Algarve
  • Where to Stay in Algarve
  • Where to Go (Interactive Map)
  • What to Experience in Algarve
  • What to Eat & Drink in Algarve
  • Where to Eat & Drink in Algarve
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Burgau, Algarve, Portugal | Moon & Honey Travel

Getting Around Algarve

We rented a car for our trip in the Algarve. Portugal’s highways and roads have excellent signs, making it relatively easy to get around. Beaches and towns have ample public parking. There are parking areas that are metered, but you’ll find a lot of free public parking spaces as well. One thing that’s a bit different are the electronic toll roads. Unlike the typical toll booths you see in the States, Portugal has a wholly electronic system that records your use of and payment for using a toll road. Because we rented our car in Portugal, the rental car company was able to activate (with our request) an automated method of payment (using a transponder device) for whenever we drove the A22. If you’re traveling with a foreign license plate vehicle, you can purchase and activate a prepaid toll card, or purchase pre-defined journeys online. For more info on toll roads and payment, read this article by moneymaxim.

Algarve, Portugal Travel Guide - where to go, what to experience, where to stay, what to eat and drink

Where to Stay in Algarve

Because the region isn’t very large, you can base yourself in one or two towns, and explore from there. We stayed three nights in Lagos (Western Algarve), three nights in São Brás de Alportel (Eastern Algarve), and one night in Faro (Central Algarve), which worked out really well.

 

Lagos

Lagos is a coastal town located in Western Algarve. It’s charming, lively, but not overdeveloped. There are plenty of places to dine. Its close proximity to Praia do Camilo, Praia Dona Ana, Meia Praia, and Ponta da Piedade is an advantage.

Budget | Hostel Racing Mackerel Hostel is a centrally located hostel in Lagos. In addition to double rooms, the hostel offers 2 mixed dormitories and 2 gender-specific dormitories.

Mid-Range | Cubo is a cozy apartment with a small kitchen and terrace located in the heart of Lagos.

Luxury | Lagos Avenida Hotel is a top-rated hotel in Lagos. With unbeatable views of the marina and sea, an outdoor swimming pool, and beautifully decorated rooms, Avenida Hotel is the ultimate vacation accommodation.

 

São Brás de Alportel

São Brás de Alportel is a rural town located in the Barrocal region of the Algarve. It’s about a 25-minute drive north from Faro. Tourism has minimal influence here, which is why we loved it. Dining is limited, but we would gladly eat every night at Ysconderijo. Historically, the town served as the summer residence of the bishops of the Algarve. Given its proximity to Serra de Caldeirão, its main industry used to be cork production. São Brás is also a short drive from Estói which is home to a beautiful 19th-century palace.

Mid-Range | Hospedaria São Bras – charming bed and breakfast located in an old house in São Brás de Alportel. The owner is very friendly and accommodating. 

 

Olhão

Olhão is a coastal town located in Eastern Algarve. It’s home to the best fish market in the region and has no shortage of dining options. It’s also the starting point for journeys into the Reserva Natural da Ria Famosa, a natural park lagoon that attracts many bird species. You can hop on a ferry or a hire a taxi boat to get to Armona and Culatra, two islands just off the coast of Olhão. When you’re not in the mood for fish, go to Frango da Cidade for roasted chicken (frango assado).  

Budget / Mid-Range | O Casarão AL is a lovely bed and breakfast located in a historic house in Olhão. Guests have access to a communal kitchen and sea-view rooftop.

Luxury | Real Marina Hotel & Spa is a fabulous hotel that has just about everything: swimming pools, wellness and fitness center, bar and a delicious breakfast spread. Rooms are spacious and spotless.

Praia do camilo, Algarve, Portugal | Moon & Honey Travel

Where to Go in Algarve

Click the dots on the map to explore specific destinations. There are three layers on the map. Layer 1 (teal) contains towns and villages. Layer 2 (Orange) contains beaches. Layer 3 (Purple) contains Points of Interest. You can expand the map by clicking the icon on the top right corner.
Towns & Villages
  • Burgau
  • Lagos
  • Silves
  • Armação de Pêra
  • Olhão
  • São Brás de Alportel
  • Cacela Velha
Destinations
  • Beaches
  • Points of Interest
  • Restaurants
Silves, Algarve, Portugal | Moon & Honey Travel

What to Experience in Algarve

Our favorite things to see and do
Ponta da Piedade, Algarve, Portugal Travel Guide - where to go, what to experience, where to stay, what to eat and drink
Ponta da Piedade

Ponta da Piedade

Ponta da Piedade is a section of coastline located 2 kilometers from the city center of Lagos. The coastal landscape of caves, grottoes, and arches reveals what natural elements have sculpted over thousands of years.

We enjoyed walking the cliffs and taking in various vantage points of the area. We also walked down the steep staircase to the “beach” – which is a generous term for a platform that extends into the water. You can start a boat tour from the bottom of the staircase. There are also a lot of organized kayak excursions that you can book in Lagos.

Olhão Fish Market, Algarve, Portugal | Moon & Honey Travel
Olhão Fish Market

Olhão’s Fish Market

Olhão is a coastal town in Eastern Algarve. At the town’s waterfront, there are two market buildings (Mercados de Olhão). One building sells vegetables, fruits and spices, and the other houses the fish market – the largest in Algarve. As you enter the fish market, you’ll see a plentiful display of regional fish, including black scabbardfish, monkfish (tamboril), posta corvina, turbot (pregado), white sea bream (sargo), bream (dourada), sole (linguado) as well as dried codfish (bacalhau). Each fish variety is marked with a placard detailing the commercial name, price, production method (método de produção), fishing zone/catch area (zona de captura), and fishing art (arte da pesca). The space is loud and lively with men and women whistling as they gut, chop, clean and sell the fish.

When to Visit: The fish market is open between 7 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., but from our experience, it’s best to come before 11:00 a.m. 

Address: Mercado Avenida 5 de Outubro | Sea Side Center, Olhao 8700-306, Portugal

Praia Nova, Algarve, Portugal | Moon & Honey Travel
Praia Nova

A Day at the Beach

From small intimate coves to broad stretches of endless sand, exploring Algarve’s beaches is an ever-unfolding adventure. Over 80 beaches in Algarve are marked with the prestigious Blue Flag, which is an ecolabel award for beaches and marinas that demonstrate good practices with regards to water quality, environmental management, safety and services, and environmental education. Beaches awarded with the Blue Flag will fly the Blue Flag emblem during the official bathing season.

With over 200 kilometers of coastline and nearly 100 beaches to choose from, deciding which beaches to visit is a challenge, and a good problem to have. These are our favorite beaches (from west to east):

  1. Praia do Burgau
  2. Praia do Camilo
  3. Praia dos Três Irmãos
  4. Praia do Carvoeiro
  5. Praia da Marinha
  6. Praia Nova (next to Praia da Senhora da Rocha)
  7. Praia de São Rafael
  8. Praia dos Olhos de Água
  9. Praia de Cacela Velha
White Storks, Silves, Portugal | Moon & Honey Travel
White Storks

Stork-Watching in Silves

Silves is a traditional town located in Western Algarve. Historically, the town served as the capital and defensive stronghold of the entire region during the rule of the North African Moors (700 – 1200 AD). You can see remnants of this Moorish era in the town’s huge 7th-century red brick castle, 12th-century city walls, and defensive gates. The castle was the stage for many battles and sieges in the 12th century.

Today, this charming town’s most notable residents are white storks. Their giant nests are prominently positioned on columns, old chimneys, and buildings all over town. It’s illegal to disturb or destroy a Stork’s nest in Portugal, as storks return to their nest each year to raise their families. When we visited in early June, we saw dozens of storks flying, foraging, and feeding their young.

Algarve, Portugal Travel Guide - where to go, what to experience, where to stay, what to eat and drink
Praia do Camilo, Algarve Coastline

Hiking the Algarve Coastline

When temperatures allow, hiking the coastline offers an incredible sensory experience. From the vantage point of the coastal cliffs, you can see secluded beaches, grottoes, sea caves, and uniquely sculpted rock formations. There is also an abundance in coastal vegetation that makes for a visual and aromatic journey. Wild thyme, juniper thickets, white sea daffodils (Pancratium maritimum), sea holly (Eryngium maritimum), cotton weed (Otanthus maritimus), and various cacti plants grow plentifully along the coast.

 

Recommended Trail: The Seven Hanging Valleys Walk

  • About the Trail: This is a nature trail extending 5.7 Km from Centianes Beach to Marinha Beach. Notable stops along the way are the Alfanzina lighthouse, Carvalho Beach, and Benagil Beach.   
  • Starting Point: Vale Centianes Beach (or: Marinha Beach)
  • Ending Point: Marinha Beach (or: Vale Centianes Beach)
  • Distance: 5.7 Km one-way;  11.4 km roundtrip
  • Hiking Time: 3 hours one-way; 6 hours roundtrip
  • Read more info about this trail
Fisherman's Beach at Armação de Pêra, Algarve | Moon & Honey Travel
Fisherman's Beach

Fisherman’s Beach at Armação de Pêra

Armação de Pêra is an old fishing village turned holiday resort town. The origin of the town’s name is a reference to the fishermen from Pera who used tuna nets (armação) to catch fish. The tuna fishing industry has existed here since before the 15th century.

Upon visiting, head directly to the “Fisherman’s Beach,” where there’s a collection of small huts used by local fisherman to rest and store their equipment. The beach is littered in fishnets and boats, offering an authentic glimpse of this region’s oldest industry.

You can taste the fresh catch by visiting one of the seafood restaurants located along the beach. We ate freshly prepared Arroz de Marisco at Restaurante Bùzio. Because this seafood dish is made from scratch, it takes time – but wow is it worth it!

Pousada Palácio de Estoi, Algarve, Portugal | Moon & Honey Travel
Pousada Palácio de Estoi

Pousada Palácio de Estoi

The Estoi Palace is a 19th-century rococo building that’s been converted into a hotel. As a visitor, you can see several rooms with decorative plaster ceilings, walk the palace grounds, and enjoy a meal in the hotel tea pavilion. The pink-coral palace is surrounded by beautifully manicured French-inspired gardens. Enhanced by statues, fountains, azulejos tiles, and groves of orange trees, the palace grounds are definitely a must-see if you’re in the area.

Address: Rua São José, Estoi, 8005-465 Faro

Algarve Cuisine, Portugal | Moon & Honey Travel

What to Eat & Drink in Algarve

Portuguese Custom: Couvert

In restaurants, waiters/waitresses will bring you a choice of different meal starters (known as couvert) to your table without an explicit request. These starters typically include bread, butter, and olives. They may also include cheese, sliced sausage, and sardine spread. The couvert are not complimentary, so make sure the waiter/waitress removes what you don’t want to eat from your table. You are obliged to pay for what you try, and what’s left on your table. So, if you just want the olives, just say “Azeitonas.”

 

Regional Gastronomy

Arroz de Marisco – Razor Rice with seafood. The seafood generally consists of clams, prawns, mussels and other fish. It’s similar to paella, but a bit more broth-y. This dish serves a minimum of two people and is prepared freshly when you order it. You may wait up to 30 minutes, but it’s worth it.

 

Cataplana de Peixes e MariscosCataplana of Fish and Shellfish is a regional dish served in a pot. The base consists of onions, peppers, potatoes, garlic and coriander. Fish and shellfish are added in afterwards. This dish also serves a minimum of two people and is prepared freshly when you order it.

 

Frango Piri Piri (Chicken Piri Piri) – Piri Piri is a spicy pepper. Chicken Piri Piri is roasted/barbecued chicken that has been marinated in a flavorful sauce containing crushed piri piri, citrus peel, onion, paprika, oregano, basil, tarragon and lemon juice. 

Praia do Carvoeiro, Algarve, Portugal Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

Where to Eat & Drink in Algarve

Only the places we love

Cantinho d’Alte [Casual Restaurant]

This is a friendly family-run restaurant located in a rural white-washed village in inland Algarve. This local spot offers outdoor seating, countryside views, and exceptionally delicious monkfish kebabs.

Address: Avenida 25 de Abril 11, Alte 8100-012, Portugal

Restaurante Bùzio [Beach Restaurant]

This seafood restaurant is located on the beach in Armação de Pêra. We ordered the regional speciality Arroz de Marisco (razor rice with seafood) which was one of the best meals we had in Algarve.

Address: Praia de Armacao de Pera, Armacao de Pera 8365, Portugal

Ysconderijo [Fine Dining]

Ysconderijo is a Portuguese-Asian fusion restaurant in São Brás de Alportel. The presentation, ambiance, and quality of the food is outstanding. They also offer various sangria pitchers that will win you over. Reservation recommended.

Address: Rua Gago Coutinho, 45, São Brás de Alportel 8150-151, Portugal

Frango da Cidade [Local Eatery]

This small eatery serves roasted chicken to a predominantly local client base in Olhão. The service was so kind and friendly, even though we were pantomiming what we wanted to order. Coming here feels like you’re walking into your grandma’s kitchen.

Address: Rua Teofilo Braga 51, Olhao 8700-520, Portugal

Restaurant Ramos [Restaurant]

This unassuming restaurant is located near the Faro Airport. We ordered the Cataplana Pargo ou Cherne, which is a regional seafood specialty prepared in a lidded round-bottomed skillet and made with lots of love. Definitely come here if you’re staying near the airport and you have a few hours to enjoy a meal.

Address: Rua Professor Doutor Egas Moniz 179, Faro 8005-275, Portugal

Babugem [Restaurant]

Located in Sagres, this colorful spot offers indoor and outdoor seating. They offer a daily menu of freshly-caught fish as well as chicken piri piri.

Address: Praça da República 1, 8650-327 Sagres, Portugal

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