The Algarve is the southern region of Portugal, famous for its beautiful coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, and I spent four days exploring it in late April of this year. We were really fortunate with the weather, it was perfect sunshine in the 70s, all the more reason I’m an advocate for traveling to Europe in late spring (April, May) and early fall (September, October) and avoiding travel if possible in the summer (more expensive, and so crowded!).
We had only 4 days to spend in the Algarve so we divided it like this: half a day in Faro, a full day in Albufeira, and the remaining 2 ½ days in Lagos. I could have stayed for two weeks it was so beautiful, but 4 days was just enough time to get a feel for each town before traveling north to Lisbon.
Portugal is a hot travel destination and now I know why! Portugal has everything a traveler could want: amazing coastline views, delicious food and wine, history and culture, and the kindest people, and it’s extra special because Portugal still maintains its authenticity. It felt far less globalized than some other cities I’ve visited in recent years like Prague and Munich. I fear with the recent influx of tourism it may lose its authenticity, I do hope that doesn’t happen!
Before I landed, I had been reading articles for months on where to go and what to see and the truth is you just can’t see it all in such a short trip, but you can get a glimpse, a taste, and a flavor for how special it is. We flew into Faro after stopping over in London on Norwegian airlines. All of my European travel has been on Norwegian through Gatwick in the last 4 years, it’s my go to airline because it’s a non stop from San Francisco to London and affordable if I avoid the high season and travel in late spring or early fall. Here’s a map of the Algarve with the larger towns noted, our route took us from Faro to Albufeira to Lagos.
As a design lover who travels as often as possible, my eye always gravitates to the charming vignettes that give a town its character: the chipping paint, an old door, window boxes, the weathered patinas on buildings.
We didn’t linger long in Faro, just a few hours in the morning strolling the streets before hopping on a train to Albufeira. In Albufeira, the train station is outside the main part of town, so you’ll need to take a bus into town (or taxi or Uber). It’s not complicated, but it can take extra time so we opted for an Uber from the train station for a few Euros which took us right to the heart of this charming city by the sea! We were hungry when we arrived so we researched a place with fresh fish and sea views and were not disappointed! We enjoyed a bottle of white wine with our sea bass at Restaurante 54 before heading out to explore.
Old town Albufeira is walkable within just a few hours, you’ll find cafes, shops, and watering holes along the meandering streets.
Once you’ve seen the town, drop down to the bay for a panoramic view where you can walk along the sandy beach! We found a little place on the beach to enjoy the view and people watch while sipping local beers before heading back out to see more of the town. As the sun began to set, a few clouds rolled in, but they always make a sunset better!
In Albufeira, we ended our day with dinner and a sunset at Tratoria Toscana on the eastern part of town. What an enchanting day! What’s better than exploring a new town with your travel bestie?!
Our final stop in the Algarve was world famous Lagos, we arrived by train and checked into our charming community Airbnb then headed to the local beach. We loved our Airbnb because we made friends in the courtyard and all cooked dinner together (fresh fish and wine of course!) one of the nights we were in town. Making new friends with people from other countries and sharing stories is one of the best parts about traveling! One of my favorite phrases is “Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet” – so true!
Lagos is a popular destination for its small town charm and its coastline, it’s here you’ll see the beaches, cliffs, and sea caves that Instagram has made famous. We loved it! Plenty of sunshine and views! Not to miss is the Praia do Camilo, a stunning beach at the bottom of a long wooden staircase.
One adventure I highly recommend is taking a 45 minute boat tour from the tours at the Ponta da Piedade lighthouse. You can also kayak into these caves and they’re INCREDIBLE! Not to miss!! You can also hop on a tour from the harbor, it’s a little more expensive, but if you hike it out to the lighthouse you’ll be closer to the cliffs and the tour is only 20 Euro but it’s worth it!! Your little boat and her captain will navigate in and out of the caves along the coastline, it’s amazing!
There’s a famous sea cave (Benagil) off the coast of Lagos that can only be accessed by sea. We didn’t rent kayaks on this trip, and it would have required a separate boat tour, many consider Benagil a “must see” but we felt we got to see enough of the caves and cliffs on this tour.
Lagos also has a beautiful old town area with cafes, bars, bistros, and shops, all so fun to explore and it can be done in a day! In town I saw so much beautiful azuelejos tile I wrote about last month. :)
For transportation in the Algarve we relied solely on trains, buses, and a few Uber rides, it was easy to figure out. If you sign up for an account on the Portuguese rail system you can book as you go and ride either first or second class. Pay attention to routes! For trains that travel to your destination only a few times a day, I do recommend you make a reservation at least 24-48 hours in advance because those less frequent trains will fill up since many Portuguese locals are riding along too!
We never had a bad meal in the Algarve, so many restaurants offer seafood, salad, pizzas, and local cuisine. We ate mostly fish and salads washed down with local beer or wines. When in Portugal one must enjoy plenty of the local pasteis de nata, a delicious custard tart that Porgugal is famous for! We ate our share of them for sure. :)
The next part of our journey took us on a four hour (very scenic!) train ride to Lisbon. As we journeyed from Lagos to Lisbon, we spent a few hours talking with a Canadian couple we met who had been coming to Portugal on holiday for five years. They shared stories and pictures from some of the lesser known but equally as charming towns of the Algarve. It made me want to return again just to explore those smaller towns!
We spent a few days in Lisbon and Sintra, then ended our trip in Aviero and Porto. I’ll share stories and images from those cities later this summer.
For those of you who’ve been lucky enough to explore the Algarve region of Portugal, what were your favorite places?