There are a few options to get to Southern Portugal, the easiest being by plane. It is a quick flight from most European destinations and is a modern and decent size airport for being a smaller city. Alternatively, if a road trip sounds entertaining, fly to Lisbon and rent a car to make your way down the western coast and then along the Algarve Coast (southern portion of Portugal).
It’d be really difficult to get around the Algarve Coast without a car so it is highly recommend to rent a car. It gives you the opportunity to access many different towns, beaches and areas while providing you with flexibility. There are rental car companies at the airport, some well known, some affiliated with larger car rental companies, and some cheap (I.e. Sixt).
We rented a car at the airport from Guerin (tied to National and Enterprise). At first the renters tried to tell us there were no automatic cars available, even though we specifically specified this in our rental documents completed in advance. As they learned we could not drive a manual and would be requesting a refund without an automatic option, they magically found an automatic so beware of companies trying to take advantage of you.
Make sure to get the EZ pass from the car rental to avoid issues with tolls. There are no actual toll booths and you cannot pay cash so you need the pass.
For times we did not feel like driving to places at night, we would use Uber if we were not in walking distance.
One of the closer towns to the airport, Albufeira is the liveliest of the towns on the Algarve Coast with more nightlife than the others. Its location makes it a great base for exploring the Algarve Coast. There are resorts, restaurants, shops, beaches, bars and clubs. In the Old Town, you will find many nice restaurants and shops, while the New Town is where the nightlife is concentrated. Separate from both Old Town and New Town, Falesia Beach is a beautiful, long beach here. When picking accommodations, try to stay in the town area or near the beach. We stayed in an airbnb in Albufeira between the Old Town and Falesia Beach, but would recommend staying near one or the other rather than between.
Up there with Albufeira, Lagos also has a lot to offer including restaurants, bars, beaches and a nice town area. Lagos is located on the west side of the Algarve Coast. It is sometimes remarked as more touristy and tacky than the other towns, but it is near some of the best beaches and spots with incredible views. Depending on what else you want to see on your trip, this can provide a good place to base yourself if you plan to explore the western coast.
Cute and quieter traditional Portuguese town found along the coastline. Carvoeiro is a happy medium between Albufeira and Lagos. Being a small resort town, there is less to do at night, but has a peacefulness to it. It draws in people looking for a relaxing holiday.
It is the largest resort town on the Coast and is comparable to Albufeira. If renting a car is not feasible, Portimao will provide the most public transportation options to reach other areas on the coast. This does not mean that the public transport will be smooth, just better than from other towns.
The airport is located in Faro. Aside from the convenience of being where the airport is, I would not recommend staying here. The town can be easily seen, but other areas of the Algarve Coast are much nicer. It also is located on the east side of the coast, making the drives to other areas longer for day trips.
160 m long beach between limestone cliffs providing a beautiful beach spot. Located near Lagos, there are about 100 stairs leading down to the beach. The beach is beautiful and provides a peaceful place to spend time on the beach. Compared to some of the other frequently visited beaches on the Algarve Coast, Praia Dona Ana has more sand space. Regardless, if possible, get there earlier in the day to grab a spot as it may get quite busy, especially during peak travel season. Visitors will have access to needed facilities (bathrooms), stands selling beach necessities, and a small restaurant.
Other nearby hot spots include Ponta da Piedade (5 min drive), Praia do Camilo (15 minute walk), and Lagos (5 minute drive).
Small, coved beach about 225 steps down from the road. The beach is located between Praia Dona Ana and Ponta da Piedade. Due to its location, try to go here earlier in the day as the rocks bring a lot of shade to the beach in the afternoon. There is also limited space on the sand, and even less at high tide. After coming down the stairs, there is some additional beach space to the left. Be sure to check this out if the immediate space looks packed.
Here there are absolutely stunning views, and overall an incredible beach. Located between Portimao and Albufeira, the last 2 km of the drive there are on a single lane road. Passing was not a problem, but as you approach the parking area, there will be cars parked anywhere they can fit. Grab a spot where you can as the parking is free and not well marked.
To access the beach, follow the path and take the stairs down to sea level. The beach has a small restaurant at the bottom of the stairs and also includes facilities. Keep in mind that on days where the water is particularly rough, the sand space on the beach is largely reduced.
Unlike some of the coved beaches, Praia da Falesia offers a 6km long beach. Red cliffs line the beach and are provide another unique beach day option. This beach was probably my favorite, as the long beach provides plenty of space and incredibly scenery. It is also a popular place to stay as it is in the middle of the Algarve Coast, making it easy to take day trips to other areas.
Another long beach, with plenty of area for beachgoers to spread out unlike many of the other famous beaches. This was my least favorite of the 5 beaches we visited, but it provided by far the most space for visitors. It is located in Portimao and easy to access.
Small beach located in the town of Carvoeiro. This is a good spot to start a tour to see the Benagil Caves.
This is a gorgeous viewpoint over the ocean. Wander around to get different views and find the stairs that go down to sea level. Located just west of Lagos town, this is a great spot to watch a sunset. It is not a beach so there is no area with sand, but a must see.
Located on the south end of Portugal, the beaches in this area draw in surfers. Cape St. Vincent is located here and is the southernmost point of Portugal where there are huge cliffs and a lighthouse. It is about 40 minutes from Lagos
A large cave that is only accessible from the ocean. There are a variety of different tour options, both in length and activity. You can take a kayak, stand up paddle board, small boat, larger boat or a combination of them all. Many towns offer tour departures (Albufeira, Lagos, Caroveiro, Portimao, Benagil Beach, etc), affecting the length and type of trip. Depending on where you depart from will affect the tours you can do. For example, if you leave from Albufeira and want to do a kayak tour, they’ll take you on a larger boat for ~45 minutes and then you’ll kayak once you’re closer to the caves
If this interests you, consider booking for your first full day on the Coast. Tours will be cancelled if the water is too rough. Unfortunately, we were unable to view the caves due to rough conditions. Our tour planned to depart from Albufeira and included a kayak portion at the caves. I would recommend departing from closer towns like Portimao or Caroveiro.
Large town located relatively close to the airpot. Albufeira is known for Falesia Beach, the Old Town with nice restaurants and quaint shops, the New Town with nightlife and a few golf courses throughout the area. It is the largest resort town on the Coast and draws in all visitors.
One of the largest towns on the coast, it is well known for Praia da Rocha located just a few kilometers south.
This smaller Portuguese town is calmer and has a peaceful ambiance. In addition to the beach itself, there are some nice hiking paths around the area.
Found on the west wide of the coast, Lagos is rich in history and its Old Town is one to explore. This is another town that draws in many visitors as the surrounding beaches are some of the best, and the town consists of many cuisine options and shops.
Charming town found on the east side of the Coast. This town is less touristy than some of the others and offers a lot of culture.
Southern most town in Portugal and draws in the adventurous type. It does not have the same feel as the other resort towns in terms of being developed for visitors.
The capital of the Algarve Coast, Faro has a marina, parks, and shops to explore. Many people just pass through the town (including myself), but provides a change to the beaches in the area and a town to explore
Rather than going out for most meals, we visited the local grocery story and stocked up on snacks and water bottles. This allowed us to take day trips to other areas of the Coast and not need to worry about finding food while in different towns or at the beach. This worked great for us as we had snacks during the day on the beach as the beaches had limited food options
Tasty restaurant located in Albufeira’s Old Town with Portuguese dishes
June through September are high season for visitors on the Algarve Coast. This means the beaches can be packed, and parking may be difficult when visiting some of the more picturesque and touristy beaches. If you have flexibility in your travel time, I recommend going in shoulder season which is right before or after high season. We visited at the beginning of October which proved to be the perfect time. The weather was beautiful, shops and restaurants were all open, but the crowds were completely manageable. For the most part, we did not have issues finding space on beaches for ourselves or spots at restaurants.
The Algarve Coast can be a long weekend trip if coming from Europe or you can easily spend an entire week. We spent three nights and four days on the Algarve Coast which was a perfect little getaway. If we had more time, we would have gone out to explore the far west side more along with Sagres and the surrounding beaches. On the day we arrived, we got settled in Albufeira and picked up beach towels from a local shop. Then we headed out to Praia da Marinha for the afternoon. On day 2 we tried to see the Benagil Caves but were rescheduled to the next day so instead we visited Praia Dona Ana, Praia do Camilo, Ponta da Piedade and Lagos as these were all within the same area. On day 3 we again tried to go to the Benagil Caves, but were unfortunately cancelled again so we travelled to Carvoeiro and Portimao where we checked out Praia da Rocha. On our final day, we spent the day at Praia da Falesia before going to the airport in Faro.
Transportation and Accommodations
Things to do and see
Food and Drinks