Portugal’s southernmost region is famous for its dramatic limestone cliffs, fresh seafood, and white-washed fishing villages. With more than 100 beaches, Algarve is a premier beach holiday destination in the summer that attracts visitors from all over the world. In the shoulder months, it is an absolute paradise as you can still expect beautiful warm weather but with a fraction of the crowds and a significant discount on costs.
The Algarve runs along the southern coast of Portugal is only 200km from end to end. It’s also incredibly different than the rest of Portugal and packs so much into such a small space. Having already visited the areas around Lisbon, as well as in the north around Porto, the Algarve is unique in its own right.
I traveled through the Algarve as its own separate trip. I rented a car and road tripped through the coast and enjoyed the numerous towns and beaches the area had to offer. The Algarve is also a great addition to a Portugal trip if you are flying into Lisbon. You could easily rent a car in Lisbon, drive down along the Alentejo coast and visit the Algarve.
This Algarve Itinerary can be combined with a broader Portugal itinerary if you have extended time to see this beautiful country.
Where I went in the Algarve
In total, I spent just under a week traveling the Algarve region of Portugal.
I think this is a good amount of time to see all the main sights of the region. If you are keen to have more time on the beach, as well as explore all the sights, you might want to add a few more days to relax.
I rented a car and visited most of the spots along the Algarve, as well as a day drive along the Alentejo coast. Most of my trip involved visiting numerous beaches and lookout points, as well as a few traditional looking towns. These are some of the highlights of the trip:
- Benagil Caves (famous caves)
- Praia Do Albandeira
- Praia Do Marinha
- Praia Do Carvalho
- Algar Seco
- Praia Do Carmilo
If these places ring a bell and sound like the places you want to visit, this is the perfect Algarve itinerary for you!
How to travel through the Algarve
Without a doubt, the best way to visit the Algarve is by car. It’s not like traveling in Lisbon or Porto where there are buses that connect the cities to the nearby attractions. The problem is if you want to visit beaches outside of the main towns, you will have a very hard time getting there and back via taxi.
Almost all trips in the Algarve will start from Faro Airport if you are not already in Portugal. There are plenty of car rental shops in Faro that offer very cheap prices for your trip. Make sure to pay for the toll pass as the highways in Portugal all function on e-tolls.
The roads are perfectly find in the Algarve, and even the roads leading up to the beaches are in great condition. This is not like driving through Albania for example where the roads to beaches were questionable at best.
When to visit the Algarve
The Algarve is a very popular destinations for Europeans. As you’d expect with all Mediterranean destinations, the summer season is the most popular. June to September is high season in the Algarve and you will see a flood of tourists from the UK and Germany swarming the beaches of the Algarve.
I visited in mid September and it was very busy all around. The beaches were packed full of people and the main towns were quite busy as well. The temperatures in mid September were warm but comfortable between 25-30 degrees during the day. July and August can see temperatures at 35+!
I would recommend visiting the Algarve in the shoulder season. Late April to early June, and the month of October are great times of year to visit. The temperatures are still enjoyable but the big crowds have largely died down. The winter months, tourism has died down completely and it’s mostly just a collection of locals and the pensioners from the UK and Germany that now call it home.
Where to stay in the Algarve?
One of the questions I kept asking myself is deciding where to stay. There seemed to be so many towns and beaches in the Algarve, it was impossible to decide which place I wanted to stay in.
The Algarve is quite small. It is only about 200km from Sagres to the Spanish border after all. This means you can essentially stay in one place for the entirety of your trip and just make day trips to the other parts of the coast. As I stayed a week in the Algarve, I decided to break it up and stay three nights in the small town of Carvoeiro, and three nights near the city of Lagos. These towns are only about 40 minutes away from each other, but I felt like it would be nice to see different parts of the coast even though I could have easily made Lagos a day trip from Carvoeiro and vice versa.
If you are looking for a good party and nightlife, I would stay in Albufeira. If you are looking for a more chilled and laid back experience, I would look at traditional towns like Ferragudo. There is something for everyone in the Algarve. The whole economy here is built around tourism and retirement communities after all so the infrastructure is all there.
Where are the best beaches in the Algarve?
The Algarve is littered with beautiful beaches all along the coast. It only stretches for a few hundred kilometers but there are too many beaches to count. The landscapes are quite different depending on which part of the Algarve you are in.
The beaches east of Faro near to Spain are characterized by more flat, sandy, and endlessly stretched out beaches similar to those you’d find in the Eastern coast of the USA.
West of Faro, and you start seeing more cliffs and bluffs dominating the landscape. The beaches here are small enclosed sandy beaches surrounded by beautiful rock formations. These are the quintessential beaches of the Algarve that most people know it for. There are numerous large rock arches that adds to its beauty.
Most of the beaches were quite packed when I visited in mid September. I’m not a fan of densely packed umbrella chairs and swarms of people. Perhaps I’ve just been spoiled visiting some of the most amazing beaches in the world that my standard has gotten too unrealistic. Nevertheless, I did find one amazing beach just west of Lagos. More details on that later.
Full Algarve Itinerary
The Algarve itinerary starts in Faro which is where my flight flew into. I did not stay or visit Faro because everyone told me to simply avoid it. From Faro, I drove to my accommodation in Carvoeiro and enjoyed my town for the first night.
The second day was spent hiking and visiting the numerous beaches in the area. Carvoiero is a great base to explore the numerous beaches between Lagos and Albufeira which are probably the most popular beaches in the region. In the morning, I hiked to Algar Seco from Carvoiero (only 20 minutes) which is home to the famous windows of the Algarve.
I visited Praia da Marinha, Praia da Carvalho, and Praia da Albandeira by car for the rest of the day and had some aperitivos in Albufeira. Albufeira is a bit too commercialized for me so I didn’t feel the need to stay for long.
The third day, I spent the morning visiting the popular Benagil caves which was a bit of a letdown but still well worth the visit. In the afternoon, I went to Ferragudo town which was definitely one of my favorite places in the region.
The next day, I drove to Lagos and visited a few more beaches along the way. If I had to pick a bigger town to stay in, Lagos would probably win out over the rest of the towns. From Lagos, I spent a day driving to Sagres and through the southwest coast of Portugal which was just stunning and wild.
The next day was just a relaxing beach day which I spent at the Praia das Furnas, easily the best beach in all of the Algarve.
Day 1: Land in Faro and drive to Carvoeiro
The trip starts off in Faro where my international flight from Frankfurt landed. From all my previous research and from speaking with other travelers, Faro seemed like the place to avoid. Not because it is overly ugly or anything, but because there are just much better places to visit along the Algarve.
After picking up my rental car, I proceeded to drive the 40 minutes to my first town, Carvoeiro.
I chose Carvoeiro Town as my base for the the Algarve for three nights. I used it as a way to explore the numerous beaches and viewpoints along the central coast of the Algarve.
I was debating between Carvoeiro and Ferragudo but ultimately decided on Carvoeiro because I found a beautiful Airbnb with great views of the town.
Carvoerio is a former fisherman’s village turned into a tourist destination. The town offers an abundance of restaurants and bars but with a much more lowkey feel than neighboring towns like Albufeira and Lagos.
The town is also right on the water and walking up Rampa Sra. da Encarnacao will afford you stunning views of the beach, town, and the surrounding cliffs. Carvoerio offers beautiful hiking right next door with a long boardwalk that extends for many kilometers offering stunning views of the coast.
For sunset, make sure to head up to the Mar D’Fora restaurant for a quick drink while enjoying the beautiful views with its white washed stairs winding down into the sea. Even better, bring your own drinks and watch the views yourself!
Day 2: Algar Seco, Praia Marinha, Praia Albandeira
Day two was a jam packed day of exploring different beaches and viewpoints. I’m not big into laying on the beach for hours on end so this will seem way too rushed for most people. However, I do like beautiful geological formations and there are famous rock arches to be seen today.
After a delicious breakfast of Pasteis de Nata and coffee in Carvoeiro, I set out to hike to Algar Seco. Carvoeiro has a beautiful road that leads to another boardwalk that hugs the coastline of the Algarve. It’s absolutely stunning here and makes for a great morning stroll.
Located within walking distance of Carvoeiro, Algar Seco is a rock formation that’s famous for its windows into the Algarve.
This beautiful rock formation is located near to the water and has two window like holes built into the rock that makes for stunning photos of the Atlantic. Nearby is a beautiful bar and restaurant which makes for a great drink spot.
Praia Do Marinha and Arco Natural
Praia Do Marinha is one of the most beautiful and popular beaches of the central Algarve coast. It offers a long stretch of sandy beach surrounded by dramatic cliff formations.
However, the star of the show is definitely the Arco Naturele located near to the beach. There is a double arch here that
Praia Do Albandeira
Praia Do Albandeira is probably my favorite beach in this area between Albufeira and Portimao. It’s a smaller beach with slightly smaller crowds.
Its claim to fame is the beautiful arch. Similar to the arch at Praia Do Marinha, this arch is huge standing at over 50 meters. This is a fantastic spot for the sunset and makes for amazing photos as the colors turn.
Praia do Carvalho
Completely surrounded by high cliffs, this small beach is known for its soft, golden sand and crystal clear water. This is definitely one of the most picturesque beaches in the Algarve and well worth a visit. However, during high season, this place was absolutely packed which was a bit of a turn off to me.
One of the most popular towns in the Algarve is Albufeira. I’d say Albufeira and Lagos are the biggest towns in the Algarve region with Albufeira being easier to access as it is closer to Faro airport. Albufeira is a pretty little town with an abundance of restaurants and bars. There is also a beach right in the city which makes it easy for those that don’t have cars.
Day 3: Benagil Caves, Silves, and Ferragudo Town
Day 3 starts with a visit to the ever so famous Benagil Caves. I’d recommend starting as early as possible so you can get here before the crowds come. However, I found that the best lighting for taking photos of the caves were around 11am-12pm. It’s absolutely stunning when the sunrays shine through the holes of the cave.
The Benagil caves are without a doubt the most popular and visited attraction in all of the Algarve. This huge cave formation is located right near the town of Benagil.
he Benagil Cave is a natural cave formation in the oceanside cliffs of Portugal’s Algarve region. Though many caves and rock formations line the coast of the Algarve, the Benagil Cave is unique for the “skylight” in the cave’s ceiling. The cave, like much of Portugal’s coastline, is made up of limestone.
It is a huge cave and definitely one of the most visually stunning caves I’ve ever visited. To reach the caves, you will want to either do one of the following:
- Take a boat tour from Lagos, Albufeira, Carvoeiro, Portimao, or pretty much anywhere. This is one of the most popular tours in the Algarve
- Rent a kayak or SUP from the nearby Benagil beach and paddle roughly 10 minutes to the cave adjacent.
- Swim from the beach to the cave (about 100 meters)
I rented a Kayak which is quite expensive especially for little time you spend on it. In total, I paid 15 euros per person for a two person kayak boat (that’s all they have). If you’re two people, expect to pay 30 euros for a 2h kayak rental! It is crazy expensive for what it is. SUP boards are also not much cheaper.
Swim to Benagil Caves
I couldn’t find much information on the internet about swimming to the cave. I just figured it was far away and not a great way to reach the cave. It turns out, the water is quite calm in the summer months and the distance is only 100 meters. If you are a semi-comfortable swimmer like myself who completed his divemaster, this is super easy and safe to do. I would totally just grab a dry bag and swim to the cave next time. It’s free, easy, and a good workout!
Expectations vs Reality
The cave itself is beautiful. It’s huge and stunning. The only problem is it is packed full of people. Upon arrival, there must have been at last 100 other people. This was at 9:30am no less. It’s one of those perfect expectations vs reality photos. I would not rush to do this cave again.
Silves is located 20km north of the coastline. It’s an absolutely beautiful town and was the ancient capital of the Algarve region. Under the Moors, Silves was a major defensive stronghold and important trading center. Nowadays, Silves is a peaceful town with a beautiful historical center that includes the imposing red break castle, the town walls, Gothic cathedral, and more.
I actually did not know about Silves at all. What brought me here was my search for grilled chicken (or Frango) which is famous along the Algarve coast. I found a frango restaurant in this town that looked amazing (and it absolutely was). Upon arriving, I immediately noticed the big red castle at the top of the town and knew I had to at least walk through it.
Turns out it’s a good decision!
Without a doubt, Ferragudo is the most idyllic and prettiest town in the Algarve. Like Carvoerio, it was a traditional fisherman’s town that has been turned into a tourist town but there is still a fishing industry here.
The town is built along a hill and offers beautiful traditional Portuguese houses, cobblestone streets, and colorful bougainvillea trees. Walking through the narrow streets of the town really reminded me of being in the Greek islands which is probably my favorite part of Europe. The Portuguese houses are more colorful however but the overall feel is perfect for those that want to take beautiful photos and be in a more relaxed setting.
Ferragudo still offers plenty of restaurants and bars to keep you entertained so if you’re looking for a quiet getaway surrounded by beautiful traditional houses this is your stop.
Day 4: Lagos Town, Praia Do Camilo, Praia Das Furnas
The next day I moved locations to the town of Lagos. This is only 30 minutes driving from Carvoeiro but I just wanted a change of scenery to see what all the Algarve had to offer!
Lagos is the second largest city in the Algarve after Faro. It is a very popular base for travelers coming through the Algarve as it is close to all the sights, has an abundance of restaurants and nightlife, as well as plenty of great accommodation options.
Its history is long and expansive as well dating back to the time of the Ancient Phoenicians. Lagos took control over the African trade and became the most important town in the Algarve and its capital between 1576 and 1756. The town was greatly destroyed by the terrible earthquake of 1755. As a result, the capital from the Algarve changed from Lagos to Faro.
Lagos has a beautiful old town that I found to be prettier than say Albufeira (but of course not as charming as Ferragudo or Silves). At night Lagos can be quite loud and the heart of the party so keep that in mind if you are noise sensitive.
There isn’t a whole lot to see as far as sights in Lagos. Its old city surrounded by the old walls is pretty to look at but in the end, the Algarve is all about the natural scenery. Once you’re done exploring the town, simply walk (or drive) south towards the beautiful viewpoints and beach.
There are plenty of amazing bars and restaurants in Lagos. Make sure to eat at the Reis restaurant to sample the famous Seafood Rice (Arroz con Marisco).
Praia Do Camilo
This is one of the most famous beaches in the Algarve. It’s located within walking distance to Lagos so if you do not have a car while visiting, this is the place for you. This small beach is enclosed by towering cliffs which makes the water calm and warm to swim in.
There is also a long windy set of stairs that lead to this beach and this makes for some fantastic photos.
Praia Das Furnas
Without a doubt, this is the best beach in the Algarve. If you like powder soft white sand, turquoise water, small crowds, and a stunning mountain backdrop, this is the beach for you.
I visited the Algarve in September and most of the beaches while beautiful, were packed full of people. If you like being with a lot of other people, then the above beaches will more than suit your fancy. However, if you are like me and like to visit the beach for just the natural beauty, aka without all the beach bars, fancy beach chairs, and the general scene, then this is the spot for you.
It’s located about 30 minutes west of Lagos and it is totally off the beaten path. When I arrived here, I knew I was in the right spot. A huge swatch of the softest powder sand I’ve ever felt was upon me. The water was crystal shallow and crystal clear. There were only a handful of people here on a Saturday in September. There were no beach chairs, and no restaurants here which is just how I like it.
One thing to note, this is a nude beach. Prepare to see naked people. If this is not your thing, the beach is plenty of big where you can get away from people. Nevertheless, this is the nicest beach I found on my Algarve trip.
Hiking the Hanging Valley Trail
Hiking is one of the best ways to explore the beautiful landscape of Portugal and its rugged coastline. In particular, hiking in the Algarve will lead you through rocky hills with panoramic views over cliffs and sandy beaches.
The Hanging Valley Trail is located on the western coast of Portugal between Portimao to Lagos and they were recently named one of the top 10 hiking trails in Europe by Lonely Planet Magazine.
These trails go through a natural park called Ria Formosa Natural Park, which is home to many different species of birds and animals including falcons, eagles and flamingos. This area was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it has been inhabited since Prehistoric times.x
Day 5: Drive up the southwest Coast of Portugal
The next day is dedicated to a road trip along the Atlantic coast of Southern Portugal. The stretch between Sagres in the very south to Sines half way to Lisbon, is the Vicentina Coastline and home to stunning cliffs and beaches.
The Atlantic ocean is wild and the waves crashing into the beach makes it a hotspot for surfers and those looking for a more relaxed getaway.
The drive from Sagres to Sines is roughly two hours nonstop, but you’ll want to stop along the coast for the various beautiful beaches and viewpoints. I would dedicate a whole day to this especially if you are keen to lounge on the beaches.
The drive itself is actually not so picturesque. It’s not like Chapman’s Peak in Cape Town where the road hugs the cliff edge offering you nonstop stunning views. Most of the drive is through forest as the road is inland.
First stop is Sagres, considered the furthest southwestern point on Continental Europe. It’s home to a vibrant surf community and is also the base for numerous hiking trails.
There is not much to see in Sagres except for the famous Sagres Fortress. This fortress is a huge structure and was constructed in the 15th century as a way to fend off invaders from North Africa.
It offers stunning views of the peninsula and the bluffs surrounding the structure. There is also a lighthouse at the very tip of the peninsula which you can walk to from the fortress.
I also stopped here for breakfast at the Laundry Lounge Cafe. This beautiful hipster style cafe actually does your laundry while you eat their delicious food.
Arrifana is a popular surf town with a great viewpoint and beach. There is also a fabulous restaurant here called O Paulo which is a perfect place to eat lunch or watch the sunset. The views are simply amazing.
Praia Amoreira is located just north of Arrifana and is home to a big sandy beach surrounded by cliffs.
Azenha Do Mar Lunch stop
Further north is the town of Azenha Do Mar. I stopped here for lunch at the famous Azenha Do Mar seafood restaurant. This local style Portuguese restaurant serves delicious seafood at reasonable prices and has a terrace with stunning views of the Atlantic.
I had the seafood rice which is a typical Portuguese seafood dish and it was absolutely divine.
Make sure to reserve ahead of time for this place as it gets quite busy.
Zambujeira do Mar
Zambujeira do Mar is another typical coastal city on Portugal’s western coastline. I didn’t actually stop in this town but rather stopped to take some beautiful photos of the beach and town.
Vila Nova de Milfontes
Vila Nova de Milfontes is one of the most popular towns in the Alentejo coast. It is home to beautiful beaches and white washed buildings in the town.
Porto Covo is a traditional fishing village north of Vila Nova de Milfontes and has stunning beaches. This is also a popular starting point for numerous hiking trails that hug the Alentejo coast.
Day 6: Relax day
Yes, even I like to relax! The sixth day was spent doing not much of anything. I went back to Praia das Furnas and just laid out for the majority of the day before having drinks and dinner in Lagos. Sometimes you need a day (or three) like this when traveling to places like the Algarve!
Day 7: Bonus day to Tavira, Olhao, and Praia Do Barril
This was my last day on the Algarve. My flight didn’t leave until 3pm that day so I had the morning to either relax or explore more of the Algarve. I opted for the latter of course and decided to explore the towns east of Faro before my flight out.
The main areas on my list were the towns of Tavira and Olhao, as well as the famous Praia Do Barril beach.
Located 30km east of Faro, Tavira is definitely one of the prettiest towns in the Algarve. It’s adorned with a plethora of historic buildings, ornate churches, and beautiful cobbled streets. Portuguese architecture is on full display here as the small streets are just begging to be photographed.
The city center is perfect for a nice cafe to start the day.
Praia Do Barril
Praia Do Barril is located just south of Tavira and is one of the most picturesque beaches in the eastern Algarve. To get to the beach, you’ll have to park your car well before the beach and walk about 1.5km. There is also an old school train that you can take which costs €1.30 one way.
Barril beach not only provides idyllic white sandy beaches, but also has an insight into the fishing history of the region. The beach was once the location of a small tuna fishing community which you can see from the numerous buildings next to the beach that have been turned into restaurants and bars for tourism.
Located right on the beach is the famous anchor monument of the numerous fishing boats that called this place home.
The other must visit town east of Faro is Olhão. Olhão was also once a fishing town that has been turned into a city of tourism and commerce. The old town is very picturesque and had some of the most beautiful streets in all of the Algarve.
The Mercado by the waterfront is unique but there’s not much here to see. There are plenty of good restaurants in the area as well.
Algarve Itinerary Day by Day breakdown
Hopefully you’ve gotten a better sense of how to prepare your trip after reading this article. Again, the Algarve is all about taking it slow and easy. If you are into lounging on the beach endlessly, then following my Algarve itinerary to a tee is probably not for you.
Nevertheless, hopefully you can now decide which beaches you want to spend all that time on. This is my Algarve itinerary on a day by day basis.
Day 1: Land in Faro, pick up rental car from rental car company and drive to Carvoeiro for the night
Day 2: Explore Carvoeiro area by foot, visit the numerous beaches nearby like Praia De Marinha and Praia do Carvalho
Day 3: Benagil Caves in the morning, Visit Silves town
Day 4: Drive to Lagos and explore the town, go to Praia do Camilo
Day 5: Road trip through Alentejo (Sagres, Arrifana, etc.)
Day 6: Relax day at Praia das Furnas, aka the best beach in the Algarve
Day 7: Go back to Faro for the flight home: Stop in Tavira, Olhao, and Praia do Barril along the way
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