attractions and places to visit in the Algarve

14 Top-rated attractions and places to visit in the Algarve

The Algarve is the southernmost region of Portugal and one of the most popular holiday destinations in Europe. Blessed with a beautiful coastline and some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, the province enjoys hot, dry summers and short, mild winters. Warm sea temperatures and gentle winds add to the allure.

The Algarve is a country of contrast, and there is plenty to do. More than fifty percent of all visitors to Portugal spend their holidays here. The popular and more developed central region offers vibrant coastal towns, first-class tourist facilities and some of Portugal’s best golf courses. Further east, a series of sandbar islands and lagoons form part of a beautiful and protected natural park, and a distinctly Spanish atmosphere permeates the border towns and villages. To the west a completely different Algarve beckons. Wilder and more remote, this is a place to escape the crowds and where surfers seek a community with a restless Atlantic Ocean.

Read also: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Lagos

1 Faro


Busy Faro is the capital of the Algarve and its international airport is the gateway for many tourists arriving in the south of Portugal. As the largest city in the region, Faro is home to approximately 50,000 inhabitants and is a modern industrial and manufacturing center. It is the Old City , however, that tourists want to visit. Enclosed by sturdy defensive walls, Faro’s Cidade Velha sits on Roman and Moorish foundations. The city was severely damaged by the great earthquake of 1755 and what you see today largely dates from the 18th and 19th centuries. A maze of cobbled streets and green squares surround the monument cathedral . Explore further and you’ll find a number of cafes and restaurants discreetly hidden among rows of neat houses and craftsmen’s workshops. A great museum exhibits treasures excavated in the area and beyond.

The nearby esplanade is home to a small marina, beyond which is an expanse of lagoons and wetlands teeming with marine life. This beautiful natural park is also composed of many islets and huge sandbanks with their own fantastic beaches , including one named after the town.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Faro

2 Vila Real de Santo António

Marques de Pombal Square
Marques de Pombal Square

You’re just as likely to hear Spanish spoken as you are Portuguese, as this is about as close to Spain as you can get without actually crossing the border. Indeed, the shops and markets of Vila Real de Santo António are aimed at visiting Spaniards, but this pleasant border town also has a number of tourist attractions worth exploring. The excellent Arquivo Histórico Municipal on Avenida da República chronicles the region’s nearly extinct sardine and tuna canning industry with a lively interactive exhibition that’s free to visit. The handsome main square, Praça Marques de Pombal , features a striking mosaic in the sun radiating from a central obelisk and is surrounded by orange trees and plenty of inviting cafes and restaurants. A nice diversion is to take the ferry from the marina quay to the Spanish border town of Ayamonte , with its colorful tapas restaurants and traditionally decorated delicatessens. The ferry, which also carries cars, takes about 20 minutes to cross the Guadiana River.

A ten minute drive north of Vila Real is the spruce village of Castro Marim , dominated by an imposing 13th century castle . Open to the public, its enormous ramparts offer stunning views over the surrounding coastal Reserva Natural do Sapal nature park.

3 Alcoutim


The barren and sparsely populated interior of the eastern Algarve is rarely visited and largely remains off the tourist map. But about 40 kilometers north of Vila Real is the beautifully picturesque border village of Alcoutim. The drive alone is worth the detour. Instead of using the IC27 dual carriageway, follow the road that links the Guadiana River , a wide, winding waterway that provides a natural border between Spain and Portugal. A smolder of whitewash announces this riverside gem, and the tiny hamlet looks as if it was born from the imagination of an exceptionally talented artist. Once a strategic river port controlled in turn by Greeks, Romans and especially Arabs, Alcoutim later played a role as the setting for the peace treaty signed in 1371 between King Fernando I of Portugal and Enrique II of Castile.

It is still a sleepy and quiet Alcoutim that greets visitors today. The best way to sightsee is to explore the 14th century castle (the entrance fee includes access to a small archaeological museum near the main entrances). The castle walls offer beautiful views of the surrounding area, taking in the Spanish village of Sanlúcar de Guadiana , just across the river. A regular ferry service runs between the two villages, but there is an alternative and absolutely exciting way to cross the river. On the Spanish side, high above Sanlúcar, is the only cross-border zip operator in the world. In addition to speeding from one country to another, you’ll also adjust a time zone – there’s a one-hour time difference between Spain and Portugal.

Accommodation: where to stay in Alcoutim

4 Tavira



Close to the coast in the eastern Algarve, Tavira is one of the most beautiful towns in the region. Located on both sides of the wide River Gilão , this is a destination celebrated for its historical legacy, a past shaped by the Romans and later by the Moors, whose riverside settlement was crowned by a castle, still visible today . The hipped roofs that define much of Tavira’s architecture are unique to this part of the Algarve. So also the number of churches – 21 in total – that embellish the old city. It is elegant to talk about the river bridge , built in the 17th century on Roman foundations.

A stroll along the riverfront is one of the best ways to appreciate Tavira; the palm tree-lined gardens are bursting with color in the summer months and a nearby market is bustling with fresh fruit and vegetables. Ferries leave from the wharf to the Ilha de Tavira , a favorite destination for sun seekers and one of the few islands in the area where camping is allowed. Alternatively, you can join a sightseeing cruise along the Ria Formosa , a beautiful and pristine waterway and part of a protected natural park.

Accommodation: where to stay in Tavira

5 Olhão

Olhão Steve Slater / photo modified
Olhão Steve Slater / photo modified

The Algarve’s busiest fishing port, Olhão, is all over the ocean, and some of the best seafood restaurants in the region are on Avenida da República , the city’s lively thoroughfare. Another reason to pay Olhão is to browse its incredible harbourfront market – the largest and most animated on the coast. Open at dawn, the fish market is filled to the gills with an extraordinary array of produce, sleek and silver, and the freshest you will ever taste. Complementing this Atlantic harvest is a rural riot of just-picked fruit and vegetables, a farmer’s choice for a wonderful country.

Although it exudes a palpable North African atmosphere with its casbah cluster of whitewashed, flat-roofed houses, Olhão has been deprived of any major tourist attractions. However, the waterfront town is a great base from which to explore the pristine Parque Natural da Ria Formosa . Visitors can follow a beautiful network of nature trails and discover a wealth of wildlife within the various habitats. For others, it’s Olhão’s proximity to the fantastic nearly uninhabited sandbar islands of Armona , Culatra , and Farol that lures them to this particular pocket of Portugal.

6 Loulé


Far away from the coast, Loulé is a busy market town with a special character and a fascinating past. The town is best known for its fruit and vegetable market , one of the busiest and most entertaining in the Algarve. The sprawling collection of stables, huts and kiosks is housed in a late 19th century building with red domes and striking horseshoe-shaped windows. On Saturday mornings, the market spills over into the surrounding streets as farmers from outlying districts come to sell their crops.

Loulé has always been a vibrant commercial center. The Moors built on Roman foundations to create a thriving trading center, building a castle here in the 12th century to protect their interests. You can walk along the ramparts for nice views of the old city, and there is a small museum on site. Arabic influence is everywhere. Stroll through the backstreets of Loulé and discover the ruins of an Islamic bathhouse , the Hammam de Al-‘Ulyà . In the beautiful 16th century Capela Nossa Senhora da Conceição , decorated with stunning azulejos tiles, part of the floor reveals the foundations of a 12th century Moorish house . Explore further and you will see the Igreja Matriz de São Clemente . The church’s towering bell tower originally served as a minaret.

About 25 kilometers northwest of Loulé, Alte is a picturesque village nestled in the foothills of a mountain range and dotted with flower-filled gardens. To absorb the picturesque local color of the town, tourists can stroll the narrow cobbled streets with their charming whitewashed houses or relax in one of the many cafes.

7 Vilamoura



No fewer than five championship golf courses cluster in and around Vilamoura making this chic seaside resort a favorite with those looking to practice their swing or improve their handicap. Some hotels offer their guests preferential green fees and other benefits, such as free shuttles to and from the clubhouses. Vilamoura is also synonymous with Portugal’s largest marina facility, which offers 825 berths and can accommodate vessels up to 60 meters in length. Lined with designer boutiques and expensive restaurants, the esplanade is great for people watching, especially in August when Lisbon’s jet set walks the planks lined by their designer.

This is a family-friendly destination with plenty of activities for children. The promenade is the starting point for coastal cruises and other water sports activities, and you can rent pedal boats in the sand at Praia da Marina . Elsewhere, the family golf park is an 18-hole mini golf course inspired by ancient Rome. Actually, the Romans were here, and the area has the ruins of a 2nd-century villa complex, Museu Cerro da Vila , complete with sunken baths, salt tanks and striking mosaics.

8 Albufeira



Albufeira is the destination of choice for many holidaymakers in the Algarve. Its central location on the coast of southern Portugal makes it one of the region’s most accessible resorts, and it is a favorite with tourists from all over Europe and beyond. Perched on sandstone cliffs above a wide sandy bay, old Albufeira was once a quiet fishing village, nothing more than a cluster of whitewashed cottages, a chapel and a church. Step further back, and it was the Romans who built a castle here, later fortified by the Moors . Little remains of their presence, but what Albufeira lacks in historical interest it more than makes up for in its animated spirit and holiday-time atmosphere. The resort’s neon-lit streets illuminate a plethora of hotels, cafes, restaurants and nightclubs. First-class leisure facilities exude an all-round appeal, and Albufeira is often the preferred choice of families.

But the destination’s biggest crowd-puller is the beaches . Some of the best stretches of sand in the Algarve are within walking distance of the resort, spectacular cliff-top coves surrounded by warm, shallow waters. This is why Albufeira is the tourist capital of the Algarve.

9 Silves


Lying on a hillside overlooking a fertile valley embroidered with orange groves, olive groves and vineyards, Silves is one of the most picturesque towns in the Algarve. The landscape, however, is dominated by the splendor of the town castle – the largest monument to Muslim rule in the region. Built by the Moors in the 11th century on Roman foundations, the castle’s dramatic profile is enhanced by its copper-coloured walls, parts of which extend towards the town below. This was Xelb , the Moorish capital of the al-Gharb (“the west”). Another fine example of Islamic presence can be seen in the Museu Arqueológico , where the star is an impressive Arabic cistern with a well 18 meters deep.

Silves is worth exploring at leisure. Downhill from the fortress is the (cathedral), built between 1242 and 1577 on the site of Xelb’s Great Mosque. Opposite is the 16th century Igreja da Misericórdia , replete with a fine Manueline side door. The town itself is delightful, especially the area along the river, which is lined with a small market and some excellent restaurants. Cruise boats from Portimão connect here near the old bridge.

10 Portimão

From promenade van Portimão
From promenade van Portimão

Historically associated with the Algarve’s once-thriving canning industry, Portimão has successfully reinvented itself as a destination for tourists who prefer to stay in an urban environment yet remain within shouting distance of a seaside resort environment. The region’s second largest city, Portimão, enjoys an enviable location overlooking the banks of the Arade River . Endowed with an award-winning museum and a renowned theater complex, the city cherishes its reputation as one of the region’s most vibrant cultural centres. It is also an international port of call for luxury cruise ships bound for the Mediterranean.

An eclectic choice of tourist facilities is close by, options that include a fantastic artificial reef – the first in Portugal – that attracts diving enthusiasts from all over the world. Inland, a Formula 1 standard racecourse hosts sports car championships and other high-profile competitions. A modern marina at the mouth of the estuary is within walking distance of one of the Algarve’s most famous beaches, Praia da Rocha – a beautiful and attractive stretch of golden sand that overlooks the vibrant tourist resort of the same name.

11 Serra de Monchique

Serra de Monchique
Serra de Monchique

An alternative to beach life in the Algarve is the Serra de Monchique, a rolling mountain range that adds a dramatic perspective to the region’s western landscape. Lined with fragrant meadows of wildflowers, the slopes of Monchique are dotted with chestnut and eucalyptus, the verdant habitat that sustains an abundance of wildlife. A network of nature trails winds through the shady forest; one leads all the way to Fóia , the highest point in the Algarve at 900 metres. On a clear day, the spectacular panorama embraces the entire western landmass of the region, including Lagos and Sagres, and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

The pleasant mountain town of Monchique makes a great base for exploring the area and is known for its traditional crafts: look out for the cadeiras de tesoura , the x-shaped folding wooden chairs based on an ancient Roman design. And it’s the Romans who first took advantage of the warm, healing waters that nourish Caldas de Monchique , a charming spa town tucked away in a wooded gorge in the foothills of the Serra. Set around a cobbled square with a restaurant, café-art gallery and bed and breakfast accommodation, the modern thermal spa offers a tempting menu of therapeutic treatments and rituals.

12 Lagos


Lagos is the most lively seaside resort of the western Algarve. It is also of great historical significance. Prince Henry the Navigator launched Portugal’s age of discovery of Lagos in the 15th century, and the nobleman later became governor of the Algarve. His extraordinary vision and the bravery of the intrepid explorers who sailed into unknown waters helped put Portugal on the world map and Lagos is proud of its maritime heritage.

The town’s medieval collection of castle walls, ornate churches and sturdy sea walls always captures the imagination of visitors, but it’s the coastline that lures holidaymakers. A beautiful range of cliffs, caves and caves form the backdrop to some of the most scenic beaches in the Algarve. A series of spectacular ochre-splashed rock formations contrast with sparkling azure waters, and the best way to appreciate this idyllic setting is by boat – Lagos’ extensive leisure facilities extend to sightseeing cruises and dolphin safaris . Shopping here is good and cheap, and a wide choice of cafes and restaurants offer plenty of culinary distractions.

13 Sagres


Continental Europe’s most south-westerly community, Sagres, located some 120 kilometers west of Faro, basks in glorious seclusion and is the Algarve’s least developed coastal town. It is here that Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) is believed to have established a school of navigation on a windswept promontory close to the city, heralding Portugal’s remarkable period of maritime discovery. The thick-walled Fortaleza seen today dates from the 17th century, but within its walls, you’ll see a giant pebble wind compass, the Rosa dos Ventos , said to have been used by Henry. The adjacent 15th-century chapel of Nossa Senhora da Graça was certainly built on his orders.

Ancient Greek chroniclers described nearby Cabo de São Vicente as ‘the end of the inhabited earth’, such is the austerity of this stark, windswept cape. The lighthouse serves as a navigational beacon not only for shipping but also for thousands of migrating birds, and there is a birdwatching festival here every October. The town itself wakes up in summer to welcome a predominantly young crowd drawn by cheap accommodation, simple restaurants and close proximity to some truly fantastic beaches. Sagres is Europe’s surfing capital and the destination hosts of the World Surfing Championships.

14 The West Coast


Praia da Bordeira

Falling cliffs, wide open beaches and a restless Atlantic Ocean define the character of the west coast of the Algarve. Devoid of development, this remote and untamed stretch of coast is the domain of the more spirited traveler. Surfers revere the region, attracted by the excellent rollers that crash on Praia da Bordeira , Praia do Amado , Praia da Arrifana , and other sandy arenas. Surf schools abound, with many free transfers from Faro airport.

Traditional villages untouched by tourism dot the landscape, places such as Carrapateira and Odeceixe . Accommodation is scarce, and very often it is the humble campervan that prevails. Non-fussy restaurants serve delicious grilled fish and other delicious seafood dishes. The entire region falls within the boundaries of the Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina Natural Park and you can follow a number of hiking trails, both inland and along the coast, that showcase the wild and rugged landscape. For a worthwhile cultural diversion, head to the lively town of Aljezur and visit the ruins of an eleventh-century Moorish castle , perched on a hill with uninterrupted views of the valley below.

Tips and tours: how to get the most out of your visit to the Algarve

Numerous tours in the Algarve and different activities are available on land and in the sea, and all year round. These organized tours include expert guides, so you can learn about the destination while seeing the sights.

  • Sightseeing by boat: A popular sea activity is the Lagos kayak and snorkel trip, a guided excursion along the Atlantic coast. This active three-hour tour delves into sea caves and ancient caves for a different perspective of the Algarve. If you prefer not to paddle, the Ria Formosa Natural Park 4 Islands boat tour is an excellent choice. Departing from Faro, this 4.5-hour tour takes you at a leisurely pace aboard a 12-seater catamaran through one of Europe’s most beautiful marine reserves.
  • Sightseeing by bike: Take a four-hour cycle tour through beautiful countryside, past small towns, farmland and coastal landscapes. This small-group bike tour can be tailored to your fitness level.

Explore more of the sun-drenched Algarve

To fully appreciate the unique allure of the Algarve, study our itineraries page for ideas on where to go and what to see. The region’s top tourist attractions include a number of historic castles and world-class golf courses. Several of Portugal’s most modern and luxurious beach resorts can be found here and of course the Algarve is renowned for its wide choice of fantastically picturesque beaches.

Read also:

Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Albufeira

Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Olhão

best places to visit in Portugal

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