Love it or hate it, the Algarve is Portugal’s premier holiday destination, with pretty beaches, brash resorts and picturesque whitewashed towns that flood with foreigners when summer arrives. While the party atmosphere isn’t for everyone, the setting is undeniably beautiful: breathtaking cliffs, wide golden sands, natural bays, scalloped beaches and long sandy islands with waves lapping at the shore. Outside the touristy enclaves, there are quiet castle towns, flower-covered hillsides and enchanting stretches of shoreline still untouched by development.
The towns themselves aren’t as varied as the coastline, but still offer a wide range of personalities. Lagos, with its cobbled streets, young crowd and abundant nightlife, is the carnival queen of the Algarve. Monchique is a quaint town with fine views over the steep wooded countryside. Tavira, set along a peaceful river, remains elegant and laid-back, with a history dating back to the Romans. The capital of the region, Faro, has a more Portuguese feel than some, and a fascinating medieval quarter. Out on the rugged west coast, small, charming towns like Sagres and Carrapateira attract a surf-loving crowd, while cliffside Albufeira sees a wider mix of travellers.
If you’re not keen on crowds and high-season prices, avoid coming from July to mid-September. This is when most Portuguese and other Europeans take their holidays: spring and autumn are lovely alternatives (though the water will be a bit nippy).
Measuring only 160km x 50km, the Algarve, Portugal, is without a doubt the perfect holiday destination for families, couples, independent travellers and backpackers, mixed groups and retired people...in fact, anyone who wants to enjoy a lovely chilled break! For families, we suggest hitting the coast (that’s not difficult we know!) and for the most accessible family entertainment stay between Quarteira and Lagos (central and western Algarve). Albufeira, Praia da Rocha and Lagos are the best for partying for singles, couples and groups, or for a luxury holiday try the ‘Golden Triangle’ (Almancil - Quinta do Lagos - Vale do Lobo), Vilamoura or Ferragudo (an up and coming hotspot!). For culture and history, try Silves, Tavira, Lagos or Sagres and for quiet walks in beautiful countryside, visit Alte, Monchique, São Brás de Alportel, Alcoutim, Aljezur or the western Atlantic coast of the Algarve. For independent travellers and backpackers, travel down to the furthest points in western Algarve because it’s the end with the cool culture where everyone’s welcome! (Just head to a bar on your first day and you’ll fit right in!) For older generations, if you want accessible beaches and be able to walk around with ease try the flatter eastern Algarve resorts, such as Monte Gordo and Vila Real de Santo António. This area of the Algarve is also a little warmer throughout the year and the sea is too because it is closer to the Mediterranean Sea.
Carvoeiro in western Algarve, PortugalEvery resort in the Algarve has its own unique character, offering totally different scenery, experiences, activities and gastronomic delights. Since the start of Algarve tourism (only really taking off back in the 1970s) some resorts have changed immensely, like Albufeira and Carvoeiro, and some areas have barely changed at all, such as Alte, Monchique and the Western Atlantic Coast. With central Algarve being the first place to ‘be hit’ by tourism there has been a mass of development, with hotels, tourism activities, bars, restaurants and shops popping up all over the place. However, areas such as the Western Atlantic Coast still hold on to their natural ‘ruggedness’ and there are still beaches where you won't find a beach bar or even a toilet!