Algarve Portugal: a year round guide

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 17.04.2024

The Algarve Portugal has 300 days of sunshine each year. And it attracts millions of visitors. But sticking to beaches and golf means missing out. With 200km of coastline there's lots to discover. Five ­centuries of Moorish left a rich legacy. And secrets can still be found in the Algarve.

Spend time in Faro old town

Don't skip Faro and head straight for Algarve resorts. Spend a few hours in the city at least. Get lost in Faro old town. Discover narrow lanes and churches. Explore the ruined city walls. And make time for its pretty harbour.

Restaurants like Tertúlia Algarvia serve up Algarve specialties such as Cataplana. And try the rooftop bar at Hotel Faro for sunsets over Ria Formosa.

Faro town in Algarve, Portugal © Digital signal/Shutterstock

Don't miss out on Faro old town in central Algarve © Digital signal/Shutterstock

Admire street art in creative Olhão

Visit the town of Olhão for its extraordinary creativity. Much of centre has been transformed with street art celebrating the town's heritage.

In the suburbs, abandoned buildings and churches showcase Portuguese artists. And if want to buy art, many town shops sell the work of local artisans.

Find traditional towns hidden all over Algarve Portugal © Richard James Taylor/VisitAlgarve

Explore the natural wonder of Ria Formosa

The Ria Formosa Natural Park stretches 60 km from Ancão beach almost to the Spanish border.

  • A complex system of sandbanks, reefs and islands.
  • A natural habitat for protected plant and wildlife.
  • Home to isolated, unspoiled island villages.
  • Protects traditional local communities and lifestyles.

Explore Ria Formosa by boat. Ferry services run from Faro and Olhão. Want a more personal experience? Take a catamaran cruise from Olhão for a day of island hopping.

Ria Formosa © VisitAlgarve

Explore natural Algarve beauty at Ria Formosa Natural Park © VisitAlgarve

Watch birds galore in Algarve Portugal

Some 395 bird species have been recorded in the Algarve.

  • Regular sightings include seabirds, shorebirds, ducks, and birds of prey.
  • Bird spotting is a year-round activity in the region.
  • Many overwintering birds can be seen from November to February.
  • Ria Formosa and Sapal de Castro Marim Nature Reserve are prime spotting territory.
  • Flamingos can be seen around Olhao and Fuseta for much of the year.

Want to spot birds with local experts? Book an eco-friendly bird watching tour of Ria Formosa.

A group of flamingos in Ria Formosa © Taniaaraujo/Shutterstock

Flamingos enjoy Algarve weather in Ria Formosa © Taniaaraujo/Shutterstock

Eat fresh and local all over Algarve

Algarve cuisine is an aromatic melting pot. Influences range from Arab to Mediterranean. And the local larder is packed with fresh tuna, olives, oysters and more.

It's a foodie playground. The seafood's fresh as can be. And head inland to discover vineyards, olive groves and carob trees.

Centuries ago, eastern Algarve supplied salt to the Roman Empire. Today it still cultivates some of the world's finest. And Sal Marim is found in Michelin starred restaurants all over Europe.

Prefer to leave planning and booking to experts? Have a look at some sample itineraries. Both Complete Portugal or Portugal Itineraries offer inspiration. All Tailor Made Trips can be modified together with your local expert, then booked for a stress-free holiday. Click 'Modify this itinerary' to contact a local Portugal expert.

Conquilha dish © VisitAlgarve

Traditional Conquilha with freshest Algarve seafood © VisitAlgarve

Be surprised by grand Algarve architecture

Expect architectural grandeur even in small Algarve towns. Vila Real de Santo Antonio sits on the Guadiana river. It's close to the Spanish border. And in 1755 was levelled by the same earthquake which devastated Lisbon. Happily, the same architect who rebuilt the capital travelled well.

Marquis de Pombal recreated his Pombaline style in Vila Real de Santo Antonio. He designed a grid-plan around a central square. And then he combined neoclassical elements with whitewashed facades and red roofs. The town's Art Nouveau riverfront was designed by Swiss architect Ernesto Korrodi.

Tempted to experience some Pombaline style? Consider at stay at Pombaline Building, in the heart of Vila Real de Santo Antonio.

Vila Real de San Antonio © VisitAlgarve

The graceful Pombaline design of Vila Real de San Antonio © VisitAlgarve

Take to the water in Algarve Portugal

The Algarve coast is a magnet for surfers. And equally alluring for sailing and swimming.

Western Algarve is where the Atlantic is wildest. It's the coast for experienced surfers and sailors.

Algarve weather is warmer to the east. And seas are calmer closer to the Mediterranean.

You can go dolphin or whale watching right along the Algarve coast. Try Lagos or Albufeira for guided cruises. Grottos and caves can be explored by yacht or kayak. And Portimão, Faro or Olhao are all good for boat trips.

Dream Wave Insonia whale watching © VisitAlgarve

Go dolphin watching on the coast of Algarve Portugal © VisitAlgarve

Escape to wild west Costa Vicentina Natural Park

Feel like escaping? Head to western Algarve. Here, Costa Vicentina is Europe’s last wild coastline.

Costa Vicentina Natural Park has no major developments. There are no new urban areas. And the park stretches from near Lisbon, south to Porto Covo in Alentejo.

Heavily protected Costa Vicentina is the Algarve's best preserved coast. Sustainability is high on the agenda. And the focus is on protecting the environment and local communities.

The park's networked with 1750km of hiking and cycling trails. Try one of 24 circular routes. Or go for the Historical Way or Fishermen’s Trails.

Unspoiled Costa Vicentina Natural Park, Algarve Portugal © VisitAlgarve

Find your favourite Algarve beach

The Algarve has some of the world's best beaches. And it isn't too hard to find quieter ones.

Head east for Praia da Ilha Deserta. It's on an island on the Ria Formosa. Completely unspoiled, it's reached by ferry. Praia da Culatra is another eastern beach to try.

Need more beach facilities? Make for western Algarve. Praia de Dona Ana, Praia de Benagil, and Praia da Falesia are all great choices.

Praia da Bordeira is north on the Atlantic coast. It's perfect for walking or surfing.

Praia de Vale Centeanes, Algarve © Visit Algarve

Algarve weather is perfect for beaches like Praia de Vale Centeanes © Visit Algarve

Ready for a trip to Portugal? Read more about the best time to go to Portugal, the best places to visit and best things to do in Portugal. For inspiration use the Portugal Itineraries from The Rough Guide to Portugal and created by our local travel agents in Portugal. A bit more hands on, check out the map of Portugal and learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay in Portugal once you are there. And don't forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

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Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 17.04.2024

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