We spent 11 days on the Algarve Coast in November 2020 and loved every minute of it! We were based in Lagos the whole time, but hired a car for a few days to explore the region. It was 11 very busy but very enjoyable days! Below we picked some of our favourite things to do and see in the beautiful Algarve.
We got very lucky with the weather which was like Goldilocks's porridge - just perfect - sunny most of the time with a temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius.
The coastlines of Algarve reminded us of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria Australia - rugged with sheer limestone cliffs, columns and arches shaped by relentless pounding waves over millions of years. The weather however reminded us of the winter of the Gold Coast in Queensland Australia - sunny and warm - perfect for outdoors.
Algarve is indeed hikers heaven - boasting a lot of hiking trails, long and short, coastal and inland - just take your pick. For instance, the 226km Fishermen's Trail is said to be one of the best coastal trails in the world.
With limited time and limited gear, we only did short day hikes which were normally 10-15km return. In general, we preferred the coastal hikes to inland ones due to the sceneries. Here are a few of our favourite hikes.
Two coastal walks from Lagos
We did a separate post on these two coastal walks, both of which start from Lagos. You can also combine these two walks which can be 13-14km in distance depending on where you start in Lagos. We did this a couple of times and found this longer version a great workout as well as a wonderful enjoyment.
Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos
This popular coastal walk starts from the beautiful beach of Praia da Marinha, passes the spectacular Benagil Cave and ends at another beautiful beach Vale de Centeanes in Carvoeiro. One way distance is about 3.5km with frequent undulation and some climbing. We spent a good three hours completing this return hike, taking our time savouring the wonders of nature.
If you have time, you can continue head west towards Algar Seco and Carvoeiro Boardwalk, which was worthwhile checking out.
Cabo de Sao Vicente
Cabo de São Vicente (Cape of Saint Vincent) is a windy headland at the most south-westerly point of mainland Europe. Until the end of the 14th century many believed this place to be the end of the world. The iconic working lighthouse tower above the cliffs there can be seen from 60 miles out at sea, making it one of the most powerful in Portugal.
There are hiking trails to both north and south of the lighthouse. We hiked 2km to the north, but found it too rocky to walk close to the cliff edge, and if we were to walk on the less rocky trail, it would be too far to get good views. Despite the discomfort on our feet, the views along the 2km coastline were absolutely stunning and worth the effort. We saw some fishermen fishing dangerously close to the edge of the sheer cliffs and wondered if they could be pulled over the cliffs if a big catch got caught on the hook?!
We turned around and headed south after the first 2km and found the trails more friendly on our feet. We did a total of 8km along the rugged coast, embracing some strong wind and sunshine. It was a lot of effort, but oddly satisfying!
For a region that takes less than two hours to drive from west to east, Algarve boasts a lot of cute towns and villages. I got overwhelmed when researching where to go. With limited time, we picked a few characterful small towns/villages and avoided large centers and resort towns.
An ancient capital of Algarve and a major defensive stronghold under the Moors (9-12th century), Silves today is a very peaceful and delightful town to explore. It's only half an hour drive away from Lagos.
Compared to the majority of white-coloured towns on the Algarve Coast, Silves looks reddish with its imposing red brick castle and extensive walls and other pinkish/reddish buildings. It features a lot of Moorish culture and architecture.
We loved the striking frontal view of the town when driving towards it. It's worthwhile to pull over and admire it before heading into town.
Tavira is a charming town on the east coast of Algarve along the Gilao River, only 25km from the Spanish border. It has a mix of traditional Portuguese heritage with Moorish influences.
The town felt very quiet and peaceful. We were especially impressed by their beautifully maintained gardens under the castle walls, in public squares and within a church complex.
It was easy just to spend a couple of hours wandering around, immersing in the town's relaxing atmosphere.
Famed for octopus, Santa Luzia is a traditional fishing village, a couple of kilometers from Tavira. The fishing fleet mostly fishes for octopus during the night and then sells the fresh catch in the small fish market every morning.
It has beautiful white sandy beaches as well as a vast wetland area where a variety of birds live. We loved walking along the promenade with beautifully painted houses on one side and the wetland and water way on the other.
When in Santa Luzia you have to head down the road to Praia do Barril - this is the only bridge across to the islands that make up the protected wetlands area stretching from Faro to Vila Nova de Cacela - see the beaches section below for more.
Just a 20 minute drive towards the west of Lagos lies the quaint fishing village Burgau. Since it's on the way to Cape of Saint Vincent, we thought it a good idea to stop and check it out. We spent an hour just wandering up and down the narrow streets and admiring the brightly painted houses and watching surfers having a morning surf. The little village didn't disappoint and we were glad to have made the stop.
Algarve coast is famous for its beaches. As it was November when we visited, we didn't intend to go swimming anywhere, so beach-going was not our priority. Having said that, we did admire a lot of beaches during our coastal walks and watched surfers and a few brave swimmers playing in the water.
One beach stood out for its art and history and that's Praia do Barril. Praia do Barril Beach is a nice white sandy beach about 1km from the fishing village of Santa Luzia. It's special to us because of those hundreds of rusty anchors on the beach, looking like surfing dolphins from a distance. No one knows who placed the first of the hundreds of anchors along the sand dunes, but locals continued adding them to honour the small tuna fishing community that once flourished in the area.
The anchors were used to weigh down the nets for catching tuna. Fishing in the area was a dangerous and difficult profession, but the unpredictable waters where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean were bustling with bluefin tuna. The technique for catching them was unique to the area, and was probably invented by the ancient Romans who colonised the area. Algarve thrived on tuna fishing for centuries, but local fishermen had to give up their occupation in the 1960s when the numbers of fish declined. Their anchors were just left on the beach to rust until someone came up with the artistic idea.
We enjoyed photographing and observing the anchors from many different angles and checking out the complex with a restaurant, a cafe and a tuna museum. Also walking to the beach from Santa Luzia was a nice stroll among the wetlands where you get to see bird activities along the way.