Portugal is famous of its Algarve region and with good reason. Stretching along the most southern part of Portugal and covering just under 2000 square mines (5000 km2 ), the Algarve is home to some of the world’s best beaches, coves and hidden caves, making it one of the best places to sunbath and explore in Europe. If you find yourself in Portugal soon, and I seriously suggest you do, here is what to see, do and eat in the Algarve.
Most people start their Algarve adventures in Faro, the capital of the Algarve region. With cobbled streets lined with restaurants, cathedrals and novelty shops, Faro has a lot to offer but is still small enough to explore in a day. When in town, make sure you have an ice cream as you stroll around the marina and if you are brave, go see the amazing Capela dos Ossos, also known as the Bone Chapel.
With walls built from femurs glued together with mortar and decorated with white skulls and other bones set in ghoulish geometric patterns up to a barrel-vaulted ceiling, the Bone Chapel is a place like no other. Officially known as a ossuary – a site or room in which the displaced bones of the dead are placed, Capela dos Ossos was built in 1816 by Carmelite monks with the remains of 1245 monks who once served the city. Exhumed when the cemetery in Faro became too overcrowded, displacing bones from their cemetery plots to an ossuary was common practice throughout Catholic Europe and Capela dos Ossos is not the only one of its kind in Portugal.
Built at the rear of the Igreja do Carmo Church, one of Faro’s most attractive buildings, Capela dos Ossos is open to the public weekdays between 10h00 and 13h00 and again between 15h00 and 17h30. You can visit on Saturdays between 10h00 and 13h00, but the chapel is closed all day on Sundays. It costs €2 to enter the Igreja do Carmo Church, but after that the Bone Chapel is free to enter. Morbid? A bit. Scary? A little. But rated as one of the top things to do in Faro, the Capela dos Ossos is interesting, unique and is definitely not to be missed.
Obviously the beach is the best place to escape the delicious Portugal heat, but which one is the true question! I can strongly recommend spending a day on Praia da Marinha near Lagoa or on Praia do Camilo near Lagos. My ultimate favourite, however, must be Praia Dona Ana with its golden sand and stunning surroundings. Be sure to have a beer at Marisol , a small family run restaurant perched on the cliffs overlooking the beach that serves the best burgers you will ever have.
Gorgeous fishing villages, small towns and even a few cities line the Algarve coast, but none are as pretty as Carvoeiro. Just under an hour’s drive from Faro and only 35 minutes from Lagos, Carvoeiro sits right in the heart of the Algarve and is not to be missed. Praia de Carvoeiro is right in the middle of town and if this beach hugged by tall cliffs lined by white buildings doesn’t steal your heart forever, I don’t know what will!
After spending a day on the golden sandy beach, get your walking shoes on and head west along Rua do Paraiso to Alto de Praia do Carvoeiro, a small lookout point that offers the best view over the small whitewashed village and the rocky coastline that surrounds it. Take the dirt footpath that leads further west from the lookout and after about 15 minutes of easy walking you will find yourself at Praia Paraiso, or Paradise Beach. Surrounded by steep cliffs and only accessible via a set of white stone steps, the beach is more secluded, smaller and a lot less touristy than other beaches in the area. Note that even though the beach is absolutely stunning, it is also dangerous. Waves are bigger here than at the Carvoeiro’s main beach and tides regularly sweep unsuspecting bathers into deeper waters.
Instead of west, you can also walk east from Praia de Carvoeiro along the Carvoeiro boardwalk – a 580m long wooden walkway that snakes along the top of the cliffs. A stroll along the boardwalk offers breathtaking views of the surrounding coastline and leads to Algar Seco, an amazing cave surrounded by interesting limestone rock formations. Take the steep steps down and explore the tunnels, caves and natural pools before heading to Boneca Bar for a glass of sangria.
Continue further east on the dirt track and you will end up at Vale de Covo beach and be prepared for your breath to be taken away. Best viewed from the heights of the cliffs, Vale de Covo is surrounded by bright blue water and having a picnic on the cliff’s edge enjoying the view is one of the best ways to spend an afternoon in the Algarve.
If there is one thing you have to do in the Algarve is explore the coastline, but from the water! If you are feeling adventurous, book yourself a sunrise kayak tour with Secret Algarve. Led by an experienced guide, you will get the chance to kayak from Praia de Benagil, or Benagil beach, all the way to the world famous domed cave that you see all over Instagram, visiting some smaller caves along the way. For less than £40, this is a great adventure and I cannot recommend it enough. Be sure to pack your GoPro or a waterproof cover for your phone, as you will definitely be wanting pictures!
Secret Algarve kayaking tours all start from and end at Praia de Benagil and if you are feeling peckish after your wild water adventure, stop for a milkshake and one of Portugal’s most favourite dishes – the humble pasteis de nata, or Portuguese custard tarts at the Benagil Beach Bar.
If you feel like travelling a bit further afield, make your way to the charming village of Sagres. Balanced on the most southwesterly cliffs of mainland Europe, Sagres was for centuries believed to be the end of the world and a trip to the Algarve would not be complete without visiting this little village. You can read my full guide to Sagres here.
With a population of around 2 000 permanent residents, Sagres is small, sweet and an ideal escape from the summer crowds around Faro and Lagos. Even though Sagres is a fishing village, tourism has in recent years become the main source of income for the area and thus the town is now filled with holiday apartments, boutique hotels and Airbnb accommodation. For an exceptional stay, book far in advance and stay in one of the stunning cottages at Cercas Velhas. In town, ensure you make a stop at the incredibly colourful pottery shop, Ceramica Paraiso. Covered in colourful plates decorated in traditional designs, the shop has become one of the most Instagrammable places in the Algarve.
With a laid back atmosphere, Sagres is easy to explore by foot and walking down to the sheltered harbour is a must. When there, pick your own fresh fish and watch them cook it on an open fire at A Sereia – the small family run restaurant that arguably serves some of the best seafood in Portugal.
If you are in Sagres with a rental car and you are willing to wander a bit further afield, make sure you do the 10 minute drive up to Cabo de Sao Vicente, also known as Cape St. Vincent. The Cape St Vincent lighthouse, built in 1846 over the ruins of a Franciscan convent dating from the 16th century, stands 24 metres (79 ft) high above the barren landscape. Guarding one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, the Cabo de Sao Vicente lighthouse is currently one of the most powerful lighthouses in Europe with a lamp that can be seen up to 60 kilometers (37 miles) away.
Getting to the Cabo de Sao Vicente Lighthouse is easiest with a rental car, but a bus service operated by Eva leaves Sagres each day at 11h15 and returns from the lighshouse back to Sagres at 15h05. A single journey cost €1.95 each way in October 2019, but I strongly advice checking time and prices before you go, as it varies depending on season. Inside the lighthouse there is a rooftop bar, but take your own drinks to enjoy picnic-style along the cliffsides – one of the best places in the world to watch the sunset. When visiting Cabo de Sao Vicente and its resident lighthouse, make sure you take some warmer clothing with you. Exposed to the elements, especially the ruthless wind, temperatures here are much lower than in the rest of the Algarve.
If you don’t want to take the trip to Cabo de Sao Vicente for the views, then do it for the sausages. Truly being the last place you can buy a sausage before crossing the Atlantic ocean to the Americas, the Letze Bratwurst vor Amerika stand has become an iconic institution and no trip to Sagres is complete without eating a German sausage while looking over the cliffs.
Note: All details are correct at the time of publication. Please check opening times of places and restaurants before you visit, as they may only open during certain times of the year. I have also added the Google Maps locations as a link on all of the beaches mentioned so that you can find them easily. I hope this guide helps you gallivant all over the Algarve and if you would like to see more pictures of my travels, follow me on Instagram at @luzanne_f.