April 22 , 2024

The Best Towns of the Algarve

Choosing where to stay on Portugal’s southern coast.

The Best Towns of the Algarve


The dramatic coast of southern Portugal is unlike anything you’ll find in the rest of Europe. Windswept Atlantic cliffs and lime-washed fishing villages mix with golden beaches that cater to surf enthusiasts, resort-going families and active retirees. Portugal is known as a good-value destination, and the sunny Algarve is well-hyped as a year-round beach destination.


It's true that you can find sunshine year-round, so you don’t need to wait for summertime for this beach vacation. In fact, temperatures can get pretty scorching in the summer months, so consider that when booking your trip. Even in December through February, the days can be mild and pleasant for exploring the towns and coastal attractions.


If you’ve heard of the Algarve, then you may already know about the most popular focal points like Lagos, Albufeira, Sagres and Faro. Beyond these, there are many more little towns that deserve your attention perhaps even more. It’s here where you’re more likely to encounter the day-to-day rhythms of local life. 


Within the Algarve’s 16 municipalities, there’s a lot to explore from seaside to countryside. A drive of about two hours takes you from the region’s western tip to its border with Spain, but you’ll want to take several days to a week to see it all and not feel rushed. You need time to relax on those beautiful beaches of course! We do recommend renting a car during your visit – the roads are not difficult to drive, and it’s a great place to roam freely, with your own four wheels and without a strict schedule.  


With this list of the Algarve’s most beautiful towns, we wanted to highlight what makes each place special, so you can get an idea of the range of activities and experiences available for your Algarve vacation.






Albufeira, a lively seaside resort town.


Photo by Kevin Walker on Unsplash



Albufeira will keep you busy through the day and night. With a concentration of beautiful beaches and lively evenings, it attracts beach-goers and party-lovers alike. The Albufeira "Strip" is a hive of activity, offering a diverse array of bars, clubs and music venues that stay open late into the night. While the modern city is nothing to look at, Albufeira’s Old Town gives a glimpse of the region’s more easy-going nature with pleasant streets to wander. There are also some excellent hotels and beaches in this area.


Accommodation options: Vila Joya / EPIC SANA Algarve / Grande Real Santa Eulália / NAU São Rafael Atlântico / Pine Cliffs Resort / Vila Gale Collection Praia



Carvoeiro, good for family vacations.


Photo by Jo Kassis on Pexels


Nestled among dramatic limestone cliffs, the small town of Carvoeiro exudes a relaxed but vibrant atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and stunning sea caves and rock formations waiting to be explored. The town beach is easy to access, even with a stroller, and has good facilities. The beach isn’t very big, so it gets crowded in the height of summer – you’ll want to come early to beat the crowds as well as the heat if you travel in the summer.


If you stay here, you’ll probably be renting a car with the goal to do some exploring on your own. Nearby beaches include Praia da Marinha, Praia do Vale de Centeanes, Praia do Carvalho, Praia de Benagil, Praia de Nossa Senhora da Rocha, Praia Nova, and Praia do Paraiso. Don’t forget to walk the boardwalk to explore the sea caves at Algar Seco.


If you’re planning a family vacation to the Algarve, renting a villa nearby Carvoeiro or Ferragudo can be an excellent option!


Accommodation options: Vila Alba Resort & Spa / Monte Dourado / Pestana Palm Gardens / Quinta do Algarvio Village



Ferragudo, a picturesque central fishing village.


Photo by Micheile Oliviestrauss on Pexels


Just to the west of Carvoeiro, the charming fishing village of Ferragudo hugs the Arade River as it empties into the Atlantic. The old town looks across the waterway to the marina of Portimão, which has a more industrial aesthetic, while your eyes will be drawn to the picturesque, cobbled lanes of Ferragudo.


For most of the year, a laid-back ambiance settles on the whitewashed buildings of this former fishing village. The main square, Praça Rainha Dona Leonor, is a lively meeting point with shops and eateries. The town is also in a great spot for boat trips upriver to Silves or to nearby sea caves. To the south of town, you can enjoy the Algarve’s sandy shore at Praia Grande and Praia da Angrinha, with a medieval castle set right between the beaches.


Accommodation options: Caneiros Luxury House & Suites



Portimão, a jumping-off point for active vacations.


Photo by Tania Mousinho on Unsplash


Portimão is one of the bigger cities in the region, and not that charming with its high-rise buildings. However, it’s popular with expats and bustling with activity and events throughout the year. Many boat trips and excursions depart from Portimão, so it can be a nice option if you want to be active with water sports and outdoor adventures like kayaking, hiking and horseback riding. Praia de Rocha is a popular beach nearby.


Accommodation options: AP Oriental Beach Hotel / NH Marina Portimao Resort / Bela Vista Hotel & Spa



Faro, the capital for history and culture.


Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash


Serving as the region’s capital and gateway city in the eastern-central coast, Faro is a place that most visitors just pass through. From Lisbon, you can easily reach Faro by high-speed train in 3 hours. Or, you can fly to Faro from Lisbon, Porto or even other European cities like London or Madrid.


If you like historical and cultural sites, then don’t leave Faro too quickly. Explore the charming Old Town (Cidade Velha), enclosed by medieval walls, where cobblestone streets lead to landmarks like the Sé Cathedral and the intricate Arco da Vila. Institutions like the Municipal Museum and the Maritime Museum show off artifacts and exhibits detailing Faro’s maritime legacy and cultural evolution. If you want to go even deeper into the Algarve’s storied past, there are also archaeological sites like the Milreu Roman Ruins and the Roman settlement of Estói.


Accommodation options: Hotel Faro & Beach Club / 3HB Faro / Pousada Palacio de Estoi



Vilamoura, a resort for yachting and golfing.


Photo by Vera Bomstad on Pexels


To the west of Faro is the upscale marina of Vilamoura, with million-dollar yachts and elite amenities. This is the most glamorous of the Algarve towns, offering luxury resorts, chic fine dining, and several championship golf courses. Vilamoura is a particular paradise for golfers and those looking for the most sophisticated beach vacation. Nearby is the gorgeous Praia de Falésia red-cliff beach.


Accommodation options: Tivoli Marina Vilamoura Algarve Resort / The Lake Resort





Lagos, the gateway to famous beaches.


Photo by Sinval Carvalho on Unsplash


When you search for Algarve beaches, the golden cliffs nearby Lagos are always top of the list. Beaches like Praia Dona Ana, Meia Praia, and Praia do Camilo are known for their golden sands and fantastical rock formations. If these natural wonders are a high priority for you, then Lagos is a great base for exploring a plethora of sea caves, grottoes, and rock formations. One of the most popular boat tours takes you to the Ponta da Piedade cliffs, a thrilling look inside sea caves to hidden beaches.


Lagos is the biggest resort of the western Algarve, so it boasts a diverse culinary scene as well. Have your fill of fresh-caught seafood, local specialties like cataplana, and also international fare. The town’s vibrant atmosphere and bustling streets create the perfect backdrop for culinary and cultural explorations after a day of boating or beaching.


Accommodation options: Cascade Wellness & Lifestyle Resort / Iberostar Selection Lagos Algarve / Lagos Atlantic Hotel / Boutique Hotel Vivenda Miranda / Fazenda Viegas / Villa Esmeralda



Praia da Luz, a quiet coastal hideaway.


Photo by Richard de Ruijter on Unsplash


The soft-pink sunsets and gentle waters of Praia da Luz will steal your heart. The beautiful sandy beach, so integral to the town that the two are called the same, is sheltered by a massive rock formation, the Rocha Negra. This pretty former fishing village that is now, like many, a hive of activity during the summer months, still offers a relatively relaxed vacation, ideal during the shoulder season. Everything you need is right here, with several good restaurants, shops, and a pleasant beachfront promenade. In one hour, you can walk west past hidden coves to the cozy little beach town of Burgau. Luz is also just a 15-minute drive from Lagos, where you can find more dining options and the stunning geological formations that give the Algarve its unique character.


Accommodation options: Hotel Belavista da Luz / Casa Luisandra



Sagres, a haven for surfers.


Photo by Feworave on Pixabay


When you want to watch the big-wave surfers, head to Sagres. This town at the very southwestern tip of Portugal attracts outdoor enthusiasts with its rugged coastline, dramatic cliffs, and consistent Atlantic swells. The popular surf beaches offer challenges for advanced surfers, and also opportunities for beginners to learn how to surf in more sheltered areas. The town is also included in most Algarve tours for its rich maritime history and marvelous stunning sunset views from the iconic fortress. With its chill attitude and mix of history and scenery, you can’t miss out on Sagres!


Accommodation options: Martinhal Sagres Beach Family Resort Hotel



Aljezur, wild nature on the western coast.


Photo by ddzphoto on Pixabay



The west coast of the Algarve, called the Costa Vicentina, is a wildly different experience from the more familiar south coast. Encompassing Sagres, the edge of the world for long-ago European explorers, this coast is truly rugged and unspoiled (it’s actually protected as the Natural Park of the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast). The boom and roar of crashing waves provide a soothing backdrop for the unpretentious daily routines of ‘van-life’ roaming surfers and locals simply content with life as it is.


In the middle of this coast, the quaint town of Aljezur provides a rich history and an ideal base for outdoor enthusiasts. The 10th-century Moorish castle offers views over the fields and Monchique Mountain in the distance. The beaches around here don’t get too crowded even in the summer, cooled by constant winds and bringing the drama with towering cliffs and unbridled wildlife in a vast swathe of parkland. If you like birdwatching, dramatic scenery, and really going off the beaten track, this area is for you.


Accommodation options: Praia do Canal Nature Retreat / Amaria / Casa da Oliveira / Quinta das Alfambras





Silves, a taste of architecture and wine.


Photo by Jack Swords on Unsplash


Just a short drive inland from the Algarve’s central waterfront towns, tucked beneath the low-lying mountain ranges, you’ll find a huge change in atmosphere. Take a break from the sand to visit the picturesque town of Silves. In the medieval period, this Moorish capital was said to rival the grandeur of Granada and Lisbon. Not much of this legacy remains today except for the wonderful castle, which overlooks a fertile valley of orange orchards, olive groves and vineyards. Walk the cobbled streets of the old town to see the Gothic and Moorish architectural influences, and just enjoy a more authentic side of southern Portugal.


You might not think of the Algarve as a wine region, but you can find several vineyards nestled in the hills nearby Silves. You can do wine tastings at Quinta Do Frances, Quinta da Penina, Quinta dos Vales, Quinta dos Sentidos, and Cabrita Wines.


Accommodation options: Quinta da Luz



Monchique, a starting point for nature hikes.


Photo by Alena Torgonskaya on Unsplash


Monchique is the pinnacle of the Algarve hiking and wellness scene. Nestled in the Serra de Monchique range, this picturesque mountain town is the gateway to a network of scenic hiking trails that wind through lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and panoramic viewpoints. Hikers can summit the Foia, at 900 meters, for breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and coastline.


This area is also known for the therapeutic thermal springs Caldas de Monchique, which draw visitors to tranquil wellness retreats. A sprinkling of traditional villages and ancient ruins provide more interest to the region’s diverse trails, offering an immersive experience in a different side of the Algarve.


Accommodation options: Monchique Resort & Spa / Casa Spa d’Alma / Quinta do Tempo



Porches, quiet hilltop charm nearby the sea.


Photo by Porches Pottery


The village of Porches is a pocket-sized portrait of typical Algarvian charm, with narrow streets and happy, bright facades. The town retains a quiet, authentic atmosphere, including a renowned pottery tradition that dates back to the Moorish period. On the main road outside of town, visitors can find several artisan studios, like Porches Pottery. You can purchase a handcrafted piece as a souvenir, or you may like to try your own hand at the potter’s wheel with a workshop. 


The hilltop town is a short drive from fantastic beaches like Praia da Marinha and Praia Benagil. But actually, the hotels and holiday villas in this area are already set outside of town, making up the beachfront resort of Alporchinhos. This area gives you access to more tourist facilities, including the Vila Vita Parc’s Michelin-starred restaurant Ocean, a must-try! You can also make a mini pilgrimage to the 16th-century Chapel of Our Lady of the Rock, set on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic and accompanied by a medieval fort. 


Accommodation options: Vila Vita Parc Resort & Spa / Casa Bela Moura Boutique Hotel & Wine






Olhão, a seafood-lover’s delight.


Photo by MarlyneArt on Pixabay


Famous for its traditional fishing industry, Olhão has a wonderful sprawling food market offering the best regional produce, and the early-morning fishermen’s catch, like prawns, cod, sardines, anchovies and tuna.


While not a hidden gem, the town is often overlooked, helping it retain its authenticity and affordability. The Moorish-style architecture and modern wall murals make wandering the streets of Olhão a delightful experience. Take a promenade on the vibrant waterfront, where you can stop for a meal and soak up the local atmosphere.


From Olhão, foodies will also find themselves within a 20-minute drive to any of these fantastic culinary institutions: Gourmet Natural (Almancil), Gusto by Heinz Beck (Almancil), Henrique Leis (Loulé), and Quinta da Tor winery.


Olhão’s harbor overlooks a system of estuaries and sandbars that lead to the stunning islands of the Ria Formosa lagoon. Take a ferry ride over to pristine beaches, and spend the day with a boating excursion around the protected wetlands. Take the train east to explore Fuseta or Tavira, and you can also reach Faro with an easy train ride.


Accommodation options: Hotel Real Marina



Tavira, a Bohemian paradise.


Photo by ddzphoto on Pixabay


In the east, Tavira is regarded as the most bohemian town in the Algarve. The cozy charm of cobbled streets and scenic fishermen’s harbor meets a laidback, artistic vibe that attracts creative souls and free spirits. Visitors can explore numerous galleries, studios, and workshops that showcase the work of local artisans.


Go on idyllic day trips in the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve to swim and sail and watch for birds in the peaceful lagoon. It's easy to see how these tranquil landscapes and pristine beaches provide inspiration for local artists. Tavira hosts various cultural events throughout the year, and its thriving alternative scene is evident from a smattering of eclectic cafes, quirky boutiques, and vintage shops. From Tavira, you can also drive to Seville, Spain in under two hours.


Just a few miles from Tavira, the charming fishing town of Cabanas de Tavira overlooks the Ria Formosa and a long, skinny island known for its white-sand beach backed by sand dunes.


Accommodation options: Altanure - Casa Terra Ecological Boutique Hotel / Quinta da Lua / Pousada Convento Tavira


If it’s your first time visiting the region, then we recommend making your base in a central town for easy access to the Algarve’s most popular attractions and excursions. Renting a car is very common for an Algarve getaway, as it’s the easiest way to get around to more towns and beaches whether you have a week or just a few days. For those who prefer not to drive, CTCAdventures offers private sightseeing day trips with expert driver-guides all throughout the Algarve. Give us a call or reach out with an email to see how we can customize a Portugal vacation just for you!