The Algarve Villa Selection team have years of first-hand experience of life in the Algarve. We know the area, and its secrets, very well. We’re happy to share our insider tips with you, to ensure you have the most fabulous holiday possible while staying at one of our amazing holiday homes.
With almost 160kms of beautiful coastline, the Algarve is one of the most popular destinations in Europe. The award-winning beaches (Best Beach Destination in the World, 2020) and the wonderful climate, make it a top choice among travellers, not just in the summer, but all year round. While the beaches exert an almost irresistible pull, if you take the time to explore the region, you can discover country villages of white-washed houses, castles and chapels, cliff-top forts, and gorgeous natural parks.
For active holidays, the Algarve is considered one of the leading golf destinations in the world. There are country and ocean-view biking and hiking trails to travel, excellent sports facilities and plenty of fitness options to choose from for the whole family.
From Sagres in the west, once considered the end of the world, to the Spanish border in the East, there are modern resorts, quaint towns and unspoilt scenery to discover and enjoy. Below we share some Algarve highlights to help you plan your stay.
Faro is the capital of the Algarve. While many visitors to the region limit their viewing of Faro to the airport, it is a town well worth exploring. Perched by the Ria Formosa Natural Park, the town is washed by the gentle waters of the lagoons and there are magnificent views across the islets and sandbanks.
Faro is a modern city with an ancient core. The entrance to the old town is marked by the Arco da Vila – look for the storks nesting by the bell tower. Wander the charming, narrow, cobbled streets and take time to explore the Igreja do Carmo and the eerie Chapel of Bones, decorated with hundreds of skulls and bones. There are free walking tours available daily around the historical centre guide by Faro Free Walking Tours.
Faro is a busy, bustling city, with a vibrant restaurant and bar scene. In recent years there has been a resurgence of cultural events. There are good shopping opportunities in Faro too – either downtown in the city centre, or on the outskirts, at Forum Algarve and at the large MAR Shopping complex which is home to IKEA, Designer Outlet Algarve, as well as all the major high street brands.
Portimão is the Algarve’s second city. Once the main hub for the sardine fishing and canning industry, today Portimão is a service town. Set by the River Arade, there is a lovely riverside walk from the old part of town, right out to Praia da Rocha and it’s colourful marina and long beach. There is an excellent museum in Portimão, paying homage to the city’s roman roots and its sardine canning industry, and one of the summer highlights in the Algarve is the famous Portimão Sardine Festival, held each year in August.
Portimão has a good selection of restaurants and bars, with many visitors and locals enjoying the fresh seafood, grilled over charcoal, served at the riverside restaurants.
Praia da Rocha, adjacent to Portimão is a newer, brasher, resort. The magnificent beach is kilometres long. During summer there are beach activities and sports, summer festivals and sunset parties.
A beautiful and historical town, Lagos is well worth a visit. The old town walls enclose narrow cobbled streets, filled with shops, trendy eateries and lively bars. The historical setting is in counterpoint to the busy vibe and the town’s surfer vibe in the summer months. Ponta da Piedade is a magical landscape of sea-caves, arches, grottoes and cove beaches just outside of town, while Meia Praia, on the other side of town, is 4 kms of golden sand.
Lagos marina is home to yachts, bars and restaurants and is always busy, at any time of day. Boat trips come and go, to explore the coast and search for dolphins, while people enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.
Olhão is a traditional town just east of Faro. Once off the radar, in recent years, Olhão has become popular with visitors seeking its authentic charm. Overlooking the Ria Formosa, the town is built back from the seafront, with narrow streets and square, white-washed houses. The market in Olhão is famous for its a mesmerising array of fresh fish and seafood available every day, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. Even if you’re not buying, a visit to the market is a must.
From Olhão there are regular ferries that sail to the Ria Formosa islands, such as Culatra, Armona and Farol. Small islands and sparsely populated, they are popular for their tranquility and the magnificent beaches of fine white sands, lapped by the gentle waters of the Ria Formosa. The islands are basically sandbanks, with no roads and no traffic, just peace and quiet, sunshine and sea.
Alvor, just 5 kilometres from Portimão, was once a small fishing village. Today, although larger, it’s still a small fishing village at heart, with locals living among the summer visitors, children going to school and fishermen heading out to sea for the day’s catch.
There are fabulous restaurants and bars in Alvor offering a great range of cuisines, although the seafood is always a good bet. Sunset views by the harbour are beautiful, making it a popular spot for evening drinks.
The beach is about 4kms of fine sand and there is a boardwalk that runs between the ocean and the river estuary. The estuary, the Ria de Alvor, is a protected area and is a popular spot with migratory birds.
Sometimes called the Queen of the Algarve, Tavira, in the eastern Algarve, is one of the region’s most architecturally attractive towns. There is a lovely castle overlooking the town, an ancient and evocative 7-arch roman bridge and over 30 churches to discover.
In times past, Tavira had an important tuna fishing industry, and today you can see a monument to this at Praia do Barril where there is an Anchor Cemetery – dozens of huge anchors in the sand as a reminder of the thriving fishing industry that once was.
Tavira, set within the Ria Formosa park, has wonderful beaches, reached by ferry from the town itself. The Isla da Tavira is miles of sandy beach and clear water. Just outside Tavira is the charming hamlet of Cacela Velha, with stunning views across the Ria Formosa park.
Once thought to be the end of the world, Sagres is located at the western tip of the Algarve. The Atlantic pounds the cliffs and the scenery is natural and dramatic. The famous fort, founded by Prince Henry the Navigator is perched atop the cliffs and nearby is the Cape St. Vincent lighthouse. Sagres is popular with surfers, hikers and those seeking fresh air and huge horizons. There is a lively surfer vibe all year round, plus plenty of great restaurants and bars. The seafood at Sagres is particularly famous – as fresh as you can get.
Albufeira was once a sleepy fishing village. Now it is famous for its non-stop nightlife and good times along The Strip, as it is known. Albufeira old town is narrow streets and a great choice of restaurants and bars, leading onto Fisherman’s Beach and the clear Atlantic ocean. By the marina, to the west of the Old Town, there is a fabulous choice of boat trips and watersports available, as well as cafés and restaurants. Further west along the coast, there are beautiful cove beaches with secret caves to explore.
An area of truly stunning natural beauty, the Ria Formosa Natural Park covers 170km2, stretching from Quinta do Lago to past Tavira. It is made up of lagoons, sandbanks, barrier islands and water channels – a beautiful and unique scenery that changes as the tides ebb and flow. Considered an important bird area, the Ria Formosa is a stopping point for hundreds of different birds during the Spring and Autumn migratory periods. Human visitors to the Algarve usually have a bird’s eye view of the area as they bank to land at Faro airport.
There are regular ferry connections from Faro, Olhão and Tavira to the islands, which have small residential populations, and are popular for a simpler, authentic , Algarve experience.
A 20 minute ferry ride from Olhão, Armona Island is 9kms long and just 1km wide. A sandbank, with a small residential population, the north side of the island faces the mainland and the water channels of the Ria Formosa. The south side of the island, reached by walking along the wooden pathways, or by sea, is miles of white sand and translucent water. There are small houses, a few shops and local restaurants on the island. It is traffic free, peaceful and lulled by the rhythms of nature. Perfect for a real get-way-from-it-all day trip.
A 30 minute ferry ride from Olhão, making it a great option for a day out, Culatra Island is known for its traditional and residential fishing community, mostly living on the north side of the island, facing the mainland and the waterways. There are a few restaurants serving fabulous fish and shellfish on the island. The south side of the island is 6kms of fine sand, running from the narrow Farol beach at the western tip to Culatra beach at the eastern tip.
Once the Moorish capital of the Algarve, Silves sits in an elevated position on the banks of the Arade River, amid the Algarve countryside. The castle overlooks the town, its red sandstone walls glowing warm in the sunshine. The old town walls enclose a warren of tiny, cobbled streets and the gothic cathedral, adjacent to the castle. There is also a fascinating archaeological museum to visit. Each summer, Silves hosts an amazing Medieval Festival, when the entire old town dresses itself in medieval garb, knights joust and wandering minstrels play for the crowds as whole pigs are roasted over open fires and served on roof tile plates, washed down with wines served in coarse pottery mugs.
The charming village of Santa Barbara de Nexe is perhaps best known for its bell tower, a landmark sitting on top of a 400-year-old white walled church which can be seen from miles away. It serves as inspiration for many artists who’ve painted it and its beautiful surroundings.
The village itself, which is set on the site of a Bronze Age hill fort, has most essential facilities including newsagents, a market, a post office and a large supermarket as well as a number of restaurants and bars.
During the day, you can take a gentle stroll through the village, admiring its Gothic architecture or venture further afield to the rolling countryside and surrounding villages.
Beaches and larger tourists attractions are just a short drive away, as is Faro Airport. In Santa Barbara de Nexe you’re in a very convenient location to explore the best of the Algarve.
With a golden sandy beach stretching for approx. 5 KM Gale is edged with a backdrop of rugged cliffs. This lovely small resort has become increasingly popular over the past few years.
A number of beachside bars and cafes are dotted along the coastline. All ideal for a spot of lunch while you listen to the sound of waves. Most properties here are in quiet residential areas, making it perfect for a relaxing holiday. There are some lovely local restaurants, mini-markets, and bars as well as a large supermarket.
Shoppers will love the proximity to the Algarve Shopping mall. For those looking for something a bit livelier, the bustling larger resort of Albufeira is only a few miles away.
A traditional market town, Loulé is full of character with winding, narrow, cobbled, medieval streets. The centre of Loulé is home to the vibrant market which is the hub for the locals Tuesday to Saturday. The farmers market and the gypsy market is a lively and colourful event and a great place to find local produce and handicrafts. In the centre, and also worth a visit, is the castle and the gothic Matriz church which overlooks the pretty Amuados gardens, which was originally a graveyard. A busy town, there are some excellent restaurants in Loulé offering a wide range of cuisines.
Sao Bras de Alportel is a small but pretty city mostly populated with friendly locals and some expats. It has charming, hilly and green countryside where one can have quiet walks, detached from the noises of a busy city. It has some good restaurants with very reasonable prices.
Boliqueime offers up a rural slice of the Algarve on Portugal’s southern coast. It’s right up in the hills, surrounded by pine trees and almond groves. The authentic village atmosphere comes complete with cobbled streets and a square where locals gather to play dominoes. As for beaches and nightlife, Albufeira’s within a 15-minute drive.