On the south coast of Portugal lies a gorgeous coastline with tons of beaches, caves, and towns to explore. Don’t miss out on seeing the Algarve during your visit to Portugal!
During the second leg of my Portugal trip – when I was (finally) starting to get over my food-sickness from Porto – I spent some time in Albufeira and Lagos to get a taste of the Algarve. Looking back, I would probably nix Albufeira and choose another city to spend some time in; but, I will share what I experienced there (and in Lagos) so that you can decide for yourself!
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Albufeira was a place that I chose to visit due to the purportedly great nightlife. What I thought this meant was lots of beach parties, Portuguese locals coming down to vacation, etc. What it actually involved was a large amount of (British, Dutch) tourists throwing stag and hen parties. Basically, a sh!tshow at night. I wasn’t quite prepared for this, so I only went out one night during my 2-day stay in Albufeira – and that was more than enough!
That said: if this is the kind of atmosphere that you’re looking for, go to Albufeira. Just be prepared!
Restaurante Almareado happened to be right across from my hostel, and it had quite a few food combos for a great price. I happened to get fried fish with some french fries and salad – definitely not very “traditional” but the price was unbeatable for a filling meal. I had a chocolate mousse for dessert that was quite good as well.
O Zuca was a restaurant tucked down a side street near the Old Town bar area, and it definitely had a much more authentic vibe – I even ran into some Portuguese acquaintances that I had met! My appetite wasn’t very big that night, so I just got a nice comforting stew with vegetables, bread, and olives. But, they had many authentic dishes to try as well as an “American” menu.
Beach + Cliffside Walk
My hostel happened to be a 5 minute walk to the local beach Praia do Peneco, and I ventured here early one morning to get some calm beach time and take a walk along the cliffside! Although this is a beautiful walk, be sure to watch where you step as well as keep an eye on the rocks above you. As you can see from the sign pictured below, it is an erosion zone – so be careful!
On the one night that I ventured out in Albufeira, I found myself in both Old Town and downtown, which are the two major bar areas of the city. In Old Town, you’ll find – dare I say – more “wholesome” fun with live bands, karaoke, and pedestrian-only paths. We spent most of our time at Atrium Fastnet Bar while in Old Town.
Downtown, however…downtown was very different. Downtown is located on “The Strip” (Montechoro Strip) was arguably where the freaks came out – and by that I mean, very interesting costumes from very intoxicated stag parties. Downtown is also an actual street lined with bars, so be careful when barhopping as this is where all the cars do pick up and drop off!
P.S. I don’t really have photos from the night out in Albufeira, BUT I do have videos – check out the Albufeira highlight on my Instagram.
Dolphin-watching Boat Ride
Alright, so this is actually an activity that I do not recommend in Albufeira. I’m not going to dwell on it too much, but basically the tour was supposed to be dolphin-watching and cave visits. I already knew that the dolphins could be hit or miss (and they were a miss), but we also only went into ONE cave due to high tide and turbulent waves. All of this might be okay, were it not for the price. I believe I spent close to $50 (USD!) for what was a major letdown of a boat ride – so that’s one big reason I don’t recommend it. The other is that you can get a kayaking tour in Lagos that lets you see more of the Algarve’s beautiful coastline for longer and cheaper – more on that soon.
I will say that if Albufeira is your only stop in the Algarve, this tour may be worth it for you. Otherwise – skip it!
Now Lagos, on the other hand, was my favorite place during this trip. I’m an ocean-creature by nature, and something about the vibe and beauty of Lagos made me wish I could stay longer…so I did, by one day! I was originally supposed to be in Lisbon for 3 and a half days, but decided that 1.5 days in Lagos was not nearly enough for me.
While in Lagos, I didn’t eat nearly as much seafood as I’d hoped since my stomach pain came back with a vengeance on the first day. That said, I did manage to try three different restaurants, as well as a delicious vegetarian curry at my hostel, Old Town Hostel!
Little Break Fast was an adorable health-food cafe that had exactly what I wanted on my first day: a smoothie bowl, fresh juice, and toast! They have plenty of other options, but this is a must-do if you’re into health/vegetarian food.
Beats and Burritos was a home-y Mexican restaurant (of all things) in Lagos that serves – you guessed it – customizable burritos and bowls. The portions are pretty generous, which was great because I was able to eat my leftovers as an extra meal on my last day in town.
Garden Restaurant was definitely the most scenic place on this list, and it’s also where I finally got a delicious fish dish! The restaurant itself is outdoor, and as the name suggests it boasts beautiful greenery all around. There’s also a big open grill where you can see and smell the fresh fish being barbecued! I got one of the specials that evening, barbecued dorado with a glass of wine included. I highly recommend stopping here if you’re in Lagos!
Beaches + Sunrise
One of my favorite parts about Lagos was how beautiful the beaches are, as well as how peaceful the sunrise is.
I mostly went to the Praia da Batata, simply because I was so satisfied with it that I didn’t feel the need to venture down to the others along the coast! However, some of the beaches are connected by rocky arches and cliffs and mini-caves, which is a super cool experience. The water was also the perfect temperature, which made each beach experience even better.
The sunrise is Lagos is simply stunning, and worth waking up for. I was there in June, and woke up at about 5:30, departing my hostel around 6am (and I also went out the night before if you can believe that). Although I still got to see some amazing sunrise views by starting at 6am, I would actually recommend aiming for 5:30 to get the entire effect. I’ll let the photos below do the rest of the talking though – don’t miss the sunrise!
Alright, so remember how I advised you not to do the boat ride in Albufeira because the kayaking in Lagos gives you a better experience? Well, it’s time to talk about that!
I ultimately booked a kayaking tour with my hostel, but I do know that the company I booked with is called Kayak Adventures. This tour was amazing! Our guide was super attentive and entertaining, and we got to see so much along the coast of Lagos. We even got to kayak to the famed Ponta da Piedade.
Another highlight of the tour is that it ends with a stop on a secluded beach that’s only reachable by kayak. It was the perfect way to wind down the tour after kayaking for a couple hours, and we actually got to hitch a ride back to shore – literally. All of the kayaks are linked up and transported back via speedboat, so we were able to sit back and relax.
As I said earlier in this blog post, I highly recommend doing this kind of tour to see the coastline of the Algarve – as long as you’re in relatively good shape, the kayaking isn’t hard and it’s so enjoyable!
Day Trip to Benagil
One last “big” excursion that I totally recommend while in Lagos is that you take a day trip to Praia da Benagil and visit the famous Benagil cave! This seriously was one of the most beautiful beaches that I’ve ever seen, and the tour was the perfect way to experience it. We had an air-conditioned van, a very entertaining tour guide, and plenty of time to see everything.
We actually went above Benagil cave before heading down to the beach. This ended up being a great way to see the true beauty of the Benagil coastline, as well as look down into the cave we’d be swimming to. Afterward, we made the steep downhill trek to the beach (keep that in mind – it’s uphill on the way back!) and set up a little relaxation and picnic area. From that point, we had the freedom to hang out on the beach or try swimming to the cave. As I’m sure you can guess, I chose to swim to the cave!
The swim isn’t that bad if you’re an average swimmer, but it will be difficult if you tend to be a weak swimmer. I was swimming with a dry bag on my back – and it kept hitting me in the face – so I couldn’t 100% gauge how difficult the swim would be unencumbered. Just go at your own pace and conserve your energy so that you can also get back to the beach!
Old Town + Street Market
On a more low-key day in Lagos, you should definitely head into Old Town to admire the beautiful architecture and check out the street market by the river. Now, I went to the market on a Tuesday, so I’m not sure if it’s every day. But I managed to find an off-shoulder linen shirt from Italy that has become a total wardrobe staple! There isn’t much bargaining to be done at this market, but if you look closely you may find a gem or two.
Last but certainly not least: the Lagos nightlife! You didn’t think I’d skip that, did you?
The great thing about Lagos is that it has such a chill beach-town vibe, but there are places to get a little more wild if you’re in the mood for it. Even better: everything was walking distance and nearly every place had a drink special!
I went on a bar crawl with my hostel on two different nights, and my favorite bars that we visited were Fusion Bar, Black Cat Bar, Whytes Bar, Mellow Loco, and InsideOut Bar.
Fusion Bar, Black Cat Bar, and Mellow Loco are definitely more “drink and chat” bars – there isn’t much dancing, although the drinks are great and Mellow Loco in particular boasts a stripper pole if you decide to try your hand at entertaining.
On the other hand, Whytes Bar and (especially) InsideOut Bar seemed to be the places where people ended the night. Both had darker interiors and louder music, which certainly helped with both bars to foster an atmosphere for dancing.
No matter what your vibe is (unless it’s “dress up for a nightclub”), you’re sure to find a fun time in Lagos!
So, is the Algarve on your bucket list? Do you think you’ll make a stop in Albufeira or Lagos? Let me know!