Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/WinniepixFaro

The 11 best things to do in the Algarve

Seek out natural wonders, seaside towns, local wine and delicious piri-piri chicken along Portugal’s southern coast


What an incredible country Portugal is. The cities of Lisbon and Porto get most of the attention, but sun-worshippers have been flocking to the magical Algarve forever. What are they looking for? Everything the Algarve has to offer, namely fantastic food, natural wonders, golden beaches and some of the most quaint fishing villages anyone could hope to discover.

Base yourself in Albufeira: a stunning mixture of the above and the perfect base for discovering everything the region offers. The best things to do in the Algarve run a marvellous gauntlet, with the serenity of the sea nestled up to some of the most exciting nights out in Portugal. No matter your desires, they will be sated here.

Best things to do in the Algarve

1. Praia de São Rafael

What is it? One of the best things you can do in Albufeira. This beautiful sandy beach sits in a cove surrounded by red and orange-coloured cliffs, rock formations and a waterfall. The rock formations are very popular with photographers because of their peculiar shapes.

Why go? To paddle in the sea and relax on the sand in the sunshine. In summer, the beach can be crowded, but it is possible to find quiet spots. In the evening, there are loads of restaurants with sea views nearby to grab dinner at.

2. Quinta do Frances Winery

What is it? Learn about the Algarve’s long history of winemaking at this family-run winery nestled in the hills of Silves and home to eight hectares of vineyard. 

Why go? This is a perfect spot to get slightly sozzled in the sun over a relaxed lunch. Algarve wine is a rarity in places like the UK, so visiting this winery is a great opportunity to freshen your palate with an amazing vino or two.


3. Aqua Show Park

What is it? Portugal’s largest waterpark is located in the village of Quarteira. The entrance cost is €28.80 and gives you access to the water and thematic park, including all slides, pools and rides. Warning: there are animal shows here. 

Why go? Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a water park?! No matter how old you are, slip and slide down the Kamikaze or test your limits on the biggest free-fall slide in Europe… if you dare!

4. Queda do Vigário

What is it? A beautiful waterfall hidden away inland. Its name means ‘fall of the vicar’, and the fall is a picture of natural beauty and tranquillity that you won’t find anywhere else on the Algarve. 

Why go? For peace and quiet and to take some time away from the bustling tourist trail. Spend a few hours of your holiday relaxing in the deep blue cool water. You can also visit a nearby hidden cave and check out the hundreds of stalactites.


5. Cataplana Night

What is it? The Cataplana is a piece of Portuguese cookware used to prepare traditional seafood dishes. The Mimo Algarve Cooking School, just outside Albufeira, offers a supper club where guests can enjoy an evening of unique local food sizzled in a Cataplana.

Why go? To taste the local cuisine and enjoy a unique dining experience. If you’re lucky, you might have the chance to cook a dish yourself (trust us, it isn’t easy) and pretend you’re Michelin-starred Portuguese chef José Avillez.

6. Faro

What is it? The regional capital of the Algarve has a historic centre, ancient city walls and an abundance of shopping opportunities. Faro is also home to the Ria Formosa nature park – a series of saltwater lagoons and mudflats – so it’s definitely worth taking your walking shoes.

Why go? The atmosphere in the city is a far cry away from the bustling metropolis of Albufeira. It’s relaxed, scenic and great for snapping social media pictures. Stroll around the marina and grab a coffee in an open-air café.


7. Epic Sana Spa

What is it? A wellness spa overlooking the beach in Albufeira. Not only does it offer a fitness centre, a Turkish bath and a sauna, but it also has its own private jacuzzi overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Why go? To spend a day getting away from it all and pampering yourself. Opt for the tropical massage. It starts with a full-body scrub followed by an immersion bath (a fancy jacuzzi), then a warm and aromatic massage featuring Hawaiian techniques. A cocktail awaits at the end. You won’t need to go looking for Club Tropicana after this.

8. Bengali Sea Caves

What is it? Jump on a boat trip from Albufeira marina to see these stunning sea caves. They are just a couple of hours along the Algarve coast. Towering over a secluded beach, they can only be reached by sea. From inside the caves, you can see the deep blue sky through an opening in the roof. Magic.

Why go? They really are one of the Algarve's hidden wonders and are well worth a day trip. If you feel adventurous, you can kayak or stand-up paddleboard around them. Be careful if you decide to swim, the tide can change quite quickly, and the water is fairly deep.


9. Vilamoura Marina

What is it? The upmarket resort of Vilamoura is stunning. Its bustling marina is where the super-rich moor their million-dollar yachts, and the sideways are lined with glamorous boutiques, restaurants and bars.

Why go? Enjoy a glass of wine or two with the yachting crowd in the balcony bar at the Tivoli Hotel. You’ll get some nice Insta snaps too.

10. Loulé

What is it? A traditional Portuguese town close to Albufeira with pretty tree-lined plazas and narrow cobbled side streets. It has good transport links to Albufeira, and it’s a great place to pick up some traditional Portuguese souvenirs.

Why go? The focal point of the town is the Moorish-inspired covered market. On Saturdays, it expands to the surrounding streets as tourists flock to visit.


11. Guia

What is it? This tiny village is within walking distance of Albufeira. Here you’ll find original Portuguese charm, churches, traditional agriculture… and a theme park.

Why go? a) For delicious piri-piri chicken. Yep, here you’ll find the original version of the dish made famous by Nando’s. b) For wine. Pop into the local vineyard Adega do Cantor Winery, which is part-owned by Sir Cliff Richard.

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