The region around Albufeira (known as the Algarve) stretches for 240km along Portugal’s southern shores, from the Spanish frontier to Cabo de São Vicente, and offers a choice of must-see attractions from lively beach resorts and idyllic countryside to medieval hillside villages, including:
Unwind on the golden-sand beaches of this purpose-built resort that stretches for 20km along a sun-kissed coastline. Sunbathe on the main beach (Praia da Vilamoura), metres from a choice of hotels, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Read more about Vilamoura . . .
Although Portimao is probably best known for the gorgeous nearby beaches of Praia da Rocha and Praia dos Tres Irmaos, the town also offers several other attractions. Wander colourful gardens and stroll the narrow cobbled streets of the Old Quarter around Largo da Barca. Read more about Portimao . . .
This vibrant resort fronts a wide, 2km-long expanse of pale golden sand shelving into the turquoise coloured waters of the Bay of Lagos. Spend the day on the gorgeous Praia do Alvor where there’s always a secluded spot to sunbathe and numerous water sport activities to keep adults and children entertained, including pedalos, banana boats, sea kayaks and catamarans. Read more about Alvor . . .
Experience this ancient maritime town steeped in history and now transformed into a lively resort. Discover a great selection of golden-sand beaches, fine dining restaurants and countless bars. Explore the cobbled streets of the Old Town (most of which was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake) and admire the remains of the old Roman fortifications and 17th century Fortaleza da Ponta da Bandeira. Read more about Lagos . . .
Quinta do Lago (Almancil)
Rub shoulders with movie stars and European presidents and prime ministers at the Algarve’s most elegant and upmarket resort, a sprawling 800ha beachfront estate overlooking the Ria Formosa estuary and the Atlantic Ocean.
Tee-off from the 27-hole golf course, go horseback riding from the equestrian centre, sunbathe on the several-kilometre long golden-sand beach and be pampered at the luxurious Hotel Quinta do Lago. Quinta do Lago is located 20km east of Faro Airport and 20km west of Albufeira.
Visit the so-called o fim do mundo (the end of the world) – a long, craggy peninsula terminating in the Atlantic Ocean at the southwestern tip of Europe. It was in Sagres that Prince Henry the Navigator established his school of navigation – from here the great sailors and navigators such as Magellan, Diaz, Cabral and Vasco da Gama set sail on their voyages of discovery.
Sunbathe or swim from the golden sands of Praia do Tonel and Praia do Mareta, or go windsurfing at Praia de Baleeira and Praia de Martinhal. For magnificent coastal panoramas, follow the sign-posted Ponta de Sagres pathway.
Admire several sights along the way, such as the crumbling wall and arch of Fortaleza da Baleeira –about all that remains of the ancient harbour fortification. Peer up at the enormous walls of the 18th century Fortaleza de Sagres, which houses a small museum displaying interesting historical artefacts.
Ponder the Rose dos Ventos, an impressive 43m-diameter wind rose (or wind compass) used for measuring the direction of the wind and believed to have been built for Prince Henry. Admire the 16th century whitewashed chapel of Nossa Senhora da Graça, which faces the promontory of windblown Cabo de São Vicente.
To reach the cape, take the daily weekday bus. Or get a different perspective on a two-hour boat ride to the tip of Cabo de São Vicente – once believed to be the end of the inhabited world.
Visit on a day trip or stay longer at the colonnaded Pousada do Infante, positioned on the cliff-top overlooking Fortaleza de Sagres and the lighthouse of Cabo de São Vicente.
Sagres is located 88km west of Albufeira and 280km south of Lisbon.
Faro Old Town
Walk around the historic Old Quarter (or Cidade Velha), encircled by medieval walls and overlooking the Ria Formosa. Discover a maze of narrow cobbled streets lined with inviting cafés, shops and a treasure trove of buildings dating back to the 13th century.
Visit the 13th century Sé (cathedral), a delightful blend of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. Inside the cathedral discover gilded and lacquered woodcarvings, inlaid marble and polished azulejos (glazed, blue tiles) surrounding the Capela de Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres.
The Museu Arqueológical is situated in a former convent: stroll along the secluded Renaissance cloisters past a remarkable collection of animal gargoyles. Visit the 17th century Igreja de São Francisco, home to stunning azulejo (tile) panels depicting the life of St Francis.
Admire a unique 11th century horseshoe gate believed to have been built by the Moors, nestled within the magnificent 18th century Arco da Vila. Pop into the 17th century Nossa Senhora do Pé da Cruz chapel, which overlooks a pretty square, and ponder the remains of the original Roman walls dotted with Byzantine towers.
Probably the most bizarre attraction in Faro is the Capela d'Ossos (Chapel of Bones), a 19th century chapel completely lined with human skulls and bones – of more than 1000 monks. Nearby stands the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte do Carmo do Faro, an 18th century church containing a gilded baroque altar.
Faro, the biggest city in southern Portugal and the provincial capital of the Algarve, is located 45km west of Albufeira and 309km southeast of Lisbon.
Stroll from the river up a steep and twisting warren of narrow cobbled streets lined with whitewashed houses to the magnificent red-sandstone ramparts of the Moorish Castelo dos Mouros, dating from the 9th century and built on the site of 4th century Roman fortifications.
The biggest castle in the Algarve, its walls offer panoramic views over the medieval town and surrounding countryside. Inside, wander underground tunnels to see dungeon chambers and a huge sandstone cistern.
Visit the 13th century Gothic Sé (cathedral), home to stunning aisles, naves and Crusader tombs believed to be of those who seized the town from the Moors in 1244. Later, at the Museu Arqueologia, examine artefacts found around Silves – once the centre of Muslim culture in southern Portugal.
Come for a day or stay longer at the Hotel Colina dos Mouros, which sits just a short walk from the historic centre of Silves.
Silves is located 32km east of Albufeira and 15km northeast of Portimao, an easy drive or boat trip along the River Arade.
Explore the timeless elegance of this charming riverside town crammed with 16th to 18th century buildings. Visit the remains of a hilltop Moorish castle and the Ponta Romana, a low arched bridge spanning the Rio Gilão, which flows through the centre of historical Tavira.
Discover more than 35 churches including the landmark Igreja se Santa Maria do Castelo and the pretty Igreja do São Paulo. Spend a morning exploring the Old Town then unwind on the unspoilt beaches of Ilha de Tavira, just a short ferry ride away. Tavira is located 3km inland from the coast, around 35km from Faro, close to the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa and about 70km east of Albufeira.
Parque Natural da Ria Formosa
Explore this extensive wetlands on foot, stretching along 60km of coastline between Manta Rota and Vale do Lobo. Follow the 3.2km-long São Lourenço nature trail or the Quinta do Lago pathway to get close to the salt marshes and freshwater lagoons.
In this undulating region of shimmering freshwater lakes, sand dune islands, marshland and umbrella pines, look out for an assortment of flora and fauna including the rare purple gallinule marsh hens and the unique web-footed Portuguese water dog.
The park headquarters is located at Quinta de Marim, around 3km east of Olhão, and offers all the information you need to get the most from your hike through the wetlands.
Discover this picture-perfect village set in the forested 458m-high Serra de Monchique, just 24km north of Portimão and 55km northeast of Albufeira. Wander the cobblestoned streets and visit several 16th and 17th century churches including the Igreja Matriz and the Igre de Sao Sebastiao.
On foot or bike, explore the surrounding countryside of mountainous woodland covered with eucalyptus, chestnut, pine and cork trees scattered with occasional open moorland. Hike up to the peak of Fóia (902m), the highest point in the Serra de Monchique. Visit the Caldas de Monchique, a hot, natural spring water spa that dates back to Roman times.
At the wildlife sanctuary at Omega Park Jardim Zoológico, get close to rare and endangered species such as lemurs, macaques, red pandas and cheetahs.