Algarve itinerary – can be done as a road trip or without a car using public transport.
I have this thing for beaches. As an Asian, I was often disappointed when I visited beaches in Europe because none of them ever compared to the beauty of the beaches of Asia. This changed when I visited Portugal’s Algarve coast.
So what’s so special about the Algarve? The magic isn’t just about the beaches, but the rock formations that surround these beaches. These rocks create stunning caves, pillars, arches, and hiking spots.
The beauty of the Algarve Coast isn’t just limited to one destination, but many of them have something special and unique to add.
For instance, the laidback vibes of Lagos with its interesting hiking spots and beaches, the lesser-known Carvoeiro has interesting caves, one of them is the Benagil cave which looks like a secret paradise.
I personally didn’t enjoy Portimao, but I will leave my recommendations in the detailed itinerary for Algarve below.
This itinerary for a road trip in Algarve is flexible because it can be modified to one week or even three weeks. I have marked some destinations as optional and have given a range of the number of days that you can spend at each destination.
It is very easy to travel within the Algarve with trains or buses for solo travelers. But if you are traveling with another person or more, then it makes more sense to rent a car and explore the beauty of this stunning region at your pace.
If you have just seven days, skip the places I have marked as optional and only visit the remaining. Another option would be to stick to the lower number of days in some of the destinations.
If you have more time to explore the Algarve Coast, then go ahead and do all the destinations mentioned on this itinerary.
Starting Point for Algarve Road Trip
The most obvious starting point for the Algarve itinerary is Faro because that’s where your flight will land. From Faro, you can travel through Algarve via trains or buses very easily. I did that and I loved how easy and convenient it was.
Alternatively, you can rent a car from Faro and start your Algarve road trip from there. If you have just one week in Algarve, then just pick two destinations that are mentioned below and do them well.
If you have to pick just two destinations for your Algarve itinerary, then I suggest Carvoeiro and Lagos. They are the best and have the most stunning beaches, caves, and viewpoints.
Table of Contents
Faro – 1 day
If you arrive in the Algarve by air, you will land in Faro. Some people skip Faro and go directly to the next destination. However, I spent two nights here – one when I arrived in the Algarve, and one when I was leaving. I had an amazing time on both occasions.
So, is Faro worth visiting? It depends on how you arrive and what you like. Let me explain below.
If you are landing in Faro in the second half of the day, then it is a good idea to rest for a day here and enjoy the relaxed old town. Book a pretty room with a view of the old town as I did. Go for a walk in the city center, find a restaurant with outdoor seating, and enjoy a relaxed meal.
For those who are renting a car, you can directly pick it up from the airport in Faro and arrive at the next destination within a few hours.
If you can’t get enough of Portuguese old towns with old buildings, then you will love Faro because it has it all. And it isn’t as crowded as Porto or Lisbon. For those who like to walk around, Faro can be explored in less than a day, and below is how I suggest you do it.
Faro Marina (Sunset Time)
Faro Marina is a lovely area where you can walk, enjoy the cool breeze in the evening, and perhaps spend some nice moments sitting on a bench in a gazebo.
There’s live music in restaurants that are around Faro Marina and this area is alive with locals and travelers alike. My hotel – Suites Aliança was right here with a direct view of the Marina, Arco da Vila, and Igreja de Santa Maria.
Arco da Vila
Where to click the best photos in Faro? For me, it was at Arco da Vila. The arc forms the perfect photo frame and the backdrop of the old town looks lovely.
Arco da Vila connects Faro to the Old Town – Cidade Velha. This arch is a Portuguese national monument and dates back to the 19th century.
Cidade Velha (Post Sunset and Dinner)
The old town of Faro is small but super charming. There are many open-air restaurants and some of them are surprisingly affordable with excellent seafood.
I suggest you spend your evening walking around in the Cidade Velha area and then eat a memorable meal in an open-air restaurant.
Tavira & Ria Formosa Natural Park
Make a day trip to see the lovely lagoon with a group of islands and six inlets that make the Ria Formosa Natural Park. You will see Salt Pans, Flamingos, and more. Spend a few hours in Tavira and enjoy the Sandy beaches and Tavira Castle.
Eat Fish at Taberna Modesto
If you’re in the Algarve and you’re not a vegan, then you will love the food scene here. Portuguese food is flavourful, and with the availability of fresh seafood, the eating options are endless.
I have a thing for researching viewpoints and local restaurants in pretty settings that aren’t overhyped or over-expensive. With that research, I suggest you try Taberna Modesto, which is in the old town – of Cidade Velha and it has outdoor seating.
I found this restaurant because it was suggested by a local. I loved the fish, green wine, and also chocolate mousse. I enjoyed every bit of it and also the setting.
Where to Stay in Faro
I stayed in two places in Faro and the one that I absolutely loved was Suites Aliança. It was a cute old-school Portuguese building with newly furnished suites inside.
My room was right next to Faro Marina with a lovely view of the city center. The window from the balcony opened up right on top of an old street next to Arco da vila.
I was right in the middle of everything and loved my balcony during the day in Suites Aliança. I highly recommend this place for your stay in Faro.
Albufeira – 2 days (optional)
Albufeira is Algarve’s most visited destination and it is a little more upscale as compared to Lagos. You can call it a “resort town”. It has a very active nightlife with a strip that’s dotted with bars.
I have mentioned Albufeira as an optional stop on your Algarve itinerary because a person like me would pick Lagos over Albufeira if short on time.
Albuferia is also visited by a lot of families, and there are multiple attractions specifically for family travelers here.
Praia da Falésia
Falésia beach is a massive beach that’s clean and super beautiful. You need to climb down stairs to reach it but it is worth the effort because there’s a backdrop of red rocks.
The golden sand, turquoise water, ocean breeze, open spaces, and warm-colored cliffs make this beach stunning. At times the waves can be quite high, but otherwise, it is usually friendly for children.
There is a restaurant on top of the stairs with a bar. You can book a sunbed on Praia da Falésia for around EUR 15, and sometimes EUR 30 for the whole day.
Praia do Peneco / Praia do Túnel
Praia do Túnel also called Praia do Peneco, is Albufeira’s main beach near the town center. There is a 20-meter tunnel that leads to this beach through the rocks. This tunnel starts from the town square and ends at the beach – how cool is that!
Peneco beach gets busy during the peak season as compared to the above mentioned Praia da Falésia, but if you spend a couple of days in Albufeira, you will end up visiting this beach at least once because it is close to the main town center.
Praia dos Pescadores
Praia dos Pescadores is the most visited and photographed beach of Albufeira, perhaps because it is close to the city center. There’s a backdrop of white houses against yellow-golden sand.
Pescadores is a typical touristy beach with shops, bars, and beach sports options. There’s a lot going on at this beach, so it is perfect for families with small children.
If you spend a day or two in Albufeira, you will no doubt end up being in the old town at some point, so you will also visit this beach because it is right there.
Bar Hopping at The Strip (Rua da Oura)
Albufeira’s old town isn’t relaxing or charming like that of Faro or Lagos but is loud with many bars. The street that’s lined up with loads of bars is called Rua da Oura, or just the Strip.
Over the years, Albufeira has gained a reputation as a somewhat party destination, so I have included it as an optional spot for those who seek a lively bar scene. You will mostly find British and Irish tourists in the bars here.
Praia do Castelo
If you want to get away from Albufeira’s headache areas (errm, the city center), then you will love escaping to Praia do Castelo.
It is a quaint beach with golden sand, and clean water but the main beauty lies in the cliffs. The rock patterns are unique and some of them have an opening through which the water flows.
The rocks on Praia do Castelo provide shade in some areas, so you will manage just fine without an umbrella.
This is a secluded beach but it is easy to reach here in a rented car just 10 minutes from the city center. There’s a parking spot nearby. If you don’t have a rented car then try to call a taxi to reach here.
Castle of Paderne
Do you like visiting old buildings that are in ruins? If yes then the castle in Paderne is for you.
Paderne is 16 kilometers away from Albufeira, so it makes sense to visit this place only if you have a car. This castle is on a hill in Paderne.
The Castle of Paderne isn’t preserved and is open just once a week but you don’t need to go inside to enjoy it.
Pack enough water and wear comfortable shoes because you are going to want to walk around this castle and enjoy the sights. The walk goes along the river and up the hill.
There’s some vegetation along the path and lots of wild thyme. There is a spot here from where you can see the old Roman bridge.
Carvoeiro – 2 – 4 days
Carvoeiro is Algarve’s most stunning destination that no one talks about. The lovely Benegail bay with a hidden beach is right here and so is Marinha beach, which is often said to be one of the prettiest beaches in Europe. But still, those lists just mention “the Algarve” but hardly ever Carvoeiro.
Compared to Albufeira, Carvoeiro is calm and relaxed. I’m very sure that when I return to the Algarve, Carvoeiro will be my base next time.
Seven Hanging Valleys Trail (sete vales suspensos)
The Seven Hanging Valleys Trail is an unmissable hike stretching 6 kilometers in Algarve. There are multiple viewpoints and each is stunning. It takes around 3-4 hours to complete if you do the full trail with detours. It can take double if you make more stops.
This trail goes on top of Praia da Marinha, which is often ranked as the #1 beach in Europe. It also goes on top of the Benagil Cave, so that you can look at the hole that’s on top.
Ever seen the famous photo with a heart-shaped opening in cliffs with the ocean? It can be captured on sete vales suspensos trail with a particular angle. Look for a double sea arch of Marinha beach, that’s the top of the heart for you.
Sete vales suspensos or the Seven Hanging Valleys trail isn’t difficult, so people of all ages and sizes can do it. If you do it during the hottest part of the day, it will not be easy. Make sure to carry sun protection, a hat that won’t fly off with the wind, enough water, and a snack or two.
The starting point of the Seven Hanging Valleys trail is near Praia do Vale de Centeanes and ends near Praia da Marinha. There’s no official parking near Vale de Centeanes, but many people park in residential areas.
Alternatively, you can directly drive to the other end of this hike, which is at Praia da Marinha and there’s a big parking area. This way, you don’t have to do the round hike and do it just one way and drive back to your room.
You can park your car at Praia da Marinha and walk 10-15 kilometers to reach the starting spot. It obviously makes sense to arrive as early as you can so that you find a decent parking spot. I’d say you start before 9 am.
The hike is well-marked with red and yellow stripes. You will see a lot of signposts.
If you’re doing this hike to click photos, be prepared to take small detours and wear comfortable shoes that aren’t slippery.
I did hike in most of the Algarve with flip flops and I saw many people who did the same, but it isn’t the smartest thing to do. There’s gravel so your trainers are recommended.
There are a number of places along the Seven Hanging Valleys trail where you can take a break to walk down to the beach and swim. This trail goes through a few beach towns if you want to stop for a drink or food.
There’s a nice restaurant near the lighthouse called Jardim do Farol, where you can stop for lunch.
Kayak or SUP to Benagil Cave
Benagil Cave Beach is a paradisical beach that’s hidden in a cave, and the only way in is by kayaking, or on a paddle boat.
I visited Benagil Cave from Portimao, but I realized during the tour that it was closest to Carvoeiro. I have a detailed post about visiting Benagil Cave, but I’d like to summarize it here.
If you’re doing the Seven Hanging Valleys trail that’s mentioned above, then you can make a stop on Praia de Benagil and rent a kayak or a paddle boat to visit Benagil cave. If you aren’t able to do it alone then book a tour as I did from Portimao.
Alternatively, you can also try to reach here from Praia da Corredoura but I’m not very sure about the kayak rental options there.
Here’s a link to the tour that I did from Portimao. I personally didn’t rent my own kayak from Benagil beach (Praia de Benagil) but I know some people who did.
If you are not confident about kayaking here on your own then by all means book a tour too. It can get a little tricky kayaking here because of the rocks and you can hurt yourself pretty bad if you don’t have kayaking experience.
Algar Seco Cliff Walk (caves)
This is the main boardwalk of Carvoeiro with a network of caves, holes in the rocks, and views. These are a series of interesting cliff formations that look like they belong to Cappadocia.
This Algar Seco Cliff walk begins near Capela de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação and goes on top of Algar Seco Cliffs.
This walk is short, will take you 10 minutes if you don’t stop for photos, and is also wheelchair accessible. But to reach the base of the Algar Seco cliffs, you will have to climb steps so that part isn’t wheelchair accessible.
The most popular spot on this hike is “A Boneca”, which means a doll. It is named so because two cave arches look like the eyes of a doll. You can actually look out of the doll’s eyes onto the ocean. Look for Point de vue da “janela da boneca” on google maps.
Miradouro da falésia do Carvoeiro is another stunning viewpoint with an observation deck on this walk.
Relax on Praia da Marinha
Praia da Marinha is iconic and is often said to be the most beautiful beach in Europe. It is actually in a small town called Caramujeira but you can easily reach there by bus from Carvoeiro in 30-40 minutes. Of course, driving would be faster.
Praia da Marinha is special because of its dramatic rock formations, clear water, and plenty of golden sand. The stunning double arch rock makes the heart shape from the top looks even better when you’re looking at it from the beach because of the turquoise water.
The rocks divide the beach into three sections. If the tide is low then you can easily climb over or you have to swim around.
Marinha beach also has a handful of beach bars, restaurants, and WCs. So not only it is stunning, but it is also comfortable in every way.
If you start the Seven Hanging Valleys trail early, then you have plenty of time, in the end, to relax on Marinha beach. So if you plan your time well, you can maximize your experience.
I’d still say that you do both these things on separate days. Take out an entire day for the Seven Hanging Valleys trail with a detour to kayak to the Benagil cave. Get back to Benagil Beach and finish the hike to see the double-arched rock from the top.
Yes, you can end up on top of Marinha beach at the end of your hike but you won’t have enough time left to do this beach justice. Then spend an entire lazy next day on Marinha beach.
Lagos – 3 – 5 days
Lagos is famous amongst travelers, but don’t let that put you off. It is worth all its hype. For me, it is the BEST destination in Algarve.
You know me, I like mostly low-key places but I don’t want to skip places that are known for their beauty just because they are popular. When I travel to highly visited places, I usually find a way to avoid crowds.
Lagos did not disappoint me in any way. The beaches are stunning and there are many of them. Some of them can only be reached by hiking so aren’t crowded at all.
Apart from the beaches, Lagos has a lovely old town with buildings covered with Azulo. The hiking opportunities are insane and as a result, so are the viewpoints. The restaurant and bar scene is fantastic but yet one can find an affordable place to sleep in one of the quieter neighborhoods.
I spent a week in Lagos and it wasn’t enough. I visited a new beach every day and hiked to new spots and I wish I had spent at least a month here.
Ponta da Piedade Sunset Hike
Ponta da Piedade is one of the most famous viewpoints in the Algarve. It is a wooden walking path that goes on top of rocks with the sea below.
If you spend a few days in Lagos, make sure you come here for at least one sunset experience. I come back here every single day and sometimes even twice.
When you hike to Ponta da Piedade, you will notice that there isn’t just one viewpoint here but many possibilities. Ideally, you’d want to find a spot from where you see the sun go down and see a bit of one of the beaches underneath the rocks.
I did find a perfect spot for watching the sunset with a stunning view in the Ponta da Piedade area and I mentioned the exact details in my Lagos travel guide post.
Praia do Camilo
Camilo beach is the most beautiful beach in Lagos for me. You have to climb down a hundred steps to reach Camilo beach and it is worth every bit of effort.
Praia do Camilo is divided into two parts. You can reach from one part to another via a cave that’s on the beach. No, you don’t need to swim through the cave but just walk through. Another way of moving from one beach to another is by swimming.
Camilo beach has super interesting rock formations and overall both parts of this beach are tiny compared to the other beaches of Lagos.
Because it is stunning, Praia do Camilo can get very crowded so I visited this beach at 9 am and it was empty. I left at 11 am and that’s when the crowds started coming in. For the best experience and photos, arrive here early or late.
If you’re in Lagos for a short time and are looking for the best place to click loads of photos for Instagram, then Camilo beach is the place. There are multiple photo opportunities and the best ones are from the top as you start climbing down the steps to reach the beach.
Make sure you click a few pictures under the arch on the first beach of Praia do Camilo. I did and those pictures turned out great.
Dona Ana Beach
Praia Dona Ana is massive, easy to reach, has a bus stop nearby, also can be hiked to from the nearby beaches, and has rock formations – so it has everything it takes to be popular, and it is.
Dona Ana beach is a little more than 1 KM away from Lagos City center, so it is reasonably close for a visit from most of Lagos.
Pack some snacks and spend a lazy beach day on Lagos’s legendary Dona Ana beach. If you are a bit of an adventurer, then arrive here by hiking from the nearby Praia do Pinhão or Praia do Camilo. Both these hikes will give you stunning views.
Visit Aqui Há Gato to eat Prawns
As mentioned in the earlier points, I love to find smaller restaurants that are local and are known for their excellent food. Aqui Há Gato was one such find, and it was so good that I ate here every single day.
Lagos city center has a lot of restaurants that cater to tourists, and some of them are overpriced, overhyped, and stressful to visit because of the crowds. Aqui Há Gato is in a residential area and they had a board outside in Portuguese which I translated using Google and it said they have the best prawns in Lagos.
True to their word, the prawns were excellent and the vibe was super comfortable. I regret not eating here on my last day because I decided to try a well-known seafood restaurant close to the city center.
Day trip to Monchique
Sagres – 2 days (optional)
Sagres is on Algarve’s western tip and is an offbeat surfing destination on Algarve Coast. If you like to visit places that are under the radar, then Sagres is for you. Expect to see barren landscapes like no other nearby destinations in Algarve.
Just like the nearby Lagos, Sagres also has towering limestone cliffs over the sea. The beaches are pristine because not many tourists visit Sagres. More than that, you can also visit a unique fortress in Sagress.
Cape of St. Vincent
Ever wanted to stand at the edge of the world? This is it. Truth be told, this is the westernmost tip of Europe, so it is the edge of Europe.
Stand on the steep cliffs at Cabo de Sao Vicente with an unobstructed view of the Atlantic ocean, and admire the rugged and slightly dangerous beauty of this spot that will take your breath away.
The drive to Cape Saint Vincent from Sagres town will just take you 10 minutes. You can arrive here on a bus too, look for bus number 47.
When you arrive at Cape of St. Vincent, you won’t need to spend more than just a few minutes here because it is just one spot. There’s also a lighthouse here – Farol do Cabo de São Vicente, which was under renovation in 2022.
If you want a snack, you will also find a food truck here called “Letzte Bratwurst vor Amerika”, a German name that means “Last Roasted Sausage before America”.
Sagres Fortress (Fortaleza de Sagres) & Lighthouse
Fortaleza de Sagres is a 15th-century fort on top of the rocks. There are three natural cliffs that protect this fort. As a result, the views are spectacular. Look for the Cape Sagres viewpoint near Sagres Lighthouse.
The entry fee for Sagres Fortress is EUR 3 per person. If you enjoy history and viewpoints then this is definitely a unique fortress to visit. There’s also a church inside.
The walking area is pretty level, so you don’t need to climb anything for the view. Wear a hat because there isn’t much shade inside except in the church. There is plenty of parking outside.
A Voz do Mar (Eng. the Voice of the Sea) is a unique chamber in the Sagres fortress complex. It is a maze that’s the chamber of sounds because you can hear the sound of the waves against the rocks.
The maze leads to a narrow chamber that’s situated in deep with a cove and the sound gets louder as you go in.
Sagres Fortress also has Sagres Lighthouse inside the complex. The views around the lighthouse are lovely and you can see the typical grottos that are in Algarve.
Praia do Martinhal is also a big wide beach with perfectly soft sand and views. You don’t have to climb down a lot of stairs to reach this beach, unlike many other beaches in Algarve.
Sagres anyway is low key so this beach doesn’t get crowded at all. As a result, the water and the sand feel very clean.
When it isn’t windy, Martinhal Beach is perfect for families. It is large and wide, but please check the surf report for information about how calm the waves are on the day you bring your children here.
There is also a small lagoon behind Martinhal beach.
Mareta Beach is a massive paradisical beach that attracts a lot of surfers. The sand is almost white and the water is very blue at its best. This sandy beach is surrounded by rocks.
The access to this beach is steep but is totally worth it. Even though it is used by a lot of surfers, the waves are usually calm.
There are beach bars, restaurants, and a decent car park. Mareta beach is in central Sagres so is the main beach but even then it doesn’t get crowded.
Praia do Beliche
Beliche beach is big, beautiful, and unspoiled. There are sandy dunes, small caves, and turquoise water. You need to climb steep steps down to reach this beach.
The rocks make arches right on the beach so you can stand under the arch and click some gorgeous photos. There’s a beach bar at Praia do Beliche where you can relax with a cocktail in your hand.
The water is usually cold, even in summer because of the Atlantic Ocean, but that’s with most of the beaches in the Algarve.
A lot of surfers visit this beach but it still remains empty. Like some of the other empty beaches of Portugal, clothes are optional here. There are plenty of surfing lifeguards at Praia do Beliche.
Algarve Itinerary FAQs
How many days do you need in the Algarve?
I’d suggest you spend a minimum of 5 days in the Algarve, but if you can’t then do at least a week in the Algarve.
My Algarve itinerary is pretty flexible and can be stretched to even two weeks in the Algarve. If you are a slow traveler, then you can spend longer in each location and extend it to a month in Algarve.
What is the prettiest place in the Algarve?
Ponta da Piedade by far is the prettiest place in the Algarve. I loved it so much that I came back here for every single sunset. It is actually a walk that goes over the beaches in Lagos.
You can walk around and find different viewpoints. One that looks over Praia do Barranco do Martinho was my favorite one. I share more information here.
Some would say that Benagil Cave is the prettiest. Yes, it is absolutely stunning but it is a small spot so if you spend 15-30 minutes here, that’s all. But I love the scale of Ponta da Piedade because there are so many viewpoints and possibilities.
Can you go to Algarve without a car?
Yes, you can. It is very easy to travel to and within the Algarve using just public transport.
You can fly to Faro from most of Europe, or take a bus or train to arrive here from different parts of Portugal and a few places in Spain.
I found trains to be super affordable and hassle-free. Buses are also convenient and have WiFi.
What is the most picturesque beach in Algarve?
Praia da Marinha is the most picturesque beach in the Algarve, it is close to Carvoeiro. The second best is Praia do Camilo in Lagos.
Algarve Road Trip FAQs
Is it safe to drive around Algarve?
Yes, it is. Portugal is one of the safest and easiest countries for a road trip in Europe.
Driving around in the Algarve is not only safe but also an excellent experience because of the views as you will drive along the south coast of Portugal.
Where to Start the Algarve road trip?
If you are flying to Portugal and renting a car, then the most obvious starting point is Faro. This will also be your starting point if you are driving to Portugal from nearby Spain.
If you are driving to the Algarve from Lisbon, then you can skip Faro, and start your Algarve road trip itinerary in Albufeira instead. If you want to drive faster, then you won’t be driving along the coast but you will get on A2 Highway.
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I am able to afford minimum 2 weeks in Portugal. Can you please tell me how to spend my time to fully enjoy the country. Thank you for your time and effort. God bless you and your family.
Hi Raul, for me the best part of Portugal is the South Coast and that’s where I’d spend most of my time if I had two weeks. Algarve has so much to do and two weeks are perfect just for this area. If you want to cover more places all over Portugal then include places like Nazare, Coimbra, Porto, and around.