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Have you ever had a longing to visit a place, a desire fuelled by little more than a photograph, yet it immediately makes an imprint on your mind? But no matter what grand plans you dream up, no matter how many journeys you make to all edges of the earth, that place somehow eludes you?
For me, that was Portugal—specifically the Algarve, a popular holiday destination along the country’s south coast, the last stop before setting across the sea to Morocco.
There, towering rock formations jut out of the impossibly-turquoise ocean waves that lap up against the sandy shores, framed by the dusty cliffs overhead granting never-ending vantage points of the mesmerizing scene below. Its coastline is dotted with orange-topped villas, sunshine yellow kayaks weaving in and out of secret coves, and harbours providing safe haven for white-tipped sailboats.
I first came across the wonders of the Algarve as a fresh-faced 20-year-old, poring over my dog-eared Lonely Planet guide planning that quintessential right of passage: a summer trip to Europe. But due to pesky problems that plague backpackers like logistics, time and money, Portugal wasn’t in the cards that time around—despite finding ourselves tantalizingly close in neighbouring Spain.
Years passed, including several more trips across the pond to explore over a dozen European countries, yet Portugal continued to elude me. Then finally, over a decade later, the stars aligned and I found myself with a plane ticket in hand bound straight for Faro, the gateway to the Algarve. Turns out, the wait was worth it.
Here are the best things to do in Lagos.
Faro to Lagos
After picking up a rental car, it took less than an hour driving west along the smooth freeway to get clear across to the other side of the Algarve to Lagos—the exact town that had lured me all those years ago. The A22 winds along the coastline, giving glimpses of some of the region’s other beach towns. There’s also the option to take a bus or train; however there’s no transport hub in the small airport so you’ll need to transfer to Faro City first, plus the journey takes twice as long compared to a taxi or rental vehicle.
Lagos old town
Lagos itself is charming, marked with those iconic swirling mosaic sidewalks, a lively waterfront promenade lined with shopping stalls, a fish market for grabbing the catch of the day, and narrow cobblestone streets winding past whitewashed homes in the fortified historic centre. Pitchers of sangria are enjoyed at à la carte restaurants where tables spill into the sheltered streets, and the acoustic notes from buskers float in the air.
The best beaches in Lagos: Ponta da Piedade
As enjoyable as the historic centre is, most people plan their Lagos holidays around seeing the breathtaking beaches, including Ponta da Piedade.
Strata rock formations hug the shoreline, where strong winds have formed natural archways and tunnels that perfectly frame the ocean’s azure hues. The shimmering sands below prove impossible to resist, luring visitors to soak up the sun on beaches dotted with multi-coloured umbrellas, where young families and blissful honeymooners frolic in the surf.
The dusty trails which link the beaches and wind along the bluffs above are a delight to explore, granting panoramic views of the coastline which seems to stretch on forever.
Praia Dona Ana
Ponte da Piedade’s crown jewel is Praia Dona Ana beach, which is accessed by 95 wooden steps. The surrounding rock formations have formed a cove, creating calm waters for wading and swimming.
There are ample facilities, including a well-priced restaurant we grabbed ice cold beers from before spreading out our towels to relax. Dona Ana truly has it all, and at the first sight of the multi-toned water it’s easy to see why it’s one of the most beautiful things to see in Lagos.
Praia do Camilo
Its neighbour Praia do Camilo is nothing to scoff at either, and is one of the more lively Lagos beaches. Also accessed by a long staircase, sun-seekers are deposited onto a sheltered beach surrounded by the towering, glowing cliffside. The sand is actually separated by a natural tunnel, making it feel like you’ve found a secret beach.
Just beyond the shoreline, boats and kayakers zip by enjoying a different perspective of the scenery, which is mesmerizing from all angles.
Check out this guide to Algarve beyond the beach, for more fun things to do in the area
Praia do Porto Mos
Our final stop in lovely Lagos was Praia do Porto Mos. Perched on a part of the coastline that juts out into the ocean, it’s one of the area’s most accessible beaches with plenty of parking and a ramp that makes it easy to push strollers and wheelchairs onto the sand.
The views aren’t as dramatic as Dona Ana and Camillo, but what it lacks in scenery it makes up for in space as it’s not as busy as the other two and has a much longer shoreline.
So, after days of exploration, evenings spent watching the silhouettes of palm trees swaying against a purple sunset, and years of yearning, it was time to begrudgingly pack up the car and watch Lagos disappear out the rearview mirror as we hit the highway to our next destination.
It hasn’t escaped my mind since.
Booking a guided tour is an easy way to see the top Lagos attractions, and include things like sea kayaking, surfing lessons and even paragliding over the glittering ocean:
Explore the best places in the Algarve, by booking one of these tours along the coastline, the popular Benagil Sea Cave or the picturesque villages of Sagres and Cape St. Vincent:
- Carvi Beach Hotel Algarve: With a fantastic location just steps away from Dona Ana beach, guests love the ocean views, pool and rooftop terrace. Click here to book
- Palmares Beach House Hotel: One of the top-ranked hotels near Lagos, this luxurious property has bright, modern rooms and suites with balconies overlooking the water. The Palmares is a short walk from a great beach, and a handful of golf courses. Click here to book
- Lagos Avenida Hotel: Modern rooms with air conditioning, a rooftop infinity pool and a central location in the city centre make this one of the top-ranked hotels in Lagos. Click here to book
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
- The top things to do in Lisbon: How to plan the perfect itinerary
- The best things to do in Cascais, Portugal
- Sintra day trip: A guide to Portugal’s pastel palaces
- A grand European adventure with Air Transat: London and Portugal
This article was originally published in August 2017 and updated in July 2020
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Wow! Lagos looks wonderful! We visited Lisbon last October, and wanted to go to Algarve too but didn’t have enough time. Next time we’ll certainly try to spend a week there! Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures!
Oooh you definitely need to go back and visit! We loved it so much.
Portugal in general has been on my travel wish list. Specifically the Algarve area is the most coveted area. Your photos just solidify the fact that I need to get there ASAP. It’s just so ruggedly beautiful…wild.
Totally, and I feel like Portugal is the hot destination this year!
I need to go to the Algaves, right now! This is such a beautiful Region. If I had to pick only one beach, I’d probably pick the Praia do Camillo, it looks really scruffy and like a lot of fun to Kajak around 🙂 You made some fantastic photos, bravo!
Thanks Tom, it was a great trip!
The Algarve looks stunning. Those rock formations are amazing! The architecture in Lagos is so colorful, especially that building with the bright red door and window shutters. Great shot in between the rocks in Camillo Beach.
Thanks Debra! I wish I was there right now! 🙂
How magical and such natural beauty. What a beautiful region. The beaches and rock formations, wow. I’m planning on going to Portugal in a couple of months and I’m now adding Algarve to the list. Thanks for sharing about this amazing region.
I visited the Algarve about ten years ago and it was incredible. I was amazed that such stunning beaches existed and no one was on them. To be fair, it was in December but it was still 18 degrees and for a Brit that definitely merits a visit to the beach
Haha, as a Canadian I can relate
I must admit. Portugal always flies under the radar for me when I plan a European trip. But, every time I read a gorgeous article like this, I ask myself why I haven’t been yet! The Lagos coast line is stunning with those rocky arches. I’d love to explore all the nooks by kayak!
I loved reading your post. Ok, I have to confess that it was more of a browsing through pictures first. Portugal is my favorite country and I have warm memories about spending time in Algarve region. Hence, your photos brought back so many great moments. Ponte da Piedade looks so colorful and inviting that I want to come back any minute.
Thanks for the kind words, Elena! Isn’t it just so gorgeous there?
I can see why you fell in love with it all those years ago! Those beaches look gorgeous! Portugal has eluded me too, even having lived in Europe for three years! I’m hoping that this winter I may be able to pop over for a few days though. Thanks for inspiring me to make it even more of a priority!
Hello, can I swimm in the ocean if I go in June?When it’s better to visit Algarve and to swimm in the ocean?thanks
The ocean is always quite chilly, but yes you can definitely swim in it in June, that’s when I went! 🙂
Yes! Algarve is one of the most wonderful places where I traveled, word can’t describe what you can visit there