The Algarve is the southernmost region of Portugal, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. It is Portugal's most popular holiday destination due to the approximately 200 km of clean beaches, the cool, unpolluted water, and the fact that it is relatively cheap, very safe, and overall welcoming.
The cities of the Algarve are traditionally grouped into Barlavento and Sotovento, the western and eastern halves, respectively.
- 1 Monchique the inland Algarve, superb food, nature and views.
- 2 Aljezur - close to famous surf spots
- 3 Sagres - near Europe's southwesternmost point
- 4 Salema
- 5 Praia da Luz
- 6 Lagos - narrow, winding streets, quaint shops and wonderful restaurants, with an old inner city inside the remnants of a protective wall
- 7 Alvor
- 8 Portimão
- 9 Lagoa
- 10 Silves - first capital of the Algarve which has a Moorish red stone castle
- 11 Albufeira
- 12 Quarteira
- 13 Loulé - the capital of the Golden Triangle
- 14 Quinta do Lago
- 15 Faro - the regional capital
- 16 Olhão - a city near the Ria Formosa and Faro
- 17 Tavira - a city near the Ria Formosa lagoon
- 18 Castro Marim
- 19 Vila Real de Santo António
The Algarve is rich in culture and diversity. If you are looking for fast paced resorts or a calm tranquil setting either is attainable. The entire region is around 5,400 km2 (2,100 sq mi). Although the number of permanent residents is under 500,000 the area receives more than tenfold that in tourism each year. The busiest times of year tend to be July and August.
Following the neolithic period of the regions history, approximately 1000 BC, settlements and trading ports were established by the Phoenicians who were attracted by deposits of copper, manganese and iron. They came from the coastal regions of the eastern Mediterranean of modern-day Syria, Israel and Lebanon. Circa 550 BC Portimão was one of the ports founded by the Carthaginians who came from North Africa. In the 2nd century BC the region came under the control of the Romans as they spread throughout the Iberian Peninsular. Many Roman ruins still remain today throughout the Algarve and can be seen in many areas, but the best to visit are probably at the Milreu ruins, 7km from Faro, where buildings that started construction as a Roman villa later became a Christian Church.
Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Visigoths took control of the Algarve until the invasion of the Moors from North Africa in 711 AD. At this time, the Visigoths who came from central Europe, were defeated in the Battle of Guadalete by a force of invading Arabs and Berbers.
There followed a period of five centuries of Arab rule in Iberia. The Moors conquered the Algarve in 716. Faro, which had been called Santa Maria, was renamed Faraon, meaning 'the settlement of the Knights'. Even the name of the region owes its origin to the Moors who knew the region as 'al-gharb' meaning 'the west'. There is evidence of the moors throughout the Algarve and Southern Spain, illustrated by chimney stacks, pottery and the Moorish style of architecture, and particularly, the Arabic castle at Silves. The castle was built by Almoravid Arabs in the 11th century out of red sandstone and dried mud and is the best preserved Moorish castle in the country. In the 12th Century, King Afonso III, with a little help from English mercenaries, finally evicted the Moors and once again the Portuguese dominated the region, although the area was not fully secure from Moorish attacks until the middle of the 13th century.
Born in Porto in 1394, Prince Henry the Navigator based himself somewhere around Lagos/Sagres, and is considered to be responsible for many of the 'discoveries' made by the Portuguese in the middle ages sending out expeditions to Africa, the islands of Madeira and the Azores. In 1419 he was appointed governor of the province of the Algarve.
Disaster struck on 1st November 1755, with a huge earthquake whose epicentre was reported to have been 200km South-West of the country and registering 9 on the Richter Scale. The coastal areas of the Algarve were devastated by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The devastation was not only limited to the Algarve, British naval reports from the period indicate the arrival of a huge wave in the port of Lisbon. The damage to Lisbon was almost total, and following huge political turmoil the person responsible for the reconstruction of the city was the Marquis of Pombal, the then Prime Minister.
The Algarve's geographical position on Europe’s south-western tip in the south of Portugal gives it some special bioclimatic features. Although situated by the Atlantic Ocean, it has a temperate climate with Mediterranean characteristics, more than 3,000 hours of sunshine per year and a low annual average rainfall, mainly during the winter months. Even in the hottest days in July and August a mild breeze from the Atlantic provides relief.
The Serra in the northern half of the Algarve has a considerable influence on the climate of the region. It forms a physical barrier against the cold winds blowing from the north and the lows from the Northwest, thus giving the Algarve coast an almost Mediterranean climate, with low annual rainfall and mild temperatures in winter. Furthermore, it is also a barrier for the misty winds that come from the South.
English is in general used as a business language and is spoken in the tourist areas, where restaurant menus are multilingual. If you are travelling in the interior, then you would do well to carry a pocket dictionary with you, and have Wikivoyage's Portuguese phrasebook at hand. Also in case you unexpectedly have to deal with the police, English may not always be understood. You should be careful with any impolite comments – many Portuguese people have spent some time abroad and may understand you better than you think.
International flights into Faro Airport (FAO IATA) then (1) by bus: national buses run from outside the airport to the bus terminal regularly throughout the day time on weekdays or (2) by taxi: will be under €10 from the airport to the train station.
The toll motorway A2 leads to the Algarve from the north. You will need to allow approximately 2 hours for the 240 km drive from Lisbon to the A22 north of Albufeira.
From Spain the toll free A49 joins the A22 near Castro Marim in the Algarve after 145 km and about one and a half hours driving.
In the Algarve the toll motorway A22 Rua do Infante de Sagres goes from Lagos in the west to Castro Marim in the east at the Spanish border. Toll tariffs on the A22 depend on the distance and are recorded electronically only. Since the toll was introduced at the end of 2011 the parallel route of the national road EN125 is quite busy during rush hours, because many locals shy away from using the A22 for cost reasons. Cars with a foreign number plate have several options to pay the toll collected by an electronic system on the A22 motorway:
- Toll Card: this card, valid for one year, can be charged with €5-40 and needs to be activated by SMS, entering the license number.
- Toll Service: you can have unlimited use of the A22 for 3 days after activation, for a one off fee of €20.
- Easy Toll: Payment by credit card (Visa or Master Card), with the toll directly deducted from your bank account
- Via Verde Visitors: renting a so called on board unit (OBU), a device that can be used both on roads with electronic or manual toll collection.
Faro Airport, the third largest in Portugal, is the main airport for the region. On arrival there is a wide selection of car hire options both at static desks in the airport and also within the terminal at a meeting point. From Faro airport the train station and bus terminals can be reached by taxi.
Outside the summer season some airlines reduce their direct flights to Faro, so that Lisbon Airport should be considered as alternative.
There are daily bus connections between Lagos, Olhao, Faro (and many other cities) and Spanish cities such as Seville and Huelva. A single ticket Seville-Faro costs €13 with ALSA and the journey takes 2 hr. Flixbus also has a few connections per day for slightly higher prices.
There are several daily train connections to Algarve operated by CP. Alfa Pendular (AP) trains connect Porto and Lisbon with Faro twice (sometimes three times) a day, making several stops on the way, journey time is 5½ hr or 3 hr, respectively. Intercidades (IC) trains connect Lisbon with Faro as well, they stop at more places and are a bit slower then AP. They run three times a day, journey time is 3½ hr. There is also one seasonal InterRegional (IR) train.
There is a ferry service between Vila Real de Santo António and Ayamonte (Spain). The ferry was once a main mean of transportation although after the construction of the Guadiana International Bridge it is nowadays mostly used by tourists. Naviera Armas operates a ferry to Portimão from Madeira (connecting with Gran Canaria) with a couple of departures per month.
The Algarve Railway (Linha do Algarve) is a convenient possibility to get around Algarve. It connects Lagos in the west with Vila Real de Santo António on the border with Spain, calling at most towns and cities along the way (Portimão, Silves, Tunes, Loulé, Faro, Tavira, etc.). There is no direct train between Lagos and Vila Real d/S/A. Operated are usually Regional trains, between Faro and Tunes also Alfa Pendular, Intercidades and InterRegional trains. Journey from Faro to Lagos takes from 1h30min to 1h45min.
There is also one part of The Southern Railway (Linha do Sul; Lisbon - Tunes), although in Algarve are situated only two stops of this line - Messines-Alte and Tunes. These stations are served by Intercidades and InterRegional trains.
All trains are operated by CP.
A car is often the best way of seeing the Algarve, owing to the limited public transport services. Cars can be hired at Faro Airport and in other towns and cities in the Algarve. Most car rental companies will stipulate a minimum age of 21. Prices start from about €10 a day for a small car and there is often a wide range of cars to choose from.
The Algarve has a good network of roads, but be aware that some country roads are little more than dirt tracks. Roads are however generally well maintained, however, road markings may randomly disappear (in this case stick to the right as far as possible - a favourite Portuguese habit is to overtake, still they are mindful). After many years, the A22 (IP 1) motorway was finally completed in 2007, which goes from Bensafrim in the west all the way to Monte Francisco on the Portuguese/Spanish border. The Algarve, like the rest of Portugal and mainland Europe, drives on the right.
Petrol stations are found all over the Algarve. All stations will sell standard unleaded (95 RON) and super (97 RON) and diesel. Some stations sell LPG (GPL) as well. Unleaded petrol is known as gasolina sem chumbo and diesel gasoleo. Petrol prices in Portugal are high in comparison to other European countries; as of August 2009 a litre of 95 RON unleaded costs around €1.33 a litre, 97 RON super €1.47 a litre and diesel €1.06 a litre.
- Ria Formosa Natural Park
- Monchique Mountains
- Caldeirão Mountains
- Sagres Cape
- Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park
- St. Vincent Cape
- Beaches — over 100 different beaches, each unique in its own way
- Golf — If you are a golf lover then you have come to the right place, with over 30 courses dotted throughout the region.
- Hike — there are over 30 hiking trails crisscrossing the region
- Ceramics - the area is known for its hand-painted pottery and azulejos or tiles
The Algarve is famous for its hot and spicy Piri Piri Chicken, which can be found all over. Since it has a big and rich coast, it has a very interesting array of wonderful fish and seafood, from sardines to cataplanas, and many dry fruit sweets that will make your mouth water for more.
Medronho is a traditional fruit brandy, traditionally produced and drunk in The Algarve. Medronho can be fiercely potent and is available in variations ranging from unlabelled local homebrew bottles, moonshine style, to connoisseur tipples at more of a premium price range.
- Youth hostels (Pousadas de Juventude) can be found in the following places: Arrifana near Aljezur on the western coast, Alcoutim on the Guadiana river, Faro, Lagos, Portimão and Tavira.
- Camping grounds: The Algarve disposes of more than 20 official camping grounds, mostly located on or near the coast.
- Caravaning: To improve the service quality and security for auto caravaning, a new route for motor homers (Network for Motor-Caravanning in the Algarve Region/RAARA) was launched end of 2015, comprising 22 infrastructures in total.