You don’t have to look very hard to find outstanding photo opportunities in the Algarve. Golden beaches, clifftop lighthouses, and historic, cobblestone-lined centers all form the backdrop to some of Portugal’s most dramatic scenery. It does, however, help to know the lay of the land before planning your itinerary.
The western-facing Algarve, from Odeceixe down to Sagres, has wave-battered headlands and wild beaches. The eastern Algarve (Faro to the Spanish border) is home to the wetland reserve of Ria Formosa, along with barrier islands, the charming town of Tavira, and the fishing mecca of Olhão.
In between, lies the central Algarve, which has many famous (and famously beautiful) beaches, otherworldly rock formations, and headland walks with panoramic views over the coast. The central Algarve also has its share of buzzing resort towns like Lagos and Albufeira, which also offer some great snapshots of flower-draped streets and centuries-old landmarks.
Wherever you go, plan your photography for early or late in the day. That’s when the light is best and the Algarve’s famous Mesozoic limestone cliffs take on auburn and golden hues. Here is our rundown of the best Instagram spots in the Algarve, from well-known classics to off-the-beaten-path locales.
Praia da Marinha
Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, Praia da Marinha is famous for its incredible cliffs and jutting sea stacks that are characteristic of the coastline. The best vistas can be found by hiking west along the coast, and there are numerous compositions here to keep you busy.
When arriving at the car park for Praia de Albandeira, take the path west and you’ll end up overlooking a smaller beach, Praia da Estaquinha. From here you will have an unobstructed view of the Albandeira Arch coastal formation. It’s far less crowded than other Algarve beaches, and you’ll still find all of the good bits: golden cliffs, frothing seas, and dramatic perspectives toward the sea.
Cabo de São Vicente
Anchoring the southwesternmost corner of Portugal, the Cabo de São Vicente is pure cinematic drama. Perched on a rocky cliff high above the lapping seas, stands a red-topped lighthouse and a small white-washed complex surrounding it – excellent subjects for capturing the wild, remoteness of this coastline. Leave yourself plenty of time to explore here. You can find some memorable perspectives both north and south of the lighthouse. Just be sure to mind your step as you’re walking along the clifftop paths – it’s a long way down!
Praia dos Arrifes
Praia dos Arrifes is one of the more attractive beaches in the Albufeira area, and also one of the smaller ones. Sprinkled with craggy formations, islets, and rock pools, it’s another picture-perfect destination. Photo opportunities vary throughout the day – the tide reveals yet more rock formations on its way out and waves crash into the limestone structures. It’s a perfect spot to watch the sunrise if you’re staying in Albufeira, and there's free parking just west of the beach.
One of the Algarve’s most spectacular beaches is hidden along a rocky shoreline that you can reach only from the water. The Benagil Caves are illuminated by an opening high overhead, with the rays of the sun creating an ever-changing play of light on the limestone walls and the archlike openings to the sea. Not surprisingly, the caves are extremely popular, so be prepared to share the space with plenty of other visitors. Get there on tours by boat or kayak. On calm days, you can also hire a kayak or SUP and go on your own.
Praia de Dona Ana
The vibrant town of Lagos puts you within a short distance of some fabulous coastline. Less than a 30-minute walk south of town, you’ll reach Praia de Dona Ana, one of the most picturesque beaches in the area. From the headland, take the steps down to the surprisingly wide shore that’s fringed by cliffs, with unusual pillar-like formations lying just offshore. Be sure to explore the unusual vantage points from both the north and south ends of the beach.
Praia do Camilo
About 0.6 miles (1km) south of Praia de Dona Ana is Praia do Camilo. Significantly smaller than its neighbor, this beach is aesthetically pleasing, with rich textures thanks to the rocky features woven among the sands. Even with 200 steps leading down to it, Praia do Camilo is a must-see. It's a dream for photography, you just have to work a little harder for it. If you have a chance to get here at dawn, the rising sun floods light onto the beach, creating the perfect conditions for a morning shoot.
One of the prettiest towns in the Algarve, Tavira is packed with Instagrammable backdrops. You can stroll the riverfront and take in the views across the historic, seven-arched Ponte Romana or search for hidden beauty on the back lanes of its old town. You’ll find one of the widest perspectives by visiting the ruins of a medieval castle on a hill above the town. After exploring the city, you can head out to Ilha de Tavira for unique shots on a long sandy island. Don’t miss the surreal "anchor graveyard" located near Praia do Barril.
Ponta da Piedade
The Ponta da Piedade is one of the finest natural features of the Algarve coastline. Chiseled out by years of storms, it consists of a huge variety of sea pillars, rock arches, and hidden caves. There is enough here to keep a photographer busy for an entire morning. Steps allow access right down to sea level at the headland but, for a different perspective, take in the view on a boat or kayak tour.
In Olhão, you’ll find the region’s largest fish market, the perfect opportunity to photograph the bounty from the sea, as well as the fascinating market personalities working the stalls. Olhão is famed for its clam diggers, whom you can often see at work on the tidal flats outside the village. Out of respect, be sure to ask permission before you start snapping away, and it’s considerate to offer to share images with those you photograph.