The sunny beaches of the Algarve make the perfect backdrop for a wide range of activities.

You can hike along a sea cliff, surf world-class breaks or look for birds and dolphins just offshore. There are teeming markets to explore, islands to wander across and maritime museums packed with relics from the past. 

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If you’re not on the hunt for an active vacation, the Algarve is also a fine place to do nothing at all. You’ll find many gorgeous beaches for some downtime and dramatic overlooks to take in Portugal’s prettiest sunsets. Even the essentials – eating and drinking – are elevated here, as you savor just-caught seafood and local craft beers overlooking the seaside.

Here are some of the best things to do in the Algarve.

1. Bite into a sea-tasting percebe in Vila do Bispo 

Just inland from the west coast, the town of Vila do Bispo is one of the finest spots on the planet to sample the tender crustaceans known as percebes (goose barnacles). Though they’re unsightly in appearance (not unlike the misshapen hoof of some small, extra-terrestrial creature), the juicy snap, mouth-watering flavor and faintly salty finish of a percebe make consuming one like getting a kiss from the sea. 

Though percebes are known throughout Iberia, it’s here that fishers still harvest by hand the small barnacles that attach themselves to the wave-beaten cliffs outside of town.

Planning tip: You can sample the fruits of their labors at several Vila do Bispo restaurants, including Solar do Perceve. 

A woman sits on the the cliffs looking toward Praia da Marinha and dramatic rock formations, the Algarve, Portugal
The clifftop views of Praia da Marinha are stunning at any time of day – but especially so at sunset © F.J. Jimenez / Getty Images

2. Watch the sunset from Praia da Marinha 

From the lofty headland of Cabo de São Vicente in the west to the sands of Praia de Santo António in the east, the Algarve has no lack of fabled spots for watching the sunset. For pure drama, though, it’s hard to top the Praia da Marinha. Towering cliffs surround this tiny beach just east of Carvoeiro, and as the daylight dwindles, you’ll see the sky light up with auburn hues behind the striated rock formations. 

3. Sip a craft beer at Dos Santos 

One of the Algarve’s best microbreweries serves up liquid perfection from a brewery and vineyard located a short drive east of Portimão. Dos Santos turns out a good tasty range of beers, including a pilsner, lager, IPA and stout, all made with the highest-quality ingredients.

In fact, brewers here follow the Reinheitsgebot or German Purity Law, which means these beers don’t have additives or chemicals and are made with just four ingredients: water, hops, yeast and malted barley. You can get more insight into the brewery and sip fine beers in the taproom, which has a terrace overlooking the sunny vineyard.

Planning tip: You can also visit the winery next door or have a meal in the restaurant. It's a popular spot, so it's wise to book in advance to avoid disappointment.

4. Ride the waves off Carrapateira 

The west coast (part of the Costa Vicentina) has some of the best breaks in the Algarve. If you’ve got skills, you’ll find plenty of variety, with the best waves in winter. Less experienced surfers will find plenty of gentler breaks as well.

You can learn the ropes at places like Amado Surf School, which offers everything you need – lessons (private or group), lodging (you can pitch a tent too), and all necessary gear.

A flamingo silhouetted in the sunset light wades in the wetlands of Parque Natural da Ria Formosa
Flamingoes, herons and storks are some of the wildlife you can admire as you kayak across the wetlands of Parque Natural da Ria Formosa © SamuelHydePhotosVideos / Shutterstock

5. Look for flamingoes while paddling in the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa

A vast area of lagoons, barrier islands and inlets lies near the town of Faro. This is the Algarve at its most pristine and a vital habitat for migratory birds. You might see flamingos, herons, storks and other wildlife on a tour with Formosamar.

The sustainably-minded outfit runs excursions by bicycle and motorboat, though we prefer their trips by kayak, during which you can glide peacefully over mirror-like waters while guides share a wealth of knowledge about these biologically rich wetlands. 

6. Browse for fresh fruits at one of the best markets in the region

The Algarve is packed with mercados, bustling tall-ceilinged markets where you can browse some of the region’s finest produce from field and sea. Olhão has a standout market, spread across two historic red-brick buildings – one dedicated to seafood, the other to fruits and vegetables.

Planning tip: Saturday morning is the best time to go, as that’s when the action spills out onto the square in front.

7. Look for dolphins off the coast of Sagres

Feel the salt spray as you zip across the water, watching dolphins leap through your wake. The scene is all the more dramatic against the backdrop of Sagres’s soaring cliffs and under seabirds flying overhead.

While dolphin-watching cruises are common across the Algarve, Mar Ilimitado earns high marks for its exceptional guides. The company was founded by two marine biologists with a deep passion for ocean conservation.

A female hiker on the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail (Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos) admires a view of a lighthouse and striated rock formations, the Algarve, Portugal
The Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos offers beautiful views of rock formations tumbling to the sea. Just don’t forget your swimsuit © Ventura / Shutterstock

8. Walk the cliff tops along the Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos

Near the beach of Vale Centianes, just east of Carvoeiro, you can head off on one of the Algarve’s most scenic day hikes. The so-called “seven hanging valleys trail” takes you above serene coves and up to lookouts above dramatic rock formations arching out into the sea.

While mostly flat, the trail does have a few ups and downs, sometimes leading you to the edge of inviting golden beaches. You’ll regret it if you forget to bring along your swimsuit. 

9. Play castaway on a deserted island

Ilha Deserta (“deserted island” – also known as Ihla da Barretta) isn’t quite as forlorn as it sounds, with sunseekers making the trip out for a relaxing day away from civilization.

Despite the other visitors, the island is uninhabited, and you’ll find plenty of space on the sandy beach, which stretches for 7km (4.3 miles) off the coast of Faro. Reserve ahead for the fresh catch of the day at the island's only restaurant, Estaminé. Get here by catching a ferry operated by Animaris. 

10. Treat yourself to a decadent meal at Vila Joya 

One of the best restaurants in Portugal, Vila Joya has two Michelin stars and fans across the globe. With three decades at the helm of the kitchen, chef Dieter Koschina serves up a changing menu that showcases the freshest of seafood and inland produce, layering on creative accents from Central Europe and the Far East. Book a terrace table and watch the sunset over the ocean while lingering over a multi-course meal.

Planning tip: If one evening isn't enough, Vila Joya also has luxurious rooms, some even with a private pool.

11. Take memorable snapshots at Ponta da Piedade 

Just south of Lagos, you can stand on a headland and breathe in the salt-tinged breezes while gazing across the towering sandstone formations lapped by crashing waves. After snapping photos from every angle, walk down the many steps to some equally dramatic vantage points along the water’s edge. 

A man looks up into the opening of the inside the Benagil Caves, the Algarve, Portugal
A visit to the majestic Benagil Caves feels like stepping into another world © Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images

12. Paddle through a beam of sunlight inside the Benagil Cave

One of the Algarve’s most impressive sights is the vast sandstone cavern tucked off a rocky headland east of Carvoeiro. Accessible only by sea on calm days, entering this space can feel like crossing into another world, with the sea a rich aquamarine hue as sunlight streams through the halo-like opening high overhead.

You can get there on motorboat tours from Carvoeiro, but it’s more fun to go by kayak. Go for a sunrise or sunset tour to experience the caves without the crowds. 

13. Learn about age-old fishing traditions at the Museu de Portimão

A thoughtfully designed museum in Portimão takes visitors on a journey into Portugal’s seafaring past. Archeological finds relate to prehistoric communities, the ancient Romans, Islamic times and Portimão’s more recent days as a fishing center.

The museum is set in a handsomely restored canning factory, which once played a pivotal role in the local economy. Temporary exhibitions explore a mix of maritime themes and works by local artists and designers.  

This article was first published Jun 14, 2022 and updated Jul 12, 2023.

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