Best Stops on Road Trip on the Algarve Coast, Portugal

Updated January 25, 2018
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 Lagos Algarve Portugal

Portugal’s most southern region, the Algarve Coast, is a captivating mix of blue Mediterranean sea, golden sand beaches and limestone cliffs blanketed by whitewashed fishing villages. Since the 1960s it’s been attracting tourists craving sun and cheap holidays and sold itself as an expat destination to those who couldn’t bear to go home again. One drive along the Algarve Coast and it’s easy to see why this is now a top Portugal road trip!

As we drove into Portugal from Spain the countryside seemed to slowly become more green, a tribute to the increase in rainfall and weather patterns from the Atlantic Ocean. The main road from Faro to Lagos is inland, and I wondered to myself if this was it… White houses dotted amongst trees on rolling hills are a pretty sight but not what I came for when I planned a Portugal coast road trip. I wanted the golden cliffs kissed by aqua water! Well luckily for me, they were coming and I wouldn’t be disappointed.

What to see on the Algarve Coast, Portugal

There aren’t any major attractions on the Algarve as such so the main thing to do is take a road trip along the Portugal coast, visit the coves and beaches, wander through the towns of whitewashed houses and cobblestone streets, and eat your fill of Portuguese food of course. A road trip along the Algarve is the best way to be able to see it all!

Here are some of the best places to stop along the Algarve, so add them to your Portugal south coast itinerary.

Faro

We stopped for breakfast in Faro, and I was starving. Portugal is famous for it’s “pastel de nata” which is like a small custard tart. I wasn’t sure about it since I’m not a fan of custard, so I ordered toast with fig jam. I didn’t know it at the time, but figs are everywhere in the Algarve, and they know what they’re doing with them. It was so good! We also had our first taste of carob, another Algarve specialty, with a carob cake. I looked like a chocolate cake and had a sweet chocolate taste. Yum.

Faro itself has a bit of a reputation as a party town, but in the winter it was a peaceful place offering sunshine and history in the form of Roman and Moorish influences. We also visited the Capela dos Ossos, the Chapel of Bones, at the back of the Carmo Church. The bones of monks were exhumed when the cemetery was full in the 19th century and arranged in patterns in the chapel. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of this sort of thing, but it’s an original and interesting thing to see on your Algarve roadtrip nonetheless. No photos sorry, I get weirded out taking photos of things like that…

Read More: 21 Things to Know Before You Visit Lisbon

Algarve Portugal Faro

Albufeira

This once quiet fishing town is now seen as a major destination for cheap holidays on the Algarve, and a must stop on your Portugal road trip along the coast. The definition of cheap is relative to everyone of course but food and accommodation definitely cost less in Portugal than many other European countries!

Albufeira has a number of beaches near the town centre or within easy access through public transport, a busy nightlife, and golf courses, if that’s your kind of thing! It’s a popular place to stay in the Algarve since it’s in the middle, and it makes a great base from which to explore the Algarve by car.

From here we started to see more of the cliffs I had anticipated on a south Portugal road trip, but the best was yet to come. If you want the secluded Algarve without a lot of tourists, it’s probably not the place for you but is worth adding as a stop on your southern Portugal itinerary. Unless you visit in winter then it’s like this…

Algarve Portugal Albufeira

Carvoeiro

Carvoeiro used to be so small it wasn’t even considered its own town, but it’s now regularly on the list as one of the Algarve’s best beaches. You can take boat trips to nearby caves and coves from almost all of the beaches on the Algarve. From Carvoeiro, you can get to the Benagil Caves, including the one with the hole in the roof that you’ll see all over Pinterest, or all the way down to Praia de Marinha at Lagos.

Unfortunately, because we went in winter when the sea is much rougher we weren’t able to take a tour, something to note if you visit the Algarve in winter. You might chance a calm day, but the best time to go to the caves is in the summer when the water is calm so the boats can go right inside. This will be peak season as well, however, and Carvoeiro is a small beach that can get very busy during the summer months.

In any case, Carvoeiro has to be one of the prettiest villages along the Algarve coast, with high cliffs sheltering a smaller golden sand beach and a definite highlight of an Algarve roadtrip.

Algarve Portugal Carvoeiro

Portimão

Portimão is one of the bigger places on the Algarve coast, after Faro. It’s been a settlement since prehistoric times but is now one of the most touristic places on the Algarve. Praia de Rocha is one of the most well-known beaches, with its distinctive small rock foundations out in the bay, and it’s a cheap (like 70c cheap) bus ride from Portimão. It’s relatively easy to get here from either Lagos or Faro with transfers or on the slow train, so it’s another option if you’re wondering where to stay in the Algarve. From here you could rent a car to take road trips along the coast.

Lagos

Having a car in Portugal made it easy to stop along the way between Faro and Lagos and plan a great Algarve road trip, but most people fly into Faro and make their way by transfer or public transport between the two. The western part of the Algarve is where you’ll be able to see the more dramatic scenery and cliffs, and Lagos most definitely did not disappoint. I loved the little town and it’s somewhere I would 100% return back to. Even though it’s a popular spot it still had the charm of a small fishing village.

Lagos Algarve Portugal

Nearby is Praia Dona Ana, regarded as one of the best beaches in the Algarve, surrounded by high cliffs. There are secluded beaches like Praia do Camilo nearby, which are only small and accessible by steep stairs. I could have spent days in Lagos finding the hidden beaches of the Algarve!

However, since it was winter when we visited we mostly enjoyed the Algarve coastline from above, like at Farol da Ponta Piedade, or the lighthouse. Although the sea as a beautiful turquoise colour, at this time of year it crashed against the sand coloured cliffs and through holes in the rock, instead of resting calmly. It was amazing to be able to scramble all over the top of the cliffs and even right down to the ocean to see it. In the summer it’s so calm that kayakers come through here!

Read More: 7 Things to Do in Porto That Don’t Involve Port Wine

Sagres

Sagres is at the most southern point of Portugal, and it really does feel a bit like the end of the world when you stand on the edge of those windy cliffs. Not as close to the edge as the Portuguese men that fish here, however! If you want to visit Sagres then having a car to road trip the Algarve is your best option, as it’s much further away than the other coastal towns and villages.

Visit the old fortress that has a rich nautical and naval history and head towards the lighthouse where you’ll see fishermen on tiny bits of rock right on the edge of the cliffs, hoping to catch fish from the sea hundreds of metres below. Spot the fisherman in this photo!

Sagres Fisherman Algarve Portugal

How to get around the Algarve

Whichever time you go, if you have the time, hire a car and take a road trip along the south Portuguese coast to see all of the best views!

The Algarve isn’t short of attractions in terms of beautiful views, charming towns, coastal walks, and delicious places to eat and drink, and even a winter visit gave us plenty to see and do. Many people fly into Faro airport and transfer to their accommodation from there, but if you have the means I’d highly recommend hiring a car and taking advantage of as much of the coast as possible. The most secluded beaches on the Algarve aren’t easily accessible by public transport and the freedom of a car definitely helps.

Lagos Algarve Portugal

Renting a car in Portugal

If you’re flying into an airport in the Algarve it’s usually easiest to rent a car straight from there. I like to book in advance because it’s usually always cheaper and you have more options, especially in peak season!

I use a comparison website like Rentalcars to see what all my options are. It compares companies like Hertz, Avis, EuropeCar, Budget etc. Once you’ve found something book it since most of the companies offer free cancellation anyway.

Some tips for hiring a rental car in the Algarve:

  • It’s more expensive for one way hire, so plan to return to the same location to save money. It’s not a big area so you could easily drive back to where you arrived, unless you’re planning on extending your Portugal road trip to head north and drive from the Algarve to Lisbon and Porto of course!
  • Car rental is usually based on 24 hour periods, so take this into account when booking. Sometimes a weekly fee can also be cheaper, so you could book that and return the car earlier.
  • It will be significantly cheaper to hire a manual than an automatic, so practice before you go and save some money!
  • Cheapest and smallest isn’t always best. If there’s more than two of you then consider a larger car, if only just to fit in all your luggage!
  • If you want to reduce your excess in the event of an accident, you’ll need to take out the extra insurance which can be more than the cost of the rental car. However, it’s possible to buy a standalone policy from another provider (like Rentalcars) but you’ll need to be prepared for a hold for the amount of the excess to be placed on a credit card and then to have to claim from that insurance should something go wrong.

Sagres Fisherman Algarve Portugal

Tips for driving in Portugal

General tips:

  • Solid (unbroken) white lines mean do not cross
  • Using a mobile phone while driving is illegal
  • You must park in the street facing the direction of travel
  • Some drivers will not use their indicators a lot or will drive in the wrong lanes, so be aware
  • When there is no footpath keep an eye out for pedestrians on the road

Toll roads

  • Many of the bigger motorways (inland in the Algarve) are toll roads
  • If you have a rental car you can hire a device from the rental car company to electronically charge you for tolls, allowing you to pass through the “Via Verde” channel
  • If you’re in a foreign-registered vehicle (i.e. you’ve driven from elsewhere in Europe) then you can register your credit card details on an Easytoll machine when you’ve crossed the border

Algarve Portugal Carvoeiro

The best time to visit the Algarve

The best time to visit the Algarve depends on what you want to do there, of course. The benefit of visiting in the winter was having less other tourists around, although it did mean we didn’t spend a lot of time on the beaches like you might in summer. I did see people swimming at Carvoeiro though, and the weather was relatively sunny and warm for most of the trip!

In the summer the Algarve can be crowded, especially on the beaches. There are so many to choose from though, and some are well hidden down paths between rocks so I wouldn’t let that put you off visiting in the high season, especially if you rent a car and can find some of the more hidden places!

Algarve Portugal Sagres

Where to stay in the Algarve

Portugal has always been a popular destination, but it seems to be booming even more recently and prices of apartments are rising to match, especially in Lisbon. In the Algarve, we found holiday apartments a great and inexpensive accommodation option. We stayed in a two bedroom apartment in Lagos that ended up being the entire top floor with a balcony each side for €40 a night. It was December, however!

Airbnb is always great for this kind of thing (use this Airbnb link to get credit towards your first stay!), or Booking.com where there are also holiday apartments with less fees.

Lagos Algarve Portugal Sagres

The Algarve was just the start of my love affair with Portugal, a place I know I’ll definitely return to and somewhere you should definitely consider, if you haven’t already! Taking a road trip along the Algarve coast is a magical experience with epic views that you won’t soon forget.

Have you been to Portugal? Is the Algarve on your list?

Read More: Exploring the Port Wine Cellars of Porto

Sonja x

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29 Comments

  • Reply Frédéric Paulussen January 25, 2017 at 9:59 pm

    Great post! I was thinking about a roadtrip in Portugal, and now I’m even more sure I need to do it! Thank you.

    • Reply Migrating Miss January 25, 2017 at 10:05 pm

      Thanks!! You’re welcome. I’d highly recommend a car, it definitely gives you the freedom to stop at all the different places, and some that aren’t even on the map!

  • Reply Marissa_Travel Greece, Travel Europe February 7, 2017 at 8:27 pm

    Beautiful place. Totally on my bucket list. Love the pics!!

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 8, 2017 at 7:30 pm

      Thank you! I feel like I barely scratched the surface and I can’t wait to go back and see more 🙂

  • Reply BeckyB February 12, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    Love the Algarve, probably why we keep coming back and staying longer and longer each time. You must though try the east one time . . . .there may be no cliffs but the Ria Formosa is stunning as are the hills in the north of the Algarve.

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 13, 2017 at 10:13 am

      I do need to go further to the east! This was a quick trip and I’ll definitely be back :). Thanks!

  • Reply Itinera Magica February 12, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    I absolutely fell in love with Algarve. It really is one of my very favorite places in Europe. Such a beautiful coastline!

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 13, 2017 at 10:14 am

      Me too! I definitely agree. Somewhere to return to for sure!

  • Reply Rahul Yadav May 4, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    One of the Great post here.! Wonderful images.. Thanks for the sharing helpful article..

  • Reply Belle June 26, 2017 at 4:09 am

    Hey your help was amazing! could i ask for suggestions on which cities to go to for a 6 day road trip with my family? We want to do a coastal tour, do you recommend we start at lisbon and go onwards? how would I plan it? are all of these beaches in the city algarve? are they far from each other?

    Thank you so so so so much!

    • Reply Migrating Miss June 26, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      You’re welcome! It really depends on a few things. The Algarve is an area in the south of Portugal where all these places are. I’m not sure if you’re flying in and out of Lisbon, so whether you need to do a loop or if you’re still deciding. It also depends what time of year you go. I went in winter so we didn’t spend a lot of time in the Algarve, but if it’s summer there are a lot more activities and the weather is lovely so you’d probably want to build in some beach days. If you want to see Lisbon as well in those 6 days that’s quite a push, depending if you’re returning there. If you’re not including Lisbon in those 6 days then yes you could just drive south towards Lagos and along towards Faro. There’s a lot to see around there and if it’s summer you could easily spend 6 days, depending on the speed at which you like to see things. To be honest, you could do Porto to the Algarve one way in that time, but it would be a lot of driving and not so much seeing stuff!

  • Reply belle June 29, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    Hi thank you for your answer! which city do you recommend i stay in? I’m planning just to do Algarve (salema, lagos, cape sagres, benagil).

    • Reply Migrating Miss June 30, 2017 at 3:26 pm

      You’re welcome! If you have a car and you’re going to be driving to a lot of places it doesn’t really matter where you stay too much! It also depends on when you’re going. We found a great deal for an apartment in Lagos through Booking.com but that was in winter. You may still be able to get something through there though, or just look in your price range and see where they are, rather than deciding on the town first!

  • Reply Portugal by Van August 17, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    Hi Sonja, really nice article. Thank you for sharing the wonders of our west coast. Don’t know if you’ve been there already but the north is worth knowing as well. So next time you feel like visiting our beautiful country again send us an email. Maybe we can be partners;)

    • Reply Migrating Miss August 19, 2017 at 5:37 pm

      Thanks! I will do. I went up to Lisbon and Porto too, which is now one of my favourite places ever!

  • Reply Sofia September 22, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Good article. I agree with you about Algarve. It have all that but…. also much more ! Normaly people stay focus on the coast, but I have find an amazing culture and gastronomy on the countryside, untouched nature, and window to the past. From the coast to the border of Algarve with Alentejo is more 100km…. I´ve stayed a few days in Casa da Tita. Amazing experience.

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 25, 2017 at 4:11 pm

      There is so much to see and do there and I only scratched the surface! Definitely going back 🙂

  • Reply Catbets December 16, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    One place I loved when I went to Algarve in July 2017 was the benagil cave! You can swim to it too, many of the locals want you to go in their boats so they’ll say not to swim but we were fine! Praia de marinha beaches were awesome too!

    Adam

    • Reply Migrating Miss December 17, 2017 at 7:38 am

      I’ve heard such amazing things about it!! Unfortunately, I went at the wrong time to year to go, as the water was much rougher, but it’s on the list for when I return!

  • Reply Earl February 13, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    Hi there,

    We are planning a 9 day road trip along the Portugal coast in September. What direction would you recommend driving? From Porto to Faro, or fly into Faro and drive up to Porto? What would you consider some key points to stop along the way. We are hoping to get a balance of beach time and city/village exploring. Thanks for the information.

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 14, 2018 at 8:45 am

      Hi! It probably doesn’t matter too much which way you go, it really just depends on whether you want to start or end with beaches! I would stop at most of these places in the Algarve and spending a few days there for the beaches, including Sagres which is an interesting place to see the fishermen on the rocks! From there to Lisbon is actually only 3 hours, and given you only have 9 days I would head straight up that way because you can then include Sintra and even Azenhas do Mar as a day trip as well as having a couple of days there, then up to Porto which is another 3 hours and venture into the Douro Valley if you have time.

      • Reply Earl February 15, 2018 at 2:47 pm

        Thanks! Great tips!

  • Reply Allison May 16, 2018 at 5:38 pm

    Would love to know the 2 bedroom with the balcony you stayed at in Lagos! the link doesn’t work anymore.

    • Reply Migrating Miss July 25, 2018 at 11:04 am

      I’m not sure sorry, I’ll research and find out!

  • Reply Nathalie June 6, 2018 at 9:29 am

    wow, that’s a really good post! Pretty much covers everything you need to know about the Algarve 😛
    Also, the Benagil caves are a big highlight in the Algarve. here you can book some super nice tours to benagil, be it by boat, kayak or Sup!

    • Reply Migrating Miss June 6, 2018 at 10:14 am

      Thanks!!! Unfortunately the boat tours weren’t open when I visited but can’t wait to go next time!

  • Reply atisha August 4, 2018 at 8:23 pm

    Hi!! I love your post and pictures – could you please note where the pictures where taken? Particularly 1, 9, 10. We are photographers and would love to visit these spots!

    • Reply Migrating Miss August 6, 2018 at 11:27 am

      Hi! Thanks so much :). 9 is on the cliffs at Sagres, 10 is Carvoeiro, and the first I THINK is Praia Dona Ana near Lagos. There’s lots of cliffs there and I walked along a small trail to get this view I think!

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