It was by chance that I visited the Algarve in winter. After a year of living in Spain, I was supposed to be moving back to Scotland. But a visa delay meant that I found myself on a road trip along the Algarve and up to Lisbon and Porto. And thankfully, it turned out to be an awesome detour before I finally made the move!
You might not find the Algarve featuring on a lot of top places to visit in Europe in winter lists, but it really deserves more credit, and I’m going to tell you why! Check out 10 reasons to go, where to go, and what to expect.
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Why visit the Algarve in winter
While some places are definitely worth visiting in winter for the cold and snow (Iceland for example!) the Algarve is a destination that allows you some respite from it. The overall warm and temperate climate in Portugal means you’ll find it a pleasant escape from winter’s cold grasp. The temperatures rarely dip below freezing and you can expect daytime temps to hover around the 16 degrees C range. If you’re brave enough you can even swim!
One of the biggest perks to a winter getaway to the Algarve is the lower price of accommodation compared to the high season. If you’ve always dreamed of a luxury escape, winter is the time! Many high-end hotels and resorts offer huge deals of up to 50% off in the winter months. We stayed in a 2 bedroom apartment that covered the entire top floor of a hotel and had a huge rooftop balcony for €40 a night!
Travelling to the Algarve in the summer can feel more like travelling in a school of sardines than an actual escape. If you visit in Algarve in winter, you’ll be treated to empty beaches, no queues, and a local vibe. It’s an excellent opportunity to actually relax and soak in the beautiful surroundings without so many people about. We were able to get a table at a popular restaurant for lunch overlooking Carvoeiro beach that I’m sure would have been almost impossible to do in summer!
Although most people won’t opt for a dip at this time of year, there are still plenty of options for water sports in the Algarve during the winter. Many of the towns offer boat tours for dolphin watching, like spotting wildlife from Europe’s biggest rigid, inflatable boat in Lagos. You can also take a romantic sunset boat tour to the famous grottos of Ponta da Piedade. For any boat ride, consider packing a jacket and hat to stay warm, especially for sunset.
Temperatures begin to warm up in late winter (think March), and there are some swimming options available. Stand up paddleboarding is a year-round sport as well, best enjoyed when the waters are calm. The only concern with winter water sports and boat trips in the Algarve is that sometimes trips get cancelled due to weather, so be sure to check ahead of time.
Carnivals in February
Every year between February and March the Christian calendar gears up for a big celebration. The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, known as Shrove Tuesday, is filled with celebration. Many towns and cities host lively parades, live music, floats, and parties. Many of the festivities start the weekend before and pour into the week leading up to Tuesday. It’s one of the best events of the year!
No one likes to fight for waves while you surf, and in Algarve in winter, you won’t have to. Typically the winter months bring better waves that are well suited for beginners and pros alike. Don’t forget to pack your wetsuit (or rent one) and hit the surf at Costa Vicentina.
Although it may be a little chilly to take a dip in the middle of January, it’s still perfectly possible to swim in Algarve year-round. If you have a wetsuit, it’s advised during the colder winter days, although we saw people swimming in just their bathing suits! Towards the end of the winter, the daily highs rise, making it a more ideal time to take a dip.
Still find epic coastal cliff views
It doesn’t matter what time of year you visit the Algarve, you can still find epic coastal cliff views. The difference is, in the winter, you won’t be contending with endless crowds. The 3km walk from Praia de Arrifes to Praia do Castelo near Albufeira and the 3.6 km walk from Praia de Marinha to Praia de Benagil in Lagos are not to be missed!
One of the most exciting activities to do in the Algarve is road biking. You can opt to rent a bike for the day and travel along scenic coastal roads, or go on a multi-day bike tour from city to city. In the summer, the heat is oppressive, making it difficult to want to pedal under the beating sun. But during the winter, the milder temperatures are perfect for road biking. There are several different tours or itineraries you can follow or plan your own adventure.
High season for golf
September/October and February/March is the best time to play golf at the world-class golf courses in the Algarve. You can even score discounts on tee times for certain courses.
Algarve at Christmas
If you’re looking to celebrate Christmas on the beach, but don’t want the hub-bub of a commercial Christmas then the Algarve is the place for you. Christmas celebrations tend to be quieter and more relaxed than their northern European counterparts. Most of the celebrations are on the 24th when families gather for a late-night meal of bacalhau and bolo rei (king cake), often before a midnight mass.
Where to go in the Algarve in winter
There is a lot to see and do on a winter trip to the. Plan on basing yourself in one of the larger towns, where more amenities are open year-round, and exploring the different areas throughout your holiday from there.
Faro is the major airport for the Algarve. Many people use it simply as a transit city, although if you are into older architecture, it’s worth visiting the Faro Cathedral and the Cidade Velha or old town. The Praia de Faro makes for a lovely walk along the coast.
As the second-largest city in Algarve, Portimao is an excellent destination for winter travel. The city is known for its delicious fish, so come hungry! Praia da Rocha is one of the most well-known beaches in Europe and you’ll practically have the place to yourself over winter. The Alvor is the quieter alternative to Rocha. There’s plenty to do in Portimao as it’s larger and so it’s a more bustling area to visit during the winter.
This small local village is definitely worth a stop, even if it’s just a day trip. When I think of the Algarve, it’s the first place in my mind! Most of the activities are closed in Carvoeiro in the winter months, but you can still enjoy the challenging Sete Vales Suspensos hike, boat trips to the Benagil Cave, and visiting the beautiful beaches of Praia de Carvoeiro and Praia da Marinha.
Packed in the summer, but much quieter in the winter! For a quaint experience, wander the streets of the old town and marvel at the charming buildings and art. Many of the restaurants and bars are closed during this time of year, but there’s still plenty of beautiful coastlines to explore and places frequented by locals are open. You can take a scenic tuk-tuk ride to experience the coast.
Lagos is another city in Algarve that it is still active during the winter months. Boat tours to look for dolphins depart from here, and there’s also the stunning Ponta da Piedade and Praia do Camilo. The old town Lagos is also well worth taking a stroll through as the architecture is beautiful.
Sagres boasts the warmest weather in Algarve during the winter, and t also happens to be the home of some of the best surfing waves in Algarve. If you don’t mind the cold water, zip up your wetsuit and catch some waves.
The high cliffs are Sagres are also home to an old Fortress which is protected by one wall and the towering cliffs beyond. We watched in awe as fisherman stood right on the edges of the cliffs, over the fences, bringing up fish from far below!
Where to stay in the Algarve in winter
Winter is the low season in Algarve, so expect the smaller villages and towns to be quite quiet. Although they might be worth a stroll during the day, staying in the larger cities and towns is more advisable, since more facilities will be open and available. The major town of Lagos along with Albufeira and Portimão, are all viable options for places to stay in Algarve for winter. Don’t let that deter you from seeking out other options if you’re after the quiet however!
What to pack
Given the weather in the Algarve in winter is much warmer than many other places in Europe, you don’t need to worry about too many heavy winter clothes. The key is to bring layers! Bring sturdy footwear for walking around the cliffs especially, and so that you can walk on the beach with shoes on if you want to. I actually wore boots on the beach sometimes when it was colder! I layered up with a thick winter coat when it was colder, and 2 layers underneath like a sweater/cardigan and t-shirt and found that enough. I didn’t really wear a hat or gloves much although walking along the cliffs can be chilly!
The Algarve is a wonderful destination to visit in winter. Yes, you might miss out on endless days of sunbathing and swimming at the beautiful beaches between dramatic cliffs. But you will get to wander along and enjoy those same beaches with only a handful of other people! If you’re after busy nightlife and lots of restaurants to try then summer may be a better option, but you’ll still find plenty of places to eat during this time of year, or consider a self-catered apartment too, given that it’s so much more affordable! I absolutely loved our winter stay in the Algarve, and hope you plan one too!
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