After falling in love with the exciting cities, beautiful landscapes, and delicious food of Portugal on my first trip there, I knew I needed to return to fix a major oversight from my first visit: not going to the Algarve.
The Algarve is the southernmost region of Portugal, known for its white-washed fishing villages, dramatic sea cliffs, and gorgeous beaches. I didn’t go on my first 10-day trip to Portugal because I wanted to make sure my time in Lisbon and Porto wasn’t too rushed. But when I returned to Portugal this year, it was almost exclusively just so I could get a taste of the Algarve.
The main cities in the Algarve region (from east to west) are:
Faro is the largest city in the Algarve region, with a population of around 60,000 people. There’s a small airport in Faro, and direct trains here from Lisbon. Because it’s easy to get to, Faro is often where tourists will base themselves while in the Algarve.
But I decided to visit another of the coastal towns instead; I decided I wanted to spend my time in the Algarve in Lagos.
I only had about 4 days for my trip to the Algarve (including travel time), so instead of rushing around to see multiple towns in such a short time, I decided to just focus on one. And after doing a bunch of research, I settled on Lagos (pronounced “LAH-goash“).
The reason I chose Lagos over Faro or another town like Albufeira is because Lagos is usually regarded as the prettiest town in the Algarve. It’s know for its historic town center, beautiful beaches, and access to some of the most dramatic parts of the southern coast.
Lagos is also much smaller than Faro, and seemed more “do-able” without a car. (Oh, did I mention that I didn’t rent a car for this Algarve trip? I figured since my first trip to Portugal was done without a car, I should continue that trend with this one! Plus, I was traveling solo and didn’t really want to rent a car and drive all by myself.)
I ultimately settled on Lagos because it not only seemed easy enough to get to and easy to explore mostly on foot, but it also seemed like the prettiest town with the most activities that I wanted to do.
And I did not regret my decision at all!
The Algarve region of Portugal has a Mediterranean climate, meaning hot and dry summers and mild winters. The Algarve is very sunny (Lagos gets 300 days of sun per year on average), and it’s a popular beach destination because of this.
High season in Lagos and the Algarve runs from late June through August. This is when it’s the hottest and busiest – and personally I would not visit at this time of year!
I visited the Algarve in March, believe it or not. I love off-season travel to warm destinations, and visiting in March meant cooler temperatures, a very quiet town, and cheaper prices. I had no trouble finding accommodation or going to restaurants sans reservations in March.
BUT, I’d say the BEST times to go to Lagos are probably late April-May and September-early October if you want nice weather, fewer crowds, but still plenty of things to do. There were some places still not open and some tours not running in March since March is definitely off-season. (But if you love off-season travel, then November-March is it in Lagos!)
Driving to Lagos is probably the most-recommended option, since it means you can fly into any city in Portugal. The drive from Lisbon to Lagos is about 3 hours, while it’s just a 1-hour drive from Faro.
But since I wasn’t planning to rent a car in Portugal, the train was the option I chose.
You can fly into Faro and take the train to Lagos from there (the local train from Faro to Lagos takes about 2 hours, with a train change in Tunes), or you can travel by train to Lagos from Lisbon (total travel time of about 4 hours, with one train change in Tunes).
The train takes a bit longer than driving, but train travel is my preferred way of traveling around Europe. It’s so much less stressful than plane travel, and it’s much kinder on the environment, too.
You can use Omio to search for train tickets to Lagos (I paid less than $40 for a roundtrip train ticket between Lisbon and Lagos).
Once you arrive in Lagos, the train station is a short walk or Uber ride from the old part of town (because yes, there are taxis and Ubers there).
3 days is a great amount of time to spend in Lagos. It allows you to see all the highlights, with plenty of time leftover to relax on the beach.
I spent 3 nights in Lagos (meaning I had 2.5 full days there), but I’d recommend booking 4 nights if you can to give yourself a leisurely full 3 days.
And here’s the Lagos itinerary I’d suggest:
On Day 1, I recommend ticking off the main must-do activity in Lagos and exploring town a bit.
The number one thing to do in Lagos is to take a boat cruise out to Ponte da Piedade, which is a headland just under 2 miles from the center of Lagos known for its dramatic cliffs, grottos, and sea arches.
Boat trips out to Ponte da Piedade leave from the marina near the train station, and are very affordable. You can take a 75-minute sightseeing boat tour for less than $25, which will include sailing through some sea arches and into some very cool grottos. (I booked this boat tour and loved it.)
This is a must-do in Lagos, and a boat tour is the easiest way to do it. I recommend going in the morning for some of the best light.
You can also book a guided kayaking tour to the same area if you visit during the summer months. These tours are a bit longer, and usually include kayaking and time to swim.
After your boat tour, there are several great restaurants around the marina for lunch, or you can wander back across the pedestrian bridge into the main part of town. A couple spots I liked for lunch/brunch include The Green Room (for tacos) and the Black and White Coffee Shop.
The center of Lagos is small and charming, with white-washed buildings and cobbled streets. And while there are hills, they aren’t nearly as brutal as the ones you’ll find in Lisbon or Porto.
You can easily see all the highlights of Lagos in just a couple hours. The main things I recommend doing include:
You also might want to stop by to visit the Mercado de Escravos, a museum dedicated to the history of slavery in Lagos and Portugal. It’s located on the site of the city’s former slave market.
I’m really glad that this museum exists (the topics of slavery and colonialism are very entwined with the history of Portugal, after all), and on the surface it looks like a tidy little museum with some artifacts and multimedia exhibits. However, to me the museum felt very random and disjointed, and the message got lost a bit in the presentation. But with an entry fee of just a couple euros, you should visit for yourself.
The most popular beach in Lagos is called Praia da Batata (which, yes, translates to “Potato Beach”), and it’s basically just a few steps from the city center. At low tide (which varies from day to day; check out a tide table here), you can walk from this beach to other smaller beaches that are connected by rock tunnels.
At low tide (and I do not suggest trying this at high tide), you can walk to Praia dos Estudantes, where you can admire the Ponte do Antigo Forte do Pinhão, a tall stone bridge.
Just be aware that the cliffs around the beaches here are quite brittle, and rock falls are possible.
Lagos has a lot of great food options, depending on what you’re hungry for!
I recommend starting with drinks at Bon Vivant, which has a rooftop tiki bar. Then you can grab dinner at one of these spots:
We’ll head back out to Ponte da Piedade today, via another famous Lagos beach!
Pro tip: Bring a swimsuit, sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water with you today! The trail is mostly exposed (hence the need for sun protection), but you can also stop for a swim at several beaches.
Yesterday you saw Ponte da Piedade from the water. But today you can see it from some different angles by hiking to it along the coast.
There used to be a winding walking trail that stretched from the end of Lagos town along the edge of the cliffs all the way out to Ponte da Piedade. Erosion and landslides have made this trail unsafe, however – and parts of it are actually completely washed out now.
But thankfully they’ve been working on making this walk easy to do once again with the help of a wooden boardwalk system.
You can walk a little ways along the coast past Praia da Batata, but eventually you’ll have to turn inland and walk along the road to Praia de Dona Ana. Praia de Dona Ana is another very popular beach in Lagos – but I actually recommend saving this one for later this afternoon!
Instead, head for the parking area for this beach (Parking Dona Ana), which is where you can get on the boardwalk that will lead you all the way out to Ponte da Piedade. The start of the boardwalk is accurately marked on Google Maps as “Ponta da Piedade Walkway Entry.”
(And, technically, you could also just take a taxi to this point if you don’t want to walk up from Lagos. But from central Lagos town to the start of the boardwalk (assuming you don’t detour several times for beach photos like I did), the walk is only about 20 minutes.)
From here, the boardwalk meanders close to the coast – but not too close, since landslides are still a danger here. There are offshoots to better views, and a few areas with benches along the way.
One detour you should take is the stairs down to Praia do Camilo, which is arguably the prettiest beach along this coast. There are a lot of steps to get down to the small beach, but it’s definitely worth seeing.
The beach is named for a rock formation (to the left side of the beach if you’re looking at it from the steps) that looks kind of like a camel lying down.
The walk from the start of the boardwalk to Praia do Camilo is only about 10-15 minutes, and then it’s another 15 minutes along the boardwalk to Ponta da Piedade.
When you get to Ponta da Piedade, there are several different spots to view the grottos and sea arches from above, and you can also climb down into the grottos via a stone staircase. Definitely allow some time to explore!
Depending on how long you spend at Ponta da Piedade, you might have time for more walking. (It sounds like a lot this morning, but the walk out to this point is only about 2 miles total.)
There’s another boardwalk that follows the coast to the west from the Ponta da Piedade lighthouse. You can walk out to the Miradouro da Praia do Canavial in another 20 minutes or so, stopping for more great views along the way.
For lunch, there’s a small cafe at the parking area for Ponta da Piedade (because yes, you can just drive out here, too) called Sol Nascente. This wouldn’t be my first pick for anything other than maybe a coffee or cold drink, but it is there.
You can also head back to Praia do Camilo to Restaurante Camilo. This spot can get busy, but it serves up good food with excellent views.
Or you can pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it at one of the beaches, or anywhere along the boardwalks.
You’ll head back to Lagos the way you came along the boardwalk. This would be a good time to stop for a swim at a beach like Praia do Camilo, Praia de Dona Ana, or Praia do Pinhão. (Praia de Dona Ana is the biggest, and definitely worth a stop even if you don’t plan to swim.)
Then you can head back to your accommodation to get cleaned up and relax for a little while.
Again, the length of this whole hike isn’t super long (it’s maybe 6-ish miles total of walking, mostly along roads and boardwalks), but if you stop as often as I did to take photos, enjoy beaches, and have snacks, then it very well could take you most of the day!
After a big day of sun and sand, have a relaxed night in Lagos tonight. Check out The Collab Bar, a relaxed spot near Praia da Batata with a large craft beer menu, tasty bao buns, and frequent events like live music and pub quiz nights.
Today is a choose your own adventure day! I recommend 3 days in Lagos simply because it’s nice to have this extra day to play with.
If you’re looking for a relaxing, beach-focused trip for your time in the Algarve, then you can dedicate today solely to the beach. Head back to Praia de Dona Ana, spread out at Praia da Batata, or head over to the very large Praia de São Roque, which is a public beach with lots of beach bars.
If you’ve had enough beaches, today could be a great day to visit another town in the Algarve by train. Train tickets are cheap, and most other towns can be reached in less than an hour.
You could visit Portimão (20 minutes by train), and maybe book a tour from there to the famous Benagil Sea Cave. You can do a 2-hour boat tour, or a kayak tour to this striking cave – though note that the kayak tour is the only one that will allow you to visit the beach inside the cave.
Or you could take a train to Silves (40 minutes by train), which is an inland town on the Arade River that was the ancient capital of the Algarve during the centuries of Muslim rule. Explore cobbled streets and visit the red sandstone Castelo de Silves.
If you decide to rent a car for your Algarve trip, another option is to drive out to Sagres at the extreme western tip of the Algarve. This rugged tip of land is especially famous for surfing. (There are also guided trips available to Sagres, like this half-day trip or this full-day trip.)
And here are some other day trip options/activities you can try from Lagos:
Whatever you decide to do with your last day, it’s bound to be great!
Lagos is a small town, but it’s also a popular tourist destination, meaning there are plenty of accommodation options.
When I visited in March (in the off-season, remember), I had no trouble finding very affordable options a couple weeks before my trip. But if you’re going to be visiting during high season, you’ll definitely want to book well in advance.
Where I stayed in Lagos:
I stayed at the Baluarte da Vila Apartments, which is an apartment hotel within walking distance to all the main sights in Lagos. The apartments are large (mine was 3 floors and included a rooftop terrace!), and the building has a nice pool and a couple lounge areas.
This was a nice option for me since I was visiting during low season, and it was easier for me to have some meals (mainly breakfast) in my apartment rather than trying to find an open restaurant. The price was also great!
The only downside is that the Baluarte da Vila Apartments are at the top of a hill, so you do have to walk back up to it whenever you go out.
Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here
Other good hotel options in Lagos include:
Here are some other questions you might have about traveling to Lagos, Portugal:
Absolutely yes! It’s a beautiful city with access to some of the best beaches and coastline in Portugal.
If you’re wondering how many day in Lagos is enough, I’d say you need *at minimum* 2 full days in Lagos, but 3-5 days is even better if you want time to relax on the beach and maybe take a day trip. I’d only recommend 2 days if you’re visiting Lagos as part of a longer trip around the Algarve.
Late April-May and September-early October is the best mix of good weather and fewer people in Lagos (these are the shoulder seasons in the Algarve). Late June-August is high season and has the hottest weather. November-March is off-season, but still a decent time to visit for low prices and good surfing.
Yes you can! I visited Lagos without a car and had no problem. I took the train to Lagos, and mostly got around on foot. There are also taxi and rideshare options, should you need them.
Read next: The Perfect 10-Days in Portugal Itinerary (Without a Car)
Who’s ready to plan a trip to Lagos?