Lagos, Algarve Travel Guide
- Beautifully preserved historic town center along bustling marina
- Lots of narrow cobblestone alleys to explore
- Despite popularity with tourists, there's a ton of preserved local character
- Some of the Algarve's most stunning beaches, including Praia Dona Ana
- Jaw-dropping seaside cliffs along Ponta da Piedade
- Relatively easy to reach Sagres on day trips
- Fishing trips, dolphin spotting, and chartered boats from the marina
- Range of hotels includes self-catering options and quaint boutiques
- Parking can be a major challenge if you have to drive to town center
- Historic town center is a bit far to walk to the best beaches
What It's Like
While much of the Algarve can feel like a tourist-filled theme park that only looks the part of a quaint Portuguese town, Lagos manages to deliver plenty of authentic charm. In fact, it may very well be the Algarve at its apex -- a place where some of Europe's most stunning beaches, authentic local eateries, lively bars, fresh seafood, and historic architecture all come together in one striking package. Lagos itself has been around for millennia, and played an important role in building Portugal's brutal colonial empire. In fact, it sadly served as a hub of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and -- today -- the sobering Museu dos Escravos sits across from one of the city's most beautiful churches as a reminder of the town's dark history.
For better or worse, as the long-held seat of Portugal's oceanic adventures, the city thrived and today much of its center includes picture-perfect preserved 17th-century buildings lining cobblestone streets. Those same streets are lined with endless outdoor cafes and restaurants, street performers of all stripes, and a mix of locals and tourists out enjoying the abundant sunshine that blesses the Algarve almost year round. Buskers put on live music and other shows for people around Praca Gil Eanes, the main town square, while families, couples, and friends pack the tables outside of decades-old pastry shops sampling traditional Algarve sweets. Want an even closer look at the area's culinary traditions? Head to the Mercado Municipal to see the fresh haul from the fleets of fisherman that call Lagos home.
Like any good Algarve town worth its salt, Lagos is also blessed with jaw-dropping natural scenery, including some of the prettiest beaches in all of Europe. The biggest beach -- Meia Praia -- is to the east of the marina and old town. It's a wide, long sweep of sand that's backed by casual restaurants, and is a 15- to 20-minute walk from the old town. However, heading south and west of the old town leads to other beaches that are too pretty to put into words: the sandy inlets and coves that line Ponta da Piedade. Praia Dona Ana is the most famous of them, and rightfully so -- it's at the bottom of a perilously steep cliff and framed by towering golden stone walls. Camilo Beach and Praia do Pinheiros are equally stunning and tend to be a bit less crowded (but get there early just in case).
Ponta da Piedade also makes for great clifftop hikes out to the lighthouse. From there, you can spy the dramatic rock arches below amid the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Day trips to spot dolphins all along the base of Ponta da Piedade are popular, and provide a stunning sea-level vantage on just how beautiful the coast here can be.
Where to Stay
Lagos has hotels for most budgets and vacation styles, and much of where you choose to stay will come down to whether you want to be in the heart of the atmospheric old town or closer to the beaches. There are several smaller properties near the marina and along the narrow streets of the old town, ranging from mid-range options to backpacker hostels. However, most hotel options are found south and west of the town center. Many of those found south and west of the old town will generally be within a 15-minute walk of the town center, but keep in mind that getting back home on foot will be all uphill and you'll likely want to spring for a cab. On the east side of the marina is a cluster of self-catering apartments that work for families, though the area feels a bit less charming and more touristy than what you'll find west of the marina. Farther east are larger properties like the Vila Gale Lagos and Sensimar Lagos. These are within a quick walk of Meia Praia and have a secluded vibe. However, you won't be able to walk to the old town.