‘All bows lead to Benagil’ I joke each summer, as an army of tourists descends daily on the most famous sea cave of the Algarve. Boats from all directions, often captained by local fishermen who have traded Sardines in for more lucrative selfie sailings, jostle for prime position to enter the Pinterest-poster child of the coastline.

Truly, it’s a magnificent rock formation. Gaping windows open to the ocean, and golden beams send a tunnel of light through the sinkhole high above. Long gone, however, are the moments of silence and solitude you once found here. Luckily, listening to the tone of lapping waves buffeting off limestone is still very much possible; you just need to know where to look.

Inês Nunes, a local marine biologist, is someone that holds all those answers. As more and more boats shuttle back and forth, changes to the coastline have become noticeable. Seeking a more eco-conscious way to share the splendour of these rugged rock formations, Inês teamed up with local guide Pedro Oliveira and created Zip&Trip.

It’s certainly no secret to the locals that there are hundreds of isolated beaches, blowholes, and indeed caves to explore in the Algarve, and you don’t need a boat to venture to them – simply a sense of adventure.

Inside of a sea-cave in Alvor

Inside of a sea cave in Alvor

Wet suits were zipped and snorkels tightened as our group clambered along the arid cliffs of Alvor, a municipality slightly further west than Benagil.

‘There’s only the noise of the ocean and us‘ Pedro grinned up ahead, as we snaked our way down to a deserted beach. We were a small group, unsurprisingly all locals. Out in the deep blue, the tourist boats herded in the opposite direction.

Diving into the crystal-clear waters of the shallows, the wet suit hugged my body in a warm embrace. Spring sun glistened off the water and bounced onto the rust and apricot-hued limestone. The grin on my face was already perfectly shaped for the snorkel.

Seconds later, we were emerging into our first cave.

Inside a sea-cave near Alvor

Inside a sea cave near Alvor

Pedro hadn’t been exaggerating. It was just us, silently taking in the staggering height of the cave ceiling. Moments before it had looked simply like a cliff-face, but a deep breath and dunk later, her secrets had been revealed.

We clambered out of the water, all making a bee-line for the perfectly circular spot-light illuminating the sand. Bathing in the warm rays, our suits dried quickly as we took a moment to appreciate the grandeur of nature’s work. For the next two hours, we swam and slithered, climbed and crawled our way into countless coves and caves.

From more towering vertical tunnels to archways and over-hanging rocks framing sand that hadn’t seen a footprint in days, the coastline delivered on all its promises. It’s a rare thing to see somewhere you’ve walked passed hundreds of times in a new light, but from an almost underwater vantage point, I was reminded just how special our coastline is.

Underwater life on the Alvor coast

Underwater life on the Alvor coast

Inês would occasionally stop us, pointing out local fish or a fleeting sea horse, and by the time we emerged to the final beach, it was a surprise to see rows of towels and tanning bodies awaiting. Though, to be fair, many faces seemed as surprised to see seven suit clad bodies rising from the waters.

We peeled off our wetsuits as Pedro peeled the rind of local cheese, and we settled into the soft sand to feast on watermelon and cherries. Gazing out at the seemingly never-ending ocean I was already wondering how many more of these ‘secret spots’ I’d have the joy of exploring in times to come.

Make it happen:

Zip&Trip run various tours around Ferragudo and Alvor, which can be booked via their website

Portugal joined the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1965, although later, in 1972, the country left the organisation before officially re-joining in 1974. Portugal was also a member of the Executive Committee from 2007 to 2009 and has been deeply involved with UNESCO ever since, with different contributions from the country’s government and artists.

Seventeen landmarks constitute Portugal’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all of which have a major historical significance to the country and the world. From archaeological sites and rich natural venues to the beautiful uniqueness of the country’s architecture.

These outstanding UNESCO Portugal sites will have you travelling through time by giving you insights into over 900 years of history and culture, enriching your eyes and mind with the beauty of each of these locations. You’ll certainly want to book a flight back as soon as you leave Portugal, as the country is known for its fantastic receptiveness to tourists – plus, it will be a struggle to visit all seventeen in one trip!

Another bonus is nearly all of these sites also have guides (printed, audio, or tours) available ready to tell you everything you need to know about these amazing places, buildings and monuments. Usually, the guides are in several different languages and answer any questions that you might have about the site’s surroundings or traditions.

The UNESCO listed University of Coimbra
The UNESCO-listed University of Coimbra | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia

The University of Coimbra is one of the oldest currently working universities in the world. It is situated on top of the hill overlooking the city of Coimbra, in a privileged place in town, surrounded by centuries of history that now are mixed with services, residencies, green spaces where you can relax, restaurants and a lot of cultural attractions. 

You can expect to be greeted by uniformed students and maybe even an opportunity to hear the amazing music played by the tuna. This is an academic orchestra that covers songs from the best Portuguese artists throughout time or transforms poetry by the most significant Portuguese writers into songs in a beautiful mix of different instruments and unique acapella interpretations.

Inside, the tour will take you through some of the ancient faculties, with the library a particular gem not to be missed! When you visit Coimbra, don’t miss out on the chance for a stroll down “Rua de Sofia” and appreciate the details still clear from de Renaissance artistic style. 

Where to stay in Coimbra? For a truly unforgettable stay, this opulent and grand hotel with rooms seemingly carved into the rock is something very special!

Looking for a tour? Sign on to a free walking tour of Coimbra to get to know the city, or buy your tickets to enter the university from the ticket office.

Monastery of Alcobaça

Located in the North of Lisbon and founded in the 12th century by King Alfonso I, The Monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaça is deeply connected to the proclamation of Portugal as an independent kingdom in 1139. 

This monument is a masterpiece of Cistercian Gothic art, something you will notice from the beauty of the architectural style, the materials and the attention to detail used in its construction. It’s common you will find different kinds of exhibitions here, from art expositions to musical and performative art events or educational lectures, assuring your visit to this place will always enrich your spirit.

Gastronomy is also a must-try in this region with their traditional “Doces Conventuais” (traditional sweets) and the tasty “Licor de Ginja” (a cherry liquor)  that will be even better if served in a small chocolate cup.

Where to stay in Alcobaça? Just outside of the city, this spa hotel with unique architecture really captures the surrounding nature.

Looking for a tour? To combine Alcobaça, Tomar and Batalha in a day, consider this private tour from Lisbon as it’s hard to combine public transport between the three in one day due to bus times.

Douro Wine Region
Take a cruise through the Douro Wine Region | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Alto Douro Wine Region

You have probably already tried the famous Portuguese sweet wine known as port (Vinho do Porto), popular around the world for its quality and usually drank as a digestive or an aperitif. Wine has been produced in the Alto Douro region for at least 2000 years, and the viticulture tradition has marked its position in Portugal’s culture and economy. 

The landholders of the area, together with the Government, have constantly been working on the evolution of the production while always respecting the purity of the natural ingredients – essential for great results. 

The outstanding beauty of this area makes it just the perfect landscape for a relaxing wine-tasting day while learning about its history and process. Here, in the middle of beautiful natural venues, you can breathe fresh air while sipping a great wine that will awaken all your senses – there is a reason it’s one of the most celebrated Portugal wine regions.

Where to stay in Douro? Quinta Da Estrada Winery Douro Valley.

Looking for a day trip from Porto? Consider this tour with a cruise, wine tasting and lunch.

Colourful and ancient palaces in the UNESCO listed Sintra
Colourful and ancient palaces in the UNESCO-listed Sintra | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Cultural Landscape of Sintra  

Sintra became the first centre of European Romantic architecture in the 19th century. This city’s unique mixture of parks and gardens surrounding its beautiful buildings, castles and palaces (for example, the National Palace of Pena, on top of the city) make it a magical experience for every visitor. 

Enveloped by the beautiful “Serra de Sintra” microclimate, the combination of pure nature with beautiful and artistic architecture makes the walk around this UNESCO Portugal Site feel like a living fairy tale. Keep in mind to ask the city guides about the popular stories and legends surrounding the town’s history throughout the times, too! Best explored on foot or by tuk-tuk, it’s less than an hour from Lisbon by train, making it a perfect day trip, although you’ll likely need a couple of days at least to really explore. If you are short on time, pre-booking your tickets might make sense on peak days.

When in Sintra, don’t forget to try the unforgettable “Queijadinhas de Sintra”, a traditional cake from the area which will make this visit even more memorable – if that’s possible!

Where to stay in Sintra? This rustic 19th-century Quinta fits in with the historical stories of a Sintra stay.

Looking for a tour? Even though Sintra is easy to do from Lisbon by yourself, if you are short on time (and also want to visit the coast), then this day tour will be appreciated.

Step back in time in the UNESCO listed old town of Guimarães
Step back in time in the UNESCO-listed old town of Guimarães | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Historic Centre of Guimarães

In this beautiful city, one of Portugal’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, according to the history, was born. The historic part of Guimarães is set inside the small medieval town surrounded and protected by a castle built with big rocks and wood. It’s one of Portugal’s main points of memory of the country’s history, mixing with harmony the traditional with the modern times of these days. 

Guimarães represents a great example of how Portugal searches for evolution without ever renouncing its roots and makes an effort to respect the traditions and historical marks of the country. Did you know, for example, it was the first capital of Portugal in the 12th century?

Enjoy the walk through the city and appreciate the warmness of the locals you encounter; you’ll also often find outside art displays or other cultural elements in addition to the historic architecture. 

Where to stay in Guimarães? Stay in this 12th-century convent to really appreciate the city’s history.

Looking for a tour? Combine Guimarães and Braga on this day tour from Porto.

Mafra Palace, one of Portugals's UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Mafra Palace, one of Portugals’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Royal Building of Mafra Palace

This fantastic building was built in 1711 by the then king, D. João V, and illustrates the power and large reach of the Portuguese imperium. 

Built with inspiration from the Italian baroque artistic and architectural style, it includes a convent that belonged to the Franciscan religion, a library with 36,000 volumes, and palaces for the King and the Queen.  The amazing garden will make you travel back to the monarchy period as soon as you step foot in this UNESCO Portugal Site.

Amazingly, Mafra Palace has over 1200 different rooms, more than 4700 doors and windows, 156 beautiful stairways and 29 lobbies – although you won’t be allowed to visit them all, the ticket is well worth it. 

Inside you will also have the chance to see different jewellery collections, art pieces such as tapestries, paintings, sculptures or furniture in a great state of conservation that will make you feel like you just visited the Kings. The library, which still uses bats at night to keep the books free of bugs, is a highlight!

Where to stay in Mafra? A little outside the city centre, this historic village has been converted into dreamy accommodation.

Looking for a tour? Take a private tour of the royal palaces around Lisbon, including Mafra, to maximise your time.

Climb the UNESCO staircase of Bom Jesus in Braga
Climb the UNESCO staircase of Bom Jesus in Braga | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga

This landscape, located in Mount Espinho, overlooking the city of Braga, was founded in Roman times and has excellent views, overlooking the ocean itself sometimes. It’s a sanctuary of devotion and peregrination for the residents of the area and for visitors from around the world, promoted by the Catholic Church. The complex includes a series of chapels that remind us of the Passion of Christ with several details, such as fountains, sculptures and surrounding gardens. The incredible stairway that leads to the church is hard to describe, and while impressive from the bottom, the walk to the top will likely leave you short of breath!

Whether you are a devote or not, the picturesque landscape of this site will leave you fascinated and bring you a sensation of peace and harmony. You’ll certainly be fascinated by the ornamental elements and stonework present in the granite walls of the monument. One of the absolute must-visit Portugal UNESCO World Heritage sites!

Where to stay in Braga? Skip the city centre hotel and stay in this gorgeous panoramic hotel in the hills of Bom Jesus.

Looking for a tour? Book a free walking tour of Braga to learn more about the city beyond Bom Jesus.

The magnificent ceiling painting in Portugal's UNESCO listed Tomar cathedral
The magnificent ceiling painting in Portugal’s UNESCO-listed Tomar cathedral | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Convent of Christ in Tomar 

This building joined the list of Portugal’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1983. Built upon a Roman cult place, it represents 700 years of Portugal’s history and extraordinary moments of Occidental’s history. 

The monument has so many different architectural styles present that it is somewhat of a guide to the country’s art history, showing the evolution of a country that adventured through seas and continents, bringing influences to be pictured in the stones of these walls. Gothic, renaissance, mannerism and baroque are some of the styles you will manage to observe while visiting this site. You will also be able to have an idea of how the cavaliers and monks lived back in the day.

The city of Tomar will make you feel welcome and surrounded by culture, and you will even find bars and restaurants inspired by the different art styles present in the convent.

Where to stay in Tomar? Stay in this cute 18th-century family-run hotel.

Looking for a tour? Take the ‘Knights Templar’ day tour from Lisbon to visit castles and convents in Constância and Tomar.

The UNESCO heritage city of Porto
The UNESCO heritage city of Porto | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Historic Centre of Porto (including Luiz I Bridge and Monastery of Serra do Pilar)

Porto is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country, so it’s not surprising that it’s listed as a UNESCO Portugal site. Although, as is already a pattern in this country, even the most modern cities will conserve their marks of history and culture. The Historic Centre of Porto is surrounded by the Douro River and has a lot of beautiful monuments and history present that take us back to eras gone by, such as Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassic.

When visiting, take the chance to try the traditional “Francesinha”, a dish that entered the list of the world’s best sandwiches. And don’t forget to finish it with a port wine by the river for dessert.

Where to stay in Porto? Stay in this gorgeous boutique palace hotel.

Looking for a tour? Sign up for a free walking tour of Porto to learn the city’s history.

Belem Tower sitting on the River Tejo
Belem Tower sitting on the River Tejo | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Jerónimos Monastery and Tower of Belém in Lisbon

When visiting Lisbon, visiting these monuments is almost mandatory, which are an integral part of Portugal’s UNESCO sites. Situated by the banks of the River Tejo, the Tower of Belém was built strategically to defend the city in case of attack, and its architecture is prepared to resist the fire from the enemies. 

The Monastery of the Hieronymites is a symbol of some of the most important moments of the country’s history, maintaining to this day its remarkable features like the cloister from the 1500s and the dining hall of the Monks and its magnificent library. 

Where to stay in Belem? Stay in this stylish hotel moments from the monastery.

Looking for a tour? Sign up for a free walking tour of Belem to learn more about this beautiful neighbourhood.

Monastery of Batalha

Also known as the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória, this monument took almost 200 years to build (from 1386 to 1563, approximately) and was thought and edified by the King D. João I of Portuga.

It was constructed l to show appreciation to the Holy Mary after winning Aljubarrota’s battle against Castilian enemies as proof of his gratefulness and devotion. It’s remarkable to the country’s history as it represents its moment of independence and emancipation. 

You’ll be taken in by its gothic architecture while visiting the different rooms, which take you back in time and allow you to have an idea of the routines and activities of the monks and priests living in the convent.

Apart from being a museum, it is also another monastery considered one of the National Pantheons. 

Where to stay in Batalha? Stay in this trendy and chic boutique hotel with a pool and views of the Monastery.

Looking for a tour? Combine Batalha with Fatima and Obidos on this day tour from Lisbon.

Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley and Siega Verde  

These prehistoric art sites were one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, taking us back to the palaeolithic time. The illustrations on the rocks allow us to have exceptional insight into the social, economic and spiritual life of our prehistorical ancestors in a truthful communication with our past, showing us also the signs of the artistic development of the human being. 

Since 2010, an extension of the Côa Valley in Siega Verde, Spain, was found to contain much more artwork and information, becoming the only one of these UNESCO Portugal sites sharing territory with Spain. This brings the chance to visit the two amazing countries together while allowing our ancestors to tell us their stories through their art.

The historic UNESCO Heritage Centre of Evora
The historical UNESCO Heritage Centre of Evora | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Historic Centre of Évora

Being located at the confluence of three important Portuguese rivers – The Tejo, Sado and Guadiana –, Évora was always of high value to Portugal’s commercial routes since its early days. This gave the city relevant importance to the country’s social and political activities throughout all the different civilisations passing through the country. You will be able to see the presence of Roman and Islamic influence.

The greatness of the buildings joins the magnificent views and cosmopolitan city centre of the beautiful Portuguese area of Alentejo, known for its receptivity and tenderness to visitors. You will be able to relax while hearing the music of street artists and feel the youth’s presence due to the city students. Don’t miss monuments such as Diana’s Temple or the Cathedral of Sé.

Where to stay in Evora? The beautiful L’AND Vineyard Resort is just outside the city.

Looking for a tour? Discover the nearby wine history on this four-hour wine-tasting tour from Evora.

Black rocks frame the Pico Wine Region in Portugal
Black rocks frame the Pico Wine Region in Portugal | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

The Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture

The Portuguese  Islands are also present on the list of UNESCO Portugal Sites. The Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture occupies an area of 987 hectares on the second biggest island in the cluster of nine Azores Islands.

Here you will find an extremely rich geological beauty due to being a volcanic area with a considerable diversity of fauna and flora, much of which is rare protected species.

What makes this area such a unique vision is the labour of the wine workers throughout time to be able to form their plantations and vineyards across hard black rocks. Using these basaltic rocks to protect their cultivations from the wind and sea, they took advantage and made the best benefit out of their soil. Enjoying a wine tasting in this magnificent landscape is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Where to stay in Pico Wine Region? Book a private home rental at this beautiful Adega amongst the Pico vineyards.

Looking for a tour? Pico Island Wine Tour.

Central Zone of the Town of Angra do Heroismo in the Azores  

The city of Angra do Heroísmo, located on Terceira Island (another of the Azores archipelago), distinguishes itself due to the geographic and atmospheric features that made it a great point of exchange developed from the 16th century. Thus, it became a mandatory route of call for boats from Mina, India or Brazil. 

The city has been built and structured based on Renaissance design and has several available monuments to visit, such as white-washed and grey-stone churches or palaces. Given the number of people and cultures mixing in this essential point of commercialisation, it conserves a legacy of historical decoration noticeable in the architecture, sculptures, tiles and porcelain.

Where to stay in Angra? Stay in a historic fort, now a beautiful Pousada hotel.

Looking for a tour? Enjoy this guided walking tour of the city.

Wine Region in Madeira at Quinta da Saraiva
Vines at Quinta da Saraiva in Madeira / Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Laurisilva of Madeira

This 100-per cent natural site is considered a relic thanks to its mystical beauty. It occupies 150,000 hectares which represents some 20 percent of Madeira Island. Its humid and subtropical features are the home of many fauna and flora, boasting a lot of native tree species. Thus, the UNESCO designation is important as it’s very important to protect this important part of the environment. 

The best way to know this magnificent forest is to “get lost” in its amazing trails and feel the peace and relaxation of the green views while breathing the freshest air of the ancient trees around you.

When planning your trip, keep in mind there are always activities available such as hiring a guide and having an educational show that will help you understand the natural benefits this amazing location brings to us. 

Where to stay in Madeira? Check out our favourite stay in Madeira, Quinta da Saraiva.

The Algarve is famed for its beautiful beaches, and world-renowned golf courses, but there are plenty of hidden gems in the Algarve to discover too.

While the big resorts of Albufeira and Lagos are well known, here we will guide you through twenty different spots that perhaps you haven’t heard of and will give you some new ideas to explore in the Algarve.

Silves

Silves provides the perfect mix of history, culture and cuisine. Once the capital of the Arab kingdom here in the Algarve, it’s well preserved red castle, perched above the colourful streets and squares below, is still the largest in the region. Surrounded by green hills and orange trees, Silves town has an impressive local market, an ancient Mosque (converted to a church) which boasts both Gothic and Baroque features and plenty of traditional coffee shops lining its small cobbled streets. It feels a world away from the bar filled roads at the beach resorts and its best explored during August when The Silves Medival Festival takes place.

Silves Castle

The walls of Silves Castle

Tavira

Moorish history comes alive in Tavira where the Maria do Castelo church is home to knights tombs, and the medieval castle has panoramic views of this small city. The river running through is an extension of the nearby nature park and flamingos can be found dancing through the salt flats in season. The cobbled streets and long stretches of sandy beaches nearby make this an excellent base for exploring the Algarve, and thanks to the more traditional vibe here, it provides a more authentic Portuguese experience.

The beautiful town of Tavira

The beautiful town of Tavira

Alte

A short drive from Loulé is the small village of Alte which offers a great insight into a slower-paced and local way of life. If you head away from the coastal resorts then traditional Portuguese dishes, with traditional Portuguese prices, are a welcome rest-bite from the samey and sometimes expensive tourist menus that ply the main drags of the region. The nearby waterfall, although small and now sometimes lacking in water, is a pleasant hike outside the harsh heat of the summer months.

Estoi

Just outside of Faro is Estoi, a small parish which houses Roman ruins in Milreu but also one of my favourite restored buildings in the region. The Pousada de Faro, once in disrepair, has now been renovated inside with the grounds the following suit as part of a luxury hotel renovation project which is bringing many historic buildings back to life in Portugal. You don’t have to be a guest to explore the main rooms and grounds of this 18th-century palace although a chilled glass of wine on the veranda comes with a slice of grandeur you’ll struggle to find elsewhere in the Algarve. If you want to experience the Turkish baths and boutique luxury, you’ll need to book a room.

The grand Estoi palace hotel

The grand Estoi palace hotel

Loule

The colourful streets of Loulé, with a central location, is another excellent base in the Algarve for those not wanting to stay at a beach resort. As with much of Portugal, the biggest joy comes from aimlessly wandering the stone alleys while grabbing coffees and pastries at suitable intervals. The reason I love Loulé so much is, as of yet, tourism hasn’t completely pushed out the traditional way of life, and many of the residents are locals. The town-centre has some great shops, a castle and a vast local market, and in general, it’s a chance to see the Algarve not washed out by visitors. If you are around at the end of June or early July be sure to check out the Festival Med when a whole host of musical, cultural and art-based events take over the town.

Castle of Paderne walking trail

This ruined church and fortressed walls from the 16th century isn’t much to look at anymore, but the stroll passed the nearby mill with little turtles in the river is a pleasant break from the beach if you have a car. Take the two-hour trail past the medieval bridge to get a little insight into the long history along the south of Portugal.

Praia da Marinha

The beach itself is one of the most famous in Portugal and with its striking appearance you can see why, but my favourite part of coming here is the clifftop walk above it. Multi-coloured rocks litter the walking trail to epic viewpoints, and Instagram lovers are now starting to flock to take the heart-shaped photo of the rocks). It’s a great spot to park up the car and eat a picnic lunch looking out on the Atlantic.

Marinha coastal caves at sunset

The coast and caves around Benagil at sunset

Benagil Caves

Without a doubt one of the most famed photo opportunities of the Algarve, the Benagil caves can be accessed by boat from various stops along the coast, although Praia de Benagil is the closest. You can swim from this beach into the caves although it’s not advised with the currents and tragically there was a death nearby in recent years as a boat collided with a swimmer so, please don’t. Inside the cave, you’ll be wowed by the sunlight from the hole in the roof illuminating the lapping waves inside.

Ferragudo

Although the population of this small fishing village is minuscule, it has become an increasingly popular tourist spot to sample ‘authentic Portugal’. How authentic it is now is questionable, but step away from the main square to visit the ornate interior of the church before lounging on the beach with a small castle (now, I believe, a private home) above. From here boats cross the river to the favourite tourist spot of Praia da Rocha where beach club, No Solo Agua, is an excellent sun-downer spot before hitting up the late-night parties.

The castle above Ferragudo beach

The castle above Ferragudo beach

Monchique

If you are visiting in the summer months, then some of the local springs here may have dried up, but if respite is your thing, then the ancient health resorts in Caldas de Monchique is a great place to check-in. Surrounded by dense trees and huge rocks, this elevated part of the Algarve is entirely different to the coast and is a good spot to stop if you are planning to drive to the Alentejo region next. Make sure to bring your re-refillable water bottles to take water straight from the springs here.

Carvoeiro board walk & hiking

This little village, with a small but perfectly cliff-flanked beach has become the poster-child for the Algarve of late. Walk up the hill to the left of the beach where a little church marks the starting point of the Carvoeiro Board Walk, a wooden path hugging the cliffs. Climb down into Algar Seco for rock pools and craggy formations or just to take a glass of wine at Boneca bar buried in the rock.

For those who don’t mind hiking on, continue to Vale Covo, a closed but stunning beach by the Tivoli hotel and finish up by the red lighthouse where you can turn inland to a handful of restaurants. The Sky-Bar at the newly renovated Tivoli also makes for a mean sunset spot in summer.

Fontes, Estombar

This municipal park is a popular spot for us locals to escape the beach and enjoy a picnic lunch surrounded by nature. The 12+ picnic tables quickly get busy on a sunny day, and the six BBQs are available to use, just bring your own coal and cooking tools.

The old-water wheel, an amphitheatre and millers house are the main ‘sights’, but the park plays host to various wildlife and birds with flamingos being a welcome addition during the season. Estombar is small, but it does have a train station which can make it more accessible to those without a car.

The nature of Estombar Fontes

The nature of Estombar Fontes

Lagoa

Lagoa has grown hugely in the past 30 years and has become a relatively well-known wine region in Portugal (read: vineyard tasting/drinking is compulsory). It’s located just outside Carvoeiro and Ferragudo and again, like Loulé provides a much more local town feel. Small restaurants on side alleys, such as A Tasquinha in town or A Paleta on the road to Carvoeiro offer great value menus. Quinta dos Santos, a recently opened craft beer and winery spot offer the chance to hit up a cellar door or grab some tapas and the converted Cooperative, now home to the ‘Lady in Red Gallery ‘serves up both wine and culture. You’ll also find my favourite water park in the Algarve, Slide and Splash, nearby.

If you are around in early July then the night-time, candlelit market is a really beautiful time to visit and see the streets all lit by natural flames.

Praia da Senhora da Rocha, Porches

Located near Porches, I love the views from the rock jutting out between the two beaches on either side. The white-washed church perched on the edge is one of my favourite places to chill with a good book and feel like I’m on the end of the world. The beach to the right is more of a pain to get down on, but it’s usually quieter than the one on the left. It’s a perfect setting for couples photoshoots, for those looking to enjoy romantic experiences in the Algarve.

Senhora de Rocha

Senhora da Rocha

Cape St Vincent / Sagres

The most westerly point of mainland Europe I believe is Cabo da Roca near Lisbon, although this is often given the designation and comes close. The lighthouse and dramatic cliffs here are a good stopping point on a road-trip to the lesser explored West coast of the Algarve.

Ria Formosa

A well-deserved member of the ‘7 Natural Wonders of Portugal’ this nature park formed from a mix of sand-bars, inlets and lagoons is rife with wildlife, quiet beaches and beautiful views. If you have a daytime flight, keep an eye out as it looks incredible when viewed from above. Boats tours from Faro will take you on day trips out to some of the harder to reach parts, and you can even spend the night on a houseboat here, my top pick for unique accommodation in the Algarve.

Beautiful white sand islands seen from above

The beautiful islands along the Faro coastline

Aljezur

The Algarve’s west coast is awash with surfing spots, empty beaches, small villages and farming valleys. In Aljezur, the ruins of a 10th-century Moorish castle tells the history of the region; if you haven’t noticed yet, a lot of places around the Algarve begin with Al, which highlights the history and roots of the Arabic period on the Iberian Peninsula. There are some truly incredible beaches along the coast, sand-dunes, great hikes and big waves aplenty. So few tourists venture to this part of the Algarve, and given how short driving routes around are thanks to the new (toll charged) motorways, it’s a crime.

Rota Vicentina, West Coast Trails

For those who like to walk, rather than resort hop, the Rota Vicentina is a vast walking trail network which crosses between the Algarve and the connecting region of the Alentejo. The Fisherman’s Trail hugs the shoreline and the views are breathtaking; an alternative inland route provides a tour of the more arid looking hills of Portugal.

In fact, we have a whole week in April dedicated to the nature of the region and the website has lots of information on how to enjoy the hidden gems of the Algarve in various outside ways.

The windswept Algarve west coast

The windswept Algarve west coast

Fonte Benemola and Querenca

This makes for a good combo on a morning or afternoon. The pretty easy walking trail through the national park, Fonte Benemola, takes a couple of hours and takes you through the greenery, running streams, and old olive presses and watermills.
Nearby, the small village of Querenca upon a hill is a beautifully spotless white-washed land with a strong commitment to culture and literacy through its cultural centre. The little square with two restaurants and a church is the ideal spot for a bit to eat or to try the local almond cake, after a walk through the park.

Bonus: Skydiving & SevenAir

If adventure is more your thing, then the aerodrome outside of Portimao offers up Skydiving with some incredible birds-eye views onto the Algarve coast. It’s also home to SevenAir, a small Portuguese airline that none of my friends around here seems to have heard about.

For relatively good value fares, SevenAir aircraft run regular flights to Cascais, near Lisbon, and some of the more prominent cities in the far north which also have connecting routes to Madiera. Not only does this provide a convenient alternative than going back to Faro to connect through Lisbon but the small planes, which make multiple stops on route to the north offer fantastic views of the country from the windows.

The best part about the Algarve is its compact size, so it makes for the ideal road-trip to hit up many spots in a relatively short period. Whether you want a different vibe or merely a different beach every-day, there is so much more going on here than your typical brochure lead holidays would have you believe.

This post was first published on danflyingsolo.com, and has kindly been shared with Guide2Portugal.

Come rain or shine; there’s never a dull moment. Rainfall isn’t something that often happens in the Algarve, but on those few occasions that it does, fear not, there’s plenty to do. rainy day Algarve activities 

There are many cultural, wellness, and adventure activities to keep everyone entertained in between meals. With some of the best spas around, there are top-notch facilities in most of the 5-star hotels that are open to non-residents, wine tastings in gorgeous vineyards, indoor karting or hover crafting for adrenaline junkies.

Shopping malls are also a popular place to spend some time and pick up some bargains. International shows are also an option at one of the Valle Verde Casinos where dinner shows are a great choice.

Museums, underground wine cellars, beachfront floor to ceiling restaurants, and escape rooms or local markets are some of the things you can enjoy come rain or shine. Ten-pin bowling alleys are a great place to hang out, slip into those colourful shoes and test your skills, knocking down the pins.

Thankfully, there’s plenty to do and the Algarve rain, when it comes, usually doesn’t stick around for too long. You’ll be back on the beach or out and about in no time at all.  

1. Admire some art

Visit the Lady in Red gallery in the wine cooperative in Lagoa. This is a very cool gallery, set inside the vast upper floor of the functioning wine factory with an industrial ambience. The range of art is eclectic and varies from small, hand luggage sized pieces to massive wall murals and sculptures.

The artists are usually local, and the venue has a cool loft-style bar serving wine, gins, craft beers and ethical teas and coffees. During the year, they host various live music events, screenings and charity events, so check their social media page to keep up to date. 

2. Take a cooking course

The internationally acclaimed MIMO set up in the 5-star Pine Cliffs Resort a few years ago and is a fantastic way to spend a few hours while taking home some skills – especially ideal on the rainy day in the Algarve.

Learn how to make one of the most famous Algarve dishes, the Cataplana in the copper dome dish.

oin the supper club, get to know your fellow diners and enjoy wines paired with the dishes prepared for you by the chef who is always happy to offer cooking tips along the way. Take the whole family along for a Family Cooking Class that covers everything from preparation, etiquette, techniques and much more before enjoying your creations.

Quinta dos Santos vineyard

Quinta dos Santos vineyard

3. Sample the wine

The Algarve has lots of vineyards that are open to the public with tours available by appointment. Quinta dos Vales is a good one for a rainy day with an internal pathway between the cellars and a large tasting room where visitors can enjoy an informative overview of the various ranges that they offer along with some local snacks.

If you really love wine, why not go Vila Vita Parc in Porches where they have a stunning, underground wine cellar with an enviable collection of wines for sale. You can book a table here and have a unique dining experience. 

Near Carvoeiro, Quinta dos Santos combines a beautiful vineyard, restaurant and craft beer brewery, while their own wines are available for tasting at the restaurant.

4. Relax at a spa

You’ll be totally spoiled for choice with some stunning spas – is this not the perfect rainy day Algarve activity!

L’Occitane Spa by Bela Vista in Praia da Rocha has an off-street entrance where you follow the sweeping staircase down to a heavenly haven when the experienced therapists work their magic.

Conrad Algarve Spa has a plethora of relaxation areas, an excellent water circuit, ice fountain and experience showers to enjoy before or after treatments. It’s worth making a day of it and treating yourself to a cocktail upstairs after too.

Vila Vita Spa by Sisley Paris is a true sanctuary where guests can destress from the outside world in luxurious surroundings.

Photography supplied by Bela Vista Palace

Photography supplied by Bela Vista Palace

5. Shopping for goodies

Mar Shopping and the Designer Outlet are the newest shopping centres in the Algarve and has enough to keep the who family entertained. Big brands like Zara, Massimo Dutti, Mango and Primark have large stores packed with all the new season styles. The food court is really versatile with the Chefs Experience, Portuguese, Asian and international chains serve good value dining options. There’s also a state of the art cinema complex where you can watch the latest hits. All movies are in their original language and at a fraction of the price of the UK. Grab your popcorn and enjoy. 

6. Dinner & Show

Valle Verde Casinos host regular dinner & show events featuring international artists with two options, show only with a drink included for €15 or dinner and show for a three-course meal with coffee and half a bottle of wine included. The shows are modern and often eclectic with dancers and performers taking to the stage at 10 pm in Portimao and 10.30 pm in Vilamoura. Visitors often like to try their luck at the slots before or after the show and make an evening of it.  

Reservations are required via the website.

The exterior of Loule market

The exterior of Loule market

7. Atmospheric local markets

From Loule to Lagos, there are plenty of local, fresh produce markets where you can while away a few hours and get a taste for the area – while some our outside, others are inside, which is great for a rainy day Algarve activity.

The busy fish market in Lagos is somewhat of an institution and also houses some non-food stalls with local artisan products on the upper floors.

In Portimao, the market is a fully functional, multipurpose facility and the Silves market is surrounded by small stores, restaurants and bars. Each market has a very different vibe and offers an insight into the area. Loule is a little more modern, but still authentic.

8. Go indoor karting

Head down to Albufeira Marina and get ready to burn some rubber. Hotwheels, Karting Albufeira is a great place to spend a rainy day! 200cc Karts fly around the 400M track giving drivers enough speed and distance to really get into the race.

Pricing is transparent at €15 for 10mins increasing by €5 for each extra 5 minutes. Go along and join in with others or take your friends or family along with you to create some memories. Parties and private events are catered for, so it’s always wise to book in advance.

9. Marvel at museums

Museums are always an excellent place to visit when you’re in a new place, and the Algarve is full of them. Visit the Algarve Regional Museum in Faro to see traditional furniture, crafts and agricultural tools.

The Museu de Portimão is down by the river’s edge and showcases the cities history with its fishing, particularly with Sardines. Lagos is a good option for a rainy day with the old slave market and the wax museum that takes you through the Age of Discoveries.

Silves Castle and Loule Castle are both worth a visit and have artefacts housed within the walls.

Silves Castle

The walls of Silves Castle

10. Fun at bowling

Lanes and lanes of laughs await, slip on those colourful shoes and show off your skills on the bowling alley.

Currently, there are two bowling alleys, one at the Marina in Albufeira called Hotshot Bowling and Bowling Praia da Rocha. Grab some friends, test your aim and STRIKE. 

Hours of fun for all ages and both venues have other venues close by where you can enjoy a rainy day like escape rooms or indoor karting. There are also lots of cafes and bars around where you can get refreshments, and as the showers usually don’t last too long, you’ll probably be back on the beach in no time.

Long days filled with lounging on a beach with the sea breeze on your skin, followed by a romantic evening stroll along the sandy shoreline, are some of the simple things that many couples love to do in the Algarve that don’t cost a thing.

Sunset dinners, beach picnics, and long lazy lunches with your loved one are all wonderful ways to enjoy some quality time together. All are simple to arrange and can be as cheap or expensive as you like.

Then there are special moments that need a bit of planning and money to make them happen. We’ve thought of a few things that are perfect for two; some offer good value, with others being bucket-list opportunities. Bearing in mind we all have different ideas and budgets, this list is varied and hopefully gives you some inspiration to surprise your other half. Being away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life allows us the luxury to spend time together, creating precious memories to look back on.

The Algarve is a highly diverse region with gorgeous restaurants looking out to sea, romantic hideaways, country retreats and fabulous weather to complement it all. Spoil yourself and take home more than a suntan.

Marinha coastal caves at sunset
The coast and caves around Benagil at sunset

Dolphin, Benagil and Sea Caves Boat Tour

Watching Dolphins frolicking in their natural environment is a magical experience, and we have plenty of them, usually not too far off the coast. This 2.5-hour cruise from Albufeira is packed with bucket list items to tick off. The hugely famous Benagil caves are a must-see when visiting the Algarve and you’ll be surprised to see that there are many more, arguably more impressive caves along the way too.

The small boat is the right size to be able to get inside the caves for the best views, and the local knowledge of the Skipper and Marine Biologist crew is invaluable to make the most of your time at sea.

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Alte Off-Road Quad Bike Tour

With a good nights sleep behind you, meet your guide at 9.30 am for a thrilling, adrenaline-fuelled Quad Bike Tour of the internal Algarve.

Spend a little time getting used to the fully automatic quads before heading for the hills and soaking up some beautiful scenery along the way. Once you hit the gravel paths and begin to cross through streams, you’ll be well into the swing of it. Climbing high up into the hills where you can take a moment to enjoy the views.

You’ll discover the historic village of Alte and its serene surroundings dotted with whitewashed houses before heading into the countryside. Passing fountains, springs and local communities along the way while soaking up some culture. On first glance, this might not seem one of the things to do for couples in the Algarve, but if you love adventure, trust us on this one!

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Alte village ducks at fountain
The quaint village of Alte surrounded by nature

Morgado do Quintão Estate Lunch and Wine Tasting

Visiting one of the oldest vineyards of the Algarve, Morgado do Quintão is set into the countryside of Silves. This family estate is proud to share their knowledge, and welcome guests to explore the history, get a feel for the production and enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Following the tour, you’ll head to the shade of the 2,000-year-old tree surrounded by the native Algarve Negra Mole vines and take your seat for lunch. During the lunch, you’ll sample 3-4 wines and have the opportunity to chat and find out more about the estate and romantic Algarve wine culture.

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Portimao Arade River and Silves Cruise Tour

Join the crew on their comfortable solar-powered pleasure tour from the historical port of Portimao where they will slowly cruise into the Arade River taking you to places you would never otherwise reach. The scenery is really something else, and you could be forgiven for thinking you were not in the Algarve.

The tour cruises steadily towards the old Moorish capital, Silves where you have 1.5 hours to explore this charming old town, enough time to visit the castle, museum or even grab a bit to eat. Back on board the boat, you can enjoy a leisurely ride back to Portimao with a cold beer from the friendly captain.

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Silves village with a river
Silves medieval village is a must visit!

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Up, up and away…The views are out of this world, and it’s a once in a life-time experience that is perfect for couples in the Algarve! With the sky as your limit, the team at Algarve Balloons have been in the business for many years. The experienced Pilot will glide the balloon over valleys, following the warm breezes towards the rolling hills.

This is a unique sensation and can be elevated even further by including a Champagne picnic and even a proposal if the mood should take you. Stunning scenery, tranquillity and a once in a life-time experience await, perfect for birthdays, special occasions and romantic moments away from the crowds.

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Best of Vilamoura 3-Hour Guided Bike Tour

Hop on your bike at Vilamoura Marina where the tour begins. You’ll explore Dunes, Quarteira, the countryside, an old village, fish and fruit markets and of course Vilamoura. During the trip, your guide will give you some invaluable local, insider tips on where you can eat and drink like a local while staying in the area.

Cycling allows you to appreciate the smells, sounds and nature around you without whizzing past as we usually do. Marvel at the sights as you peddle past some fabulous points of interest and scenic beaches while enjoying being outdoors and getting some light exercise.

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Beautiful white sand islands seen from above
The beautiful islands along the Faro coastline

EDITORS PICK

Deserta Island and Farol Island Boat Trip

Jump aboard this open deck style lounge boat and sail slowly through the clear watered channels of the Ria Formosa. You’re quite likely to see indigenous birds like the Grey Heron and White Stork among others along the way. The first stop on this tour is the Culatra Islands where you’ll observe the local Oyster and Clam farms. With no roads or vehicles on Culatra, it’s like stepping back in time, and the romance of the Algarve comes alive. Then onto Farol, enjoying a stroll through this small, friendly island and head to the end where you’ll find a stunning white sand beach.

Now heading to Barreta Island the most southern point of Portugal – Santa Maria Cape for a spot of swimming or sunbathing.

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Jeep Safari and Boat Tour

Let’s head off the beaten track, this 4×4 Land Rover tour takes you up into the Algarvian Mountains and has the perfect remedy to finish a hot day in the country, a sea  tour.

The team have selected a range of carefully chosen locations and activities that cater for all tastes and ages. You will come across traditional, hidden places, gorgeous scenery and a slower way of life.

Your guide will tell you about cork oaks, let you taste fruit from the trees and take a dip in a crystal clear spring. There’s a chance to sample the local “firewater” and some other local products. Then it’s back to the coast for the boat tour where you’ll venture into the magnificent grottoes and sea caves. This is a low impact activity, suitable for all.

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Road trip in a VW Camper

There’s nothing quite like hitting the open road with your loved one, and enjoying the freedom and romance of the Algarve! Indeed, the freedom of jumping in a campervan and heading off into the wilderness is something rather magical. Siesta Campers have a great fleet of VW Campers for rent that can be collected straight from Faro airport. The Algarve is stunning and the West Coast is breathtakingly beautiful.

The interior countryside is packed with traditional villages, dams and vineyards. The world is your oyster and where better to fulfil that lifelong itch to travel in a VW Camper and live a little. From your starting point in Faro, head east and enjoy your first night in Tavira where you’ll get an excellent feel for the local culture. We would then head west and see what takes your fancy. There’s so much to see and do, a tiny bit of planning would be advisable.

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