There are so many things to do in Albufeira, the Algarve’s biggest resort and party capital. It’s the first major resort to the west of Faro and the main Algarve airport, and it’s where the coastal scenery changes to the dramatic cliffs and rock formations of the central and west coast of the region.
Albufeira is hugely popular for its nightlife, but outside the main summer season it’s a big resort with a lot of accommodation to fill, so it’s one of the best places in the Algarve to find a bargain.
There are plenty of things to see in Albufeira and around, and the town makes a great base from which to explore the Algarve region, both along the coast and inland.
- 1 When’s the Best Time To Visit The Algarve?
- 2 The Best Things to do in Albufeira – the Beaches
- 3 Albufeira Old Town
- 4 Eating out in Albufeira
- 5 Albufeira nightlife
- 6 Albufeira Boat Trips
- 7 Albufeira Marina
- 8 Zoomarine
- 9 Silves
- 10 Other day trips from Albufeira
- 11 Accommodation in Albufeira
- 12 Getting to the Algarve
When’s the Best Time To Visit The Algarve?
In summer it gets very busy and very hot – prices and temperatures peak in July and August, the least enjoyable time of the year to visit.
However, the shoulder seasons – spring in April through to early June, and autumn from mid-September to early November – are a much more pleasant proposition. The temperature drops to the balmy mid 20s, the crowds fade away and prices in Albufeira fall – an ideal time to find cheap holidays to the Algarve.
These are the times of year to consider holidays in Albufeira, using it as a base to explore the Algarve coastline and beyond. Its central location on the coast means that all the best Algarve beaches are within easy reach, and the historic castles and towns of the fascinating Alentejo region to the north are not much more than an hour away.
The Best Things to do in Albufeira – the Beaches
These – and the sunny weather – are why people come to the Algarve. The area around Albufeira has some of the best beaches in the Algarve, with a wealth of choices either side of the town.
The main beach below the Old Town – the Praia do Peneco – is gorgeous, as is the adjacent Praia dos Pescadores, or Fishermen’s Beach, where you’ll still find some beautifully painted traditional fishing boats pulled up onto the sand. Further to the east, Praia do Inatel is another long stretch of warm golden sand. Beyond the headland at the far end of the beach, the Praia dos Aveiros is a lovely sandy cove, and a short distance further on, close to the end of ‘The Strip’, the bars and clubs of Avenida Sa Carneiro, are the two sections of Praia da Oura. The one closest to the strip is the busiest stretch of sand in the area in summer, packed with parasols.
Further to the east, towards Vilamoura, are more outstanding beaches. In the shadow of one of the larger hotel resorts along the coast, Praia de Santa Eulalia enjoys a fine setting between two rocky headlands with beautiful clear aquamarine water.
The next village along the coast. Olhos de Agua, has another great beach with everything you could want – fantastic wide area of sand, amazing rock formations and a row of fishing boats on the sand. Just beyond there, the long curve of Praia da Falesia is backed by magnificent eroded sloping cliffs.
The beaches to the west of Albufeira are pretty special as well. Praia Sao Rafael is a few minutes’ drive from Albufeira’s marina, and is a glorious wild Algarve beach, a landscape of fantastical honeycombed rocks and fairy chimneys, a wonderful spot to relax or wander and explore the enchanting rock formations.
Beyond here, there are some small coves and beaches, including the lovely Praia do Castelo and Praia do Evaristo, before the coast flattens out for a few miles between Gale and Armaçao de Pera.
Albufeira Old Town
Albufeira’s old town, or centro antigo, has a very different feel to the modern built-up area around ‘The Strip’ to the east. It’s a small area of narrow, pretty whitewashed streets which takes an hour or two to explore. The two churches, the Igreja Matriz and Igreja de Sant’Ana are both worth a visit, havens of peace. There’s also the novelty of being able to take an open-air escalator down to Praia do Peneco beach – something I’ve never seen before. By night the streets are busy with restaurants and staff trying to entice you to stop by at their establishments. Here the emphasis is very much on the eating out, aimed mainly at the family and older markets.
Eating out in Albufeira
Albufeira is close to some renowned fine dining options, from the gourmet Al Quimia restaurant in the Epic Sana resort a few miles away at Praia da Falesia to Evaristo, at Praia do Evaristo. Restaurante Dom Carlos is a popular choice in the Old Town.
Many places serve similar fare, including local seafood. Two of the best dishes are seafood-based stews, caldeirada and cataplana, and we’d recommend trying one of these at some point during your trip. There are also plenty of places towards the new town and the Strip, though don’t expect too much in that part of town.
Albufeira is to the Algarve what Ayia Napa is to Cyprus, Kavos is to Corfu and Benidorm is to Spain: somewhere to soak up the sun, fall asleep and get burned like a lobster, party, eat full English breakfasts and consume copious amounts of alcohol. The place for this type of action is new town Albufeira, specifically along the infamous Strip, Avenida Sa Carneiro, where many of the bars and clubs in Albufeira are concentrated.
This is where you’ll find the sort of place that kicks out the 3.00 am stragglers by setting fire to the bar. You’re not there to see Moorish castles, Baroque churches or lavish interiors decorated with traditional Portuguese tiles. You’re not going to attempt that long coastal clifftop walk, that would be a waste of drinking time.
For you, good friend, the Strip in Albufeira is the place to be.
Albufeira Boat Trips
The spectacular Algarve coastline is the main attraction for many visitors, and many operators offer trips around Albufeira and further west down the coastline including Lagos. Boat trips are a great way to see some of the staggering coastal scenery up close. we’ve chartered small RIBs a couple of times to explore some of the rock arches, sea stacks and caves along the coast, and it’s a wonderful way to see some remarkable places like the Ponta da Piedade and its Lagos beaches. Boats depart from Albufeira marina. Routes covered include the Caves and Coastline trip west to the amazing sea caves at Benagil, and some go beyond there to Carvoeiro, yet another fantastic beach. Some boats venture as bit further out to sea to spot dolphins, which sometimes swim alongside. Another option is a speed boat or powerboat trip, for those who want a bit more adrenaline flowing.
The marina was completed around a decade ago now, and it’s a pleasant enough spot for a drink or meal after a stroll down from the Old Town (which takes 20 to 30minutes, depending on your fitness). The main reason for most visits is the range of boat excursions on offer.
Zoomarine is a huge theme park a few miles from Albufeira. The theme is water and wildlife, with a selection of fairground favourites from a mini-rollercoaster to a carousel, with a few watery rides, including one where you basically get to soak everyone else with water cannons. As for the wildlife, you see presentations with dolphins, seals, sea-lions, birds of prey and tropical birds. One of the most popular ‘extras’ is the Dolphin Emotions package, with which you get to swim with and hug a dolphin. The minimum age for this is six.
Silves is one of the best day-trip destinations on the Algarve, It was the capital of the Algarve under the Moorish caliphate from the 8th to the 13th centuries. It’s a world away from the brashness of the Strip in Albufeira, a wonderful old town of cobbled whitewashed streets with two must-see sights – the Moorish castle and the nearby whitewashed Gothic cathedral (Sé), with some fine architecture from medieval times to the 19th century. It’s a gorgeous place to while away a few hours, with some lovely cafes and restaurants in the back streets. Cross the Ponte Velha (old bridge) over the Arade river for a great view over the whole of the old town.
Other day trips from Albufeira
As it’s situated in the central Algarve, Albufeira is an ideal base for exploring the whole of the region, and having a car brings most places within reach. The coast to the east of Faro consists of sand spit islands with long beaches – ferries from Olhao and Tavira take you out to some of the best of these. Tavira has a beautiful town and fishing port, and would make a good base for exploring the eastern Algarve, possibly also venturing over the border into Spain.
West of Albufeira, the realistic limit by public transport is probably Lagos, which has some of the most outstanding beaches on the Algarve in Praia Dona Ana and Praia do Camilo. If you’re looking to venture further, to the Costa Vicentina including Sagres, your best bet is to hire a car. Towards Sagres, the coast takes on a different character and attracts a different crowd, with popular surf beaches, and endless loud crashing waves battering the wild coastline. Cape St Vincent, a few minutes’ drive past Sagres, is the south-westernmost corner of Europe, and the Romans, who considered the place to be sacred, believed that the horizon where the sun set marked the end of the world.
Accommodation in Albufeira
There is an enormous range of places to stay in Albufeira – after all, until the arrival of mass tourism this was only a small fishing village.
First of all, there are hundreds of hotels in Albufeira, with options in the quieter streets of the Old Town (which we recommend) and nearer the noisy nightlife around the Strip (which we don’t).
For those who prefer package options, you can get all inclusive Algarve holidays based in Albufeira, often picking up some great late deals.
On the other hand there’s a huge range of apartments in Albufeira that you can rent out, with the best options around the Old Town and close to the beach. Likewise, if you’re looking at villas to rent Albufeira has a wide choice, and the Old Town is again the best place to start your search.
Getting to the Algarve
The airport for the Algarve is at Faro, 40 km (25 miles) from Albufeira. It is very well served by airlines from across Europe, and you should have no difficulty finding cheap flights to the Algarve from all over the continent if you book ahead.
If you’re travelling from the US or Canada, you could fly into Lisbon and get a connecting flight to Faro or train to Albufeira. Another transfer option is to fly into London and get a connecting flight from there to Faro.
Getting from Faro to Albufeira is fairly straightforward. Buses run from Faro airport to the train and bus stations, and you can get to Albufeira by either mode of transport. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that you’d need to catch a connecting bus or taxi from Albufeira train station into the town, as it’s around 3 km away. It’s also worth considering a Faro to Albufeira transfer by taxi or minibus if there are a few of you.
We’ve visited the Algarve several times, and done it by hire car and public transport. We’d strongly recommend looking at car hire in the Algarve. If you’re looking at doing a small amount of driving, you could rent a car in Albufeira.
Alternatively if you’d prefer to have your own wheels for the duration of your Algarve holiday it’s better to look at car hire from Faro airport, which we did on our most recent visit to the Algarve.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.