There are so many things to do in Albufeira, the Algarve’s biggest resort. It’s a former fishing village that has turned into the coast’s party capital. In summer it gets very busy, but in the shoulder seasons – spring in April and May, and autumn from late September through to November – it’s a very different proposition. The crowds fade away, accommodation prices tumble, the temperature is still warm, often into the mid 20s, and you can discover what attracted everyone here in the first place, without the everyone – some of the most spectacular beaches and coastline in Europe. Some places close for the winter at the beginning of November, others December, re-opening at the beginning of April.
Albufeira is the first major destination west of Faro, whose airport is the main gateway to the Algarve, and it’s close to where the coastal scenery changes from the wide, flat beaches of the eastern Algarve to the dramatic cliffs and rock formations of the central and west coast of the region. The main beach below the Old Town (Centro antigo) has one of these rocky outcrops, and there are many more on other beaches in the area.
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, with plenty of Albufeira accommodation options, including a number of hotels in Albufeira Old Town.
These – and the sunny weather – are why people come to the Algarve. The beauty of the Algarve is that you never have to go far to have an amazing beach or stretch of coast almost to yourself, and the area around Albufeira is no exception, especially in shoulder season.
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 Armacao de Pera.
Albufeira Old Town
Albufeira’s old town, or centro historico, has a 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, to the west 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 across towards the Strip, though don’t expect too much in that part of town.
The Strip is similar to other destinations across Europe, from Ayia Napa to Kavos to Benidorm. You probably haven’t come to see Moorish castles, Baroque churches or lavish interiors decorated with traditional Portuguese tiles. You’d probably prefer to sleep in rather than attempt that long coastal walk. But you love the warmth, the sunshine, the long, balmy evenings. You like convenience, a short walk from one establishment to the next to the next. You like the sort of place where they kick you out at some point between 2.00 and 3.00 a.m. by setting fire to the bar. You have come to party, quite possibly imbibing not inconsiderable amounts of alcohol in the process. The Strip is the place for you.
Boat Trips from Albufeira
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. 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, a wonderful old town of cobbled whitewashed streets with two must-see sights – the Moorish castle and the nearby whitewashed Gothic cathedral (se), 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.
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. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.