Algarve Attractions Guide

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Updated at 12:01 GMT

The Algarve is the southernmost region of mainland Portugal, and it is the most popular holiday destination in Portugal and also one of the most popular in Europe as a whole. Most of the region's major towns, cities and tourist resorts are located close to the coastline. Tourism and food are the main contributors to the local economy.

The Algarve boasts a range of attractions, including numerous historical sites, museums and galleries; plus exhibits that date from Roman times, including some spectacular mosaics. There are numerous churches and castles that offer spectacular architecture and great views around the surrounding areas. There are also some good zoos and gardens in the region.

Most sports enthusiasts are well catered for, particularly enthusiasts of golf, horse riding and motor racing. The Algarve boasts a wide array of golf courses, including some that are used by professionals. Water sports are also popular in the summer half-year and there are some companies that arrange outlets for diving, snorkelling and surfing, including kite surfing.

Fans of quad biking are well covered in the Algarve, with a range of companies offering tours of the region on quad bikes, and buggy and mountain bike tours are also provided.

Wet & wild

Those after a water entertainment park, with a variety of slides and pools, have three main choices. Aqualand at Sitio das Areias - Apartado 11, Alcantarilha offers rapids, a crazy leap, a helter-skelter-style "crazy race" and a mega slide, among other attractions. A major alternative is Slide & Splash, located at Vale de Deus-Estombar, Lagoa, which includes a large variety of slides, a helter-skelter, and falconry and reptile shows and a "tornado" slide. Virtual visits are also available at the company's website.  

There is also Aquashow Park, located at Semino EN 396, Quarteira, which is recommended for those who would like to try out a water roller coaster, while it contains a large assortment of slides and the opportunity to swim with sea lions. All three are generally well-received by visitors, although the food and drink that are offered on-site receives generally mixed reviews, and queues can get large during July and August. 

Those after an adventure park can try the Parque Aventura, located at Estrada de Santa Eulalia, Albufeira. It consists of a challenging course navigating between trees on ascenders, rope bridges, skateboards and more, while a paintballing arena, covering approximately 2500 square metres, is also offered.  

There are some prominent zoos in the Algarve region. Zoomarine Algarve at Guia, Albufeira contains a wide range of animal-related exhibitions, including presentations of dolphins, seals and sea lions, and also serves as an amusement park, with a limited selection of rides, an aquarium and a swimming pool. Zoo Lagos at Barão de S.João, Lagos is also worth considering, which offers a wide range of animal displays, including over 120 animal species, although it has a reputation for being expensive.

Krazy World Zoo at Lagoa de Viseu, Algôz is recommended for those with young children, and offers many exhibitions of animals, bouncy castles, mini golf and swimming pools.

Go-karting

There are karting facilities at Algarve Racing at Mexilhoeira Grande, Portimao, ranging from 15-minute trial sessions to organised kart racing events, and the options cater for adults and older children. An alternative is the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, situated at the Sitio do Escampadinho, Portimao, which offers packages to see racing events as well as good karting facilities. The Algarve Indoor Kart Centre at Ria Shopping, Olhao is also worth considering for kart enthusiasts. Karts are available for rental, and the centre is the largest in Portugal and one of the largest in Europe.

Horse riding

Fans of horses and horse riding are quite well catered for in the Algarve. One good option to consider is the Holistic Riding Centre in Monte Velho, near the Bordeira and Armado beaches.Horse-riding lessons and trail rides, courses and workshops, holiday camps and accommodation are offered. There are courses that aim to help horse-riders develop better relationships with horses, and treat horses responsibly. The horse-riding centre is consistently favourably received by visitors to Monte Da Ribeira, at Aldeia de Tor, is also worth considering, and it offers riding lessons, all-inclusive holiday packages, and a pony club, among other facilities. The Albufeira Riding Centre, which is situated at Vale Navio, Albufeira, is also well worth considering, as it offers guided horse-riding trips through the countryside and the horses are well looked-after. 

Golf

By far the best-catered sport in the Algarve is golf, particularly for those staying around the Vilamoura area- the golf courses in the region are many and varied. Oceanico provide many of the region's best-received golf courses, including the Vilamoura Old Course at Vilamoura, and the Oceanico Millennium Golf Course, and the company provides deals for buggies and clubs also. Another good option is the San Lorenzo Golf Course at Vale Do Lobo, Le Meridien Hotel, Almancil, which has won awards for its quality and provides options for renting buggies and golf clubs, a driving range, putting and chipping greens, and a fully-featured 18-hole golf course. For those interested in receiving training and improving their golfing skills, Lesters Golf at Vilamoura offers numerous good training courses.

Racing

For motor racing fans, Algarve Racing at Mexilhoeira Grande, Portimao offers a wide range of racing-related options. Visitors can book packages for watching special motor racing events around the in-house race track, or go on holiday tours in the area around the track, or indulge in karting, or take a drive or ride as a passenger in a Touring Car. An alternative is the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, situated at the Sitio do Escampadinho, Portimao, which offers packages to see racing events and good karting facilities. The Algarve Indoor Kart Centre at Ria Shopping, Olhao is also worth considering for kart enthusiasts. For those who are more into motorbikes, Enduro Portugal, located at Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, Mexilhoeira Grande, Portimao is an off-road motorbiking organisation which offers numerous riding trips, including options for one-day trips, and week-long holidays.

Flying

There are not many good outlets for flying enthusiasts in the Algarve but Aero Vip is worth trying out, which is situated at Montes de Alvor, Portimao. The company offers courses to work towards acquiring pilots' licenses, and flight experiences including tours of the area and demonstrations of pilots' flying techniques.

Walking & hiking

Those into walking and hiking can consider the scenic Alvor Boardwalk at Alvor, Portimao, which is well-received by most tourists. Magic Moments: Photo Walks & Photo Sessions at Sagres offers a wide range of walks with an emphasis on finding good locations to take photographs, and also has sessions of sports and water activities. Algarve by Segway is one of the most well-received tour operators, and offers bird-watching trips to Ria Formosa, cultural trips around Faro, sunset trips to Faro Island, and themed tours for weddings and birthday parties. For a comprehensive guide to the main walks and trails in the Algarve, visitors can check out the online booklet, Trails in the Algarve.

On wheels

For those who like quad biking, QuadVentura offers numerous off-road quad biking tours of the Algarve, and visits to villages and scenic locations, and the organisers offer to pick those who book tours up from their chosen hotels. Rooster Quad Day Tours, based at Santa Barbara de Nexe, Faro, are also worth considering, offering a range of tours catering for novices through to experienced quad bikers. Hugo's Quad Bike Adventure also offers a wide range of quad biking tours, as well as free transport from Albufeira. In each case, drivers will need to own a full driving licence. Algarve Quads at Casa do Monte, Vilamoura represents another good alternative, offering a range of quad bike trips in fully automatic quad bikes through scenic parts of the Algarve, and offering transport to the starting venues.

Bulldog Buggies, based in Silves, offer a similar range of tours to QuadVentura, using 500cc all-terrain buggies, with plenty of off-road riding and scenery along the way.

For those who enjoy mountain biking, The Mountain Bike Adventure Day Tours at Lagos are easy to recommend to visitors, and they offer a range of cross country and mountain trips, and also offer all-inclusive holidays. Bike hire is available, or users can bring their own mountain bikes.

Water sports

Those who enjoy kite surfing can try Kitesurf Eolis, which is based at Cabanas de Tavira, Tavira and offers a wide range of training courses for beginners, and there are also kite-buggy trips in which you use a kite to ride on a buggy. A selection of guided kite surf tours is also offered. Surf enthusiasts can also consider the FilSurf Surf School at Lagos, which offers surf lessons, surf rentals, and also accommodation options.

UDiving Dive Centre, which has two main centres at Faro and Tavira, is a highly-rated dive centre that offers trips and training courses for those who would like to try diving off the coastline. Those into scuba diving are particularly well catered for. 

All aboard

For those after water-based tours, there is plenty on offer in the Algarve. Alvor Boat Trips offer a wide range of boat trips and fishing trips , and offer free transport via minibus from your choice of hotel, or from the first pier in Alvor. Trigana Sailing Adventures, also based at Alvor Harbour, offer a range of sailing trips beside spectacular seaside formations and also offer scope for fishing as part of the trips. There is also Boat Tours Ria Formosa, which is a regular afternoon tour visiting three islands off the coastline, during which lunch is provided and swimming, snorkelling and bird watching opportunities are available.

See the sights

The Algarve is not short of attractions and landmarks; here's a couple of highlights.

The Fortress of Sagres at Sagres on the coast of the Algarve is impressively mainly for its views over the nearby bay and ocean, and often features local fishermen fishing nearby, and it also contains an exhibition centre and services for visitors.

The Camera Obscura at the Tower of Tavira gives a very good view of the town of Tamira and also provides panoramic views, and guides provide explanations of the laws of optics, as explored centuries ago by Leonardo da Vinci.

The Alvor Boardwalk at Alvor, Portimao is very well-received by most tourists, giving the opportunity to walk or jog around the sea front and take in the scenery without having to wade through the beach, and also leads to numerous restaurants. 

The Fortress of Sagres at Sagres on the coast of the Algarve is impressively mainly for its views over the nearby bay and ocean, and often features local fishermen fishing nearby, and it also contains an exhibition centre and services for visitors. The Cerro da Villa ruins are located in Villamoura, and date as far back as the 1st century, and contains a museum as well as some Roman mosaics in the outdoor area, alongside other attractions. The village of Alferce at Monchique is worth visiting, with numerous medieval-style buildings, and Roman remains, and contains good views over the nearby mountains.

Silves Castle at Silves is a popular site with spectacular ruins around the outside, and good views of Silves from the inside, and there is also a museum contained within the castle.  Those who visit the region's capital, Faro, can check out Old Town Faro  which contains medieval-style buildings, an impressive cathedral and a central square.

St Lawrence's Church at Rua da Igreja, Sao Lourenco, Almancil has impressive architecture and carvings, and various church services, though visitors are not permitted to take photographs inside the building. The Church of St. Anthony at Rua General Alberto da Silveira, Lagos boasts a museum as well as some impressive architecture in the interior, though again no photos are permitted. 

Museums & galleries

There are plenty of museums in the Algarve region. The region's capital, Faro, houses the Faro Archaeological Museum, which has Roman, Medieval and Manueline exhibits, including an impressive Roman floor mosaic, and paintings based on old Portuguese folk tales.

The Museum of Portimao at Zona Ribeirinha, Portimao, is housed in a former fish canning factory and has exhibits covering the history of the location and the fish canning, plus displays of the old machinery. There are also exhibitions of Portuguese guitars. Some of the exhibits do not have English translations, however.

Alcoutim Castle and Archaeological Museum at Alcoutim has an indoor exhibition showing excavations and artefacts, and the castle boasts good views of the surrounding area. Centro Ciencia Viva de Lagos at Rua Dr. Faria e Silva, Lagos, is an "interactive" museum, which contains many and varied exhibits and includes a couple of playgrounds, making it suitable for small children, and also boasts good views around the premises. Casa das Portas is an attractive art gallery located at Rua Dr Augusto Silva Carvalho, Tavira, which includes a spectacular, if expensive, shop, and a flower park.