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What are the top Algarve attractions?

Getting to know a new and entirely alien place can be something of a daunting prospect. There is a real culture shock when going from somewhere you know inside out, to winding up in a place where there's new and untrodden paths at every turn.

For some, this change provides a much-needed jolt which encourages them to get out and explore; to really throw themselves into the new culture. Others, meanwhile, view it with a degree of anxiety and end up putting it off indefinitely, telling themselves 'I'm here for the long haul, it's something I'll get around to soon enough.'

The problem is that living somewhere is markedly different from holidaying there. As already noted, there's no race against the clock to get everything done when living somewhere. Seeing as you're not preparing to head back once the first week is over, things get postponed, only that putting it off for another time can often become a long time, or even never.

So for new arrivals at the Algarve who may not be sure of where to go or what to see, think of this as less of a guide and more a diary of places to go in the first week to make the giant leap from visitor to local...

Day one

To begin, it's worth going around some of the area's popular tourist spots, for a number of reasons. First, these are some of the more attractive and popular options, so should kick proceedings off in the best way possible. Plus, if you are struggling to get to grips with language, currency or customs, the tourist traps are an ideal place - as people there are more than used to it.

As such, day one is a good opportunity to visit the Algarve's world famous Vilamoura resort, as this is one of the area's most tourist-friendly areas, so provides a very accommodating introduction. Vilamoura is certainly not to everybody's tastes, but it's certainly a great place to start. Being the largest luxury resort in Europe means it's full to the brim with eager tourists, meaning that new residents can slip in entirely unnoticed.

Once at Vilamoura, Algarve novices can visit the countless bars and restaurants, or even take a trip around its famed marina. Finding a boat on which to do just this shouldn't be an issue. After all, the marina has enough space to accommodate more than 1,000 vessels at any one time.

Additionally, those who are a little anxious may wish to visit Vilamoura on Tuesdays or Thursdays, which is when most tourist events take place, so there should be plenty to do. Others who want to see it with a little less going on, meanwhile, can opt for one of the other weekdays.

Day two

Having started with the tourist hub of Vilamoura, day two is a good opportunity to experience Lagos. Whilst still a tourist favourite, Lagos is also much less of a resort and more a historic town that dates back to the start of the Gregorian calendar.

In being a coastal town, Lagos offers a chance to see some of the beaches which have made the Algarve a tourist favourite for generations. Among them are Meia Praia, which is the area's most popular, and Praia da Luz, which is decidedly quieter thanks to it being set out around 6km from Lagos.

The beaches aren't all there is to see, though, as Lagos also boasts striking architecture in the form of its city walls and equally breathtaking natural scenery of sedimentary layers running through its extensive cliff sides.

Day three

Having had a few days under your belt, it's now time to visit Faro, the capital of the Algarve. Portugal's southernmost city, Faro is still popular among tourists, but is certainly nowhere near as much of a visitor bubble as Vilamoura or - to a certain extent - Lagos.

Instead, Faro is a city with much going on for locals, thanks to its sizeable university, UEFA-approved football stadium (the Estadio Algarve), City Hall and extensive Civil Government buildings.

This shouldn't suggest, however, that Faro is a very industrialised city in which those who are new to the Algarve will get swallowed up. Instead, there are plenty of historic buildings and picturesque alleyways to get lost down, so you can get to grips with the side of the Algarve that's not beach resorts and moneyed marinas.

Day four

Having spent the last few days exploring some of the most popular tourist spots, day four is the ideal time to try somewhere that's not quite as much a firm favourite among tourists: Silves.

At one point the Algarve's administrative capital, Silves is certainly rich in culture and history, with its Cathedral being just one favourite of all that's on offer. Elsewhere, the Moorish Silves Castle dates back to the 8th Century and has, in the time that's elapsed, been used not only for fortification but also as a prison. Now it has been declared a National Monument and is a popular attraction for those seeking some peace and quiet away from the thriving tourist sides of the Algarve.

Stumbling down some of Silves's secluded side streets (and the hidden-away gems they offer) should also really help Algarve novices feel like they're getting a hand on the local lifestyle.

Day five

There are few better ways to really test your skills as a local than heading to a market. Whilst these are still popular with tourists, there's a vast difference between shuffling about trying not to meet people's gaze and going headlong into it, having a chat with anyone willing to entertain you.

Marketplaces also show off local people in all their glory, including all their regional dialects, slang and accents. So to round off the intensive five days of Algarve exploration, there's little better than Loule.

Markets are common across the Algarve but Loule is home to one of the biggest and best. It's noisy, chaotic and somewhat imposing - which is just what every market should be. Not only that, it's a feast of the senses, as all five fire up when walking around the red and white Loule turrets.

Bona fide locals will be rewarded for their trip with fresh meat and vegetables, a huge deli section, some intriguing cheeses and a wealth of seafood (that veers from the delicious to the scary-looking). If possible, visit on a Sunday as this is the time local farmers descend on the area and really make it a haven for locals and learners alike.

Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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