The Algarve was on my bucket list for a long time, and it was a must-do on my 10-day trip to Portugal. Is it a good idea to cover The Algarve in 2 days? Probably not. But I didn’t have a choice! We usually get only a week or 2 off and that’s why, I’ve learned to make the most of my (limited) holidays in a country.
First, I highly recommend renting a car in The Algarve as it gives you the flexibility to go to different places within a short span of time and makes the trip extremely efficient as well as convenient. The Algarve is a region that offers a perfect blend of sun, sea and relaxation, but also gorgeous views and beautiful hikes, if you’re up for it. The region boasts of having one of the most picturesque coastlines in the world, adorned with beautiful cliffs and arches that are a sight to behold. It also offers great value for those looking to travel to Europe on a budget. Read my itinerary for The Algarve in 2 days, highlighting some of the top attractions, well-known landmarks, and hidden gems.
We visited in the month of May which was still slightly cold, especially the ocean waters, which were impossible to swim in! However, while we started off with cold, rainy and windy weather, we were lucky that it turned drastically within a span of hours into clear, sunny, blue skies and warm temperatures. Nevertheless, evenings were cool and required a jacket.
Day 1: Faro District
If you’re driving to The Algarve from Lisbon (which is what we did), I would recommend starting from Faro District first. A good introduction to this region is Marinha Beach. Touted as one of the prettiest beaches in the region for its crystal-clear waters and stunning rock formations, this is also where the crazy beach parties happen. If you wish to access the beach itself, it is only possible to do so by boat or climb down the stairs by foot. Alternatively, you could stay up on the cliff and take a walk around the edges to relish the spectacular views. While there is one restaurant at the beach, there are several above on the cliff. Marinha beach is popular amongst tourists and locals for swimming, sunbathing and water sports too. While May wasn’t the best time to do it, summer sees a lot of people snorkeling and diving here as well.
The drive from Lisbon to The Algarve is about 2.5 hours so if you’re exploring Faro the same day as your driving down from Lisbon, it’ll already be lunch hour by the time you’re done from Marinha Beach. You could choose to go to your next destination – Benagil Caves, either by walking along the cliffs or driving down.
Benagil Caves are the number 1 place to visit in The Algarve and it’s these caves that you see in all the photos of this region. They are known for their unique and picturesque geological formations, including a large central dome with a hole in the top that allows sunlight to shine through. The 5.5 km long cliff walk trail from Marinha (one way) is full of lookouts to the grottos, caves, and beaches below. If you choose to drive instead, you will arrive right at the beach where several boat tours and kayaking options are available to head to the Benagil Caves.
The caves can get crowded during peak season, but the views are worth it. It’s a good idea to check the tide schedule before visiting, as some caves are only accessible during low tide. We wanted to kayak to the famous cove that is advertised in all photos but the strong currents during the high tide made it impossible for us to manage kayaks. Thus, we decided to take a boat tour instead. The only drawback of a boat tour is that you get very limited time in the cave, and if the tide is high, you will not be able to get off from the boat to take any pictures inside the cave.
Nevertheless, the boat tour was quite spectacular! Most tours stop by 4 pm during spring season, so time yourself accordingly and make sure you get there beforehand. There are several restaurants by the beach in Benagil, to grab a quick bite.
The last stop for the day is Praia da Rocha, known for its golden sands, clear waters, and dramatic cliffs. When at the beach, you can choose to either just relax and sunbathe or participate in water sports such as jet skiing, parasailing, or windsurfing. There are also various boat tours available, of the local coastline and caves, as well as dolphin-watching trips. You can also hike in the surrounding cliffs, with several trails and routes offering unparalleled views. Praia da Rocha is a great place to end the day, thanks to the lively nightlife and entertainment, with a variety of bars and clubs to choose from. There’s also a casino here!
Recommended place to stay in The Algarve: Apartamentos Pinhão in Lagos.
Day 2: Lagos
Less than a kilometre from our guest house was another one of the Algarve’s famous beaches – Praia de Dona Ana. A relatively smaller and secluded beach, you could just walk through the high cliffs and rock formations towards this beach. Access to the beach is by foot, via a steep path or stairs, but the effort is worth it, as the views are breath-taking. There are absolutely no restaurants on this beach, so bring your food and drinks along.
Located about 1.5 kms away (hardly 15 min walk) from Praia de Dona Ana is one of the most remarkable viewpoints in The Algarve, and my favourite, Ponta da Piedade. Accessed via a picturesque staircase leading down to the water, you will be amazed by the gorgeous colours of the water nestled between the craggy brown cliffs. While there is an option to take a boat tour to explore the caves, arches, and grottoes that have been carved into the cliffs by the sea, the highlight of this area is the views from the viewpoint itself. Once you’ve had your heart’s fill of the vistas, you may rent kayaks to get a closer look at the cliffs and sea caves or simply hike one of the several trails that lead to the top of the cliffs, where you can take in panoramic views of the coast. The hike can be challenging, but the views are worth it. The rock formations and cliffs can be dangerous, so be careful when exploring the area and take heed of the warning signs.
Last but not the least, head to Cape of St Vincent to catch a gorgeous sunset at The Cabo de Sao Vicente lighthouse. The lighthouse sits right at the edge of the cliff, an eye-catching white and red building set in the backdrop of the deep blue infinite ocean. The area is, however, a 45-minute drive away from Ponte da Piedade, so you’re going to need your car for getting there.
At night, stroll along the cobbled stone streets of Lagos Old Town, located not too far from Apartamentos Pinhão. Littered with charming street cafes, curiosity shops, restaurants and bars, the vibe is amazing at night. Take this moment to enjoy the famous Pastel de nata at one of the bakeries or the delicious Porco preto (Iberian black pork), Açorda (bread soaked in broth) and other authentic and delightful Portuguese traditional dishes.