While the Algarve might be best known for its stunning, sun-splashed beaches, delicious food, and fabulous golfing, there’s a lot more to see for even the most adventurous holidaymakers. If you can bear to tear yourself away from the powder-soft sands, there’s plenty to be said for sightseeing in the Algarve. Theme parks and waterparks might be good for the kids but if you’d like to enjoy something of the local history and natural wonders, you’ll find some outstanding attractions that even the most cynical of teenagers will enjoy.
At the top of your Algarve sightseeing list ought to be a trip to Silves. Once the region’s capital, Silves is a fortified medieval town, set among sweeping orange groves and overlooked by the sandstone castle that dominates its skyline. With bus services running from Lagos, Albufeira and Portimão, it’s also easy to get to.
While the 12th Century castle is the obvious attraction for sightseeing in the Algarve, there are other sites to explore, such as the Ponte Romana Bridge, the ancient Se Cathedral, and the city’s original gates. With some authentic Portuguese cafés tucked away in Silves’ cobbled streets, you can sip on a strong coffee and watch the world go by.
A prime example of Mother Nature’s architectural abilities, the Benagil Caves make ideal Algarve sightseeing. Only accessible by boat, the caves are famed for their beauty. However, don’t expect dark and dingy chambers, populated by bats. The Benagil Caves are illuminated by the sun, creating an almost hypnotic effect as the rays are reflected onto the walls and ceilings by the clear water. You can charter a cave cruise from Carvoeiro, which is a small fishing village, close to Benagil Beach. Be sure to pack your camera, as you’ll come away with some spectacular photographs.
If you’d like the chance of seeing the area’s majestic marine life in the wild, you’ll want to put Sagres on your list of Algarve sightseeing destinations. Sagres is home to Mar Ilimitado, an ecotourism company run by marine scientists. Hop in a Rigid Inflatable Boat with your guide and you’ll be whisked across the ocean to areas where you can spot everything from dolphins and porpoises to elusive sea turtles. The marine life surrounding the Algarve is quite astonishing and having the opportunity to see it in its natural environment is well worth the price of the trip.
While you’re in Sagres, don’t pass up the opportunity to visit the lighthouse at Cape St Vincent. A historic and iconic landmark, it’s one of the brightest lighthouses in Europe, with a beam that can be seen as far as 60 miles away.
To get a taste of Algarve at its most authentic make your way to Loulé, towards the centre of the region. You’ll find some superb shopping, quiet, palm-fringed plazas, and artisan craftsmen working out of workshops on the cobbled streets of the Old Town.
However, to make your day even more memorable, plan to visit Loulé on a Saturday, when the gypsy market rolls into town. You’ll find it next to the Moorish covered market, which houses farmers and fishermen selling their wares.
Gypsy markets give you the chance to buy intriguing, handmade items that you won’t find anywhere else, as well as the opportunity to sample delicious, home-cooked delicacies. Be prepared to get your haggling head on and bag yourself a bargain.
Faro Old Town
If you’re sightseeing in the Algarve, take a trip back in time with a visit to Faro’s Old Town. A labyrinth of dusty, cobbled back-streets, mosaic-strewn walls, and quirky shops, bars and cafés, it’s retained much of its medieval character and is a superb place to explore. Grab an al fresco coffee and watch the locals playing dominoes or take a wander at night and catch some authentic Portuguese music in an atmospheric bar.
Not too far from the Old Town, you’ll find plenty of other attractions, such as the grisly Bone Chapel and the unspoilt splendour of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. If you want to avoid the crowds on the beaches or at the usual resorts, and live like a local for a day, the Old Town is the place to go.