Swim with dolphins at Zoomarine in Albufeira
Zoomarine isn’t just a regular water park. As well as slides, rides and artificial wave pools, it also has its own aquarium and a sea life conservation centre. This means you can really enjoy the experience of swimming with dolphins at the Dolphin Emotions lagoon – a huge lake lined with sand and dotted with natural foliage. There are sea lion and tropical bird shows every day, too, and 20 aquatic ecosystems to learn about and discover.
Explore the Benagil Sea Cave
Undoubtedly one of the world’s coolest caves, the Benagil Sea Cave is one of the most incredible sights along the Algarve’s rugged coast. The sandstone cave is a natural cathedral sculpted by wind and water, with a hole at the top letting light in to the hidden beach. The best way to get there is by organised boat tour, but if you’re feeling brave you can swim the 200m from Praia do Benagil (Benagil Beach).
Sunbathe on Praia de Benagil
Back on the mainland, Praia de Benagil (Benagil Beach) is the perfect place to put down a towel and parasol for the day. It’s sandwiched between two big cliffs which keep the coastal winds at bay, and the cool Atlantic waters are perfect for swimming – although the water does get deep quickly! There are a couple of restaurants perched on the cliffs at either side, and it’s the halfway point of the Seven Hanging Valleys hike along the clifftops.
Drive to Cabo de São Vicente – Europe’s southwesternmost point
Just 6km from the centre of Sagres, Cabo de São Vicente is right on the edge of mainland Europe. Until the end of the 14th Century, it was considered the edge of the known world. As well as the wind and-wave pounded headland, there’s a ruined monastery and a small lighthouse with a museum dedicated to the Portuguese discoveries. Try to arrive in the early evening to catch the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean.
Explore 11km of unspoiled beaches at Ilha de Tavira
The 11km-long Tavira Island in the Ria Formosa Natural Park is all white sandy Blue Flag beaches, and some sections are just 1km wide. The clear, calm water is perfect for swimming and snorkelling. It’s the perfect place to get rid of those tan lines – some sections are nudist. You can only reach the island by boat, with ferries and water taxis leaving regularly from Tavira town. There are a few restaurants on the island and spots to camp, if you fancy spending the night.
Step into the past in Lagos old town
The winding cobblestone streets of Lagos old town are lined buildings clad in the country’s colourful Azulejo tiles, making it feel like a mini version of Lisbon. It’s packed with history, with Moorish walls, an 18th Century church and museums dedicated to Portugal’s seafaring history. Because it’s near the west coast, it’s a hub for surfers and has a real laid back hippie vibe. Boutiques sell souvenirs made from cork, local liqueurs and ceramics and modern products made by the new generation of Portuguese artisans.
Climb the endless staircase down to Praia do Camilo
Because it’s a bit of an effort to access, Praia do Camilo is usually fairly quiet even although it’s only a ten minute drive from Lagos. It’s at the bottom of huge sandstone cliffs, and you reach it by walking down 225 steep steps. At the bottom you’ll be rewarded with clear blue waters which sheltered from the wind by the cliffs. Look out for the tunnel leading through the cliffs from one side of the beach to the other – and try to arrive at low tide to make the most of the beach.
And that’s just scratching the surface! With boutique wineries, Medieval castles and mountain trails there are hundreds of fantastic things to do in the Algarve. Most of them are spread along the 96 miles of coastline and, as public transport is fairly basic, the best way to explore is by hiring a car.