For being a relatively small country, Portugal certain has a variety of places that are must-visits. Like the cities of Lisbon and Porto; the fairytale-esque castles in Sintra; the terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley; and the stunning cliffs and coastlines of the Algarve.
If you’re looking to plan a beachy getaway in Portugal’s southern Algarve region, there are many towns you could choose base yourself in – like Faro or Albufeira or Portimão. But my but my personal pick is Lagos.
The little town of Lagos (pronounced “LAH-goash“) is usually regarded as the prettiest in the Algarve, being known for its historic town center, beautiful beaches, and access to some of the most dramatic parts of the southern coast.
If you’re only going to visit the Algarve for a short time, then Lagos is where you want to be.
When to visit Lagos, Portugal
The Algarve region of Portugal has a Mediterranean climate, meaning it experiences hot and dry summers and mild winters. The Algarve is very sunny (Lagos gets 300 days of sun per year on average), which is why it such a popular beach destination.
High season in Lagos and the Algarve runs from late June through August. This is when it’s the hottest and busiest – and I personally would not visit at this time of year!
I actually visited the Algarve in March, when it was off-season. This was perfect for me, as it meant cooler temperatures, a very quiet town, and cheaper prices. I had no trouble finding accommodation or going to restaurants sans reservations in March.
BUT, I’d say the BEST times to go to Lagos are probably late April-May and September-early October if you want nice weather and fewer crowds, but still plenty of things to do. There were some places still not open and some tours not running when I went in March. (But if you love off-season travel, then November-March is it in Lagos!)
Top 10 things to do in Lagos
Lagos is small – the whole municipality only has a population of about 30,000, and you can easily get around the main city center on foot.
I spent 3 days in Lagos on my first visit, and had no trouble keeping busy. Here are all the things I recommend doing in Lagos, based on my own trip there:
1. Explore Lagos Old Town
The historic center of Lagos is small and charming, with white-washed buildings and cobbled streets. And while there are hills, they aren’t nearly as brutal as the ones you’ll find in Lisbon or Porto.
You can easily see all the highlights of Lagos in just a couple hours. The main things I recommend doing include:
- Visiting the Markthalle seafood market near the marina.
- Looking out for interesting street art and pretty squares.
- Admiring some of the old architecture like the Porta de São Gonçalo, Castelo de Lagos, and Forte da Ponta da Bandeira (though note the “castle” and “fort” here aren’t the most exciting things to actually visit).
- Watching a sunset from Miradouro Praia da Batata.
Lagos Old Town is also the center of dining and nightlife, and it comes alive in the evenings as everyone heads out for drinks and dinner.
I recommend starting with drinks at Bon Vivant, which has a rooftop tiki bar. Then you can grab dinner at one of these spots:
- Cantinho Algarvio (good local food)
- Tasca Jota Lagos (tapas-style)
- Nah Nah Bah (incredible burgers)
- Empanadas & Co. (all sorts of tasty empanadas)
- The Green Room (pretty good Tex-Mex)
2. Visit the Museu de Lagos
While you’re in Lagos Old Town, don’t miss stepping into Igreja de Santo António, a beautiful Baroque church housing a museum dedicated to art, archaeology, and the history of Lagos.
The Museu de Lagos was founded in 1930 by its patron Dr. José Formosinho, and is housed in an annex of the church. And with an entry fee of only €3, it’s worth a visit if you’re interested in learning more about the history of Lagos and seeing parts of the church (including the incredible Baroque altar, pictured above).
3. See the Mercado de Escravos
While you’re exploring Lagos, it’s also worth visiting the Mercado de Escravos, a museum dedicated to the history of slavery in Lagos and Portugal as a whole. It’s located on the site of the city’s former slave market, which was the first slave market in Europe, dating back to 1444.
I’m really glad that this museum exists (the topics of slavery and colonialism are very entwined with the history of Portugal, after all), and on the surface it looks like a tidy little museum with some artifacts and multimedia exhibits. However, to me the museum felt very random and disjointed, and the message got lost a bit in the presentation.
But with an entry fee of just a couple euros, it’s worth checking out this museum for yourself.
4. Walk from Praia da Batata to Praia dos Estudantes at low tide
Lagos is known for its dramatic rocky beaches, and one of the most unique things to do is to walk through the rock tunnels connecting the city beaches at low tide.
The most popular beach in Lagos is called Praia da Batata (which, yes, translates to “Potato Beach”), and it’s basically just a few steps from the city center. At low tide (which varies from day to day; check out a tide table here), you can walk from this beach to other smaller beaches that are connected by rock tunnels.
At low tide (and I do not suggest trying this at high tide), you can walk to Praia dos Estudantes, where you can admire the Ponte do Antigo Forte do Pinhão, a tall stone bridge.
Just be aware that the cliffs around the beaches here are quite brittle, and rock falls are possible.
5. Admire the Lagos Marina
Just a short walk from the center of Lagos is the marina. This is where many boat tours depart from, but it’s worth walking around even if you’re not going out on the water.
It’s a picturesque place for a walk to admire the boats, and is lined with lots of restaurants, too. And, right across the street from the marina (across a very cool pedestrian bridge), you can also find the Mercado Municipal/Markthalle, a fish market where fresh local seafood is for sale.
It’s also a short walk to the boardwalks and sand at Duna Beach, which is a huge sandy beach just outside of central Lagos.
6. Have a beach day at Praia de Dona Ana
Although Lagos is full of gorgeous beaches, Praia de Dona Ana is one of the best for a proper beach day.
It’s a large beach, so there’s plenty of room to put a towel down and relax. The beach is about a 20-minute walk from Lagos Old Town. There is also a free parking lot at the entrance to the beach, but if you’re driving, you’ll want to get there early to find a space.
Some other great beaches in Lagos include:
- Praia do Camilo
- Praia do Pinhão
- Praia de São Roque
7. Boat cruise out to Ponte da Piedade
One of the best things to do Lagos is to take a boat cruise out to Ponte da Piedade, which is a headland just under 2 miles from the center of Lagos known for its dramatic cliffs, grottos, and sea arches.
Boat trips out to Ponte da Piedade leave from the marina near the train station, and are very affordable. You can take a 75-minute sightseeing boat tour for less than $25, which will include sailing through some sea arches and into some very cool grottos. (I booked this boat tour and loved it.)
This is a must-do in Lagos, and a boat tour is the easiest way to visit Ponte da Piedade. I recommend going in the morning for some of the best light.
You can also book a guided kayaking tour to the same area if you visit during the summer months. These tours are a bit longer, and usually include kayaking and time to swim.
8. Hike out to Ponte da Piedade
Another way to visit Ponte da Piedade is by hiking. The hike is just a couple of miles from central Lagos, and gives you completely different views than you see from the water.
There used to be a winding walking trail that stretched from the end of Lagos town along the edge of the cliffs all the way out to Ponte da Piedade. Erosion and landslides have made this trail unsafe, however – and parts of it are actually completely washed out now.
But thankfully they’ve been working on making this walk easy to do once again with the help of a wooden boardwalk system.
You can either walk or take a taxi from central Lagos to the “Ponta da Piedade Walkway Entry” (that’s how it’s marked on Google Maps), which is just beyond the parking area for Praia de Dona Ana beach. The boardwalk will lead you all the way out to Ponte da Piedade
One detour you should take off the boardwalk is the stairs down to Praia do Camilo, which is arguably the prettiest beach along this coast. There are a lot of steps to get down to the small beach, but it’s definitely worth seeing.
The walk from the start of the boardwalk to Praia do Camilo is only about 10-15 minutes, and then it’s another 15 minutes along the boardwalk to Ponta da Piedade.
When you get to Ponta da Piedade, there are several different spots to view the grottos and sea arches from above, and you can also climb down into the grottos via a stone staircase. Definitely allow some time to explore!
There’s another boardwalk that follows the coast to the west from the Ponta da Piedade lighthouse, too. You can walk out to the Miradouro da Praia do Canavial in another 20 minutes or so, stopping for more great views along the way.
9. Eat Portuguese food
While Lagos is full of restaurants catering to tourists with almost every type of cuisine you can imagine, there are also great local restaurants where you can try authentic Portuguese food.
Cantinho Algarvio is a nice spot for Portuguese food, along with Don Sebastião. Both restaurants offer popular Portuguese dishes with a coastal flair.
When it comes to sweets, pastel de nata (custard tart) is the most popular dessert in Portugal. You can find this at most bakeries throughout Lagos.
10. Take a day trip
Although there’s plenty to do in Lagos, you shouldn’t miss exploring the Algarve region further on a day trip if you have the time. Train tickets are cheap, and many other towns in the Algarve can be reached in less than an hour.
You could visit Portimão (20 minutes by train), and maybe book a tour from there to the famous Benagil Sea Cave. You can do a 2-hour boat tour, or a kayak tour to this striking cave – though note that the kayak tour is the only one that will allow you to visit the beach inside the cave.
Or if you’ve had enough of beaches, you could take a train to Silves (40 minutes by train), which is an inland town on the Arade River that was the ancient capital of the Algarve during the centuries of Muslim rule. Explore cobbled streets and visit the red sandstone Castelo de Silves.
If you decide to rent a car for your Algarve trip, another option is to drive out to Sagres at the extreme western tip of the Algarve. This rugged tip of land is especially famous for surfing. (There are also guided trips available to Sagres, like this half-day trip or this full-day trip.)
And here are some other day trip options/activities you can try from Lagos:
How to get to Lagos
Driving to Lagos is probably the most-recommended option, since it means you can fly into any city in Portugal. The drive from Lisbon to Lagos is about 3 hours, while it’s just a 1-hour drive from Faro.
I did not rent a car for my trip to Lagos, however (I actually have never rented a car in Portugal!), so I opted to take the train to Lagos.
You can fly into Faro and take the train to Lagos from there (the local train from Faro to Lagos takes about 2 hours, with a train change in Tunes), or you can travel by train to Lagos from Lisbon (total travel time of about 4 hours, with one train change in Tunes).
The train takes a bit longer than driving, but train travel is my preferred way of traveling around Europe. It’s so much less stressful than plane travel, and it’s much kinder on the environment, too.
You can use Omio to search for train tickets to Lagos (I paid less than $40 for a roundtrip train ticket between Lisbon and Lagos).
Once you arrive in Lagos, the train station is a short walk or Uber ride from the old part of town (because yes, there are taxis and Ubers there).
Where to stay in Lagos, Portugal
Lagos is a small town, but it’s also a popular tourist destination, meaning there are plenty of accommodation options.
When I visited in March (in the off-season, remember), I had no trouble finding very affordable options a couple weeks before my trip. But if you’re going to be visiting during high season, you’ll definitely want to book well in advance.
Where I stayed in Lagos:
I stayed at the Baluarte da Vila Apartments, which is an apartment hotel within walking distance to all the main sights in Lagos. The apartments are large (mine was 3 floors and included a rooftop terrace!), and the building has a nice pool and a couple lounge areas.
This was a nice option for me since I was visiting during low season, and it was easier for me to have some meals (mainly breakfast) in my apartment rather than trying to find an open restaurant. The price was also great!
The only downside is that the Baluarte da Vila Apartments are at the top of a hill, so you do have to walk back up to it whenever you go out.
Other good hotel options in Lagos include:
From its historic Old Town to its proximity to some of the most stunning coastlines in Portugal, Lagos is definitely worth putting on your travel bucket list!
Have you ever been to Lagos? If not, would you like to go?