Lagos boasts a rich seafaring heritage, pristine beaches, and authentic Portuguese character, which has grown into one of the most popular tourist destinations in southern Portugal. Its ochre rock formations and cliffs sculpted by the wind and the sea are symbolic of the Algarve. The edge of the continent is found nearby, which ancient Europeans thought to be the end of the world. This coastline’s history and stunning natural beauty, as well as the town’s relaxed atmosphere, guarantee that visitors always leave wanting to return.
Lagos is the ideal holiday destination if you want more than just beautiful beaches and glorious weather for your holiday. The city offers a vibrant nightlife, outstanding restaurants, historical sights, and exciting activities, along with day trips to Silves, Sagres, or Praia da Luz.
Thanks to its popularity, Lagos has mass tourism but still retains its distinctive character and Portuguese charm. Found along its cobbled streets of whitewashed buildings are trendy bars and restaurants that sit harmoniously next to traditional Portuguese cafes and family-run shops.
There is a lot to love about Lagos, and the city is a favorite with long-stay residents and remote workers.
The many sights and activities to be found in Lagos make the city one of the best day trip destinations in the western Algarve.
Lagos is a fascinating city that boasts, stunning beaches, a characterful historic center, and buzzing nightlife.
This all combines to form the ideal holiday destination for tourists, who want more than just great beaches and glorious weather for their holiday.
Unlike many other resort towns, Lagos is an important city that is steeped in history, and the variety of historical monuments and buildings reflect this varied past. Fascinating buildings include the beautiful Santo Antonio church, the Mercado dos Escravos (Europe’s first slave market), and the charming 17th-century Bandeira Fort.
A one-day trip could include exploring the historic quarter, a walk along the stunning coastline, and a boat trip around the Ponta da Piedade headland.
Half a day can also be easily spent exploring the historic center with its narrow cobbled streets, traditional houses, and pretty harbor front.
Lagos is one of Portugal’s most historic cities. It is the largest city of the western Algarve, with a population of 31,000, which almost doubles in summer with the influx of tourists. Originally a Celtic settlement, Lagos prospered during the Roman occupation and was also a significant Moorish city before becoming part of the Portuguese kingdom in the 13th century. It played an important role during the Age of Discovery, with Prince Henry the Navigator. He was responsible for the early days of European exploration and maritime trade. He was also sponsoring an expedition by local explorer Gil Eanes, who ended up being the first to make it past Cape Bojador, in 1434.
This opened the way for other explorers, such as Vasco da Gama, who later found a new maritime route to the East, creating the modern age of global trade.
At first, the trade of the new maritime routes consisted mostly of Asian spices, but as they went down the coast of Africa, the Portuguese navigators also traded slaves and Lagos established the first African slave market in Europe. From Portugal, these “servants” were mostly sent across the Atlantic to the colony of Brazil. The market where these transactions took place still exists, and has been turned into a small museum, telling this story and serving as an international center for living memory of human dignity.
A major earthquake in 1755 destroyed much of southern Portugal, including Lagos, so this is now mostly a late-18th-century city. Its churches and other buildings had to be rebuilt or restored, and reflect the baroque style of the time. The greatest monument is the Church of St. Anthony (Igreja de Santo António), with its gold-covered interior from 1769.
The city extends along the Bensafrim River. But the coastal landscape is what makes Lagos such an amazing destination for a beach holiday.
There is the surfing beach of Porto de Mós with its huge Atlantic waves, the idyllic and sheltered beaches within the Ponta da Piedade headland, or the pristine Meia Praia beach that extends for almost 2 km.
For visitors, the city is compact and easily walkable, with four key areas – the historic quarter, the marina, Porto de Mós, and Meia Praia. The historic quarter is the heart of Lagos and lies to the west of the Bensafrim estuary. The marina complex is the modern side of Lagos, situated to the north of the city. Porto de Mós is a calm, residential area to the far south of the city, while the sand-swept shoreline of the Meia Praia extends to the east of Lagos and is the location for many of the larger hotel complexes.
Today Lagos is a destination for everyone. Couples, families with children, backpackers, gays, seniors, and active travelers will all find Lagos to be perfectly suited for them. There are beaches for every taste and lifestyle, as well as activities and historic sights for those who like to combine adventure or culture with days at the beach.
The largely pedestrianized Old Town of Lagos is lined with outdoor restaurants and bars open until late. It has a lively nightlife. This isn’t a party town (for that, you’ll want to head to Albufeira instead), but it’s a place to enjoy the warmer summer nights and relax with a few drinks.
Lagos is not a big city, and although it has a considerable number of hotels, everything gets fully booked quite early for the high season. If you’re planning to visit between June and September, make sure you book accommodation well in advance.
Beaches by Lagos
Lagos has a wonderful coastline that comprises vast expanses of sand, secluded coves, and picturesque beaches.
Within the Lagos region, there is a beach to satisfy all and ranges from the massive Meia Praia to the surfing waves of Porto de Mós and the beautiful Praia de Dona Ana.
Within walking distance of Lagos are four outstanding beaches, while a short bus ride away is the traditional resort towns of Praia da Luz and Burgau or the Praia da Rocha.
The Praia de Dona Ana beach is a glorious, sandy beach that is considered one of the Algarve’s finest. This beautiful beach nestles at the base of golden cliffs, is lapped by turquoise waters and is a magical setting for your day on the beach.
What to see and do in Lagos
Lagos is one of the best destinations in the western Algarve for a day trip. There are sufficient sights to easily fill a day of sightseeing, and a suggested day trip would be to spend the morning exploring the historic center and the afternoon visiting the Ponta da Piedade headland and the beaches.
Lagos has excellent public transport connecting it to the surrounding region, and it is very easy to travel to Lagos from the other major towns of the central Algarve.
Lagos has a wide-ranging appeal due to its extensive facilities, activities, natural beauty, and heritage. Visitors seeking a cultural holiday will be impressed by the number of historical monuments and the city’s genuine Portuguese atmosphere, while younger couples will enjoy its lively nightlife and numerous exciting activities.
Families tend to visit Lagos during the school holidays (July-August) when the region is in glorious hot weather. The summer is hot, with relaxing days on the beach or around the pool, and evenings spent discovering the multitude of bars and restaurants.
Being such a desirable destination, Lagos has a sizable population of remote workers who often work in tech or creative roles. This has resulted in a year-round, young, and vibrant population that loves surfing and embracing local cultures, with an artisan, yoga, and spiritual scene well established within the city.
So, please remember, that Lagos is not suitable for groups wanting to drink and party excessively. For this, head to the Strip in Albufeira.
- The historic quarter
The rich history of Lagos is reflected by the many sights within its historic quarter, which include the extravagant interior of the Igreja de Santo Antonio, the ancient city walls, and the Forte da Bandeira that once protected the harbor mouth.
Lagos Zoo is a small zoo that is suited for families with younger children. The animals are well cared for, and the selection of animals includes birds, wild cats, and a petting farm for small children. The standout feature is the monkey island which contains many adorable monkeys! The zoo is open all year round. More information can be found on their website: http://www.zoolagos.com/en/
- Surfing at Praia de Porto de Mós
The Praia de Mós beach is 3 km to the south-west of central Lagos and, as faces a southwesterly direction, is exposed to some of the largest waves of the Lagos region. This makes the beach a popular destination for surfing or body boarding and there are surfing schools to master the skills and shops to hire equipment. Mós Beach is connected to Lagos by the local bus network.
- High Ropes and Forest Adventure
If you are tired of all of that eating and sitting around, head to Luso Aventura for a forest adventure of high rope walkways, vertical nets, cobwebs, and monkey bridges that span the forests just to the east of Lagos. On this two-hour ‘fearless’ course, there are different circuits to challenge both children and adults. For more information see the Luso Aventura website: http://www.parqueaventura.net/en/lagos-en/
- Pro Putting Garden
It is the Algarve’s premier miniature golf course, offering fun for all ages and real competition for
serious golfers. The smaller 9-hole course is ideal for little ones who are just starting out, whereas the full 18-hole championship course has been professionally designed to test even the most experienced golfers. More information can be found on their website: https://www.proputtinggarden.com/
- Coastal Hikes
There is a series of scenic coastal hiking routes along the western side of the Algarve, and this is a great activity for the winter months. There is an outstanding route that heads west from Ponta da Piedade (or the Porto de Mós) and passes through the villages of Praia da Luz and Burgau. For this 4-hour, well-signed hike it is recommended to catch the local bus to Burgau and walk back to Lagos.
Details of the buses can be found on the ‘A Onda’ bus company’s website: http://aonda.pt/
- Hire a bike
Surrounding Lagos are quiet roads, pretty villages, and a beautiful coastline, all of which are great to explore by bike. One of the best cycling routes is to the peaceful resort town Praia da Luz (8 km from Lagos) or to the sleepy village of Burgau (13 km from Lagos). Bikes can be hired in the town.
- Water tours
Departing from the Lagos Marina are an assortment of different boat trips, which include tours of the coastline, dolphin watching, or deep-sea fishing trips. For the more adventurous there are speed boat tours, jet boats, or jet skis. Costs of boat tours vary depending on the style of the tour and the novelty of the boat.
- Play Golf
The unique location of Lagos makes it an excellent base for a golf trip. From the town, you have easy access to some of the best golf courses in Portugal, if not Europe.
If you’re looking for something unique, Onyria Palmares Golf Resort is one of the highlights in the area and is ranked within the top 50 golf courses in Europe. The resort offers an experience like no other in the Algarve.
The recently founded Espiche Golf Club also differs from other typical Algarve courses. Set in the stunning Monchique Mountains the golf course offers breathtaking views and a special round that you won’t forget.
For those willing to travel a little further you have excellent options in the Penina Championship which has hosted the Portuguese Open on eight occasions, Golfe do Morgado, and Vale da Pinta all within easy access.
- Try Portuguese food
Lagos is an ideal location to try local and authentic Portuguese cuisines. Portuguese foods tend to be filling and hearty and Algarve specialties are often based around freshly caught fish or shellfish.
One dish to try is Cataplana, a seafood rice stew, that is both cooked and served in a large copper dish that resembles the key ingredient, clams. Cataplana is designed to be shared, with the copper dish being placed in the center of the table. And the locally produced wines are the perfect accompaniment for any meal!
Day trips from Lagos
- Sagres and Cabo de São Vicente
Sagres is at the western edge of the Algarve and is characterized by massive cliffs, raging seas, and windswept landscapes. The power seas and expansive beaches attract surfers from all over Europe, and this has provided Sagres with a trendy vibe. Further along, the coast is the Cabo de São Vicente, the south-westerly tip of mainland Europe, and is a dramatic but barren region with towering cliffs and ceases winds.
The Sagres region is ideal for visitors who appreciate nature’s raw power and enjoy outdoor activities, be that surfing hiking, or cycling. There is a regular bus service from Lagos to Sagres.
- Ponta da Piedade
The picturesque headland to the south of Lagos is formed of highly weathered limestone cliffs that have been carved into unique formations.
This place is a series of beautiful sandstone cliffs, that are considered as the finest natural feature of the western Algarve. This headland to the south of Lagos has been eroded over the millennia by powerful winter storms to form unique cliff formations, which include sea arches, grottos, and smugglers’ caves.
The Ponta da Piedade can be explored from the pathways that cross the cliffs, but a much more enjoyable approach is to join one of the boat tours that depart from Lagos Marina.
- Slide & Splash
This is an amazing waterpark, filled with gravity-defying flumes, near-vertical slides, and colossal rubber ring rides. The waterpark is incredible fun for children, and teenagers (and adults!), and the facilities are safe and well-maintained.
The only downside is the high entrance fees. This waterpark is near the town of Lagoa (25 km away) and there are transfers. Further information can be found on their website: http://www.slidesplash.com/en/
Zoomarine is a wonderful marine park that specializes in dolphins, marine life, and tropical birds. In the marine park, there is a diverse selection of activities including dolphin shows, aquariums, and a good water park with slides, wave pools, and rapids. The animals of Zoomarine are kept in modern facilities and all are well cared for.
Zoomarine is ideal for both families and young couples but again has a high entrance fee. Zoomarine is in the central Algarve (40 km from Lagos) but transport can be organized. More information can be seen on the Zoomarine website: https://www.zoomarine.pt/en/