The Algarve is the beautiful coastline of southern Portugal, a region rich in culture and staggering in beauty. Along the 150 km of pristine coastline are over 25 diverse resort towns. These range from relaxed and picturesque hideaways to bustling towns that offer non-stop holiday excitement.

This sheer variety makes the Algarve a fantastic holiday destination, whatever kind of holiday you are seeking. There are calm and safe beaches for families, historic towns for a cultural holiday, or buzzing cities where you can party all night long. This guide will summarise the best places to stay in the Algarve as holiday destinations and help you identify the most suitable for your holiday.

You probably know what style of holiday you are seeking, and now we provide a quick summary of the best locations for each holiday type:

Best overall destination – Lagos, Albufeira, or Tavira

For families with young children – Carvoeiro, Praia da Luz or Alvor

For families with teenagers – Albufeira, Praia da Rocha, and most all of the central Algarve

For history and culture – Lagos, Tavira, Faro, Olhão or Silves

Where to party – Albufeira, Praia da Rocha and Lagos

For a relaxing holiday – Tavira, Alvor or Carvoeiro

A small village setting – Burgau, Cabanas and Praia da Luz

Golfing Holiday – Vilamoura, Albufeira or Quarteira

Luxury and where celebrities holiday – Vilamoura or Vale Do Lobo region

Somewhere different – Faro, Tavira or Alvor

Surfing Holiday – Sagres

For a Christmas holiday – Albufeira, Praia da Rocha or Lagos

Summary of the Algarve’s major towns and resorts

The following section provides a description of the major holiday destinations within the Algarve.

  • Albufeira

If you are seeking a fun-packed holiday, Albufeira is the destination for you. Albufeira is the largest and liveliest resort town in the Algarve and is able to offer something for everyone. At the heart of the town is a charming historic center, while “The Strip” (2 km to the east) is crammed with themed bars and late-night clubs.

The beach of Albufeira is one of the best in the region, and its beautiful sands and clear waters extend along the length of the town. The bustling nature of Albufeira means there is always something happening, and the town boasts an endless supply of holiday activities including; theme parks, water parks, boat tours, jeep safaris, and party boats.

The only downside to Albufeira is its popularity; during the summer it will be incredibly busy, and all hotels fully booked. As the town has given over completely to tourism, do not expect to hear much Portuguese spoken; even the town’s residents are mainly retirees from other European countries.

  • Tavira

Tavira is a favorite holiday destination in the Algarve. The town is situated in the less touristy eastern Algarve and provides an authentic Portuguese experience that is easy to fall in love with.

Tavira has an extensive range of hotels, restaurants, and bars, but has not succumbed to mass tourism, and retains its distinctive character and heritage.

Tavira is a great base from which to explore the eastern Algarve, with day trips to Olhão, Vila Real de Santo António and Faro, all accessible by train. Tavira is one of the most historic locations in the Algarve, and even if you do not have a holiday here, you should certainly visit as a day trip.

The only issue with Tavira is that the beaches are on a sandbar island south of the town, and the only way to reach them is by a short ferry ride (15 minutes).

  • Lagos

Lagos is a historic city that has transformed itself into a popular holiday destination. The city lies along a stunning coastline with its vast beaches, dramatic cliff formations and powerful Atlantic waves.

Lagos is the ideal holiday destination if you want more than just beaches for your holiday. It is a vibrant city boasting a range of activities, sights and day trips. Being a major city there is a wide selection of restaurants, bars and shops, and is a good location for an out-of-season holiday.

The one downside to Lagos is the long distance from Faro airport, which means a long and expensive transfer unless you rent a car.

  • Carvoeiro

Carvoeiro lies on one of the most beautiful sections of the Algarve coastline, a region of golden cliffs, hidden cove beaches and turquoise sea waters. The town has a relaxed and calm atmosphere, making it ideal if you are holidaying with younger children or with older relatives.

Carvoeiro is close to all of the action of the central Algarve, with its water parks, theme parks and activities, but is not overwhelmed by the summer holiday mayhem. Surrounding Carvoeiro are many residential and summer houses, and this makes the region popular for villa rentals.

The one drawback to Carvoeiro is that public transport is very poor. If you are planning to explore the surrounding region you will need a rental car.

  • Praia da Rocha

Praia da Rocha is a resort town situated on the beach, 3 km inland in the city of Portimão. Portimão is a relaxed residential city, but probably not where you want to spend your summer holiday.

Praia da Rocha overlooks one of the finest beaches of the Algarve and is a lively and bustling resort, very similar to Albufeira. The beach is amazing, the summertime nightlife is impressive.

Praia da Rocha was once a classless-themed bar resort but is presently attempting to transform itself into a more sophisticated and stylish destination, with designer beach clubs, swanky hotels and an expensive marina complex. It is a great summertime alternative to Albufeira, Lagos and Vilamoura.

Praia da Rocha is not for all, having no trace of its Portuguese identity or culture. The modern resort town has completely taken over the fishing village that was once there, and the characterless town could be any European beach resort.

Praia da Rocha
Praia da Rocha
  • Cabanas

Cabanas is as much an opposite of Praia da Rocha as it could possibly be. This tiny village is calm, peaceful and a favorite with retirees and expats who frequent the numerous cafes that line the harbor front. From the harbor, a small ferry crosses to the deserted beaches on the Ilha de Cabanas.

Note: Little-known Burgau, on the far western Algarve, is very similar to Cabanas but has a more Portuguese atmosphere.

  • Vilamoura

Vilamoura is a sprawling resort town that encompasses four golf courses, a large marina complex and two beautiful sandy beaches. The town has a reputation for sophistication, and style and is one of the most expensive destinations in the Algarve!

Of the larger resort towns in the Algarve, Vilamoura has the more mature atmosphere. This is a destination for chic meals overlooking the marina, rounds of golf at world-class courses and glamorous nights spent at designer beach clubs.

Vilamoura is centrally located in the Algarve and offers a wide selection of holiday activities and attractions. If you are planning a golfing holiday Vilamoura is always a good choice.

  • Faro

Faro is a characterful and historic city, that lends itself more to a cultural city break than a conventional summer holiday beach resort destination. Within Faro is a delightful old quarter, a pretty fishing harbour and shopping streets aimed at Portuguese patrons.

Faro opens out on the lagoons of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, which are sheltered from the sea by three sand bar islands. It should be noted that there are no beaches close to Faro, and a bus or ferry ride is needed to travel to the sand bar islands.

Faro is a convenient destination if you are arriving on a late flight.