If you are planning an Algarve family holiday, southern Portugal’s main attraction are the seemingly endless series of beaches, considered by many, the most beautiful in Europe!
The Algarve coast has some seriously spectacular stretches of coastline, sandy beaches and translucent waters, lacy rock formations and caves, all washed cleaned by Atlantic tides.
There are more than 150 beaches to choose from, some particularly suitable for family outings and bucket and space holidays, whilst others offer great water sports. These are the Algarve’s best beaches we think you need to know about:
The Ria Formosa Estuary & its barrier islands, East Algarve
Flying into Faro Airport in the Algarve you might catch a glimpse of the Ria Formosa estuary – a large network of barrier islands and inlets created by constantly shifting sandbanks. This protected Natural Park of over 170 kms stretches from Quinta do Lago near Faro to Cacela Velha near Tavira. It is considered an important habitat for bird and marine life.
The region is often featured by travel publications waxing lyrical about its uniqueness and outstanding beauty. The seawater as well as air temperatures of the eastern Algarve, are remarkably warmer than on the west coast whilst the unspoilt stretches of white sand of the more remote islands, can make you feel somewhat shipwrecked!
Traditionally the Ria Formosa has been an area of oyster and salt farming. Tourism, of course, is now an important income maker for the locals, and there are regular ferry boats (foot passengers only) and water taxis operating between from Faro, Olhão, Fuseta and Tavira and the barrier islands of Farol, Barreta, Culatra, Armona as well as the 11 kms long, Ilha de Tavira.
Or you can just cruise the waters, enjoy lunch at the less populated side of Armona Island, visit the fishing community at Culatra and experience one of the Ria’s unique sunsets.
At one end of the Ria Formosa sits the Quinta do Lago luxury resort, which has a long boardwalk to the beach and ocean, taking you across the wetlands edging the golf course. It will also take you to one of the most iconic beach bar/restaurants of the area, “Gigi Praia”. Whilst the beach of Cacela Velha at the other end is perhaps the least crowded of all the Algarve beaches and sits the middle of a small peninsula surrounded by crystal clear water. It’s a place for contemplating the eternal, examine the dune ecosystem and swim in the warm waters.
Praia de Benagil & Cave, Central Algarve
Named after a small fishing village of the same name, Praia de Benagil is located near Lagoa. This relatively small beach is famous for its sensational cave called Algar de Benagil, which has a round hole in the ceiling framing the blue sky above. The Huffington Post considers it one of the coolest caves in the world!
The soft sand and clear water quality of this beach, make it a great location for snorkelling and canoeing, going in and out of the cave through one of its arches. Being quite small however, Praia de Benagil tends to get quite crowded in the summer months, particularly in July and August.
Praia da Marinha, Central Algarve
Praia da Marinha is another iconic beach near Lagoa, highlighted by CNN for its stunning setting! Make sure you stop to take in the panoramic views when you arrive and before descending the long staircase down to the beach.
At the end of the stairs, there is a restaurant and slightly to the right-hand side, you will find a rock structure that looks like the letter M. This wonder of nature is one of the reasons why Praia da Marinha is unique – it is called the M rock or the Cathedral. During low tide, you can walk along the beach to the right to see it in all its beauty, and from the cliff tops the M rock takes on a heart shape.
The sea around Praia da Marina is calm and the water is really clear, making it another popular beach for snorkelling. It is also suitable for children, although the steps can be a bit difficult for toddlers. And in the high summer months it gets rather crowded.
Meia Praia and the rocky coves of Lagos, West Algarve
Lagos bay and the 4km long Meia Praia beach is ideal for family days out – it has easy access and plenty of parking areas; several good bars and restaurants on the beach itself; and the long stretch of golden sand is perfect for children to play and adults to sit and chill. Being so long it is also rarely crowded. And for those more actively minded, there are several beach huts offering an array of water sports – accessed though Lagos Marina and located closer to the Lagos town end.
Just round the corner from Meia Praia beach, the lacy rock formations of the Lagos coast, naturally create stunning grottoes and beach caves to explore either by kayak or canoe (on hire from the fortress located on the river mouth). Alternatively, you can descend the long steps from Ponta da Piedade’s lighthouse and hire a local fisherman and his boat to take you on a round trip.
“Image by Beach Hut Watersports @ Praia da Luz”
The Costa Vicentina, West Algarve
Since 1995, the stretch of coast from Burgau to Cabo de São Vicente and up to the Alentejo province called the Parque Natural da Costa Vicentina, has been under a protection programme.
The rugged beauty of the Algarve west coast is punctuated by fantastic beaches best known for their surfing and skim-boarding conditions. Crashing breakers and cooler waters, as well being not so easily accessible also make these remote beaches less crowded. But beautiful they are and even if you are not into your surfing or are not a great swimmer, they are great for a stroll or a picnic, and there is almost always a beach restaurant nearby.
The beaches of Bordeira-Carrapateira and Odeceixe (bordering the Alentejo province), are each located near small villages of the same name and are good for children: they feature great expanses of sand and tidal rivers for paddling in.
Somewhere in between Carrapateira and Odeceixe, Praia da Arrifana at Aljezur is a small picturesque fishing harbour offering some of the Algarve’s best surfing. Some clifftop eateries just above it, offer breath-taking vistas of the coast!
Handsome Praia da Amoreira is located 9 km northwest of Aljezur. It has a river mouth backed by wild dunes, whose shapes seem to change every day. The riverbank is great for paddling and watching birdlife: you may even see an otter if you are quiet! The beach is also accessible from the south side though Monte Clérigo, if you don’t mind getting a bit wet wading across the river to reach it.
Sunsets & Walks
The most south-westerly point of Portugal, Cabo de Sao Vicente and the beaches located north of it, are also well known for the most spectacular sunsets. So it is worth staying on after a day at the beach, order a meal at one of the local beach bars and enjoy!
And if you are interested in doing a bit more than just beaching it; we invite to download the app available at Rota Vicentina and enjoy some great walks and hikes to be had on this part of the coast.
Portuguese champion skim boarder Miguel Braz is a fan!
“Image by Andre Silva”