Europe is no stranger to gorgeous beaches with the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Black Sea, but it’s the Algarve may be one home to some of the best beaches on the continent. The Algarve beaches have some of the tastiest waves, cleanest water, and most dramatic landscapes. To top it off the Algarve boasts an average of 300 days of sunshine each year!
It’s a fabulous spot to head in the summer and shoulder season when the rest of Europe begins to get a little dreary. Forget the October blues – the Algarve is still warm and sunny. We had a debate about where to head for November in Europe, as winter in Europe isn’t always known for having the best weather. We ultimately (and thankfully) landed on Portugal.
Portugal is a year-round destination where vacationers and locals alike can be found body surfing, parasailing, deep sea fishing, water skiing, and surfing year round. We spent November and December gallivanting around the best beaches in the Algarve and enjoyed every sun-kissed day to the fullest. Here are a few of our favorite spots!
Check out the beautiful Algarve and Portugal beaches on YouTube
The Best Beaches in the Algarve
Praia do Tonel
Praia do Tonel is one of the most popular beaches in the Algarve region. The beach is located just outside Sagres and draws quite a crowd in the summer. As the beach area is large you can easily come here in the middle of the summer and still maintain your own personal space.
The beach is located down a set of stairs. There is plenty of parking nearby and a few cafes and surf shops all around the Sagres fortress. During the summer you’ll find restaurants, a WC, and a surfing school all on the beach. The waves here seemed mild and a good place for beginner surfers to come and practice as well!
Praia da Figueira
Praia da Figueira beach requires a bit more effort to reach than most, but still not a ton! Visitors will have to park almost a kilometer away from the beach and hike down through a serene valley. The inaccessibility means there are fewer people here and no imposing cars or engine sounds.
The beach is surrounded by warm colored cliffs and if you go for a walk to the east you will see 16th-century ruins. Out of all the beaches on this list, this is probably the least visited making it an easy addition to the best beaches in the Algarve.
Praia do Zavial
Praia do Zavial beach is the best beach in all of the Algarve in our opinion. Zavial is located in Vila Do Bispo, where the Atlantic meets the warm Mediterranean. The cliff to the west is majestic and massive, with limestone tiers covered in Mediterranean scrub. We had a fun day here soaking up the warm sun and even declared Zavial to be one of the best beaches to visit in the world.
There a few trails to climb around the cliffs here, and you’ll have to head to the eastern end of the beach for a more quiet experience. We came here for some sunbathing, but the real show started around 4 pm when the sun started to set and the surf picked with a line up of surfers. It’s well known for having some of the best surf in the Algarve!
Praia do Amado
Praia do Amado is the largest beach we visited in the Algarve. Situated in the south of Aljezur, Amado’s long stretch of beach covers three valleys and features warm red cliffs. The waves here are constant and always changing making it a yet another great place for surf in the Algarve.
I didn’t know this when we visited but learned later that this beach is famed for hosting international surf competitions. On the beach, there is a surfing school. Neaby to the rather large parking area you can also find a year-round food truck with picnic table benches. Even though this beach is popular, its size means that it is very easy to tuck away and enjoy your privacy. Above the beach, there are wooden walkways making it easy for visitors to stroll around and enjoy the views.
Praia do Beliche
Praia do Beliche is situated in a bay between Cape St. Vincent and Sagres Point. Because of its location, the beach is sheltered from harsh winds. Here there is a large parking lot with about 100 campervans scattered about.
From there it is an easy and wide staircase that will take you down to the beach. It’s a great beach for sunbathing, but given the lack of wind, Beliche beach is great for bodyboarding and surfing. This beach is also an optimal place for sunset viewing. You can watch natures show every day on top of the rock formations.
Cabo de Sao Vicente
This is not a beach, but we felt we should mention the Cape of Saint Vincent as it’s the tip of Portugal. The cape is the Southwestern most point in Europe. Here the jagged cliffs rise up 60 meters to house a lighthouse, one of the brightest in Europe that can be seen up to 60 miles out to sea!
Cabo Sao Vicente lies only 6km to the west of Sagres and about 40km from Lagos. You can’t lay out on the beach here, but come here for sunset and magnificent views! There is also a museum, an outdoor cafe, and a little souvenir shop.
Praia da Balança
This was the first beach we visited in the Algarve and it blew us away. It’s only a few minutes drive out of Lagos is Praia Da Balança, but you could also walk there from Lagos if you have the energy. Comprised of small sandy bays on the eastern side of Ponta da Piedade, Balança provides amazing views of stand-alone cliffs. There are a few walking trails where you can see the dwarf fan palm and other Mediterranean wonders. For the brave, you can get up to the top of some of these.
The effects of erosion are incredible at Praia da Balanća as you’ll see many rocky ledges, arches, caves, and sinkholes. You can also set off a boat trip from nearby Ponta da Piedad lighthouse to check out the rock formations from the water. There isn’t an easy way to access the beach here without risking a fall. So the best way to get on a beach is by boat – otherwise, it’s wise to admire from above!
Praia do Canavial is an isolated beach near Lagos city center and is completely peaceful and surreal. It’s narrow and framed by the cliff faces and certainly one of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal. Because it’s so narrow it is advised to only visit Canavial during low tide.
Access is only by foot from a small trail along the cliff top where you can park your car (though parking is limited). Depending on tides I suggest to come here at sunset!
Praia dos Estudantes
I wouldn’t say that Praia dos Estudantes is the most beautiful beach in the Algarve, but given it’s accessibility to the center of Lagos it’s a must visit if you are in town. You can walk right onto this beach from the town and enjoy the sun all within a few steps of a nearby cafe or restaurant.
It’s a small space where young, old, and smokers from all walks of life could come and be at the beach with the world. There are a few small tunnels that have been dug by hand, one giving access to a small bay nearby. I personally wouldn’t recommend crawling through these if you are claustrophobic.
Praia de Benagil
Praia de Benagil beach is compact, but well commercialized because of the nearby Benagil Sea Caves which tourists can visit via boat (or swim if you are a decent swimmer). Parking is at the top of the valley and it is about a 500-meter walk down to this beach. Praia de Benagil is surrounded by a small fishing village.
The area is not absent of restaurants and cafes, and quite a few cats! If you want to get out to the sea caves by boat I recommend booking online in the summertime. In the off-season, it is quite easy to walk up to the small booth and be on the next boat out. The tours last around an hour and a half and are €30.
Praia do Carvalho
Right next to Praia de Benagil is Carvalho Beach. Either you can walk to it from Benagil or drive your vehicle. This beach is a popular one for cliff jumping and there is a trail that leads to through a series of cliffs to watch.
From the cliff, you’ll also have fantastic panoramic views of the entire coastline. The plants you’ll be surrounded by on the cliffs are a Mediterranean saltbush and saltwort. In the summertime, this is an ideal beach for swimming as there are arches and caves to swim into.
Carvoeiro Beach is a decent sized beach when the tide is out and is right next to the town of Carvoeiro. If you’re looking for a beach that you can just walk on and off of in between bar hopping, ice cream, and shopping Carvoeiro is for you.
During the summers you’ll find loungers to hire around the beach, which is great because you get sun here for most of the day. It’s proximity to town means easy access and lots of people. Sometimes they’ll even have live bands nearby!
Praia da Marinha
Nearby to Benagil, Praia da Marinha is one of the most popular and beautiful beaches in the Algarve, if not one of the best beaches in Portugal. Praia da Marinha is a small bay with bright blue and turquoise water surrounded by emerging limestone cliffs. There are a variety of different rock formations, including arches, caves, and ledges which are all easily accessible from the shore and make for a nice swim.
It’s possible to scuba dive or snorkel here and see the various octopuses, seahorses, and bream. At the cliff top, you can embark on a nature walk, have a picnic, or admire the east and the west. Both of which are equally beautiful. If you can only visit one beach in the Algarve, I would recommend it to be this one.
Praia do Camilo
Only a few minutes walk away from Praia da Balança is Praia do Camilo. In the summertime, this beach is packed, but if you are here in the off season you may be lucky and have the beach to yourself (like us). Views from this beach are beautiful and you can swim in the water among impressive calcarenite cliffs.
To access the beach there is a car park with a small cafe at the top. A long wooden staircase leads to this heaven. From there you’ll find there are actually two beaches that used to be separated by a massive cliff, but a tunnel has been dug out by hand to allow passage.
Plan and Pack for Portugal
The first thing on your Portugal packing list should be sandals. You will without a doubt need a pair (or two) of sandals in Portugal. The beaches are amazing and you can wear your sandals at them almost year round. I would suggest picking up a comfortable pair here before you land as there will be a lot of walking involved. Yes, you could wear tennis shoes everywhere for optimal support, but Portugal is a laid-back place with plenty of sunshine.
I travel with my Rainbow leather flip flops and they’ve lasted for years. Another favorite pair of stylish sandals are my Plakas. You can see all the women’s travel sandals here, and men’s travel sandals here.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun since you’ll likely spend a lot of time outside in Portugal. Especially if you’re out on the Algarve beaches all day. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses; however, we love ours and will never buy cheap ones again. Of course, there are always more affordable options!
T-Shirt or V Neck
A classic tee will never go out of style. We suggest sticking with solid colors like black, white, or grey. There’s also the option of a v neck for a more stylish look, but it all depends on personal preference.
Cameron prefers the grey as it’s super easy to stain the white ones. T-shirts are cheap and we like order new pack before each trip as old shirts look sloppy.
The Portuguese very much care about their appearance, but they aren’t label snobs and the dress is generally more casual than Western Europe. When we’re traveling around the coast we love to wear a pair of relaxed pants in a light neutral color.
Our favorite pair of pants is made by prAna. Their women’s Summit Pant is made out of hemp and recycled polyester while offering 50+ UPF protection. They’re the women’s version of the men’s Vaha Pant we recommended earlier.
They are perfect for beach destinations, especially if you find yourself in more conservative areas. These pants are lightweight and weigh nothing in a carry-on bag. I could literally live in these pants if it were acceptable to wear them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner out. While in the Portugal, they are a wardrobe staple for nighttime as they are appropriate to wear barefoot to a nice resort restaurant, to a bar, or for a walk along the beach.
A classic tote that everyone has in their closet is a great option for those on short trips or live close to the beach. They also travel well as they can fold flat and lie in your luggage. For family beach goers I recommend a large yet durable beach tote like this one.
Still wondering what to pack for Portugal? Make sure you have sun protection! Skin cancer is for real and the sun in Portugal is intense! Don’t forget your SPF during the summer. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals. They’re mineral based and usually only cost a few dollars more to help protect our oceans.
If you’re not going to swim in the ocean or lakes just go with a reliable name brand. You can learn more about eco-friendly travel products here!
We always recommend bringing a travel towel when you’re on the road, Portugal is no exception. If you plan on staying in hostels or more budget accommodation you’ll often need your own towel. Also, if you head to the beach or want to take a hike it never hurt to have a towel packed away in your day bag. Consider a towel an essential for your Portugal packing list.
The biggest complaint about travel towels is that they often feel nothing like the plush cotton towels we are accustomed to at home and in hotels. However, with the PackTowl you can forget about all of that because they set out to create a towel that mimics its cotton counterparts with the technical features of a travel towel.
As Lonely Planet Pathfinders who regularly go on assignment for the guidebook company we love to have a physical guidebook when traveling. We spend enough time attached to our phones in everyday life and planning our trips.
Once we reach a destination like Portugal we put the phone away and pick up a guidebook to help with our trip.
You will definitely need an adaptor for your electronics on your packing list for Europe. We always keep one handy in our carry-on bags, that way we can charge electronics on arrival or at the airport.
Portugal outlets use the Europlug and I would recommend getting one before you land on Amazon. The price may be doubled if you show up to Portugal in an outlet emergency.
While I love having a good real book when I travel sometimes it’s just not practical because of the weight. I’ve recently switched to a Kindle Paperwhite which is small and compact, plus it has a backlight for reading at night without a harsh glare.
The Paperwhite version is great as they mimic a real book and you can read them in the sun.
We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country and it’s best to be prepared. World Nomads provides good short term coverage.
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