If you visit the Algarve, you should visit more of it than one place. There’s a beauty to this region and a strange emptiness when you go just before the season. Some options I explored here.
Faro is an interesting town on its own, but there’s much more to see in the Algarve. One would say that public transport is a bit chaotic, messy or untrustworthy, but it’s not that bad at all. Sure, you need to have a certain amount of patience but that’s public transport itself. everywhere.
It’s not like there’s a dense network of public transport options. There are busses, mainly travelling to and from the hubs, and there’s the train, which basicly has one track going east and one to the west. There’s also the track from Faro all the way north to Lisbon. This line really ends in Faro. The train is a bit more expensive compared to busses and the track to the west ends at Lagos. From there on you need a bus.
Sure, you can rent a car, which greatly widens the range of options for touristy visits of cool places, beaches and whatnot. There’s no airco that can beat the heat though and the travel times are quite long, so just being able to sit back for a few hours is really well worth it.
One of those places is the town called Lagos. It’s a 2,5 hour train ride from Faro through a stunning landscape (even when you’re in a wagon full of screaming children) and at the end of the railroad track. For me, that’s always going to be strange feeling, to be at the end of the railroad.
If you walk into the town from the station, you immediately enter the Marinara, the harbor and when you cross the bridge you’ll find the bus station and the center. African sellers are lining up their bags and belts on the sidewalks, while smoking some cigarettes and vendors try to sell you a trip out onto the sea.
The town was important during the seafaring days, when it also was the capital of the Algarve untill it was destroyed by a earthquake. Walking down the promenade, it feels very clean and open, which might have to do with how it was rebuild. The streets are beautiful and even in early pre-season swarming with people. We found a great place to have a simple, hearty Portugese meal and walked around through the town, enjoying its architecture and vibrant atmosphere.
Downside: Lagos is a haven for Brittish sun seekers, which means you’ll find little authenticity when it comes to bars, restaurants and such, specially around the Marinara. Lobster red elderly Brits are looking for shade in one of the ‘happy hour’ bars and watch the horse races. Home away from home I suppose.
It takes an hour or so by bus to get to our destiantion, which feels like literally reaching the corner of Europe and staring out onto the atlantic. Sagres is a sleepy little town around noon, for which the sweltering heat is one great explanation. The high cliffs offer a wonderful sight onto the sea and the gorgeous beaches, which are hidden from view unless you reach the edges.
Main attraction is the old fortress, which has served as an academy (allegedly) and looks over a beautiful bay. The town has been linked to prehistorical religious practise and throughout the ancient era as well by the Romans, Phoenicians and others. That always gives a peculiar aura to an area, specially this strange plateau on which the school/fort was supposed to have been. You can walk around there and picture yourself the folly that gripped man’s mind in the early age of Portugese discovery. Sailing out into the unknown. An age long lost it seems.
If you are a surfer, Sagres is definitely the place to be I’ve heard, so check it out.
We did skip visiting Albufeira, due to the long travelling time, but we lingered in Lagos a bit. Albureira is possibly the most touristic location on the southern Algarve and has some amazing parts to show, where millionaires build there houses and such. If you have the time, it’s definitely a place to either stay or visit at in the Algarve. Portimão is together with Faro one of the biggest towns and therefor a hub for the economy of the Algarve (during the off-season). Like Faro, it looks to the sea for a large portion of its income.
Going more inland is an option if you have your own transport, but it is very lowly populated. That might be your reason for going into it ofcourse. I guess bringing plenty of water is the best advice there. From Sagres on, going up north seems like a great drive as well, though some preparation might be useful too.
If you are not in Faro for very long, you can still see a ton of places. Make sure you bring a good book, always have a bottle of water and enjoy the train rides. You can also go east ofcourse, towards a more tempered climate and if you have the time even to see 3 countries.