The Algarve is a great destination for your Portugal family holidays. Easy to reach from lots of cities in Europe and further overseas, you can often find some great Algarve holiday deals. But the Algarve is a large region. What are the best places in Algarve for families and what are the best things to do in Algarve with kids?
The past three winters our little world traveler and I went to the Algarve for some much-needed winter sun. We’ve made some fantastic holiday memories there. So far we’ve been to Olhao, Villa Real de Santo Antonio and Lagos and we’re looking forward to discovering much more of this lovely part of Europe! So we asked some of our favorite travel bloggers to help us come up with this overview of the best places to go in Algarve and the best Algarve towns and cities to visit in Portugal with kids.
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- 1 Algarve weather
- 2 Where’s the Algarve located?
- 3 Algarve airport
- 4 Algarve beaches
- 5 Algarve accommodation
- 6 Best family holiday destinations in Algarve
- 7 Conclusion: where to go in Algarve with kids
The Portuguese Algarve region is a year-round family holiday destination with over 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. Although it’s located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean the Algarve has a Mediterranean climate that ensures warm summers and mild winters. With an average maximum temperature of 29C (84F) in the summer and 16C (61F) in the winter, you can’t really go wrong when planning your Algarve holidays. We’ve mostly visited this area in the winter months of December and January and were treated to some lovely winter sun and beach days.
Where’s the Algarve located?
The Algarve is a region in the south of Portugal, on the Atlantic coast. It’s a popular European holiday destination. Covering almost 5000km2 (or 1,929 sq mi), the Algarve extends from just south of the Tagus Valley to the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Cape St. Vincent (called Cabo de São Vicente in Portuguese) is the south-westernmost point of both Portugal and mainland Europe. Some of the best places to visit in Algarve include Faro, Lagos and Albufeira. Spa town Caldas de Monchique is famous for its health tourism. The Algarve is also one of Europe’s leading golf destinations.
The main gateway to the Algarve is Faro Airport. This international airport is sometimes also called Algarve Airport. Faro airport receives over 8 million passengers per year (mostly in the summer months) and is the third-largest passageway into Portugal, after Lisbon and Porto. From Faro airport, which is very centrally located, it’s quite easy and fast to reach most other parts of the Algarve. For example, Faro to Lagos by taxi took us about an hour. If you arrange your taxi upfront you can often find it at a very reasonable price. Faro airport doesn’t have a train connection, but there’s a bus transfer from the airport to the main bus terminal station located at Avenida da República in Faro center. To reach Faro airport by public transport from other areas of the Algarve, you must always first travel to the Faro bus terminal in the city center to catch the bus to the airport.
The Algarve is well known for its fantastic beaches. It has approximately 200km (124mi) of clean and welcoming beaches on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the best beaches in Algarve are found on the barrier islands of the Ria Formosa nature park near Faro, such as Ilha da Culatra en Ilha da Armona. We visited these beaches when we were staying in Olhao. To reach Praia da Culatra and Praia da Armona you need to take a ferry. So this is something to take into account when planning your trip. In the winter months the ferries still run daily, but a lot less frequently. If you want to be able to walk to the beach, you’re better off choosing a destination in the western Algarve, west of Faro. We’ve tried it all. In Villa Real de Santo Antonio we rented bikes for the 15-20 minute ride to the beach, in Olhao we took the ferry to the beautiful island beaches and in Lagos we were able to walk to the beach. Each had their charm.
Where to stay in Algarve, Portugal? From large high rise beach resorts and luxury hotels to lovely Algarve holiday villas and quaint small town holiday rentals, the Algarve offers a wide range of accommodations suitable for all types of travelers. Most of the best family resorts in Portugal are located in the Algarve. Along the Algarve coast, you’ll find a mix of large tourist destinations and more traditional small towns and villages. Of course my answer to the question ‘what is the best place to stay in Algarve, Portugal?’ might be very different from yours. After all, we’re all different…fortunately. Our first time in Portugal we stayed in a refurbished fisherman’s house in Olhao. For me personally, some of the best places to stay in Algarve are in the smaller towns. But I can totally understand that some parents and couples might prefer a more touristy area or stay at a large resort.
Best family holiday destinations in Algarve
The Algarve is one of the best places to stay in Portugal for families, but it’s a large region. So with the help of some of our favorite travel bloggers we’ve put together this selection of the best places in Algarve to help you narrow down your choice.
Vila Real de Santo Antonío with kids
Vila Real de Santo Antonío, often shortened to Vila Real or VRSA, is a town in the Eastern Algarve. Its eastern border is formed by the Guadiana River, which is also the border with Spain. Staying in Vila Real you can combine both Portugal and Spain together in one holiday.
It’s only a short ferry ride to Ayamonte in Spain, on the other side of the Rio Guadiana. You could also go over the suspension bridge that connects this part of Portugal and Spain since 1991, but the ferry ride is much more fun for kids. Don’t forget to change your watch in order to catch the ferry back, it’s one hour later in Spain! Ayamonte is a charming little Spanish town with old, narrow streets and lovely squares. Perfect for a nice lunch or afternoon snack with some tasty Spanish tapas.
From Vila Real it’s a nice bike ride to Praia de Santo Antonio (about 15-20 minutes). Other beaches in the area you can visit are Praia da Ponta da Arreia and Praia de Monte Gordo. Monte Gordo was once a small fishing village, but now a booming Algarve holiday destination with high rise beach resorts. It does have a small playground that’s nice for kids, but personally, we liked VRSA better. Of course, Monte Gordo is right on the beach, which could potentially sway your decision.
Directly north of Vila Real you’ll find the Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim e Vila Real de Santo António. A nature reserve with marshes, salt pans and small lakes that attract wading birds such as flamingos. It’s an interesting area to visit, kids will love walking around and ‘going on an adventure’. If you continue on to Castro Marim you’ll find the old Castello de Castro Marim, a 13th-century castle.
If you’re visiting VRSA between the end of November and the beginning of January, don’t forget to check out the famous nativity scene in Marquês de Pombal square. It’s massive and the amount of detail is amazing. Our son loved it. There’s a small admission fee that goes towards helping local kids in need. The nativity scene is part of the yearly Christmas Village in the square.
Tavira with kids
Tavira is a great place to visit in the Algarve with kids for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it is much quieter than the Western resort of Albufeira and similar places. It is a much more traditional town in the Algarve, frequented by Portuguese holidaymakers in the summer.
While Tavira is small, it has a few things to offer families who are visiting. Running through the town is a seasonal tourist train which shows you the town with commentary. You can stop briefly at the Castle before carrying on with your journey. While small, the castle and its gardens are worth visiting. For older kids, there is a tower beside the castle, Camera Obscura, to climb for great 360-degree views across Tavira and the River Gilao. Return to the castle after disembarking the tourist train if you want to climb the Camera Obscura tower.
Tavira itself does not have a beach but you can reach the Ilha de Tavira via a ferry which kids will enjoy. This runs generally from April to September. Near to Tavira is another interesting beach, Praia do Barril. This beach features an anchor cemetery, with rusted anchors from the time of the tuna fishermen, who lived in the buildings along the beachfront.
There is a small science center in Tavira which kids will enjoy thanks to the interactive displays. There are seasonal special events held at the center during the year, so check their website or Facebook page before you go. Along the riverbank is a cycle and skate park which can be enjoyed year-round, although it is best visited early in the morning or late afternoon during the summer months to escape the heat. And of course, Tavira has a large market selling fresh fish, fruit and vegetables and spices which you can enjoy most days of the week.
Although small and quieter than its western counterparts, Tavira is a lovely town in the East Algarve to visit with kids.
Olhão with kids
Olhao is a great little town to visit with kids. It’s located right next to Faro, which makes it very accessible. If you’re staying in Faro you can also easily plan a day trip to Olhao. Since, like Faro and Tavira, Olhao doesn’t have a beach it’s much quieter than the busy tourist towns west of Faro.
That doesn’t mean you have to spend those lovely sunny days without the famous Algarve beaches when staying in Olhao. From the harbor you can catch the ferry across to either Armona Island or Culatra Island and spend the day on one of the gorgeous island beaches. On both islands there’s a boardwalk that makes getting to the beach – even with a stroller or beach wagon – quite easy, although it’s a bit of a walk. Luckily there’s plenty to see on the way.
From Olhao you also have easy access to the famous Ria Formosa nature park, a system of barrier islands. Annually about 30.000 birds use the Ria Formosa wetlands as a migratory corridor. During the spring and autumn migratory periods hundreds of different bird species can be observed in this region. For certain bird species the Ria Formosa offers some of the last remaining nesting grounds in Europe. In the Algarve tourist season there are numerous Ria Formosa boat trips that you can take. In the wintertime, there’s a lot less choice, but you can still find boats to take you out if you want.
Other fun things to do in Olhao include a walk on the lovely green promenade. In the summertime the promenade gardens offer some much-needed shade. If you travel to the Algarve with a toddler you’ll appreciate the two small playgrounds that are right on the Olhao promenade. Of course the promenade is also an excellent spot to watch the fishing boats. Olhao has the largest fishing port in the Algarve region, so there’s always something going on. And the famous Olhao fish market in the central market hall is a sight to see as well. Olhao’s old town is what you picture when thinking about a small Portuguese fishing town. Traditional fishing houses with their uniquely tiled walls line the narrow streets and ensure some great Kodak moments.
Benagil Cave with kids
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Benagil is a small village on the Atlantic Ocean coast, 5 km from the famous and lively town Carvoeiro. Located in the district of Faro. Until recently, the inhabitants lived exclusively on fishing, but tourism is currently the main source of their income. And there is a great reason for that – the Benagil Cave. This mysterious cave really looks like for a place from a fairy tale – it’s one of the best places to visit in Algarve for kids.
Benagil Cave, with a sandy beach hidden inside, is considered one of the most beautiful places in Europe. It can only be reached from the ocean. There are many boat trips organized from the nearby beach, during which you can also see dolphins so your kids will definitely love it! The cost of a trip lasting several dozen minutes starts from 25 euros.
Tourists in good condition can even swim there on their own but this is not recommended for families with children! Alternatively, you can rent a kayak at the beach and visit the Benagil Algarve caves that way. It’s a safe option as kayaks have a separate “entry” to the cave. Reaching it is completely safe and there is no chance of contact with the motorboat.
So, are you ready to enjoy some of the most breathtaking views in Algarve with your kids?
Ferragudo with kids
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Ferragudo is a charming fishing village with a population of fewer than 2,000 people. It’s surrounded by water on two sides, the Atlantic Ocean to the south and the Arade River estuary to the west. Just on the other side of the river is Portimão, a popular destination with holidaymakers. A fun way to reach Ferragudo is by taking a water taxi from Portimão or Praia da Rocha, which costs just a few euros round trip. Some captains have even been known to let children sit in the pilot seat and pretend to steer the boat!
Most people visit Ferragudo as a day trip from Portimão. But for a more low-key experience in a community with much less tourism development, Ferradugo makes a great base. There are a few small apartments and holiday homes for rent and a campground with chalets and a pool. It feels a world away from Portugal’s bustling cities like Porto, Lisbon, or even Portimão, the second-largest city in the Algarve. Ferragudo is made up of mostly quiet residential areas of narrow cobblestone streets and whitewashed houses with red-tiled roofs. Climb up to the church for some great views.
Kids will also love Castelo de São João de Arade, a 16th-century castle that sits right on the Angrinha beach and was built to defend the coast from pirates. Unfortunately, the interior is not open to the public, but you’re free to explore the outside. Praia Grande is Ferragudo’s best beach for families, as kids can safely play in the calm and sheltered waters of the estuary. There’s also a playground on the beach and some caves to explore.
Lagos with kids
Lagos is a small but lively Portuguese city, located about 30 minutes west of Portimão and an hour from Faro airport. Here you’ll find the impressive seaside cliffs you always see in the pictures from the Algarve. Lagos is one of the most visited cities along the Algarve coast. For its efforts to become a sustainable tourist destination, Lagos received the QualityCoast Gold Award in 2012.
From the center of Lagos it’s an easy 15-20 minute walk to either the small but charming Praia da Batata or Praia dos Etudiantes with their gorgeous cliffs and rock formations. Praia do Camilo is a bit further away, but the large wooden staircase offers good exercise and stunning pictures. Head in the northern direction towards the marina and you’ll find Sao Rock Beach and Meia Praia. Here the beach is wide with lovely fine sand. The half-open bay ensures relatively calm seas.
Boat trips to Ponta da Piedade (Mercy Point) are very popular. Along the Bensafrim riverside you’ll see many small stands that offer boat trips. There are fewer trips offered in the wintertime, but we were still able to go. The cliffs are absolutely stunning from the water and our son had a blast. After the 1-hour trip he immediately asked to go again! Even though there were only a few boats on the water, we still had to wait at some of the cliff entrances so I can imagine there might be a bit of a traffic jam on the water in the summer. You can also take a boat tour to Benagil Cave from Lagos, but it’s quite a long trip by boat to get there. Of course, that’s not such hardship if you love being on the water.
Other things to do in Lagos Portugal include visiting the small but well-preserved fort of Ponta da Badeira (you’ll find it close to Praia da Batata) with its small but attractive chapel, the Igreja de Santo António with its gilded wood carvings (our son found the paintings of St Antonio’s miracles too dark and gruesome) and wandering around the old town. Unless your kids are really into history, the Wax Museum of Portuguese Discoveries isn’t very interesting. It’s quite small and we felt the entrance fee was too high. The Lagos science museum (Centro Ciência Viva de Lagos) on the other hand is well worth a visit. Interesting exhibitions both inside and in a lovely garden.
Conclusion: where to go in Algarve with kids
There are so many things to do in Algarve Portugal for families, this really is a wonderful area to visit with kids. Whether you prefer an all-inclusive beach resort or a small fishing village, the Algarve has something for everyone. And the mild climate makes this a perfect destination to visit year-round. The past three years we enjoyed some lovely winter sun and beach days in January, what more can you want. The Algarve is great for a relaxing beach holiday, but also offers lots of tours and other activities such as boat trips, rock climbing, sailing and surfing. Add to that charming coastal towns, a rich history and great weather and you’ll have the recipe for a wonderful family holiday. We hope this posts will help you select the best place to stay in Algarve Portugal for you and your family.