If you are looking for the best things to do in the Algarve that won't break the bank, then you've come to the right place. As the Frugal Expat, we know about making the most of a vacation without emptying the bank. We have added some paid options, as you need money to see some of the attractions to make the most of your time here.
The Algarve is not just about beautiful beaches; it's a region brimming with various experiences, from adrenaline-pumping adventures to peaceful nature walks.
In our guide to the things to see in the Algarve, we've rounded up activities and places catering to all travelers.
1. Visit Old Town Faro
Bursting with architectural wonders, the old town is a delightful maze of hidden surprises. Don't miss the opportunity to visit its stunning cathedral and the captivating Chapel of Bones.
Storks can often be spotted in the area, their nests perched on rooftops, offering a unique bird-watching experience. Faro's Old Town provides a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere, perfect for travelers who want to escape the bustle of daily life. It's also an ideal location for shopping, boasting various stores and eateries.
2. Visit Old Town Albufeira
Second on our list of what to do in the Algarve is another old town. Wandering the winding cobbled streets, you'll discover a range of small shops, kiosks, and stalls selling everything from leather bags to unique jewelry. Bars and restaurants are abundant, serving diverse menus that suit families, singles, young and old alike.
The area is home to two main beaches: Praia dos Pescadores, accessible by an outdoor escalator, and Praia do Peneco, accessible through a tunnel. Both beaches provide a scenic backdrop for sunbathing or waterside dining. Live music often fills the air around the town square, adding to the lively atmosphere.
As the sun sets, the square becomes even more vibrant, surrounded by bars playing live music.
3. Tavira Island
Easily accessible by a budget-friendly ferry from the river Gilao, the island has 11 km of beautiful sandy shores, perfect for walking and sunbathing. The ride is an experience, costing only 2.20 euros per person for a round trip.
The island offers a relaxing atmosphere where you can enjoy the simplicity of life by the sea. During the quieter months, you'll often see local fishermen along the coastline casting their nets into the Mediterranean. The area is also a great spot for a picnic, offering several tree-covered spots ideal for a peaceful meal.
Summer brings a livelier scene, with various bars and eateries popping up near the beach. Lifeguards ensure safety for swimmers of all ages, and there's even an option to hire a lounger for the day. Local vendors frequently pass by, offering “bolinas,” or doughnuts—a local delicacy you must try. Put this near the top of your list of things to do in the Algarve region.
4. Zoo Marine Algarve
Located near the region's popular beaches, it's top of our list for things to do with kids in the Algarve.
The park is a decent size, making it easier for families to explore in a day. Those with older children will find the water park section particularly exciting, even if the water is salty. Toddlers, on the other hand, can have fun in the wave pool, which is popular among families with young children.
The park also hosts a variety of shows, including the ‘Magic Rainbow Bird Shows,' which is one not to be missed.
5. Praia Da Rocha
One of the significant draws of Praia Da Rocha is its sheer size and the fact it's free, which is excellent for Frugal travelers. Families will find plenty of things to do here, including caves to explore during low tide and plenty of space for sunbathing and water activities.
The beach is accessible via a large car park and once you're on the sand, you'll find that the beach extends in both directions. Towards the main shopping and restaurant strip, expect a livelier atmosphere. If you're after a more serene experience, head further up the beach, where the crowds thin out.
6. Slide & Splash – Parque Aquatico
There's no shortage of excitement with various slides like the disco slide and wave rider. Despite the potential for crowds, the park manages queues well, making for a more pleasant experience than some U.S. water parks. Sun loungers near the children’s area offer a comfy, relaxing spot and are available for a small fee. Dining at the park is quite cheap, which we like, costing around 8-9 euros for an adult meal and 5 euros for a kids' meal.
7. Alvor Boardwalk
This is one of the top things to do in the Algarve for morning strolls or jogs, as the boardwalk offers stunning views of the estuary and Alvor village. It's an ideal spot for capturing the beauty of boats on calm waters and the freshness of morning air.
But the boardwalk isn't just for early risers; it's a relaxed nature trail that offers quick access to the gastronomic delights of Alvor village and the beautiful beaches of Praia de Alvor and Praia dos Tres Irmaos.
If it's food you are after, then you're spoiled for choice with one ocean-view restaurant at the end of the boardwalk and several more just a short walk away in the town of Alvor.
8. Praia do Camilo
The beach is visually stunning, so much so that photos or videos simply can't capture its full beauty. However, this gem is far from hidden, especially during peak seasons like mid-August, when the beach can become very crowded. Space is limited, as the beach is relatively small, making it feel like sunbathers are packed like sardines.
It's best to arrive either very early in the morning or later toward the end of the day. This strategy will help you avoid the peak crowds and make parking easier. Food options are limited to a small snack bar on the beach and a hilltop restaurant that tends to get crowded and is pricier. If you want to be more frugal, we recommend bringing your cool bag with water and sandwiches.
9. Marina de Vilamoura
Although small, the marina is packed with various restaurants and bars catering to different tastes. There's something for everyone, whether you're after local food or international cuisine. The marina also has shops where you can find a special gift or simply shop.
People sometimes complain about this marina being a bit lively, and some say the Irish bars attract the wrong crowd, but it depends on what you are after.
The area isn't just limited to the marina; a beautiful promenade connects Vilamoura to Quarteria, offering another layer of activities. This prom is about a 20-minute walk and provides a scenic route next to the beach. It's flat and easy for cycling, with benches for resting along the way. The markets in Quarteria add local flavor and are great for daytime exploration. Overall, it's one of the top places to see in the Algarve.
10. Cerro da Vila
We added this one after the Marina above, as it's just down the road.
A small admission fee (around 3 euros for adults, with discounts for students and free entry for young children) grants you access to this well-preserved ancient Roman site.
Open from approximately 10 am to 12:30 pm and then again from 2 pm to 6 pm, the site should be on your list of things to do with kids in the Algarve, as there are things here that fascinate visitors of all ages.
With about 17 dual-language information boards spread throughout the ruins, visitors can gain significant insight into Roman history, including the amazing mosaic flooring. The site also includes a small museum in the main building.
The site is small enough to explore within an hour, making it an ideal quick trip for those staying in nearby locations like Albufeira, a short, approximately 12-euro taxi ride away.
11. Take a Wine Tasting Tour
While several companies offer these tours, Algarving Tours stands out for its small-group Algarve Wine Tasting Tour. The experience is enjoyable, educational, and intimate, thanks to the thoughtful staff and the well-curated destinations.
The tour includes visits to two local vineyards and the picturesque town of Silves. At each vineyard, guests are treated to wine tastings and light snacks. The setting is peaceful, nestled in the Algarve countryside, providing an authentic experience away from the tourist crowds. Interactions among guests add to the fun, making for a convivial atmosphere.
Though some may find the tour's cost a bit higher, the overall consensus is that it's well worth the expense for the quality and authenticity of the experience.
12. Take a Hot Air Balloon Flight
This one isn’t frugal, but it will probably be one of the best places to take a hot-air balloon flight.
A hot air balloon flight with Algarve Balloons offers an unparalleled experience, combining the thrill of soaring above the scenic Algarve landscape with the tranquility of a smooth, expertly navigated journey. Pilots like Helena skillfully manage the flight and impart insightful knowledge about the art of ballooning and the region below, making passengers feel comfortable and well-informed.
Guests are welcome to assist with the balloon's setup and pack-up, turning the trip into an immersive experience rather than just a ride and this approach brings an added layer of excitement and learning to the whole adventure.
Our top tip is to book early in your visit to the Algarve, as this will give you the flexibility to reschedule in case weather conditions are not ideal.
13. Treat Yourself at The Windmill Restaurant
If you are after one of the best restaurants in the Algarve, check out The Windmill. The restaurant is smaller, with only about 12 tables, so advanced booking is highly recommended. The setting is intimate, and the view overlooking the ocean from a window seat adds an extra layer of magic to the meal.
What sets this restaurant apart is the level of personal attention from the staff, who make it a point to know and address each guest by name. The servers are attentive and extremely knowledgeable about the menu and wine pairings, this is why the restaurant gets such good reviews.
As for the food, the reviews we read online were amazing. Every bite seems to melt in your mouth, and the accompanying wine selections enhance the flavors even more. Though some might consider the restaurant on the pricier side, the exceptional quality of food, wine, and service justify the cost.
14. Serra da Picota
What sets this hike apart is the chance to escape the crowds. While many flock to the beaches or Foia on the other side of Monchique, this hike provides a quieter, more intimate interaction with nature.
The breathtaking views are a highlight as they give you a panoramic look at the surrounding landscape. But it's not just about the views; the flora and fauna you'll encounter along the way help you feel truly connected to the environment.
This hike can be as challenging as you want it to be. You can drive most of the way up (but from what we read, it doesn’t sound like a safe road to drive up) and then walk or scramble the remaining distance to earn those spectacular views.
15. Zip Line Across Borders
Limit Zero offers an adventure like no other: a cross-border zip line experience from Spain to Portugal. This is one of the unique things to do in the Algarve, and it's pretty affordable. The location is easy to access, especially if you're staying in Portugal. Just park near the taxi ferry on the Portuguese side and take the quick 5-minute ferry ride to Spain. The Limit Zero office is just a short walk from the Spanish ferry dock.
After a brief safety talk, you're whisked away in a minibus up the hill to the launch platform and before you know it, you're soaring through the air, crossing the river that marks the border between the two countries. The speed of the zip line is just right, allowing you ample time to absorb the stunning views around you.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.