Our family beach vacation in the Algarve region of Portugal over spring break was so dreamy. Even though the region is super popular, many of the beaches are sheltered from civilization by the beautiful cliff and rock formations so it doesn’t feel so built up. We loved wandering the coastline, exploring different beaches each day. Our kids found lots of things to capture their imagination from enormous seashells to hidden caves to rolling sand dunes. We were there in spring, when it was warm enough for flip flops but not always warm enough for swimming. But we found plenty to do out of the water as well and loved every minute of it.
So here’s a little trip report for both inspiration and practical tips. Of course, we aren’t experts on the Algarve after only one visit. But there were lots of things I wished I had known before going. The travel blogs and guides I read beforehand were inspiring, but not super helpful for the day to day logistics.
Anyhoo, I’ll start our favorite places in the Algarve. At the end of the post, some general travel tips based on our experience. See more of our Travel with Kids posts here.
Where are the “best” beaches in the Algarve, Portugal ?
Too many to choose from! I read lots of “best Portugal beaches” guides and looked at tons of beach pics before I went, trying to make sure that we visited the prettiest ones. But in reality, every beach we saw was fantastic and it would be hard to go wrong.
You should definitely visit Marinha and Bordeira, which are the most famous and are worth the hype (more details below). But besides that, just pick whatever is closest to you and enjoy it.
Here’s a map of the beaches we visited, but certainly not the only beaches worth visiting. Click for an interactive map.
Now for our favorites. Of course, beaches change every day, depending on the weather and the tides. And we went in spring, with light crowds. So these beaches might look and feel totally different when you visit. No guarantees.
Praia da Marinha
This beach is probably the most famous in the Algarve region, with it’s signature towers and arches on and next to the beach. We liked it so much, we went twice. Since this beach is so popular, it can get very crowded. Even in mid-April when the water was chilly, the parking lot was full and the beach buzzing with sunbathers and walkers taking pictures. At high tide, the beach is very narrow and you may get wet walking around rocks to reach the western parts of the beach.
|Location:||Lagoa, Algarve, Portugal|
|Address:||Beach parking: 37°05’24.2″N 8°24’45.1″W
40 mins from Lagos, 30 mins from Albufeira
|Access:||Long staircase from cliff top to reach beach.|
|Services:||small cafe on beach
vendors in parking for umbrella rental, drinks and snacks
|For families:||lots of sand at low tide, water depth drops off quickly, rocky formations tempting to climb on but quite dangerous|
Praia da Bordeira (West Coast)
The enormous sand dunes behind the beach makes this place unique. We spent a good hour just sliding and jumping down the white sand hills. The beach itself is very popular with surf camps. The waves can get quite large on the west coast, but the surf was small the day we were there, good for beginners. The beach is very long and deep, plenty of room to spread out even if it’s crowded. Parking is limited and is separated by a long walk to the beach with stairs. No services on the beach itself.
|Location:||Southwest coast Portugal|
|Address:||Beach parking: 37°06’32.5″N 8°56’09.3″W
40 mins from Lagos, 1hr10 from Albufeira
parking near town and on cliff above beach
|Access:||long wooden walkway with stairs to reach beach|
|Services:||no services on beach, cafes in adjacent town
lots of surf camps use this beach
|For families:||very large fine sand beach with big sand dunes to explore
shallow water depth, good for little kids when waves are small
Praia da Castelo
This little cove beach had thousands of enormous seashells the day we were there, while most other beaches we visited didn’t have any shells. I don’t know if it’s a fluke or a normal thing. But even without the shells, this beach has a lot to offer. First, there are several beaches strung along the cliffs here, which can be reached by short, beautiful walking paths over the cliffs.
|Location:||Albuferia, Algarve, Portugal|
|Address:||Beach parking: 37°04’24.8″N 8°17’53.1″W
15 mins from Albufeira, 45 mins from Lagos,
small parking lot above beach
|Access:||walkway and stairs to reach beach|
|Services:||cafe on beach, umbrella and lounge chair rental, public toilets|
|For families:||lots of shells to collect, still sand at high tide, lots to explore|
Sagres Viewpoint & Beaches
Sagres is the southern most tip of Portugal, with long peninsula with tall cliffs extending into the ocean. You drive almost to the end where there is a big parking lot. At the Sagres point, you can pay a small fee to enter the fort, which encloses the entire point. If you want to walk along the cliffs on the point, you have to go in the fort. We really enjoyed this walk, happily children well protected behind a wall/fence around the entire perimeter. We loved watching the waves crash against the cliffs, making big sprays. On both sides of the point, there are long sandy beaches, popular with surfers, where you can play in the sand and swim.
|Location:||Southwest coast Portugal|
|Address:||Parking at fort: 37°00’05.6″N 8°56’51.6″W
50 mins from Lagos, 1hr20 from Albufeira
|Access:||Parking is a short walk from fort entrance. Path is smooth dirt, easy and suitable for strollers.|
|Services:||no services at the fort, toilets were closed when we went|
|For families:||protected walk along cliffs enclosed by wall/fence, nearby beaches for swimming|
Praia da Cordoama & Castelejo (West Coast)
We loved the west coast beaches, which are less populated and more wild than the south coast of the Algarve. This extremely long sandy beach typically has waves and has a surf camp on site. It’s so long, there are two parking areas, that access different parts of the this beach, Cordoama in the middle and Castelejo to the south. Both are very nice but we saw more familes on the Castelejo section on the day we went. My husband and I took a very long walk up this beach while the kids played in the sand.
|Location:||Southwest coast Portugal|
|Address:||Cordoama beach parking: 37°06’33.0″N 8°56’08.7″W
Castelejo beach parking: 37°05’57.7″N 8°56’39.0″W
45 mins from Lagos, 1hr from Portimao, 1hr15 from Albufeira
|Access:||Parking directly at beach|
|Services:||small cafe and surf shop on beach|
|For families:||lots of sand and very long beach for walking and exploring, waves and surf camps|
Algar Seco Cliffs
These cliffs are a popular destination in the Algarve, often photographed and close to popular resort areas. If you are nearby, I definitely recommend doing the walk along the cliffs and exploring the Algar Seco area. This is also the area the boat tours visit.
|Location:||Lagoa, Algarve Portugal|
|Address:||Parking: 37°06’33.0″N 8°56’08.7″W
40 mins from Lagos, 25 mins from Portimao, 35 mins from Albufeira
|Access:||Limited parking directly above cliffs, stairs down to explore cliffs|
|Services:||cafe in cliffs, swimming at nearby beaches|
|For families:||cliffs and caves to explore, but at your own risk, no fences or safety features|
Seven Hanging Valleys Trail
The Algarve is full of trails, which you can review in the official guide to Algarve hikes. The best option along the coast is the popular Seven Hanging Valley Trail, which follows the coastline in the Lagoa region, east of Portimao. The official route goes from Vale Centianes and continues to Marinaha, about 6 km one way. However, there are well-worn unofficial paths on the headlands before and after this trail (from Ferragudo all the way to Armação de Pêra). So can easily pick starting and ending points or shorter/extend your hike.
I had trouble convincing my kids to give up a beach day for hiking. So we compromised and explored many sections of the trail around the beaches we visited, which is a great option for families. The pictures below are of the trail from the various sections we explored.
There is limited public transportation in the area, so if you hike the whole trail, you’ll have to do some research to figure out how to get back to your starting point. You might also consider taking a taxi to the starting point and hiking back to your town or car. I recommend ending your hike on a nice beach, like Marinaha, as a reward for your good hikers.
|Location:||Lagoa, Algarve, Portugal|
|Address:||Start: Vale Centianes 37°05’29.9″N 8°27’13.8″W
End: Praia da Marinaha 37°05’24.2″N 8°24’45.0″W
40 mins from Lagos or Albufeira
|Access:||Parking at either beach, one way trail|
|Services:||path passes several beaches, most with cafes and toilets|
|For families:||The path is easy walking but there are often no barriers on the cliffs. Use extreme caution.|
Beach types: small & pretty vs. big & convenient
There are basically two types of beaches along the southern coast: little coves surrounded by rocky cliffs and long flat beaches near the towns.
We preferred the coves because they were prettier and visually separated from civilization. Our favorites were Marinha and Castelo. But note that they are usually accessed by lots of stairs, they can disappear entirely during high tide, and they have limited services, maybe one little cafe, not all have toilets. The coves typically have calm, clear waters. While we were there, a big storm blew in for a few days and all these coves were briefly overrun by huge waves and strong winds. The locals told us that was unusual.
If you prefer convenience and easy access to services, pick the long flat beaches like Praia da Rocha. With these beaches, there is usually more parking available close to the beach, public transportation is easier, more lounge chairs and umbrellas to rent, beach sports and equipment is available, more restaurant choices, etc. However, I thought these beaches were quite plain and I wasn’t interested at all in visiting them. It really depends on what kind of vacation you are going for.
We also visited a couple beaches in the nature park on the west coast. These had an entirely different feel and are much farther away from the tourist hustle and bustle. These beaches typically have waves, wind and surfers. We loved Bordeira, which had enormous sand dunes to climb on and shallow waters that make swimming easier with kids.
Beach safety: Hide tide and falling rocks!
Every cove beach had a sign warning you not to sit near the cliff walls because of possible falling rocks or whole cliff collapse. You can see evidence of recent rock slides at many beaches. I was nervous the whole time and insisted on sitting as far from the cliffs as possible. At high tide, the beaches were very narrow and you could only sit next to the cliff walls. Enjoy at your own risk. If you want to avoid this, visit the long flat beaches instead.
You can check the tide schedule here. This was very helpful in planning our days and which beaches we would visit. For example, if we knew low tide wasn’t until late afternoon, we wouldn’t worry about hustling out of the house early. Or we would plan a cliff walk in the morning and beach time in the afternoon.
During my research, I had seen the below amazing photo all over the internet of the Benagil sea cave, which is only accessible by boat. I was determined to get this same photo. But I quickly realized that was not possible, since to reach this beach, you have to swim from your boat, because boats are not allowed to land inside the cave. Good luck swimming over with your DSLR and tripod. Bring your waterproof camera for this one. But we didn’t take the boat, so I can’t know for sure.
Anyway, boat tours along the Algarve coastline are extremely popular, visiting many coves that are more difficult or impossible to reach by foot. In some cases, they drop you off on those isolated beaches for a short wander and swim before continuing on. This is the only way to see this famous photo of the Benagil sea cave.
The most logical place to pick up a boat tour is in Benagil, which is the closest location to the most famous caves and cliffs. Boat tours leave from many other towns along the coast, including Lagos and Portimao. The Sea Bookings website has a nice detailed description of the tour (no affiliation).
We love a boat tour, but it was too stormy for boats on many of the days we were there. We preferred to spend the sunny days swimming and exploring the beaches on foot, rather than stuck on a boat with a bunch of other people. The tours are a bit short (1hr30) and can be pricey for a whole family (about €30/adult, €10/child).
Getting around the Algarve
We flew into Faro and rented a car (we chose Centauro from good online reviews and cheaper rates due to offsite facilities). A car is essential in this area unless you are staying in a resort and don’t plan to leave. When we saw tourists walking on the long dusty roads down to the beaches (no sidewalk), it looked more like a mistake than a preference. There is bus service but it doesn’t seem to run very frequently and it doesn’t service all beaches.
I highly recommend having GPS navigation during this trip. We bought a Portugal Sim card for our phone at the Faro airport (Vodaphone), 30 GB for 15 Euros. Best decision ever! The road signs are hit and miss. Even using Google maps, we got lost several times trying to find a specific beach.
Most of the beaches we visited were accessed by a narrow winding road, usually about 5-10 minutes off the main road. There was usually a small parking lot near the beach and in spring, parking was never a problem. But it was clear that in summer, parking would be a big problem. So in high season, plan to go early to get a spot. We never had to pay for parking, but some lots looked like in summer there would be a parking attendant collecting a fee.
Where we stayed
We rented a modest 1br apartment in a quiet resort by the beach (Vila Giavota), near Ferragudo, about a 10 min drive south of Portimao. We liked the location because it was right in the middle of the Algarve, making it easy to explore beaches in both directions without an excessively long drive.
We had considered staying in one of the bigger towns to be closer to restaurants and services, which could be fun and convenient with kids. But after seeing the busy, tourist-trap towns, we were so glad we chose this apartment instead.
The apartment was comfortable but nothing special. We had a nice deck overlooking the ocean and sunset with a jacuzzi. The complex had a pool (unheated) that our boys enjoyed. The unit didn’t have air conditioning, which wasn’t a problem in spring.
The best part was that it was only a 5 minute walk to two beaches near our apartment (Praia dos Caneiros shown below), which we did almost every evening after dinner. There were also walking trails along the beach cliffs, which I did in the early mornings while the rest of the family slept in.
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