When deciding where I wanted to visit in Portugal, I knew that besides the main cities of Lisbon and Porto, I did want to head down to the Algarve to see what it was all about. The southern end of Portugal is renowned for its seaside towns and popular among the summer holidaying crowd, but I honestly had no idea what I would see there.
I didn’t have a lot of time, so I picked two spots to check out – the first of which was Lagos on the Western side of the Algarve. Why Lagos when there are so many towns I could have picked from? In part I was a little curious about what my friend Julika had experienced there, and also there was a direct bus from Lisbon to Lagos, so why not?
The Algarve definitely has its own distinct vibe that you don’t get in Lisbon and Porto. It was here there I got a pretty good tan and spent most of my time on the beach, which was a nice change from the rainy days in both Lisbon and Porto. I was very happy to spend most of my time wandering around in a sleeveless dress and my slippers.
If you’re headed up to Lagos, here are some tips on where to go and what to do based on my experience. Definitely don’t miss the amazing street art of course, but here’s what else you can find in the historic centre of Lagos.
LIVING THE HOSTEL LIFE IN JJ’S YARD
We stayed in JJ’s Yard which I found off HostelWorld. Me and Y stayed in a private room for 2, which was located in a separate house about 3 mins walk down the street from the main hostel building. It was probably the smallest room I stayed in the entire trip, but also the cheapest at 23 euros for a private twin room with a shared bathroom. I would probably have preferred something bigger and a little fancier with a bit more space, but if you’re someone who’s happy enough with clean, no frills accommodation at a good price, it definitely is a decent place to stay.
Owner Jay is a big surfer himself so you can convince him to recommend or even go with you to some of the best surf spots in town. He also had several very good recommendations on places to visit and eat at in town – I swear the best food we had in Portugal was in Lagos! More on that further down in the post….
JJ’s is also quite a sociable place – they have arrangements with pubs around the area for discounts, and often Jay will pop by and ask you to join him and other hostelites for a night out – Lagos is also popular among the student set for its partying, so that’s great if it’s your thing.
Travessa do Forno, Lagos 10
THE LAGOS COASTLINE
You will definitely want to spend some time exploring the Lagos coastline. You can do it by walking along the cliffs – head up the Avenida dos Descobrimentos and look for the cliffside paths and staircases that lead down to the many beaches that dot the coastline. Lagos’s coastline has many hidden nooks and crannies, and the further afield you explore, the quieter the beaches get. I’m pretty sure there was some nude suntanning happening in some of these coves which I saw from far off…
As you walk along along the cliffs, you will also see mostly man-made paths which you can follow and enjoy a fantastic view of the coast while you are at it. Be careful though, they usually aren’t barricaded in any way, so don’t get too adventurous especially when you’re distracted taking photos of the wonderful scenery.
You could walk all the way to Ponta de Piedade which is the pointy end of the headland, or if you’re adventurous even walk to Praia Porto de Mos on the other side of the headline. We only made it as far to Praia Dona Ana before deciding to turn back. My favourite beach was probably the little cove of Estudantes, just off Praia Batata.
Another great way to enjoy the coastline is from the water itself – we checked out some boat tours and prices around the Solaria area, but ended up doing what Jay recommended, which was heading down to this quite makeshift looking table at the waterfront close to the entrance of the fort. These people at the table speak good English and will link you up with one of several boatmen who are pottering around the area waiting for customers.
These boatmen each have their own little boat, and they’ll take you out for a private tour of the coastline for 12.50 euros that lasts about an hour up and down the coastline from Solaria to Ponta de Piedade. You can negotiate to go further out or for a longer time.
Having a small boat is key, because that’s the only way you can weave in and out of the little grottos and get up close to the cliffs. These boatmen are locals and while our guide didn’t speak any English, he was an excellent boat captain – even with the choppy current that day, we barely got wet as he piloted us so smoothly around the rocks. He did point out some funny rock formations like the ‘Elephant’ and ‘Camel’ and we saw a mini blowhole too.
THE BEST PORTUGUESE FOOD OF THE TRIP
The sea-side towns of the Algarve are of course renowned for having amazing seafood beyond the ubiquitous Bacalhau (Cod) that is eaten throughout Portugal (funny fact: the cod is actually shipped in from Scandinavia – you can’t actually find cod in the waters here even if the Portuguese have a 1000 recipes for this fish). The food in Lagos was definitely some of the best from my entire trip! We have good ol’ Jay to thank again for these great recommendations at a reasonable price.
Restaurante Ala do Castelo
Restaurante Ala do Castelo is on a less crowded road of Lagos, away from the main tourist stretch so its surroundings are nice and quiet. We decided on seafood and ordered a ‘dose’ (that’s how they describe it) of fresh little clams, another dose of prawns which came in a really tasty sauce and a codfish dish with chickpeas. We had 2 jugs of Sangria while waiting – be prepared to wait though, the food takes really long to prepare – i think we waited for almost an hour, but it was quite awesome when it finally arrived.
Restaurante Ala do Castelo
Rua Castelo dos Governadores no. 40
Casinha do Petisco
Another place recommended by Jay was Casinha do Petisco – it’s a very small place over at Rua de Oliveira that sits perhaps 30-40 guests at a time and it was full when we first arrived at about 7pm, so we left a reservation and headed back to shower first. We returned later at 8pm and the place was still full, so despite our ‘reservation’, we only got our place at 845pm. Either come here really early or really late to ensure you don’t have to wait too long!
The food here was my favourite of all the things I ate in Portugal, mostly because of the homestyle Cataplana dish, which is basically a very tasty soup stew consisting of pork, clams and prawns. While the menu says it’s meant for 2 people, I’m pretty sure I could have fed my whole family of 5-6 pax with it! We were completely stuffed after this meal. We also had a starter of melon soaked in port wine, mmh. The kitchen here is open-style and the chef was really friendly, always checking in to see how the guests were doing.
Casinha do Petisco
Rua da Oliveira no. 51
Have you been down to Lagos, Portugal? What did you enjoy doing there?