The best independent guide to Lagos
The best independent guide to Lagos
Lagos is a historic and fascinating city situated on the picturesque Western Algarve coastline. It is a city that boasts a rich seafaring heritage, pristine beaches and authentic Portuguese character, which has responsibly grown into one of the most popular tourist destinations of southern Portugal.
Lagos is the ideal holiday destination if you want more than just beautiful beaches and glorious weather for your holiday. The city offers a vibrant nightlife, outstanding restaurants, historical sights and exciting activities, along with day trips to Silves, Sagres or Praia da Luz.
Despite its popularity, Lagos has not succumbed to mass tourism, and still retains its distinctive character and Portuguese charm. Found along its cobbled streets of whitewashed buildings are trendy bars and restaurants that sit harmoniously next to traditional Portuguese cafes and family-run shops.
The many sights and activities to be found in Lagos make the city one of the best day trip destinations of the western Algarve. Your day trip could include exploring the historic quarter, a walk along the stunning coastline and a boat trip around the Ponta da Piedade headland.
There is a lot to love about Lagos, and the city is a favourite with long-stay residents and remote workers.
The historic quarter – The rich history of Lagos is reflected by the many sights within its historic quarter, which include the extravagant interior of the Igreja de Santo Antonio, the ancient city walls and the Forte da Bandeira that once protected the harbour mouth.
Ponta da Piedade – The picturesque headland to the south of Lagos, formed of highly weathered limestone cliffs that have been carved into unique formations. There are sea arches, hidden grottos and precariously balanced stacks, which are best seen by boat tour.
The Praia de Dona Ana beach – A glorious, sandy beach that is considered one of the Algarve's finest. This beautiful beach nestles at the base of golden cliffs, is lapped by turquoise waters and is a magical setting for your day on the beach.
Lagos is the largest city of the western Algarve, with a population of 31,000 - which almost doubles in summer with the influx of tourists. The city extends along the Bensafrim river, at the merger of two geological features: Ponta da Piedade headland and the sand dunes of the Rio Alvor nature reserve.
These two very different coastal landscapes are what makes Lagos such an amazing destination for a beach holiday. There is the surfing beach of Porto Mós with its huge Atlantic waves, the idyllic and sheltered beaches within the Ponta da Piedade headland, or the pristine Meia Praia beach that extends for almost 2km.
The Forte da Ponta da Bandeira
The sheltered Bensafrim estuary was also key to Lagos' seafaring history. It was here during the 14th century that Prince Henry the Navigator established his seafaring school, and later it became a major centre for sea trade.
The modern city of Lagos is the perfect blend of historic and progressive. It is home to a diverse range of nationalities and people, but has not lost any of its Portuguese heritage.
For visitors, the city is compact and easily walkable, with four key areas - the historic quarter, the marina, Porto de Mós, and Meia Praia. The historic quarter is the heart of Lagos and lies to the west of the Bensafrim estuary. The marina complex is the modern side of Lagos, situated to the north of the city. Porto de Mós is a calm, residential area to the far south of the city, while the sand-swept shoreline of the Meia Praia extends to the east of Lagos and is the location for many of the larger hotel complexes.
Lagos has a rich seafaring history
Lagos is one of the best destinations in the western Algarve for a day trip. It is a vibrant and historic city that provides a perfect blend of historical sights and interesting tourist attractions.
There are sufficient sights to easily fill a day of sightseeing, and a suggested day trip would be to spend the morning exploring the historic centre and the afternoon visiting the Ponta da Piedade headland and the beaches.
Lagos has excellent public transport connecting it to the surrounding region, and it is very easy to travel to Lagos from the other major towns of the central Algarve.
Below is an interactive map showing a suggested walking tour of Lagos that begins at the train station. The green line and markers is the tour of the historic centre, and the yellow line is the tour of the Ponta da Piedade coastline.
Sights along the route: 1) Lagos Marina 2) Municipal market 3) Gil Eanes plaza 4) Former slave market 5) Saint António Church 6) Santa Maria church 7) city walls 8) Saint Gonçalo city gate 9) Ponta da Bandeira Fort 10) Batata beach 11) Pinhão beach 12) Dona Ana beach 13) Camilo beach 14) Ponta da Piedade 15) Discoveries waxwork museum 16) Meia Praia beach
Insight: Instead of walking the yellow Ponta da Piedade route, you may wish to instead join a boat tour. We have worked with GetYourGuide for the last seven years, and some of their best tours of Lagos include:
Who should visit Lagos, Portugal?
Lagos has a wide-ranging appeal due to its extensive facilities, activities, natural beauty and heritage.
Visitors seeking a cultural holiday will be impressed by the number of historical monuments and the city's genuine Portuguese atmosphere, while younger couples will enjoy its lively nightlife, numerous exciting activities and liberal attitudes.
Families tend to visit Lagos during the school holidays (July-August) when the region basks in glorious hot weather. The summer will be hot, with relaxing days on the beach or around the pool, and evenings spent discovering the multitude of bars and restaurants. Families with teenagers will be impressed with the range of activities on offer, including water parks, boat trips and surf schools.
Being such a desirable destination, Lagos has a sizable population of remote workers who often work in tech or creative roles. This has resulted in a year-round, young and vibrant population that loves surfing and embracing local cultures, with an artisan, yoga and spiritual scene well established within the city.
Please note: Lagos is not suitable for groups wanting to drink and party excessively (typically stag or hen parties). For this, head to the Strip in Albufeira.
Lagos for 2023
Lagos is expecting a sell-out summer season for 2023, and during the peak months (June-September) there will be incredibly high demand for accommodation and flights to the Algarve. The airlines will put on more flights (and raise prices!), but hotel rooms will completely sell out as they did in 2022.
Due to this high demand, we strongly advise you to book your flights and accommodation as soon as possible before prices increase and places sell out.
The map below shows the best hotels and rental rooms in Lagos. If you adjust the dates, it will display current prices and availability.
Insight: Many hotels allow for free cancellation. This is very beneficial for visitors, as it allows you to secure a low-priced hotel now, but continue browsing risk-free up until your holiday.
How long should I spend in Lagos?
The ideal time to spend in Lagos can vary from 1 or 2 to 7 days, depending on how much time you have to discover the city and the surrounding region.
A brief, one-day trip will allow you to see the majority of the sights, as shown in the tour above, but you would miss Lagos' lively nightlife and food scene. If you have a touring holiday of the Algarve, plan at least two days to see Lagos, the first day for the city and the second day for the beaches and the Ponta da Piedade.
Lagos is ideal for a 1-week holiday, which allows time for enjoying the beaches and taking excursions to the towns of Sagres, Silves, Praia da Luz and Portimão. As Lagos is a major city, there is a wide selection of restaurants and bars, and it is easily possible to eat somewhere completely different every day.
A suggested itinerary for a 1-week holiday could be:
Day 1 - Explore the historic centre of Lagos
Day 2 - Boat tour of the Ponta da Piedade, and a relaxing beach afternoon.
Day 3 - Day trip to Sagres and the Cabo de São Vicente
Day 4 - Day trip to Silves
Day 5 - Day trip to a theme park (Zoomarine) or waterpark (Slide & Splash)
Day 6 - Day trip to Portimão and Praia da Rocha
Day 7 - Day trip to Praia de Luz and Burgau (ideal for cycling)
Note: A car is not needed for this itinerary, as there is an excellent public transport network.
Related articles: 1 week in Lagos - 3 days in Lagos
The modern marina complex of Lagos, filled with social bars and restaurants
Lagos is a fantastic destination for a family holiday. The city boasts a wide selection of family-friendly hotels, while restaurants, attractions and activities are welcoming of children. Lagos has a much more relaxed atmosphere than many of the other larger beach towns in the Algarve, such as Albufeira or Praia da Rocha.
The city's beaches are ideal for children, with golden sands and clean sea waters that are supervised by lifeguards during the summer. The western side of Meia Praia beach and beaches in the Ponta da Piedade headland are sheltered from the region's powerful waves and strong currents.
Lagos Zoo is a great excursion for younger children, and children of all ages will enjoy the dolphin-watching boat trips that depart from the harbour.
If you are on holiday with older children and teenagers, there are many activities designed for their age, including the Slide & Splash water park, the Zoomarine marine park and the 'high rope courses' at Parque Aventura. Lagos is also a great location to learn how to surf.
The peak season of Lagos is between June and September, but the weather is suitable for spending time on the beaches from May until mid-October.
July and August are the peak months for family holidays, while June and September are popular with visitors without children. The shoulder seasons (May-June and September-October) are ideal for activity-based holidays such as cycling, golf or hiking.
The low season is from November until Easter, but as Lagos has a large permanent population and is popular with remote workers, most restaurants and bars remain open year-round. Lagos should never be considered as a winter sun destination, but the Algarve will have some of the best weather of mainland Europe between November and February.
Related article: When to visit Lagos
Lagos has some of the finest beaches in the Algarve, and there are four beautiful beaches within walking distance of the town. The Meia Praia is a vast, sandy beach that extends for 4km, while the Praia da Batata, Praia Dona Ana and Praia do Camilo are more secluded beaches that are surrounded by golden-coloured cliffs and lapped by crystal-clear sea waters.
On the south-western side of Lagos is the Porto de Mos beach, an area popular with resort hotels and holiday homes - and a great choice if you prefer not to be in the centre of the busy city.
The sheer number of varied beaches within the vicinity of Lagos means that space can easily be found to enjoy a relaxing day under the glorious sun, even at the height of summer.
Related articles: Beaches of Lagos
The Praia Dona Ana beach
The massive Praia de Porto de Mós beach
The Ponta da Piedade is a series of highly-weathered cliffs that form the southern headland of Lagos. The powerful Atlantic Ocean has chiselled stone arches, grottos and sea caves into the colourful golden cliffs, and these cliffs are considered the best natural feature of the Algarve.
There are scenic hiking routes along the top of the headland, but a more enjoyable experience is to hire a boat and navigate the unique rock formations from the water.
Related articles: Ponta da Piedade guide
The Ponta da Piedade cliffs are best explored by boat
The two best day trips from Lagos are to the historic town of Silves and the surfing town of Sagres.
Sagres lies at the western tip of mainland Europe and is a region savaged by ceaseless winds and mighty Atlantic seas. The town is a popular surfing destination and is ideal for tourists who appreciate nature's raw power.
Silves was the ancient capital of the Algarve and remnants of this glorious past are found throughout the peaceful and relaxed town. The prominent feature of Silves is the massive red brick castle, while traditional houses and shops line the cobbled streets that lead down to the river.
Alternative day trips from Lagos include the peaceful resort town of Praia da Luz, the shopping town of Portimão and the hectic resort town of Praia da Rocha. All of these day trips can be reached by inexpensive public transport and there is no requirement to hire a rental car while on holiday here.
Related articles: Day trip to Sagres - Silves introduction
Silves is a very scenic town in southern Portugal
The nearest international airport to Lagos is Faro Airport, which is 90km to the east of the city. There are infrequent train and bus services from Faro city to Lagos, but these routes do not pass close to the airport, so a bus or taxi is needed to travel from the airport to Faro city centre.
We strongly recommend organising a transfer from the airport to Lagos, as public transport is poor and a taxi hailed from the terminal will be very expensive (expect to pay €110 or even more). Two recommended options are private transfers (€75, 60-minute journey) or shared minibus transfer (€25, 100-minute journey).
Related article: Faro airport to Lagos