The best independent guide to Lagos
The best independent guide to Lagos
Lagos and Albufeira are two of the finest resort towns of the Algarve. While both offer glorious beaches, exciting activities and vibrant nightlife, they tend to cater for very different types of tourists.
In summary, Albufeira is the more lively destination during the peak season (July-August), catering mainly for package tourism. Lagos offers a more authentically Portuguese experience, with its rich history and flourishing artisan scene.
However, the appeal of each resort varies significantly throughout the year, from the hectic peak season (July-August), through the calmer shoulder seasons (May-Jun and Sep-Oct), and during the winter season.
This article provides a comparison of Albufeira and Lagos, helping you choose the best destination for your holiday to the Algarve.
Related articles: Lagos guide – Albufeira guide
The magnificent Praia dos Pescadores beach in Albufeira
Lagos has a rich history, and this is reflected in the many sights of the historic centre.
Albufeira has two very distinct areas, the Old Town and The Strip (sometimes referred to as the New Town and officially known as Areias de São João).
The Old Town is the historic centre of Albufeira, filled with pretty, cobbled streets and white-washed houses that lead down to the beautiful Praia dos Pescadores beach. Albufeira’s Old Town has an atmosphere comparable to Lagos, and in terms of holidays it tends to cater for families with teenagers, couples over 30 and golfing breaks.
The Strip is the Algarve’s most popular party destination, making it the perfect choice if you are 18-25 or in a group (such as stag or hen trip) and want to party all night long, before lounging all day on a beautiful beach. The Strip is too hectic for families and too tacky for anyone looking to experience a bit of Portuguese culture.
When comparing Albufeira and Lagos, it is always best to consider Albufeira as two completely separate areas offering very different types of holiday.
Insight: The whole of Albufeira has unfairly gained a reputation for excessive partying and general craziness. This is true of the relatively small area surrounding The Strip, however the Old Town, the Marina area and the far eastern side (Santa Eulália to Olhos de Água) are perfectly suited for families or couples seeking a relaxing beach holiday.
Albufeira lies at the heart of the buzzing central Algarve region, while Lagos (38km to the west) is the largest city of the western Algarve area.
Albufeira is the largest town of the central Algarve (with a population of 44,158) and is slightly bigger than Lagos (31,049). In summer, the population of both towns swells dramatically, with the number of people in Albufeira almost quadrupling.
Both are situated on very similar coastlines, offering sandy beaches, picturesque cliff formations and chilly seas. The waters of the Algarve are very cold, especially when compared to Mediterranean facing countries, as Portugal faces the cool Atlantic Ocean.
Albufeira and Lagos have very different atmospheres. Lagos has a city vibe with a distinctly Portuguese feel, whereas Albufeira is heavily tourist-focused, with barely a word of Portuguese being heard here. A high percentage of Albufeira’s permanent population are ex-pat Europeans, while residents of Lagos are almost entirely Portuguese.
This holiday focus of Albufeira extends to its vast selection of restaurants, beach-café and bars, which boasts over 600 different establishments. Lagos has much fewer, and they tend to cater for a mix of tourists and the city’s population.
In summary, Albufeira provides a conventional holiday destination (The Strip for 18-25 year olds and the Old Town for families and older couples), whereas Lagos offers more Portuguese culture and artisan scene (be that artists, creatives, surfers or digital nomads).
Albufeira has more activities than Lagos, but they will be much busier in the summer
The Praia de Dona Ana beach in Lagos is regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in the Algarve
If you’re planning a family holiday with young children (3-11) during the peak season (Jul-Aug), then Lagos is probably the better destination. Albufeira New Town would be totally unsuitable, with excessive drinking, partying and noise continuing late into the night. Albufeira Old Town is suitable for families, but it is often too hectic for families with young children.
The far eastern side of Albufeira (from Santa Eulália to the town of Olhos de Água) is where many of the Algarve’s mega-hotel complexes are situated, with their swimming pools, children’s clubs and family activities. This area is far from the chaotic Strip and is ideal if you are after a hassle-free, family package holiday.
If you are planning a family holiday with teenagers, Albufeira Old Town makes a better choice than Lagos, as it is closer to all of the excitement of the central Algarve, with its waterparks, theme parks and general buzzing atmosphere.
Insight: The beaches of Albufeira and Lagos are equally suited for children, with soft golden sands, and clean seawaters that are supervised by lifeguards.
The traditional streets of Albufeira Old town
The simple decision is whether you want to party or prefer somewhere a little more cultural and Portuguese feeling.
For a lively holiday that verges on the excess, then The Strip and its surrounding area is where to be based. The Strip is packed with themed bars, inexpensive food venues and buzzing nightclubs, all crammed with thrill-seeking British, Dutch and German tourists.
Add to this excitement the pretty Praia da Oura beach and numerous activities and you have the makings of a fantastic holiday. This will be a trip where not a single word of Portuguese is heard, and could be easily described as tacky by some. The Strip is the Portuguese version of Benidorm, Magaluf or Sunny Beach (Bulgaria).
On the other hand, Albufeira Old Town retains its traditional Portuguese character and has a much older vibe. There are many decent bars and a lively nightlife here, but average visitors will be in their mid-thirties.
Lagos attracts a varied selection of ages and different types of visitors, but its nightlife (during the peak season) cannot be compared to Albufeira. However, if you’re not that interested in the nightlife then there is a lot to love about Lagos. There are wonderful beaches (including surfing beaches), amazing food venues and many sights and activities to enjoy.
The neon lights and buzzing bars of the Strip
The shoulder season (May-June or September-October) is a fantastic time of year to discover the Algarve. The weather is cooler than the extremes of summer and everything is slightly less busy. Activities won’t be fully sold out, restaurants don’t need reservations and there will be more availability for accommodation.
At this time of year, Albufeira Old Town and Lagos are very similar, and you will have an enjoyable holiday at either. Albufeira Old Town may be the slightly better choice, with its larger selection of activities, restaurants and nightlife.
Insight: Albufeira and Lagos are fully open from Easter until the end of October, and this is generally when the weather is warm enough for spending time on the beach.
The Strip calms down outside of the peak season and can actually be a fun night out for all ages during September and June. If you go expecting buzzing nightlife in May or October, you may be disappointed.
Lagos and Albufeira offer a similar amount and quality of water-based activities for families. From Albufeira, there are dolphin-watching trips and boat tours to Bengal Cave, while from Lagos there are boat tours of the Ponta da Piedade headland.
Related articles: Boat trips from Albufeira