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Algarve – Family holiday guide

Portugal’s southernmost region has everything from outdoor activity to stunning Atlantic beaches, eco-adventures, waterparks, charming cities, pretty towns and magnificent natural reserves. Less than three hours from the UK and sunny from April to September, it’s one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations and works all angles with kids.

Explore Algarve


Why go on holiday to Algarve?

  • Year round direct flights from the UK to Faro take just under three hours.

     

  • Weather is warm and sunny from April to late September with temperatures in June, July and August between 25 and 30˚.

     

  • Algarve’s Atlantic beaches include several of Europe’s most photographed including dramatic Praia de Falésia with its rainbow coloured cliffs, and monumental Praia dos Três Irmãos.

     

  • Algarve is bordered by magnificent Parque Natural do Suoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina in the far west and Ria Formosa Natural Park in the east.

     

  • Eastern Algarve sits on the border of Andalusia, and Lisbon is two and half hours from Faro by car.

     

  • Algarve has over 40 golf courses ranging from the coastal resorts of Vilamoura to exclusive golf hotels in the Serra de Monchique.

     

  • Algarve walking and cycling routes cover hundreds of kilometres and include historic paths like 340km Rota Vicentina and 300km long Via Algarviana.



Where to go and stay in Algarve with kids

 

Western Algarve

The rush to get down on the beach as quickly as possible means families sometimes miss out on Western Algarve because it’s a longer drive from Faro Airport. But this is where the region keeps some of its loveliest beaches, prettiest resorts, historic cities and ridiculously good seafood. It’s also where you’ll still find out of the way seaside towns and villages with almost deserted shores and some of Portugal’s greatest walking, hiking and sheer majesty on the far western Atlantic coast.

  •  The historic walled city of Lagos is a mix of holiday town lively and traditional elegance. Old town restaurants are some of the Algarve’s best, and waterfront cafés are great for people watching in the evening.
  • The great golf resort of Portimão is just as good for beaches as greens. Excellent for self-catering villas and apartments and home to iconic Praia dos Três Irmãos.
  • Pretty Vila do Bispo to the west of Lagos is a little known Algarve secret for quiet beaches, cute self-catering, village restaurants, beach bars and a laid back, non-tourist atmosphere.

Central Algarve

The fast out of Faro area with a bit of a party reputation round about Albufeira isn’t quite as hectic as it’s painted. In fact, some of the biggest and sandiest beaches in the region are here and it’s the heartland for waterparks, adventure parks, shopping malls, golf courses and family restaurants. You’ll find all-inclusive hotels and holiday apartments crowded along the coast and traditional charm isn’t much in evidence. But if you want activities, water sports and lots of activities for older kids and teens, Central Algarve is where to look.

  • Don’t dismiss Faro as an airport town. It’s Algarve’s capital, the historic quarter’s charming and some of the region’s best restaurants are here.
  • Albufeira is party Algarve. Avoid the notorious ‘strip’ and it can be great fun with kids. Generally less expensive than more refined Western Algarve for accommodation, the town’s bracketed by stunning Praia de São Rafael and Praia da Oura.
  • Vilamoura is the largest single tourist resort in Europe and another golfing great. Large family villas and apartments are the signature here and the nearest beach is the one all the others want to be: Praia de Falésia.

Eastern Algarve

For quaint seaside towns, peaceful beaches, spectacular nature reserves and more than a hint of pre-tourism Algarve, head east. There are fewer resort hotels and developments in this area, but the gentle easy-going pace works well for family holidays with younger kids.

  • The pretty town of Olháo to the east of Faro is typically Portuguese from its red-tile roofs to the sugar cube houses. Originally a wealthy fishing port, the historic quarter has some lovely buildings and several interesting churches.
  • Traditional Tavira has no less than 37 churches and some of the loveliest architecture in the Algarve. The historic quarter is charming and the town’s close to Barril Beach, known as the ‘graveyard of anchors’.
  • The star of eastern Algarve is always Ria Formosa Natural Park. This protected expanse of wetlands and salt marshes is one of Portugal’s most important nature reserves and teems with wildlife and birds.

Algarve Inland

The land where tourists seldom roam is definitely worth getting to know. Away from busy beaches and resorts, nothing much has changed for centuries. The unspoiled countryside is green and mountainous. Quaint towns and villages have colourful summer festivals and lively market days. Walking, hiking and cycling on well-marked routes and trails makes for fun days out and the Atlantic coast looks even more impressive viewed from above.

  • Climbing in the Serra de Monchique foothills is good with older kids and teens.
  • Caldas de Monchique has traditional thermal spas surrounded by lush pine forests and mountain panoramas.
  • Loulé has several of the best weekend markets in Algarve.

What to do and see with kids in Algarve

 

  • Mountain biking Via Algarviana

    The 300km west to east route right across the Algarve is made for keen mountain bikers. It’s well marked, easy to divide up and there are plenty of easy cycles for younger kids too.

  • Ria Formosa Natural Park, Eastern Algarve

    The lesser visited eastern Algarve is where to find one of Portugal’s Seven Wonders, Ria Formosa Natural Park. Kayaking and sailing the wetlands and salt marshes is thrilling with older kids and teens.

  • Dolphin Cruises, Albufeira

    The colourful boat is almost as much fun as the dolphin spotting on this two hour cruise. Cetacean sightings are pretty much guaranteed along with spectacular views of the Algarve coastline.

  • Silves Castle, Silves

    Less than an hour’s drive inland from Albufeira, Silves is one of Portugal’s truly historic fortified towns. Often overlooked by visitors, it’s charming and the enormous 12th century castle is steeped in fascinating history. Great climb-worthy battlements and views too.

  • Aqualand, Alcantarilha

    Waterpark pure and simple but no less fantastic for it, great value family day passes for this one, plenty of white-knuckle for older kids and safe splash zones for younger ones.

  • Parque Aventura, Lagos and Albufeira

    High rope treetop challenges for extremists, scaled down versions for younger kids, paintball and vast forest obstacle courses are what to expect from either Parque Aventura experience.

  • Burro Ville, Portimão

    Gentle and fluffy brown Mirandesa donkeys are the stars at Burro Ville just outside Portimão. Definitely not a look-only experience, rides in the surrounding countryside are all part of the fun deal here for kids.

  • Santa Bernarda Pirate Cruise, Portimão

    Sailing along the Algarve coast on a full-sailed pirate galleon isn’t likely to be something kids will forget in a hurry.



Educational value for kids

  • Strong swimming kids can visit Benagil Cave just west of Albufeira. These stunning formations are like immense natural temples and can only be reached from the water. Occasionally there are cave cruises from Praia Benagil too.
  • Most visitors arrive at Faro Airport and head straight to their resort, but the Algarve capital is a delightful city to explore with kids and Cidade Velha (old town) is quaint and atmospheric for a wander on a sunny summer afternoon.
  • The pretty town of Tavira in eastern Algarve is where to find the Tower of Tavira camera obscura. The region’s light provides perfect viewing conditions for seeing the townscape and coast and the experience never fails to astonish kids.
  • Visitors come and go but markets are forever in the Algarve. They’re the surest places to see things haven’t changed so much since this was a sleepy fishing region and come in all sorts of mesmerising forms. Try Albufeira’s Saturday Flea; the Gypsy Market at Aljezur on Sundays; Olhão’s legendary morning Fish Market; Lagos’ produce market every Saturday morning.
  • The Junior Golf Academy at Pestana Golf in Portimão has some of Europe’s finest programmes for young players (and complete beginners).
  • Algarve’s west coast beaches have great surf schools and kids as young as four can start learning. Morning classes are the norm and it’s a great way to make holiday friends – the language of surfing has no barriers.
  • The remote and magnificent Sagres Peninsula in far western Algarve is a renowned corridor for migrating birds in autumn. The Sagres Festival every October is a week long event packed with family activities, workshops and – of course – birdwatching with expert ornithologists.
  • The Junior Golf Academy at Pestana Golf in Portimão has some of Europe’s finest programmes for young players (and complete beginners).
  • Algarve’s west coast beaches have great surf schools and kids as young as four can start learning. Morning classes are the norm and it’s a great way to make holiday friends – the language of surfing has no barriers.
  • The remote and magnificent Sagres Peninsula in far western Algarve is a renowned corridor for migrating birds in autumn. The Sagres Festival every October is a week long event packed with family activities, workshops and – of course – birdwatching with expert ornithologists.

 

Getting about with kids in Belgium

Tucked down on Portugal’s wild southern Atlantic coast, it’s easy to underestimate the size and complexity of the Algarve region. There are good train services between larger towns along the coast and local buses are efficient and fairly fast. But if you want to get to know a little of this remarkable area beyond its beaches, hiring a car’s essential.

It’s also the only way to get off the beaten track, tour around the captivating interior and discover those quaint little beach bars and cafés that still live at the end of remote roads that seem to lead nowhere and only locals know about: west of Lagos is particularly good for off-book road trips.