When I think of the quintessential Portugal seaside destination, the first name that always pops into my mind is undoubtedly Lagos. This stunning gem, located in Portugal’s southern Algarve region is an extremely popular beachside spot for visitors seeking sun and sand.
Given the proximity of beautiful beaches, the glimmering white-washed historic town center, and its perfect location from which to explore the rest of the Algarve, it is hardly surprising that so many travelers fall head over heels in love with Lagos. But despite its popularity, Lagos has somehow managed to maintain an authentic Portuguese vibe and way of life.
I personally adore Lagos and have been back many times, discovering new things to see and do on each and every visit. There is so much to keep you busy – whether you’re a beach-lover or simply want to explore the Algarve region – Lagos is perfect.
In this guide, you’ll find my list of the best 5 things to do in Lagos along with all the information you’ll need in order to plan your own trip to this perfect Portugal beach town.
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Getting to Lagos
Lagos is located in the western Algarve region, around 186 miles (300 kilometers) south of Portugal’s capital, Lisbon. Thankfully, it’s easy to travel from Lisbon to Lagos by car, bus, or even train.
Every time I’ve visited Lagos, I have chosen to travel by car. As I previously mentioned, you can travel by bus or train, but you won’t have the same freedom to explore the Algarve’s many beaches and hidden gems beyond Lagos. And a drive through the Algarve region is one of the best road trips in Portugal so having a car is definitely recommended.
The drive from Lisbon to Lagos should take around 3 hours via the A2 motorway. This major highway is in excellent condition and a delight to travel on, but a word of warning, most of Portugal’s national motorways are tolled and this should be factored in when planning your travel budget.
Tip: If you do plan on hiring a car and traveling on the tolled motorways then consider the e-tag service that most car hire companies offer (at an additional cost). This enables you to link your credit card to an electronic tag that will automatically charge your card as you travel through the various toll gates and motorways.
I’ve always found it worthwhile, even if paying slightly more, just for the convenience of not having to worry about when or where to pay toll fees.
Do You Need a Visa to Visit Lagos?
Portugal is a part of the Schengen Area so US Citizens and travelers from many other countries will not need a visa to visit as long as your trip is less than 90 days.
You should be aware, however, that the European Union is in the process of launching a new electronic travel authorization system called ETIAS (EU Travel Information and Authorisation System). It is expected to be implemented by the end of 2022. Depending on when your planning to visit Lagos, you may want to double check the ETIAS requirements for US Citizens.
The 5 Best Things to do in Lagos, Portugal
1. Beaches, Beaches and More Beaches
Anyone who has visited the Algarve before knows that it’s unlike any other beach destination in the world. The golden, rugged cliffs and rock formations lining the southern Portugal coastline are simply spectacular.
In Lagos, you’ll find a number of incredible beaches to explore and all of which are within easy reach of the town center.
A few of my absolute favorite Lagos beaches are the popular Praia Dona Ana, the hidden beach of Praia dos Estudantes, and Ponta da Piedade, with its incredible rock formations. All of these beaches are distinctly different from one another and offer their own unique beach-going experience.
Even if you don’t have your own vehicle you can easily reach several of Lagos’ best beaches. The “A Onda” bus service has frequent departures every day of the week with the blue line (line 2) connecting Meia Praia, Praia Dona Ana, and Praia Porto de Mos.
Tip: Be aware that some beaches such as Praia Dona Ana have all the necessary facilities you’d come to expect on a public beach. Other beaches including Praia do Camilo and Praia dos Estudantes are remote and unspoiled with few to no facilities.
Make sure to prepare accordingly depending on which beach you plan to visit for the day.
2. Play in the Water
It’s no secret that the Algarve is all about sunshine, beaches and, of course, water sports! All along the Lagos coastline, you’ll find no shortage of exciting activities to enjoy on the water. In fact, the Algarve gets lots of sunshine all year round making it one of the best winter destinations in Europe.
The most popular outing is a boat cruise to the beautiful Ponta da Piedade or to the gorgeous Benagil Caves. If you’re looking for something more active, consider kayaking, surfing lessons, kite-surfing, or standup paddleboarding. Got an extra special occasion to celebrate? Why not consider renting out a private half-day or sunset yacht cruise to round out your stay in Lagos.
No matter your preference, in Lagos there’s bound to be an excursion perfectly suited to you.
3. Go Wine Tasting
While Portuguese wines are known the world over, most people are much more familiar with wines produced in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. Few visitors to Lagos realize that the Algarve is also one of Portugal’s top wine regions.
Located just a 10-minute drive from Lagos town center, the Monte de Casteleja organic wine farm produces a variety of wine including white, red, and rosé. You can opt for a guided tour and wine tasting session. Or better yet, make the most of your visit with an overnight stay in their onsite guest house!
Monte de Casteleja marks the start of the Algarve wine route. Traveling to the east you’ll find several other wine farms scattered through the region including Quinta Moragado da Torre, Quinta do Frances, Quinta dos Vales and Quinta de Mata Moros.
4. Stroll Through the Historic Town Center
Lagos is an idyllic seaside resort town with a historic center that oozes Portuguese charm and character. Complete with cobbled streets, tiled buildings, and gorgeous churches, Lagos has it all.
Wandering through the streets and squares of the historic town center of Lagos is in itself a fantastic experience. The streets are lined with boutique shops, bars, and restaurants serving delicious fresh seafood. And there’s no doubt you’ll encounter a few entertaining street artists performing in the public squares throughout the town.
If you’re after a truly authentic Portuguese experience then head to the superb Alma Lusa Restaurante just outside of Lagos’ old town. You’ll dine on some of the best Portuguese cuisines while listening to the mesmerizing sounds of a Fado show, the traditional melancholic folk music of Portugal.
5. Explore the Algarve Region
Even though Lagos is located in the far west of the Algarve region, it is still easy to see more of the surrounding areas. Whenever I’ve visited Lagos, I’ve always ventured out and explored more of southern Portugal – visiting the towns of Tavira and Vilamoura and discovering other beaches including my all-time favorite Algarve beach, Praia da Marinha.
Good motorways making getting around in the Algarve a breeze, and even the drive from Lagos to the far eastern town of Tavira takes just a little over an hour. There is no excuse why you cannot get to see more of this stunning region when based in Lagos.
If you would prefer to explore beyond the mainstream tourist spots in the Algarve, then consider heading west to the southernmost tip of Sagres. Then travel up the Southwestern coast of Portugal, also known as the Costa Vicentina.
A truly spectacular part of Portugal, the Costa Vicentina is still well hidden from the throngs of tourists that visit Portugal each year. The area is blessed with stunning natural beauty, an incredible coastline, and even more amazing beaches.
For nature lovers, there are hundreds of miles of hiking and cycling trails in southwest Portugal known collectively as the Rota Vicentina. Or perhaps you would prefer to explore the white-washed villages of Aljezur, Vila Nova de Milfontes or Zambujeira do Mar.
Lagos is one of those truly special places that will capture your heart at first sight. The town center is charming, the people are warm and welcoming, and the beaches are out of this world. And with so much to see and explore throughout the Algarve region, Lagos truly is the perfect base from which to enjoy your Portuguese seaside holiday!
Where to stay in Lagos
Wondering where to stay when visiting Lagos? Thankfully, Lagos has no shortage of top-quality accommodation options to suit any budget.
As far as top 5-star hotels go, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the centrally located Casa Mãe which is pretty much in the heart of Lagos town center, or alternatively the Cascades Wellness Resort which is about 10 minutes out from the center of Lagos, overlooking the Porto de Mós beach and also offering gorgeous ocean views.
So that’s it – the best things to do in Lagos! Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments below.
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Marco Santos – About the Author:
Born and raised in South Africa, Marco Santos moved to sunny Lisbon over 2 years ago. With an absolute love for Europe, he is on a mission to rediscover his own Portuguese heritage along the way.
Marco has set out to blog and share his passion for exploring Portugal, Spain, and all of Europe, through his blog, Travel-Boo.