Beautifully situated along Portugal’s southern coastline, you’ll quickly fall for the white sand beaches and dramatic rock formations of Lagos. This is one of the Algarve’s premier tourist destinations, and you’ll understand why when you start to explore its spectacular coastline of hidden coves and secluded bays.
Spend your days lazing on soft sand, kayaking to sea caves, or hiking rocky coastal paths, then enjoy wonderfully fresh seafood dinners washed down by a glass of Portugal’s finest wine! But there’s much more to Lagos than the scenery and cuisine.
This is a small city that’s steeped in history, and you can find out more about the important role Lagos played in Portugal’s Age of Discovery by visiting local museums. From Lagos’ small but sheltered harbor, not far from the most southwesterly point in mainland Europe, Portuguese explorers like Henry the Navigator established trade routes across the world.
With so many things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. That’s why we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to see and do in Lagos. Stick to these fun and unique Lagos bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’re going to have an incredible time exploring this wonderful part of Portugal!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Lagos, Portugal
1. Take in the local history on a walking tour of Lagos
Like most tourists, we expect you’re visiting the Algarve for the glorious beaches and dramatic coastal scenery. But before heading down to the white sands of your favorite praia (beach), we recommend taking in the local history on a walking tour of Lagos.
You’ll soon find that this small city is packed with historical sights. Your guide will start by taking you far back to discover the Celtic origins of Lagos, and you’ll walk over the original foundations of Iron Age houses that laid the basis for the modern city.
You’ll learn how the area was conquered by Romans and Moors, you’ll see the historic medieval walls that protected Lagos during Portugal’s Age of Discovery, and you’ll start to understand how the city developed the unique character that you’ll be immersed in today.
You’ll also see the darker side of Lagos’ history as you retrace the steps taken by slaves from the port to the slave market, which at one point was the largest in Europe.
Local historians and tour guides run several tours daily in the Old Town (in peak season, there are both morning and afternoon tours), offering you a chance to see the historical sights, orient yourself in the city, and ask any burning questions you have about Lagos!
2. Step back in time at the Municipal Museum
If you’d love to learn more about the local history, then don’t miss out on a quick trip to the Municipal Museum. Officially named the Museu Municipal Dr. Jose Formosinho after its founder and funder, the city’s main museum dates back to 1932.
Start by exploring the many historical relics and archeological exhibits that tell the story of Lagos and the Algarve. The exhibitions take you back to the Neolithic period before exploring the Roman and Moorish eras, the Age of Discovery, and more modern times. You’ll see coins and cannonballs, as well as the religious icons once worn by a king of Portugal.
The museum is located within part of the Igreja de Santo Antônio, a beautiful church that we’d confidently say is one of the best things to see in Lagos. The Igreja de Santo Antônio (the church of Saint Anthony) dates back to 1707 and is a beautiful work of religious art and architecture.
The gilded Baroque-style interiors are some of the finest in Europe, while the lavish religious icons and motifs are a testament to the wealthy Portuguese mariners who left tribute before setting off on perilous voyages across the Atlantic.
3. Visit Meia Praia, the largest beach in Lagos
One of the best reasons to visit Lagos is for the city’s exceptional beaches, and there’s no better place to start your beach-hopping adventures than at Meia Praia. This long stretch of white sand just so happens to be the largest beach in Lagos, which is why it makes for a fantastic introduction to the city’s coastal offerings.
You’ll be interested to know that “Meia Praia” means “Half Beach” in Portuguese, but you’ll soon realize that the name certainly isn’t referring to the length of the beach. Meia Praia stretches for some 3 miles to the east of Lagos, right to the mouth of the River Odiaxere.
It goes without saying, but the further east you walk from Lagos, the quieter the beach is going to be. Walk too far, though, and you might unwittingly encounter the nudist section!
Meia Praia is perhaps everything you’d expect from an Algarve beach. The sand is soft underfoot, the sea here is generally very calm (at least in summer), and there’s plenty of space to set up your beach umbrella or lay down your towel for the day.
4. Walk 200 steps down to Praia do Camilo
If you’re looking for a picture-perfect view of the Algarve, then few other places encapsulate the scenic beauty of the region like Praia do Camilo. This beautiful beach is the Algarve in all its natural glory, and you’re going to love the scenery, the sands, and the dramatic cliffs.
To get there, you’ll first have to walk down 200 wooden steps that lead from the clifftops to the beach. At the bottom, you’ll be surrounded by the impressive rock formations that the Algarve is so renowned for. Bring your camera because the photography opportunities are simply awesome.
Wear your swimsuit, too, because you can wade into the turquoise waters from the beach for a quick swim. You’ll need a swim to cool down because the steps are at least a half-hour walk from the Old Town. Once you are down on the beach, though, you can reach the equally famous rock formations known as Ponta de Piedade from Praia do Camilo.
5. Marvel at the Ponte de Piedade rock formations
One of the best natural sights in Lagos is the magnificent Ponte de Piedade. This impressive headland is windswept, barren, and sun-beaten, but it’s the very arduous nature of the climate and the terrain that makes this one of the most beautiful things to do in Lagos.
The name “Ponte de Piedade” translates into English as “Piety Point,” and the area is best known for its dramatic rock formations. The cliffs rise and fall like the tides, while battered rocks extend out into the crashing surf of the Atlantic, where unique archways and shapes have been carved by the sea over millennia. The main base for the headland is the lighthouse that looks over the cliffs, where there’s also a car park and a cafe.
There are a few ways you might wish to explore Ponte de Piedade. The first option is on foot, and you can make the 2-mile or so walk from the Old Town across old shepherds’ trails and along coastal paths to enjoy expansive views over the headland. Many of the paths lead down to hidden coves and beaches, including the 200 steps down to Praia do Camilo.
The second option is to join a boat trip. Many former fishermen have taken up tour guiding in Lagos, and you can ride the old fishing boats around the headland. The fishermen know where all of the hidden sea caves and coves are, so you’ll see a part of the Ponte de Piedade you could never see by land.
The third option also takes you onto the sea, except instead of traveling by boat, you’ll power yourself around the headland on a sea kayak or paddleboard (when the waves are calm, that is!).
6. Escape to the secluded sands of Praia de Dona Ana
One of the best beaches to escape to is Praia de Dona Ana, which is hidden away among the cliffs and coves of the Ponte de Piedade headland. Visiting this beautiful beach is one of the coolest things to do in Lagos, and we know you’re going to love spending the day soaking up the sun and bathing in the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Praia de Dona Ana is the largest beach on the Ponte de Piedade headland. It’s a half-hour walk from the Old Town, and when you reach the top of the cliffs, you follow a set of stairs leading down to the sands. You can rent a beach lounger or umbrella for the day, join a boat tour around the cliffs and into the sea caves or rent a paddleboard to explore the coastline.
Of course, you can also do very little at Praia de Dona Ana. The beach is perfect for relaxing, and you can sit back on the soft sands and take in the amazing view of the eroded cliffs as they extend outwards into the Atlantic Ocean.
7. Explore the golden sands of Praia Porto de Mós
Situated on the western side of the Ponte de Piedade, the golden sands of Praia Porto de Mos await you on the lesser visited side of Lagos.
Praia Porto de Mós is, in fact, the second-longest beach in the area (after Meia Praia), so there’s always plenty of space here, even in peak season. The beach stretches for almost a mile from the cliffs of the Ponte de Piedade and westward across the coast of the Algarve. With soft sand between your toes, you’ll quickly fall in love with the setting.
Praia Porto de Mos is perfect for a beach stroll, while you’ll also notice that it’s a firm favorite for surfers and water sports lovers. The Atlantic Ocean on the west side of Lagos isn’t as sheltered as the east, so the choppy seas result in much bigger waves than you’ll see elsewhere.
8. Shop for the freshest fish at the Mercado Municipal
We love Lagos for its local charms, and considering how touristy the Algarve can sometimes be, it’s wonderful that the city has retained some semblance of its local character. To get a real sense of this local appeal, we recommend heading to the Mercado Municipal as soon as the doors open in the morning.
This is Lagos’ biggest and most traditional market, and you’ll find it in a multi-story building on Avenida dos Descobrimentos. The building dates back almost a hundred years, but there’s no doubt that the buying and selling within is a tradition that’s been played out in Lagos for thousands of years.
On the first floor of the Mercado Municipal, you’ll find the freshest fish in Lagos for sale. Here you can purchase sardines, squid, prawns, lobster, and any other seafood that’s been hauled in off the boats that day for reasonable prices from the local vendors.
Head to the second floor of the market, and you’ll find fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the surrounding countryside. On the third floor, there’s a cafe, where you’ll have excellent views over the marina. If you’re looking for unique things to do in Lagos, you’ll love exploring the Mercado Municipal.
9. Be humbled by the Slave Market Museum
Although Lagos is seen as a cheery destination for sun, sea, and sand seekers, it’s also important to acknowledge the city’s darker past. Lagos’ location in the extreme southwest of Portugal ensured that the city played an important role in Portugal’s Age of Discovery, when famous explorers like Henry the Navigator opened up the world to Europe.
But with the “discoveries” came the chilling West African Slave Trade, and Lagos became a leading player in the horrendous trade of people from West Africa to Europe and the Americas.
The role Lagos played wasn’t small, and the city became home to the first West African slave market in Europe. The Mercado de Escravos (The Slave Market) was established in 1444, and slaves were bought and sold here for several centuries to come.
The Slave Market itself still exists (although the slave trade was, of course, outlawed long ago). You’ll find it in the Old Town, in a building dating back to 1691. In 2016, The Slave Market was transformed into a museum, which you can now visit to learn more about the role Portugal played in the slave trade from the 15th century onwards.
10. Explore the ramparts of Forte da Ponta da Bandeira
Overlooking the strategic seafront entrance to Lagos, which today leads to the Lagos Marina, you’ll find one of the best-preserved 17th-century fortresses in Portugal.
Forte da Ponta da Bandeira was constructed at a time of political turbulence when Portugal was defending itself against endless attacks from Spain and North Africa and by navies and pirates alike. Lagos was one of the wealthiest ports in the region, and as such, its riches were a prime target for raids.
The Portuguese decided to build what was, at the time, one of the most technologically advanced fortresses in the world. Forte da Ponta da Bandeira is surrounded by a moat and can only be accessed by a small wooden drawbridge. The thick stone walls were angled to repel cannonballs, while lookouts on the tall towers could watch out across the harbor.
Today, you can walk the ramparts, enjoy sweeping vistas from the high walls, and explore local history in the fort’s small museum.
11. Join a boat cruise to Benagil Cave
The Algarve’s extensive coastline is pockmarked with countless caves that are often only accessible from the sea. One of the best is the Benagil Cave, which you’ll find around one hour’s boat ride away from Lagos.
We’d go as far as to say that the Benagil Cave is one of the best Lagos sightseeing attractions, and we think you’ll agree when you gaze upwards into the cavernous dome extending into the cliffs themselves.
Look up, and you’ll also see the wide “eye” of the cave that opens up into the heavens, flooding the turquoise waters below with natural light. There’s even a small stretch of sand where you can make landfall within the cave, making this one of our favorite natural sights in Lagos.
12. Explore the fishing village-turned-resort of Praia da Luz
One of the coolest Lagos activities is visiting the nearby fishing village-turned-resort of Praia da Luz. Once a sleepy seafront village known for its fishing fleet, Praia da Luz was transformed into one of the Algarve’s best holiday destinations in the late 20th century.
There are some great resorts close to the village, and don’t let the tourism put you off because the village has still retained much of its charm. There are excellent seafront restaurants serving fresh seafood, while you can also explore Roman ruins and a 17th-century fortress.
As with most popular destinations along the Algarve, it’s the beach that’s the real draw. Praia da Luz’s beach is second to very few others, and you can spend countless vacation days enjoying sand, sea, and surf on the coast here.
13. Hike the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail
One of the best things to do in Lagos is to follow the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail. This spectacular hiking trail starts at Praia da Marinha, where you’ll begin your walk with dramatic views of this white sand beach, surrounded by its exposed clifftops.
The hike takes you along the seafront as you tackle the cliffs of the Algarve before ending some 4 miles later at Praia do Vale de Centianes. The trail is waymarked with red and yellow signs, and although it’s a coastal walk, for much of the hike you’ll find the view blocked out by rugged, rocky terrain until suddenly, the ocean emerges as you reach a panoramic viewpoint.
The trail takes you above small beaches, secret coves, and the famous Benagil Cave (although you may only enter this sea cave from the ocean). The start point at Praia da Marinha is around a 40-minute drive from Lagos.
14. Visit the most southwesterly point in mainland Europe
On a trip from Lagos, you can visit one of the European continent’s most extreme geographical locations. Travel geeks will love this day trip because just a 30-minute drive from Lagos is the most southwesterly point in mainland Europe!
Sagres even has the end-of-the-continent vibes you’d expect from such a location. When you arrive in the small village, make your way to the prominent headland that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. This is Cabo de São Vicente, and it’s the extreme point you’re looking for.
From your vantage point above the sea, you’ll have glorious views along the Algarve. For Portugal’s sailors, fishermen, and mariners, this is the last and first point they’d see when setting off on voyages, often across the world.
In the village of Sagres, you’ll find a small harbor and plenty of cafes and seafood restaurants. There are also several beaches you can visit as part of your day trip, where you’ll often see surfers and windsurfers taking advantage of the blustery conditions found here year-round.
15. Tackle the epic multi-day Fishermen’s Trail
For the ultimate outdoor adventure in the Algarve, then you can’t beat the epic Fishermen’s Trail. This multi-day hiking route starts or ends in Lagos and provides avid walkers with 143 miles of waymarked trail to tackle.
The route is marked with blue and green signs and largely follows the old footpaths and trails used by fishermen to access beaches and coves along the coast. It’s tough going, particularly in the heat, but it’s an incredibly rewarding way to explore Portugal’s southwestern coastline.
The Fishermen’s Trail officially ends in S.Torpez Beach, although many finish the walk in Porto Covo, where there are more convenient amenities and transport links. From Lagos, the trail would take a fit hiker around two weeks to complete.
Of course, we understand that not everyone has a spare fortnight for hiking. Don’t worry because some of the best sections of the Fishermen’s Trail are found close to Lagos. These include the hike from Lagos to Ponta de Piedade and hikes further west toward Sagres and the most southwesterly point in Europe.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Lagos. What’s your favorite thing to do in Lagos?
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