With 300 days of sunshine a year, craggy coastlines and affordable living costs, it’s no wonder that the Algarve in southern Portugal is such a popular holiday destination. If visiting Lagos for just a short weekend escape, it’s important to make the most of your stay. I recommend spending one day exploring the town and one day exploring the beaches; the order in which you do this is really up to you. Here’s your mini guide to the best of Lagos, Portugal in 48 hours!
The best of Lagos, Portugal in 48 hours:
Start the day right with a coffee at one of my favourites, Mar d’Estorias. Now this isn’t your typical café – it’s also a restaurant (with tasty vegetarian and vegan options), art gallery, shop and bistro. You’ll find traditional Portuguese dishes fused with a healthy twist in the café. Also, be sure to check out the rooftop where you’ll find a restaurant and bar with views overlooking the traditional town of Lagos. You might fancy having dinner here once you’ve seen the views!
Once you’re finished, head down the road opposite Mar d’Estorias, towards the marina’s main path called Avenida dos Descobrimentos. There is a tourist mini train that leaves the Marina, but unless you have mobility problems, it’s definitely much nicer to walk, as it’s only a couple of kilometres each way.
You’ll pass the square that is home to the statue of Infante D. Henrique (Prince Henry the Navigator), which was first put up in 1960 (the 500th anniversary of his death). This important piece of modern Portuguese sculpture is a testament to the key role he played in Portugal’s history. Having led much of the Portuguese exploration and discoveries that transformed the country into an empire in the 15th century, he set up a navigation school to teach the skills he had learned navigating the seas of the North African coast.
As you continue down the Avenue towards the sea, you will pass the Castelo dos Governadores (Governor’s Castle), originally part of the city’s medieval defenses but now much restored.
A little further on and you’ll come to the Forte da Ponta da Bandeira, a seventeenth century fortress built to protect the harbour. The fortress now houses a small exhibition space and is a great place from which to see the bay.
Image by Arjan Veer via Flickr
Head to a supermarket or deli and grab some items for a picnic lunch on the beach. Once you’ve gathered everything, head down Avenida dos Descobrimentos towards the coastline (in the same direction as Forte da Ponta da Bandeira) and the first beach you will come to will be the Praia da Batata. Not surprisingly, this is the busiest of the Lagos beaches. Resist taking that dip just yet – it gets better.
Continue on the beach road and you’ll soon come to Praia do Pinhao, a very beautiful beach, famous for its rock formations. This little cove is tucked away from the town, and accessible via some steep stone stairs. Largely untouched by tourism, you won’t see a single shop, umbrella or deck chair in sight. Once on the beach, it really doesn’t feel like you’re in a city at all! The perfect spot to have a relaxing picnic on.
Just a little further along the coast road, you’ll arrive at Praia Dona Ana where the cliffs are even more spectacular! This is probably the most photographed of all the Algarve’s beaches. It can get very busy with families, deckchairs and parasols but the sea views and craggy cliff tops are truly stunning and worth the visit. The waters are crystal-clear and calm. With a lifeguard on hand, Praia Dona Ana a great beach for families (although you might need a hand getting a pushchair down the long flight of steps).
The final beach in the sequence is Praia do Camilo where you can walk through tunnels beneath huge rock formations. To access the beach, you’ll have to get down a huge flight of wooden steps, but it really is worth the effort! It’s quite a bit smaller than the other beaches, but there is something uniquely enchanting about the seclusion of this one. Be aware there are no facilities at Praia do Camilo so be sure to bring drinks and snacks – and sunscreen!
Image by Chris Ford via Flickr
A night out in Lagos is more chilled and atmospheric than the nightlife in places such as Magaluf or Ibiza. Personally, I prefer the more chilled-out, slightly alternative and edgy bars that Lagos has to offer in quaint old buildings. And because Lagos is quite a small town, all the bars are within a short walking distance from each other.
Located at the heart of the town and just a short distance from the main square, is the brightly coloured Bon Vivant. This bar has a great terrace, where you can have a drink and watch the people of Lagos go about their evening. There are tonnes of bars and clubs to choose from within a short distance from Bon Vivant, so explore at your whim! There is such a wide variety of atmospheres, suiting a good range of musical tastes that there really is a little something for everyone.
Be sure that you’re able to find your way back to where you’re staying. There are plenty of lovely villas dotted around Lagos that are rented out by locals, some even located by the beach. Just make sure you note all the accommodation details before you head out, so you can find your way back (especially after a heavy night).
For your second day in Lagos, explore the traditional Portuguese-mosaic-tiled streets of the town. Discover an eclectic mix of museums and churches and immerse yourself in Portugal’s rich history. Not all of these will be of interest to everyone but because everything is so centrally located, you can easily pick and choose according to your taste.
But first, coffee! And breakfast of course. Croissanteria 29 serves great coffee and amazing freshly baked croissants. However, be aware that Portuguese croissants are a bit different to the croissants you are probably thinking of right now. Think milky, sweet and soft – almost brioche like – rather than buttery, flaky pastry.
Once you’ve had your breakfast and are ready to take on the day, begin your tour with a tragic chapter of Lagos history. The Mercado de Escravos, located in the Infante D. Henrique Square, is a former slave market where the first slaves were transported to from the western coast of Africa in 1444. Apparently by the 16th century, 10% of the Algarve’s population were slaves. The building reopened in 2016 and now houses temporary exhibitions.
Opposite the Praça Infante D. Henrique is the beautiful little church Igreja de Santa Maria (Church of Saint Mary). A short walk down Rua H. Costa Silva will bring you to Igreja de Santo Antonio (Church of Saint Anthony), which contains Baroque style architecture and eight Baroque paintings. The impressive Igreja de Santo Antonio also houses a museum, which requires an entrance fee of €4.
Yesterday was a picnic lunch at the beach, so for your second day, try your taste buds at a tapas restaurant. Meu Limão offers a wide selection of traditional Portuguese and International tapas in a quaint and comfortable atmosphere. This is great for lunch, as you can sample a wide selection of different flavours.
Once you’ve finished lunch, just a few meters in front of Meu Limão is the Museu Municipal Dr José Formosinho. Founded in 1934, this museum houses a substantial collection of archaeological discoveries and will give you an understanding of the historical evolution of Lagos. Inside, it’s more of a free-for-all, wander-at-your-whim type of museum. Expect to see random artefacts – model ships, dollhouses, coins, rifles, and clothes etc. You can spend a good couple of hours browsing through this eclectic mix.
Head down the Avienda dos Descobrimentos in the opposite direction to the beach and you will come to the third of Lagos’ spectacular churches, Igreja de São Sebastião (Church of Saint Sebastian), famous for its immense gilded altar.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
If you haven’t yet done so, you must try the seafood in Portugal! There is an all-you-can-eat fish restaurant called Zé Leiteiro in Armação de Pêra, which is a favourite amongst locals. Although you’ll need to hire a car to get there, it’s well worth the trip. Why not explore the nearby beaches of Praia de Carvoeira, Carvalho beach and Praia da Marinha while you’re there? Carvalho beach is definitely worth going to, if only to pass through the hand-carved tunnels buried deep in the cliffs. Swim to the nearby sea cave, which is as large as a cathedral, and peer up the gaping hole in its roof.
Anyway, back to the seafood at Zé Leiteiro! For the very reasonable price of €12.50 per person, the waiters will keep serving you freshly grilled fish, along with potatoes and salad, until you tell them to stop. Doors open for dinner at 6:30pm so turn up early. Otherwise be prepared to wait since you can’t book tables here.
If you don’t fancy heading outside of Lagos, it won’t be hard to find a decent seafood restaurant in the centre. Casinha do Petisco is centrally located and serves great traditional Portuguese seafood dishes. There’s a very warm and friendly atmosphere, the portion sizes are generous and the prices aren’t bumped up to tourists’ rates. I’d recommend turning up an hour and a half before you want to eat, putting your name on the waiting list, having a mooch around the old town and then coming back. You can call and make reservations ahead of time, but you can only book up to 7pm.
So there’s our mini guide to the best of Lagos, Portugal in 48 hours! I’d definitely recommend spending more time here and exploring the nearby sleepy towns, fisherman villages and expansive coastlines.
Looking for more quick weekend guides? Check these out:
- The Best of Berlin in 48 Hours
- A Quick Escape to Hepburn Springs
- How to Spend the Perfect 3 Days in London
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Have you ever been to Lagos? What are your recommendations to finding hidden gems in the Algarve?