Is Lagos, Portugal, worth visiting? Surrounded by stunning waters and rock formations, this corner of the western Algarve is every bit as tantalizing as the travel brochures portray. Yep, the popular summer escape boasts some of the best beaches of Portugal, not to mention a climate to die for, with an abundance of summer sun and sea.
However, this is far from just a typical sea and sand retreat. It is also one of the few Algarve spots where history and culture dovetail to give the coastline a run for its money. With over 2,000 years of history, the ancient seafaring town was once a center of the Portuguese Age of Discovery and was a frequent base for Prince Henry the Navigator himself!
Still not convinced? Here, we’ll answer is Lagos, Portugal, worth visiting by looking at just a few of the many reasons why the town is up there with the best-loved spots in the Algarve. From the eye-watering bays and coves to the enthralling medieval and ancient sites that beckon the culture buffs, we’ve got the lowdown on the lot. Let’s go…
The (seriously astounding) beaches
Beaches in Lagos are beaches at their finest. Yep, we’re talking mesmerizing turquoise waters lapping onto pristine sand, all overlooked by majestic rock formations. And there’s more than just a few where you can go to throw down your towel and laze the day away under the rays of the Portuguese sun.
If you’re looking at cutting down travel time, Praia do Cais da Solária or Praia da Batata are your best bets. At just a few minutes’ walk from the center of town, you will be upping the tan in no time. However, due to their convenience, these beaches do tend to get rather crowded in the peak season. So, for a more peaceful option, try Praia do Pinhão. that’s a little cove hidden at the bottom of towering cliffs, complete with crystal-clear waters and a bit more seclusion.
Oh, and there has to be a special mention for Praia da Dona Ana. Nestled between sandstone cliffs and blessed with many caves and grottos, this beach was even described as “the best beach in the world” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine. It’s a doozy to explore on sea kayak or with a set of snorkeling gear.
Is Lagos, Portugal, worth visiting for the beaches alone? Yep! In fact, the beaches here are one of the main attractions and the stand-out spots noted above really are just scratching the surface.
If you thought you’d be coming to Lagos simply to laze on the coast, think again. Steeped in history, there is plenty for those with the thinking caps on around here. After having been occupied by the Visigoths in the 6th century AD, followed by the Byzantines, the Moors then conquered the town in the 8th century. That’s all left a layer cake of history…
Check out the Castle of Lagos, built by the Moors in the 900s as a means of defense. Although not much remains, it is an important part of Lagos history that can really help open up a window onto the past. Once you’re done there, a short stroll into the heart of the old town will lead you to the Statue of Prince Henry the Navigator. This impressive piece of art immortalizes his prominence as a patron of Portuguese exploration.
However, this part of the Algarve also holds a darker history. It is widely believed that the Mercado de Escravos, situated in the center of Lagos, was Europe’s first slave market. The site is now a museum that provides a sobering look into the role that Portugal had in the African slave trade.
Whale & dolphin watching
It’s no secret the Algarve is a favorite with sea lovers. With prime water sports locations, dazzling waters as far as the eye can see and breathtaking rock formations calling out to be explored, it is an aquatic paradise. However, the added bonus is that it is also a hotspot for whale and dolphin sightings.
This part of the Atlantic is home to many of these magnificent creatures due to warmer waters for breeding and plentiful food options provided around the canyons. Overall, there are around 26 species of cetaceans in the Portuguese waters but the main types you are likely to see around Lagos are the common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, risso’s dolphin, and minke whale. And there are several tour operators in the area just waiting to give you that breathtaking sighting.
Many tours offer specialist marine biologist guides also so you can be sure to learn a thing or two on route. The best time of year for sightings is spring and summer due to the water temperatures being warmer and therefore more chance of seeing the dolphins socializing. So, if spotting a whale or dolphin in the wild is something that’s always been on your bucket list, Lagos is definitely worth visiting for this reason alone.
Whether you’re looking for a wild clubbing session, a few drinks by the beach, or simply a late-night stroll in the heat, Lagos can certainly provide.
Some of the most popular spots in town include Bon Vivant, a five-level bar where you can enjoy fabulous house cocktails in a happy hour spanning from 5pm to 9pm, Inside Out, if you’re looking for a more sociable haunt, where you can get drinks fishbowl style, and Grand Café, the perfect place to dance the night away (until 5am if you want).
But for those looking for a more laid-back nightlife scene, the marina is home to a wide selection of bars, restaurants, cafes, and ice cream parlors to choose from. Sunset boat tours are also available if you’re looking to get out into the open sea, while having a few drinks and mingling with fellow tourists.
Want to know how Lagos compares with some of Portugal’s other party spots? Find out here.
Kayak through epic cliffs & caves
Whether you’re a keen kayaker or simply looking to get out on the water, Lagos is definitely worth visiting for its spectacular ocean landscape of which to explore.
One of the many reasons Lagos is a must see is the remarkable Ponta da Piedade. These wondrous cliff formations are the perfect spot to start your kayaking adventure. Paddle through the clear blue waters into the many caves and grottos dotted around and be sure to always have your camera at the ready. However, be warned, this area gets pretty crowded with other eager tourists so perhaps an early morning outing would be best.
If you’re still thirsty for more adventure, there are plenty more caves and even a few hidden beaches to be discovered all around Lagos.
Explore the many shops & restaurants of the old town
When you manage to tear yourself away from seaside paradise, the charming old town of Lagos is just as much of a must see. With its quaint cobblestone paths leading through a maze of quirky shops and cozy eateries, it’s got plenty to keep your happiness levels high.
Perhaps start with a little flavorsome seafood lunch at the highly rated Casinha do Petisco before exploring the many souvenir options, from handmade crafts by local artists to boutique fashions, and even some bottles of the best in Portuguese vino. But, after all that shopping, you may need a little caffeine hit to keep you going. Well, fear not, there are many cafes ready to serve you up the best in Portuguese java.
And once that adrenaline is pumping again, there is still much to explore, including stunning colorful tiled traditional housing and the exquisitely decorated church, Igreja de Santo António. Then, when night falls, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, serving all the best of Portuguese cuisine and international favorites. Our top picks would be Mullens, which boasts some of the best peri peri chicken in town, or if the budget permits, you could treat yourself to the finest Portuguese meat dishes in Michelin starred restaurant, Dos Artistas, where the ambience is just as pleasing as the food.
Great base for day trips
While we do believe Lagos is simply worth visiting for Lagos alone, it is also a great base for visiting many other popular spots in the region. At just under a 40-minute drive you can be in the popular surfing destination of Sagres, home to a variety of waves to suit the seasoned pro and absolute beginner. Or if you fancy checking out a little slice of authentic living, why not take a half hour bus ride to the quaint fishing village of Burgau.
And if you’re feeling energetic enough, why not hike from Burgau to the nearby resort town of Praia da Luz. This dirt trail over some steep hills is perhaps not for the faint hearted, however, if you do manage it, you are blessed with dramatically stunning views of the ocean, perfect for that envy inducing picture to send home.
Lagos is also a great base for exploring one of Portugal’s most famous landmarks, the Benagil Caves. This remarkable grotto with a hole on the top makes for a perfect day trip and can be reached by boat in two hours.
So, if you do find yourself with a little extra time after exploring all that Lagos has to offer, there is still plenty to keep you occupied nearby.
So, is Lagos, Portugal, worth visiting? Our conclusion
Is Lagos, Portugal, worth visiting in 2023? It most certainly is! Look, there’s a reason that this one’s up there with the best-loved towns in the Algarve region. Not only does it sit just on the cusp of some of the finest beaches in the country (think pristine golden sand and seas teeming with dolphin pods!) but it’s also got a rich past and a buzzing nightlife. On top of that, Lagos is a fantastic base for exploring the whole region, as road and train links can whisk you away to historic hill towns inland, surf beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, or family friendly resorts down the shorelines to the east.