Situated on the Western side of Portugal’s rugged southern coast is Lagos, one of Portugal’s most popular tourist destinations. Despite its popularity with visitors from around the globe, Lagos has retained a laid-back vibe and its cobbled streets have a particularly charming feel, unlike some of the other towns along the coast that have come to be dominated by large resort complexes. Full of yogis, surfers, and musicians, this town is firmly marked on the hippie trail, but it’s a popular choice for people from all walks of life.
Lagos is littered with gorgeous beaches bordered by dramatic cliff edges, and it’s lucky enough to be one of the sunniest places in Europe. It has tonnes of fun land- and water-based activities for you to try, and it has a vibrant nightlife too thanks to the swathes of bars, clubs, and restaurants you’ll find hidden away on its winding streets. No matter whether you’re a beach bum, an outdoor enthusiast, or just looking to party, you can find what you’re looking for in Lagos. So, let’s take a closer look at the best ways to spend your time in this picturesque town.
The Algarve region is famed for its dramatic cliffs and beaches, and you’ll find them all the way along the south coast. Luckily, if you’re staying in Lagos, you’re never far from a beach to explore. Praia dos Estudantes is located at the end of the strip opposite the marina and has tonnes of beachy pockets with a dramatic clifftop behind it. There are lots of rocky outcrops and boulders that make for some fantastic pictures, and even some tunnels through the rocks joining neighboring sections of the beach. This one’s very central and a great place to head with a picnic at lunchtime.
If you prefer a long sandy stretch of beach, then head over to Meia Praia. This relatively flat beach is popular for running, and there are several restaurants where you can enjoy a dinner with great views. If you’re up for a walk, then head further west and you’ll find the much-loved beaches of Praia do Pinhão and Praia de Dona Ana, again with some gorgeous rock features.
Further west again is yet another spectacular beach, Praia do Camilo, that you can reach via a wooden staircase that winds its way down the orange cliffs. A great way to spend a day in Lagos is to pack a beach backpack and work your way along the coast, sampling these majestic beaches and appreciating each one’s unique charms.
There aren’t as many coastal paths as you might think in and around Lagos – unfortunately, many routes that would have been ideal have been interrupted by hotels and other buildings, forcing you back on to the road. There is one route, however, that stands about above the rest – the Ponte De Piedad Boardwalk. This is a great route for anyone that’s instead on their feet or doesn’t like the look of those crumbling clifftops, as it’s along a wooden walkway. To reach the start of the walkway, head west from Lagos for just over half an hour.
You’ll see lots of nice beaches along the way, although you’ll have to spend some time on the road too as the clifftops aren’t always accessible. Eventually, you’ll reach the lighthouse at Ponte de Piedad, which is where the walkway actually begins (alternatively, you can just drive straight here). Along the boardwalk, you’ll come across several wooden structures that are great places to set up camp and watch the sun go down.
Many people depart from the boardwalk to get a bit closer to the clifftop. Although some of these paths are fairly well-trodden, take great care if you do decide to go off-piste – the crumbling rocks can be treacherous.
Before we begin, let us warn you that you need a license to fish independently in Portugal. You’ll see tonnes of fishermen trying their luck at all times of day down by the marina, but don’t join them without picking up a license first. Getting a license online is a bit faffy, and the fishing around the harbor isn’t particularly exciting, although you can find tonnes of mullets down there.
So, if you’re really into fishing, or want a stress-free fishing experience, then we definitely recommend taking a boat trip further offshore so you can find some more exciting catch. On a bottom fishing trip, you’ll typically encounter bream, squid, bass, and mackerel. But if you fancy something bigger, there are designated shark fishing trips you can go on, where you might end up hooking a blue shark or even a shortfin mako and, if you’re really lucky, you might even snag yourself a white marlin while you’re out there. Conger eels are also around and, while they aren’t to everyone’s taste, they form the basis of a Portuguese stew, known as Caldeirada – when in Rome eh!
Even if you’ve never surfed in your life, after spending 5 minutes in Lagos, you’ll want to try. There are signs, shops, and surfboards everywhere, and any curious minds will soon start to wonder what all the hype is about. If you’re into it already, then you’ve probably known about Lagos for years. Meia Praia beach is your best bet for catching any waves in Lagos itself, but there are loads of other spots just a short drive away, including the nearby towns of Praia da Luz and Portimão.
Not sure where to start? Pop into one of the many surf shops and you’ll be able to get advice on where to head, rent boards and wetsuits, and you can sign up for lessons too. Full-day lessons cost around €50 and include rentals, transport to the site, and a light lunch. They’re a great way to start if you’ve never surfed before, but they offer advanced lessons too for anyone hoping to brush up on their skills.
They also solve the problems of transport if you’re in Lagos without a vehicle, as you can pay just for transport if you have your own gear and don’t want a lesson, and sometimes the trips will take you right to the west coast, notorious for its waves.
As we just mentioned, the streets of Lagos are an attraction in their own right. During summer, the squares will be heaving, and you’ll get the chance to listen to some fantastic live music as you watch children playing around the fountains, couples canoodling, and people dancing. In the winter months, things quieten down a little, but this just adds a different kind of charm.
The Christmas lights will be on throughout the month of December, and you’ll be pleased to know that you can still sit outside in the evening during the winter months – many of the restaurants have heaters, and most will plight you with snuggly blankets as soon as you approach. It really is worth making sure you have some time to stroll around and take in the beauty of these streets, take a peek at the souvenirs, and listen to the music of the many buskers you’ll come across.
Portugal might not be a tropical diving destination, with its sea temperature ranging from around 15°C in winter to 20°C in summer, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great place to dive (as long as you have at least a 7mm wetsuit!). While it may be lacking in tropical reefs, it features a fantastic artificial reef comprised of four deliberately planted shipwrecks.
The reef was created as part of the Ocean Revival project as an attempt to boost eco-tourism and reduce practices that are environmentally degrading the area. The wrecks include The Hermenegildo Capelo Frigate, the first Portuguese ship to employ female sailors, and trained divers can even enter it and have a look around.
If wrecks aren’t your thing, there are also genuine reef dives where you can expect to see a range of fish life, including octopus, cuttlefish, moray eels, and more. Plus, even if you’ve never tried diving before, the local dive center, Dive Time Portugal, will be happy to take newbies out on their very first try dive.
No trip to Portugal is complete without eating far more pastries than you should, and a trip to Lagos is no different. The streets are lined with cozy-looking patisseries and the smells wafting out will tempt you at all times of the day. There are coffee shops everywhere too, serving up great coffee at a far cheaper price than elsewhere in Europe, and the squares are a great place to enjoy your coffee-and-cake combo as you soak up the sights and sunshine.
Pastel de natas are the classic Portuguese pastry, and they’re a delicious eggy mixture popped into a pastry and topped with cinnamon – we honestly didn’t think we’d like them as much as we did! You’ll find them everywhere and they can cost as little as 30 cents… which is actually pretty dangerous.
If you’re an ocean lover, but are a little put off by Portugal’s nippy waters, then why not spend some time on the ocean rather than in it? Dolphin’s are a star attraction of Portugal’s coastline and, when you spend time on the water, you have a chance of coming across Common, Bottlenose, Striped, and Risso’s dolphins. Although you can glimpse these majestical creatures at any time of your year, your odds are decidedly better in the warmer months of spring and summer.
Boat tours operate regularly, and typically last 1.5-3hrs and cost €40-50. Seen dolphins before? It’s still worth getting out there. There are tonnes of other exciting animals you might encounter, including whales and even the largest members of the dolphin families, orcas. Although no safari can guarantee a sighting, these trips are a great way to get out and get a new perspective on Portugal’s scenic shoreline.
There are so many restaurants in Lagos that you’ll be spoilt for choice trying to pick just one, and you might end up eating out more often than you planned. The Portuguese colonized Mozambique, where peri peri chili peppers are found in abundance, back in 1498, and they just couldn’t get enough of them. Nowadays, peri-peri chicken is a staple food across, and even somewhat of a delicacy, across Portugal. Lagos is no exception, and you’ll find this tasty dish served in tonnes of establishments.
However, situated right next to the sea, it’s no surprise that the best local food in Lagos is fish-based. Portugal is famed for its sardines (sardinhas), and you’ll usually be served them grilled with some soft bread on the side. Codfish (Bacalhau) is very popular too, and you’ll find it in stews, creamy dishes, and most often, as extremely tasty little fish cakes. There’s lots of octopus on traditional Portuguese restaurant menus too, as well as squid (they do a fantastic calamari at Meu Limão Tapas & Wine).
Attracting approximately 1,390,000 tourists a year, it’s not surprising that Lagos has an international feel about it, and this is certainly reflected in its restaurants. You’ll find places serving up Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, and American dishes – if you’re there for a week, you can easily embark on a culinary trip around the world. Although fine dining in Portugal can get a little pricey if you visit the high-end restaurants, in general, it’s a lot cheaper than elsewhere in Europe, so make the most of it while you’re there!
As much as we lovely the quaint streets of Lagos, if you want to mix things up a bit, then you should check out the marina area. Surrounded by water and with boats lined up in front of you, the restaurants here offer a totally different backdrop for a meal. The restaurants here serve up great seafood, and it’s a nice spot to cool down with some ice cream in the afternoon too. To reach the marina, head down to the N125 road by the waterfront and cross the bridge halfway along – sometimes you’ll even catch the bridge opening and closing to let passing boats through.
If you want to admire Portugal’s cliffs and beaches from the water, but you’re also looking for a way to get your exercise fix, then you should definitely consider a kayaking tour. Not only will you pass the most spectacular beaches Lagos has to offer, but you’ll get a chance to explore the rocky grottoes too. The tours depart almost hourly during the peak tourist season in the summer, and several times a day in spring and autumn (they stop operating during the coldest months of the year).
Most tours take a few pauses here and there for you to cool down with a refreshing swim in the crips water and to set foot on some of the beaches, although you can’t spend too long playing around as the trips usually only last 2-3 hours.
And finally, for any thrill-seekers out there, Lagos is, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, well-known for its skydiving trips. It might not be for everyone, but if you’re an adrenaline junkie, or just really into amazing views, then experiencing the rush of hurtling towards this magical shoreline is bound to be an unforgettable experience. Trips aren’t cheap (expect to spend at least 200), but you can rest assured you’ll be in the hands of properly trained instructors.
If you want to soak in the sights in absolute tranquility, then boat cruises are the way to go. There are tonnes of different options available, ranging from trips on traditional Portuguese sailing ships (that often include lunch and wine), to tours of the beautiful Ponta De Piedad grottos, to catamaran sunset cruises. The prices vary wildly depending on what kind of trip you go for, but even the cheapest options will make for some memories you’ll never forget.
If you had to pick just one boat cruise though, we have to recommend the Ponta De Piedad trip – the caves and grottos encased in tranquil turquoise waters really are part of what makes this part of the world so special.
So, there you have it, the best things to do in Lagos. As you’ve seen, there really is something for everyone… outdoor enthusiasts, foodies, beach bums, ocean goers, and adrenaline junkies, you’re all covered! On top of that, it’s super affordable compared to elsewhere in Europe (and even elsewhere in Portugal), and you’re bound to have sunny skies for most of your trip (although we can’t make any promises).
Despite all of this, it’s the stunning cliff-top views and artistic rock formations that really set this town apart from other sleepy seaside towns. The green shrubbery atop the orange cliffs above the golden sand next to the emeralds water really does make a feast for the eyes.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.