So, you’re planning a trip to The Algarve in Portugal and can’t decide which is better, Lagos or Albufeira? I live several months a year in The Algarve and know precisely where you need to go depending on what kind of vacation you wish.
Lagos is better when you want to visit an authentic Portuguese village that is less crowded. Albufeira is better for people looking for a touristy vibrant nightlife and many restaurants. Both have beaches. Lagos has famous rock formation viewpoints (Ponta Piedade), and beaches like Praia do Camilo and Meia Praia are within walking distance.
I live for several months a year in Lagos, Portugal, to enjoy the lovely mild winters. So, I know exactly where you need to go for every type of vacation. Let’s learn more about Lagos and Albufeira and find out which city is better for different holidays.
The Difference Between Lagos and Albufeira
In general, Lagos is better when you’re looking for a more authentic feel in Portugal. Lagos is much smaller than Albufeira and has a more laid-back vibe. Albufeira is tourist-focused, and you’ll see that right away when arriving in the city. The best way to describe Albufeira is many hotels, resorts, restaurants, and vibrant nightlife during summer. There’s not much left of the once calm town Albufeira was many years ago.
Since The Algarve, especially Albufeira, is very popular among British tourists and retirees, you’ll find that many of the amenities are focused on the British. Some people even call it little Brittain!
Honestly, deciding which is better, Lagos or Albufeira, depends on what kind of vacation or stay you’re looking for. So, depending on your wishes and expectations, you’ll maybe find Lagos better than Albufeira or the other way around.
Did you know that the drive from Lagos to Albufeira (and visa versa) is only around 45 minutes (60 kilometers)? Still, both cities feel completely different.
Lagos’s old buildings & streets
Lagos has many small streets that still feel authentic like you wander around in a small Portuguese village. The different buildings in traditional Portuguese style make this feeling complete.
Of course, the new marina and areas away from the city center are much more modern, but the unique city center of Lagos is something you don’t see that much in a city in The Algarve in Portugal.
This traditional architecture and the lovely modern restaurants make Lagos a perfect city to wander around. Many establishments are focused on serving modern food. A kitchen that creates healthy, fresh meals for meat, vegetarian and vegan lovers.
And best of all, Lagos can still be cheap. Of course, you’ll pay more if you go to the popular restaurants. Still, Lagos has many traditional Portuguese cafes and restaurants that focus on the local community. You’ll have a great experience going to one of these restaurants as a tourist. It’s good for your budget, and you’ll get an authentic local experience!
Albufeira’s All-Inclusive Resorts
Albufeira is great when you’re looking for a place to stay in an all-inclusive resort or hotel and want to spend your holiday in a city mainly focused on tourism.
Sure, you still can visit some old parts of Albufeira that are lovely to walk around. And there’s a lot of entertainment so that you don’t get bored. But that’s about it. When you stay in Albufeira, you definitely need to go on day trips to explore the unique Portuguese culture. And you know, the thing is, most of these day trips are arranged by the all-inclusive resorts, so they are still tourist-focused. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with it. But if you are looking for a more local experience, picking Lagos as your base would be a better choice. If you want to go all out with all-inclusive packages, Albufeira is the right choice for you!
Lagos or Albufeira; Which Has Better Beaches
Lagos has better and more different beaches directly connected to the city and offers various beach-style activities. Albufeira has a large sandy beach directly to the old town and offers many different beaches in the small villages directly next to the city. Coming from Albufeira, it’s a shorter boat ride to visit the famous Benagil Caves, so this might be easier when you’re short on time.
To decide which city has better beaches, it’s important to really look at the beaches close to the cities. Because the coastline between Lagos and Albufeira is from both cities easily reachable. So you can visit the beautiful coastal villages and beaches on the Algarvian coast easily, both from Lagos or Albufeira.
The coastline in the Algarve is known for its many different sandy beaches. Some of which are very large, wide sandy beaches. But most of the beaches are small and located alongside the beautiful cliffs that give the coastline unique views.
Beaches in Albufeira
Albufeira has several beaches close to the city. The most well-known is Praia de Albufeira, a large wide sandy beach you can easily reach from the city center.
There are many other beaches close to Albufeira. The biggest difference from the beaches in Lagos is that you’ll find more beach bars and clubs close to the Albufeira beaches. This is mainly because Albufeira is more focused on receiving larger amounts of tourists.
Beaches in Lagos
The beaches in Lagos are known for their beautiful views, easy-going vibes, and calm seas. When you stay in Lagos city center, it is easy to reach different beaches close to the city.
When you take a close look at the beaches in Lagos, you can say that the city is divided by the amazing viewpoint ‘Ponta de Piedade.’ Which is a perfect place to go for both sunrise and sunset!
Close to Ponta de Piedade, you’ll find one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to. Which is called ‘Praia Do Camilo.’ It’s a small sandy beach with many rock formations and stunning views! Praia do Camilo is only reachable by following steep stairs to the beach.
Meia Praia is Lagos’s well-known beach for its wide stretched beach. Meia Praia means ‘beautiful beach,’ and it is indeed a beautiful beach. Perfect for a relaxing beach day and an easy swim in the calm sea.
On the other side of the Ponta de Piedade, closer to the west coast, you’ll find Praia Do Porto de Mós, a wide sandy beach. It’s busier here with a unique beach club close to the beach. Also, the sea can be rougher, making it sometimes harder to swim.
Lagos or Albufeira; Which Has Better Restaurants
Albufeira has much more to offer when it comes to the different restaurants that are available in the city.
However, Lagos is your better choice when looking for unique Portuguese cuisine and a variety of vegetarian, vegan, and non-vegetarian food.
As we mentioned at the start of this article, Albufeira is tourist-focused and gets hundreds of thousands of tourists per year. Most tourists visiting Albufeira come from the United Kingdom, Europe, and United States. Therefore you’ll find many different restaurants offering international food in Albufeira.
When we visited Albufeira last year, I noticed that few restaurants offer vegan or vegetarian food. Something I found strange because there are so many tourists visiting Albufeira annually. But maybe this is because most visitors want fresh fish & chips like they’re used to.
How different is this when visiting Lagos and its surroundings! Lagos offers many restaurants that are only vegan or vegetarian. And the city also has many traditional Portuguese restaurants and, of course, restaurants with an international menu.
In both Lagos and Albufeira, many restaurants close during the winter months. However, in Lagos, you still have a lot of choices to visit different restaurants and bars since they don’t close all at once. In Albufeira, most bars and restaurants just close during the winter months, limiting the options to visit restaurants.
Lagos or Albufeira: Difference In Culture
Both Lagos and Albufeira are mainly focused on tourism. However, when visiting Lagos, you still can find unique Portuguese culture, both in the traditional architecture, people, and things to do. Albufeira is mainly a tourist-focused city, which is perfect if you’re looking for a holiday hub to enjoy the nice Portuguese weather. Still, you won’t find much traditional Portuguese culture.
In general, if you’re looking for a holiday where you learn more about the traditional Portuguese culture, you better go land inwards or to the Northern part of the country. These areas are less focused on tourism.
On the other hand, in The Algarve, it’s still possible to find unique Portuguese culture. You just have to look for the smaller villages alongside the coast and those away from the tourist-focused cities.
When comparing Lagos and Albufeira in terms of culture, Lagos has a lot more to offer. Not only the traditional restaurants and shops create a cultural vibe. Also, the different weekly farmer’s markets are unique in Lagos. It’s perfect for wandering around and getting in touch with locals, and getting freshly produced biological vegetables and food directly from the farmers.
And if you don’t feel like cooking at all, since you are on vacation, these markets offer different food trucks where you can get the best fresh food directly for takeaway!
When we live in Lagos, we always visit the markets to get our groceries and also meet up with other people. The traditional farmer markets are two times a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Opening times differ during winter and summer periods. I personally prefer going to the Wednesday market, but that’s because there’s more variety in vegetables and stands where you can buy the food. However, both markets are great for getting to know the local culture.
You can visit the markets on the main squares of the city. You can find more information about opening times and the market’s location on Wednesday here. The Saturday market is next to the Lagos Sports Complex. More information about the location is on this website.
Lagos or Albufeira: Hotels & Accomodations
Albufeira is known for having more focus on the tourist industry, so it’s obvious there are more different hotels and accommodations you can find in Albufeira. However, Lagos has also many different hotels, more available self-catered apartments, holiday homes, and the best campsite – Turiscampo – in the Algarve.
Albufeira is better when you’re looking for an all-inclusive holiday in a luxurious hotel. There are many different options to find in Albufeira for this kind of holiday. If you want to do a bit more yourself and emerge yourself in the local culture, I would recommend booking an apartment in Lagos.
It all depends on what kind of holiday you’re looking for. If you want to do all kinds of activities and not worry about booking any of them, your best option would be to book accommodation in an all-inclusive resort. This way, you can let the resort book your activities, and you only need to follow a schedule they make for you.
However, a holiday home or self-catered apartment is a better option when you’re looking to be a bit more adventurous. And for this, you be better off in Lagos. Personally, I like it much more to arrange activities myself. This way, it’s easier to follow my own schedule, and I’m not dependent on others.
Prices for accommodations can vary greatly both in Lagos and Albufeira. The price especially depends on the period you’re traveling, and of course the kind of accommodation you are looking for.
When you’re looking for the best deals on travel and accommodation, I recommend searching for holidays from TUI. They offer complete holiday packages to the Algarve. Here you can find out their latest offers for Algarve Holidays.
Lagos or Albufeira: Which Is Better For Winter Holiday
The Algarve region is perfect for a winter holiday because of its mild climate. Even in January and February, you’re still having a lot of beach days and nice sunny weather. There are more rainy days during the winter months, but most days, we find it will rain in the mornings, and later in the day, it often gets dryer and more sunny. Of course, there are also days where it rains on and off for the complete day, but these are rare.
A funny thing we noticed during our winter stays in Lagos is that the rainiest days appear to be around the end of the months or during the full moon period. And often, after these days, temperatures either drop or rise again. Average daily temperatures drop between December and March to 20 degrees Celsius. Starting from April, temperatures will rise again and can climb up to an average of 35 degrees Celcius for the summer months.
Lagos has more to offer during winter, making it a better place for a winter holiday. In Albufeira, almost every hotel, restaurant, and bar will close during the winter months for maintenance, holiday, or renovation. Of course, in Lagos, many restaurants also close for a winter holiday, but many stay open year-round.
Lagos or Albufeira: Which is Better For Camping
Lagos is better for camping in Portugal. Especially for long-term stays. Close to the city center of Lagos, you’ll find the campsite Turiscampo (Yelloh Village), which is in the nearby village Espiche. It’s a 10-minute car ride from Lagos center, so you can basically say it is in Lagos.
Turiscampo is open year-round and is a village on its own. The campsite is very luxurious and clean and has a lot to offer. You’ll find different (heated) swimming pools, restaurants, a small shop, sports areas and many activities you can join. The year-round activity program includes sports, hiking, crafts, and games. They also offer a specific activity program for kids.
Especially for longer stays, Turiscampo is a great place to go. They offer great discounts for long stays, and you can use all the campsite’s facilities as well. Find out more about Turiscampo Yelloh Village on their website.
Albufeira also offers a campsite that’s open year-round. It’s a campsite with nice facilities as well. However, since Albufeira doesn’t offer many activities during the winter months, I wouldn’t recommend staying there for the long term when camping or RVing in the winter Algarve. Of course, staying for a few nights is still easy.
Portugal is known in Europe as one of the friendliest countries for camping/ RVing. For a long time, it was one of the few countries in Europe where you could still free camp almost everywhere. The rules around free camping or wild camping changed a few years ago in Portugal to protect the environment. It just got too busy, especially in the coastal areas.
So, it’s still possible to park your RV or campervan at different spots along the Portuguese coast. Still, it’s not possible to stay overnight around the most popular areas. The limitations change a lot, depending on the period as well. Your best option to know if you can stay overnight for free camping is to ask at the local tourist office and pay attention to the road signs. For example, in the popular area of Lagos Ponta Piedade, there’s now a sign that says you can’t stay overnight with your campervan. When you still do this, you risk getting a fine which can be several hundred Euros if you’re unlucky.
Camping in The Algarve is perfect. Getting around this beautiful coastal province with a campervan is very easy. We always meet many people who combine free camp spots along the coastal areas and official campsites like Turiscampo. We also like combining these adventurous stays with more luxury of an official campsite.
Lagos or Albufeira: How To Get Around
Both Albufeira and Lagos are easy to get around on foot. The city centers aren’t that big. Especially Lagos offers beautiful city walks where you can enjoy the traditional Portuguese architecture.
Getting around the coastline between Lagos and Albufeira, it’s easiest to get around by car. The Algarve has one highway (A22), which is perfect for getting quickly from one place to another. You must register for Toll payments to be able to drive on this highway. Most people will probably rent a car to get around The Algarve between Lagos and Albufeira. So, make sure to include a toll payment device for the A22. The rental company can quickly help you with this. You can also register yourself, for example, when driving your own car on the official website of Portugal Tolls.
Highway A22 starts at the border with Spain and runs until Bensafrim, which is close to Lagos. There are different toll gates, and prices vary between 0,50 Eurocents to 1 Euro per gate. It’s important to note that all gates are electronic, so you must register before or use a specific toll device like we mentioned earlier. It’s impossible to pay with cash or a card at the gates.
Another option to drive around the Algarve coast is using the N125 road. This is a provincial road and runs from the border with Spain on the east side until Villa do Bispo, a few miles away from Lagos on the western side of the Algarve. The N125 is toll-free, and for shorter drives, it’s almost as fast as using the A22. We prefer to take the N125 because it drives just more relaxed, and you see a lot more of the beautiful villages in the Algarve.
However, when we need to go to the airport or drive from Lagos to Tavira (which is basically from West to East), it’s just more convenient to take the A22. It’s faster and has less traffic. Less traffic on the highway? Yes, most locals don’t use the highway because this way, they can avoid paying tolls. So you’ll often find that the N125 is a bit busier as well.
Using public transport in The Algarve is straightforward. There’s a good bus connection with different lines, connecting all the villages and popular areas. Timetables and lines vary depending on the season, so you must inform locally of the most recent timetables.
Another popular way to get around The Algarve is using a taxi or uber. Using an Uber is also easy, but what we found in the winter months is that it’s less popular. So, using Uber in winter can result in waiting a long time for a driver just because there is less demand.
The Algarve region in Portugal is perfect for a holiday all year round. There’s just so much to see and do. Choosing Lagos or Albufeira as your destination depends on what kind of holiday you’re looking for.
When planning your trip to Lagos, you don’t want to miss my articles;
Portugal Travel Planning Guide
🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Portugal?
100% YES! — With basic coverage averaging just $2 USD daily, enjoy peace of mind with a plan from Safety Wing, one of the biggest names in travel insurance.
💧Can you drink tap water in Portugal?
Yes — However, drinking bottled water in Portugal is generally recommended. Most locals drink bottled water, which is readily available and affordable throughout the country. Tap water is safe for drinking, showering, and brushing teeth, but tap water in Portugal contains a lot of chlorine. So the taste is not good, and if you decide to drink tap water, make sure you use a water filter that can filter out the chlorine and other contaminants. When we’re on the road, we always use the Zero Water Filter, which we can easily take with us.
🚗 Is it safe to rent a car in Portugal?
Yes — Renting a car in Portugal is one of the best ways to see the country. I always rent with Rentalcars, which checks international and local Portuguese companies, so you get the best rates.
🏩 What’s the best way to book places to stay in Portugal?
For Portugal hotels, Booking.com is the best site.
🛫 What’s the best site to buy Portugal flights?
Lisbon International Airport and Faro International Airport offer many connections throughout the day. To find the best flights to Portugal, I recommend using Skyscanner.
⛵️ Where to book the best tours in Portugal?
For the best tours in Portugal, I highly recommend booking your trips at Get Your Guide.
🛂 Do I need a visa for Portugal?
Maybe — When you don’t hold a Schengen Passport you need to apply for a Portugal Schengen Visa. Most travelers receive a 90-day (single entry) or 180-day (multiple entry) visa that allows you to visit both Portugal and all the countries within the Schengen Area for as long as your Visa is valid. When you hold a Schengen Passport you are allowed to travel free within the Schengen Area. Find more information on the government site of Portugal.
😃 Is Portugal safe to visit?
Portugal is considered a safe country to travel to, just like in every country, you must be aware when you visit larger cities.
🗣 Do they speak English in Portugal?
Yes – but not in all parts of the country. The Algarve region, the most southern part of Portugal, almost everyone speaks English. Lisbon and Porto region you’ll also find many people that can speak English. However, when you visit the Portuguese countryside you’ll find that most people only speak Portuguese. Read more in our article Is English Widely Spoken in Portugal?
⭐️ What is the best time to visit Portugal?
Portugal is a great destination all year round. The southern region Algarve has the most sunshine days of Europe. During the winter months, it gets 18-20°C on average. When we’re in Portugal during winter we celebrate NYE always on the beach!
If you want to visit the countryside and northern part of Portugal best time to visit is between April and September, since the winter months can be very rainy and cold in that area of the country.