There are so many long, tiny, shallow, deep, rocky, fine-grained, and you-name-it kind of beaches in Algarve, South Portugal that I am not going argue that I would be able to pick the best one. I have selected nice, popular beaches that are different, and suit to different tastes and needs. The key point is that if you can, go ahead and discover beaches that may be a few kilometers away from the closest one to the place you are staying – you will be surprised about the variety and beauty that Algarve features along its shores. The following top 5 praias (beaches) are listed in alphabetical order (with permission from the travel guide Algarve, Southern Portugal).
Praia do Carvoeiro
The main beach of the fishing village Carvoeiro is a small, idyllic nook between tall rocks that rise vertically from the sea. The old village is located right next to the beach, also sheltered between rocky hills from the whims of the sea. The setup creates an idyllic and pretty place – just like many people imagine a classic fishing village and its beach. A few fishing boats on the beach are still in active use, allowing tourists to get a glimpse of traditional work and life in the village.
A walk or meal in the village, or a hike along paths on the rocks above the coastline complements a day on the beach. A boat tour to nearby caves is an adventure that you can book and set off from the beach. As the original village has become a (relatively small) tourist destination, small hotels and houses have been constructed around the community. Shops, cafés and restaurants have occupied the street-level apartments in the village center. Parking is problematic down in the village, but carparks have been built up on the hills.
Praia da Falesia
The beach of Praia da Falesia is so long and varying that you can visit it daily for a week and still discover new places along the shore. The beach is about 5 kilometers / 3 miles long. From the outskirts of the village Olhos d’Aqua, it stretches east to the port of Vilamoura. Near Olhos d’Aqua, rocky hills rise behind the beach. Gradually towards Vilamoura, the hills get lower. Depending on the tide, peaceful coves are connected or disconnected from the rest of the beach near Olhos d’Aqua.
There are many entry points to the beach, but the most spectacular one is in Olhos d’Aqua. A 500 meter / 550 yard -long tiny road along a gorge carved into rocky hills starts from the street Rua Nossa Senhora Fatima at a point where the street makes a 90-degree turn. Some local people drive along the tiny gorge road down to the sea, but I would not recommend it. Walk or ride a mountainbike to check the condition of the unpaved road first. There is a small carpark down on the beach and two restaurants that attract visitors to this end of the beach.
Praia da Rocha
Praia da Rocha is probably the most famous beach of Algarve. If you have seen a brochure of Algarve with an image of a beach, it just could be Praia da Rocha. The beach is an impressive sight when you view it from the rocky hills above the coastline. Soft, sandy beaches stretch for about 3 kilometers / 2 miles under magnificent rock formations that rise from the beach and from the sea.
Praia da Rocha is located in the outskirts of Portimao, which is one of the major towns of Algarve. The beach starts from the mouth of Rio Arade and stretches to the west. Portimao town center is about 2 km/1.2 miles up river from the shore. Praia da Rocha beach area has developed into a major tourist destination with high-rise hotels and apartment blocks. Plenty of visitors also means plenty of services on the beach: restaurants, boat tours, jet ski rentals, and anything else you might want to have or do by the sea.
The long west coast of Portugal faces the Atlantic Ocean, featuring many beaches that are particularly popular among surfers. When heading south along the west coast, the community of Sagres is the point where the European continent ends, and the sea surrounds the land from the west and south. Sagres is one the highlights and most memorable sights in the whole Algarve, and worth a visit even if you don’t give a damn about surfing. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating sport to watch, at least, from the safety of solid ground.
The beaches in Sagres are: Praia da Mareta (below the Sagres village center), Praia do Tonel (the most spectacular), Praia do Beliche (sheltered place where families like to bathe), Praia do Martinhal (near the resort of the same name). Most surfers wait for the waves on Praia do Tonel that faces the Atlantic Ocean.
Praia dos Salgados
The dunes of Praia dos Salgados and Praia Grande form a long stretch of soft, continuously moving fine-grained beach. The gorgeous beach is not the only thing that attracts visitors to Salgados. The delta of Alcantarilha River is a sizeable wetland area where thousands of birds live or rest during their migration. Boardwalks and viewing towers have been built for visitors to observe the busy life of birds of all sizes in the delta. A golf course borders the delta and the beach for those who want to try their driver and putter on Algarve’s famous courses.
Praia dos Salgados stretches from the mouth of Alcantarilha River to the community of Gale in the east. The same beach continues to the west side of Alcantarilha River, but near the town of Armacao de Pera, it is called Praia Grande. There are several entry points to the beach, but if you want to explore local wildlife as well, head to the large carpark in Salgados that is on the east side of the river mouth. The beach and the marshland are accessible right next to the carpark.
More Top 5 destinations, sights, attractions, and things to do in Algarve in the travel guidebook that covers the south coast of Portugal.