Albufeira, Portugal is a sight to behold.
With its rocky cliffs and sandy beaches, Albufeira is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle. Located in the Algarve, the southernmost part of Portugal, Albufeira is a hot tourist destination. In fact, the entire region sees about 10 million people pass through each year making it the most popular place to visit in Portugal. There are a dozen or so cities in the region, and each one has its perks, so it can be hard to decide where to set up your base. I settled on Albufeira because it's big enough to have plenty to do but not so big that you'll feel like you're in just another city. It's also a great home base if you want to venture to other cities in the region. Many tours take off from Albufeira, so there is always something to do here. Lagos and Silves have a similar vibe.
Regardless of where you stay in the Algarve, you'll fly into Faro, the region's capital. Despite the many tourists that fly through this region each year, there is no easy way to get from Faro to other parts of the Algarve. There is a train to Albufeira, but from everything I read, the service isn't great, and the train station is miles from the city center. And while there does seem to be a fairly frequent bus passing through, the station is about a mile from the city center. On this particular trip, I had been flying for 30 hours and couldn't fathom lugging my bags on and off buses and trains any longer. Before leaving home, I purchased a round-trip shuttle ticket for just 26 Euros.
Albufeira is a tourist town, so there are tons of hotels to choose from. Most are flashy resorts with lots of amenities, but there are a few boutique offerings and tons of rental apartments. There are a few key areas, including the marina, the Old Town, the Strip, and near the town hall. Each one caters to different interests. If you're looking to spend some time sailing or on boating excursions, the marina is the obvious choice. If you're all about the nightlife, then the Strip is the place to be. While the town hall area is known as more of a shopping district. I stayed in the Old Town, which is also close to the beach. It's quiet and quaint—the perfect location for a relaxing escape.
I stayed at the Sol e Mar Hotel, which is right on the beach—literally. You simply walk out the backdoor of the building and you're right on the beach. You can enjoy the sights and sounds from the hotel's two beachside restaurants and gelateria, or you relax on one of the lounge chairs set up in the sand. But that's not all...walk through the front door, and you're smack dab in the center of the Old Town. It's the best of both worlds.
There's no need to get an early start in Albufeira. Nothing—not even restaurants—open until at least 9:30 a.m. And that's pushing it. You can always eat the hotel restaurant if you're up early or head out for an early morning stroll before breakfast, which is exactly what I did. I walked out to the beach and turned right, toward the big rock. You can't miss it. Just past the rock, there is a rocky ledge where you can climb out and sit by the water. I brought along a book and read for a little while, taking in the morning sun.
Then, I walked back toward the Old Town and grabbed a curbside seat at one of the cafes on Rua 5 de Outubro, Tasca D'Alkhaz. I'm not great at relaxing, but the pace in Portugal is so slow, it's hard not to tune out the world and just relax.
By the time you're done eating, most boutiques should be open. Spend an hour or so walking through the white-stone cobbled streets, taking in the white-washed buildings and checking out the shops. If you're all about the shopping while on vacation, Albufeira isn't the best place for you to visit. There aren't a ton of shops and most are pretty kitschy. But it's still fun to check out. And if you're looking to purchase a local specialty, you'll find plenty of vendors selling cork jewelry, purses, shoes, hats, and more.
After you've finished wandering through the old town, head toward the escalators near the beach. It sounds strange, but you can't miss them. They are right at the edge of the Old Town. Ride to the top, and take a few snaps of the beautiful view. Then, wait on the corner of the street for the Albufeira Tourist Train. Albufeira is a lot bigger than it seems, and this adorable little train is a great way to get around to the major sites. For just 4 Euros, you can get a day pass to ride as much as you like. A round-trip tour takes about 40 minutes, and it stops at four convenient locations.
I got off at the Brisa Sol Hotel and walked around the area for an hour or so. Most of the storefronts at the Bellavista complex across the street are closed, though you will find a cute pet shop tucked in a corner on one of the upper levels. There are a few other shops and restaurants, but not much worth noting. When you come out of the complex make a left, and walk down Avenida dos Descobrimentos for a minute or two. Across the street, you'll find a little shopping center. Again, there's not much inside other than a food court and grocery store, but I always enjoy checking out where the locals shop. Aside from those two shopping centers, you won't find much more in this neighborhood. I hopped back on the bus and stayed on board for the next two stops, returning to my starting point at the top of the escalators.
Pro tip: You can expect a train every 20 minutes, until about 7 p.m., when the schedule switches to every 40 minutes.
A walk to the marina is a great way to spend the afternoon. Head back toward the Sol E Mar Hotel. If you are facing the doors, turn right and start walking down Rua Jose Bernardino de Sousa. After about a block, you'll come to a fork in the road. If you stay to the left, there is a waterfront path that takes allows you to take in the beach from above as you walk through some residential areas. Again, you'll encounter a few cat colonies as you make your way down the trail. And simply keep walking. But before embarking down that pathway, you may want to stop in at the Museum of Sacred Art. It's right smack dab in the center of the street in the former Chapel of San Sebastian. And though it's just wee, it'll only cost you 2 Euros to check out.
When you're done, continue you waterfront walk toward the marina. First, you'll come to the commercial port. There's no need to walk downhill to get a closer look, there's not much more to see than what you'll glimpse from up top. There's a little cafe where you can grab a smoothie or a coffee before continuing your journey. After a few minutes, you'll round a corner across from a restaurant called Castelo do Mar. On your left side, there will be a stairwell leading down to the marina. Climb down, and you'll be right along the water. Walk a little farther, and you'll find a series of kiosks where you can book a seaside adventure, such as dolphin viewing, parasailing, or a cave excursion. Most take off mid-day, so you may be too late to take one on the same day. Just ahead, you'll see a plethora of colorful buildings. Here, you'll find arcades and restaurants where you can relax and enjoy a bite to eat or play a few games. When you're done, simply follow the same route back to the Old Town.
After all this walking, you'll be ready for a bit of a rest. It's a great time to relax in a lounge chair by the beach or maybe take a late-afternoon nap. I opted to grab my book and sit by the water for a while. With the warm sun on my skin, it was a wonderful way to while away an hour or two. To cool down, I grabbed a vanilla gelato from the gelateria at my hotel. So yummy.
For dinner, there is no shortage of family-run restaurants in the Old Town. Everyone is friendly and welcoming, but they won't pester you to eat at their establishments. Instead, they'll gladly show you the menu and strike up a conversation. In a refreshing twist, there were plenty of vegetarian options at most restaurants. I enjoyed a delicious mushroom stroganoff at, ironically, Pampas Steakhouse. The wait staff were friendly and eager to please, the portion was sizable, and the meal was really good. I felt like I got great bang for my buck. Other delightful dinner options include Urban Pizza and La Locanda dei Segreti. To shake things up a bit, I decided to try a different restaurant for dessert. I had a hankering for cheesecake, and Doce Jardim had exactly what I was looking for. I spent an hour or so chatting with some fellow travelers while I enjoyed my tea and cake.
After dinner, I decided to take advantage of my all-day pass for the tourist train, and hopped back on board. I decided to take a ride down to the Strip. I was in Albufeira in the off-season, so most of the city closed down at sunset, which suited me fine. But from what I understand, it's a hopping little place in the summer. And while there wasn't much open on the Strip but the odd pub, the sheer number of bars, nightclubs, and peep shows in the area suggest the entertainment is as hot as the weather in the summer months.
I found a little bakeshop called Pao Da Aldeia one end of the strip and picked up a midnight snack. Then I headed back to the train stop to wait for my ride home. By the time I returned to the hotel, it was about 9 p.m. It was a full, and very fulfilling, day.
Have you been to Albufeira? How would you spend the perfect day there? Share your ideas with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.