One Day in Albufeira: From Old Town to the Strip

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 $40.

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.

Morning

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 are lots of other great hotels in the area too.

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.

Afternoon

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 your 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.

Evening

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 in the comments.

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One Day in the Algarve: From the Seaside to Castles

So you’re in the Algarve region of Portugal for just one day, and you want to take in as much as you can.

No problem. Local touring companies offer amazing options for folks who want to pack in as much as they can in one quick trip. The best way to source the perfect tour is to simply ask at the reception desk at your hotel. Prior to my trip to the Algarve, I was so overwhelmed by the variety of tours offered in the area that I didn’t book anything.


Immediately upon arrival at the Sol e Mar Hotel in Albufeira, my home base for the next three days, I asked the woman who checked me in what she would do if she only had one day. She didn’t even need a minute to think about her response—she quickly pulled out a brochure and told me her favorite tour. She then proceeded to call the tour company directly and had me booked in no time flat.

Pro tip: You will need to pay your hotel for the tour, and the payment will need to be in cash. Make sure you have a few extra Euros handy to cover the costs. Also, you can purchase tours from street vendors—they may even be a few dollars cheaper. But if you purchase through your hotel, you can rest assured your tickets will be valid. When possible, I like to prebook my tours in advance. There are a lot of online companies that offer a wide selection of tours with local companies.

Over the course of about 10 hours, the Historical Algarve Tour takes you on a whirlwind adventure through several small town and scenic sites. It’s the perfect way to get a glimpse of some of the most popular attractions. Here’s what to expect.

Morning

Your hotel will have a designated meeting time and spot for the tour. You’ll be picked up promptly at this location and taken to another spot to meet with a larger motorcoach. But your journey hasn’t started just yet…first, you need to journey to one more location, where you may need to transfer to another bus, depending on the tour you are taking. This may sound like a lot of work, but it all goes very quickly and smoothly. My pickup time was 8:30 a.m., and by 9 a.m. I was happily en route to my adventure.

The first stop is a traditional Portuguese town called Silves. After parking along a main road, your guide will take you on a brief walk through the narrow, winding streets. A steep climb up the cobbled roads brings you to Silves Cathedral. It will cost you 1 Euro to take a look inside this Gothic gem—a steal by today’s standards. Afterward, a short walk brings you to Silves Castle, where, for just 3 Euros, you can get breathtaking views of the city from the sides of its towering walls. Though the castle is the best-preserved in the country, aside from the exterior walls, there is little else to see, unless you fancy a refreshment or two from the adorable cafe in the center of the castle ruins.

You’ll have about an hour to spend in Silves. It’s not a ton of time, but it will give you a taste of this charming community. If you’re fast, you can take in both the castle and cathedral and still have time to roam one or two of the bustling side streets off the main road before returning to your bus. The shops don’t have a ton to offer tourists, but it’s a great way to peek inside the lives of the locals, even if only for a few minutes.

Once you’re safely strapped back into your comfortable seat, your bus will make its way through the winding mountains toward the tiny hilltop town of Monchique. You’ll pass through ancient towns, fields of fruit and nut trees, and rolling hills. The sights and stories are truly like something out of a fairy tale. Though you won’t have a chance to exit the vehicle in Monchique, you will get to see the quaint cityscape before riding on to Foia, the highest point in the Algarve.

Unfortunately, when I visited Foia, it was very foggy and overcast, so I can’t tell you much about what you should see from the top, but I’m told that the view is spectacular. There is a little shop selling souvenirs, including hand-painted tiles, cork purses and shoes, pottery, wool sweaters, and trinkets. But the main event is the tasting of a local liqueur. The line will be long, and you’ll feel a little like cattle as you’re shepherded through the narrow aisles of the shop to sample the special treat.

You’ll have about a half hour to spend at this stop. There are public toilets available to use free of charge, and there is a small cafe where you can grab a quick bite to eat. If you have a few extra minutes to spare, consider spending them outdoors. One of the other travelers on my tour told me it was good luck to pile three rocks on top of each other at the top of Foia. So I did just that. They were the tiniest rocks in the world, but I don’t think that has any impact on the outcome.

Afternoon

By this time, you’ll likely be feeling tiny hunger pains in the pit of your stomach. Fear not—your coach will make a stop at a family-run restaurant for a hearty meal. But beware…there is a preset menu and the cost of the meal is not included in the price of your tour. For 13 Euros, you’ll get your choice of beef, pork, chicken, or fish prepared in a traditional way.

Your tour operator will come around the bus and ask your preference as you make your way to the restaurant so that the meal will be ready when you arrive. In addition to the main course, your table will be set with lettuce and tomatoes, wine, juice, and bread. I had the fish, which was breaded and served with lemon and tartar. I’m not sure what kind of fish it was—I hadn’t heard of it before, and the texture was…odd. So I chocked it up as an experience. For dessert, you’ll be served traditional sweets made from almond paste, as well as a cup of espresso. The sweet treat was delightful.

I was traveling alone, and I enjoyed my meal with three other women who were also traveling solo. We laughed and shared stories of our travels—it was a highlight of the day for me. The time passed quickly, though I am sure we were there for at least an hour. Before we knew it, the restaurateur had come around to collect our payment, and we were on our way again.

Pro tip: It’s a good idea to carry a bit of cash on this tour to cover all of the unexpected extras. About 20 or 30 Euros should do the trick.

Originally, I thought about opting out of the meal but then realized there may not be another opportunity to eat on the trip, and I was right. If you don’t plan to eat at the restaurant, be sure to pack a few snacks in your bag or pick something up that you can take with you at one of the other stops. And keep in mind, there is nothing else to do at the restaurant site. It’s a little shop in the middle of nowhere, so there isn’t much else you can do while the rest of your group eats.

Following your traditional Portuguese dining experience, you’ll make your way to Sagres, Cape St. Vincent, which is the southernmost point in Europe. Here, you’ll have about 30 minutes to walk out among the rocks overlooking the sea. If you’re daring enough, you can even sit with your legs dangling over the edge of the rocky cliffs. I kept a good distance from the ledge, but many of my fellow travelers climbed across the rocks to get a closeup glimpse of the rough seas below. Here, at the end of the world, you’ll also have a chance to visit the strongest lighthouse in Europe, Baleeira. It makes a beautiful backdrop for your already amazing photos of the area.

Evening

Just when you think the tour must be coming to a close, you make your way to one last stop: Lagos. And you’ll have about an hour and a half to spend walking through its winding streets. By now, the sun will be low in the sky, but the streets will be alive with the hustle and bustle of busy people. From the picturesque marina to the bountiful boutiques, there’s plenty to see and do in Lagos. In fact, the next time I visit Algarve, I’ll make it my home base.

The main sites to visit here include the fort, St. Anthony’s Golden Church, and the former slave market, which is now a museum. In the time I had, I managed to walk several streets, visit the church, and spend some of my hard-earned cash in the local shops. It was one of the most eventful stops of the day. By the time our visit in Lagos was over, night had fallen, and it was time to return to Albufeira.

The coach dropped me off at the same place it had picked me up that morning, which was just a short walk from my hotel. It was after 7 p.m., and most of the shops had shut their doors for the night, including the 7/11 where I had hoped to pick up a midnight snack. I roamed the quiet streets of the Old Town for a while before settling in at Urban Pizza, a popular restaurant that is always buzzing with activity. As the rain drizzled down outside, I sat next to a warm propane heater while enjoying a fungi pizza. It was a wonderful way to wrap up an amazing day.

Finally, about 12 hours after I left my hotel, I returned for a good night’s rest. It was a packed day, and I felt like I had experienced so much of the best parts of the Algarve.

Have you been to the Algarve? What was your favorite part? Share your experience in the comments below.

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Riding the Tourist Train in Albufeira: A Wanderlust Experience

Albufeira, Portugal, is bigger than you’d think.

And the main attractions are spread out over a fair distance. This makes walking a less-feasible mode of transportation. Luckily, there is a fun and affordable alternative⸺the Tourist Train. Riding the tourist train in Albufeira is a fun way to see all the most popular sites.

You’ve probably seen similar tourist trains on your travels. I’ve personally taken them in a variety of cities, from Key West to Paris and everywhere in between. But who knew they would have one in this quaint seaside city? It’s certainly not heavily advertised on traditional tourism sites, and you likely won’t find a brochure for it at your hotel. You just need to stumble upon it, which I very fortunately did as I was walking through the Old Town.

For just 4 Euros you can get a day pass aboard the train, which makes four stops throughout Albufeira. There are other options available for a lower rate⸺it’s just 2 Euros for a roundtrip ticket, for example. But for the extra couple of bucks, it’s worth it to be able to hop on and off anytime you like.

Getting Around Town

The train moves in one direction along the main street, Areias de São João. It departs every 20 minutes during the day and every 40 minutes after 7 p.m. from The Strip, Old Town at Fishermen’s Beach, Town Hall, and Brisa Sol Hotel. I caught the train at Brisa Sol and did a full circuit, which took about 40 minutes. After a quick poke around the area, I hopped back on the next train and headed for Old Town, where I was staying. Later that night, I took the train to The Strip and back. It saved my feet a ton of walking, and I didn’t have to shell out a ton of cash for taxis.

Pro Tip: The last train departs The Strip at 10:40 p.m., so if you plan to party til the wee hours, you’ll need to find another way to stumble home safely.

There’s not a lot of sightseeing to do on the train itself. Riding the tourist train in Albufeira is simply a quick and easy way to get from one place to another. Just kick back, relax, and enjoy the ride through town. Another great way to see the sites around Albufeira is to take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. Be sure to sit on the upper deck for the best views of everything from Fisherman’s Beach to the castle. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not take a custom tuk-tuk tour around town, stopping anywhere you like for the best vantage points.

Have you ever taken a tourist train? What was your experience like?

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