There's never a shortage of awesome things to do in Lagos. Set along the bank of the Bensafrim River, Lagos is among the most visited towns on the western Algarve coastline. Lagos is only about an hour west of the Faro airport, making it a perfect place to base your Algarve stay.
Lagos is a seaside town with a population of around 22,000 people. The area is known for its magnificent rock formations, white sandy beaches, and buzzing nightlife.
Once known as Lacobriga, Lagos has more than 2000 years of history and was occupied by many civilizations throughout the centuries including the Romans, the Visigoths, the Byzantines, and the Moors, who renamed it to Zawaia, meaning lake or “lago” in Portuguese. Because of this rich past, there are a number of historic sites in the area that worth a visit.
If you’re planning a trip to the Western Algarve, here are some of the top things to do in Lagos:
In the 15th century, Lagos played an important role in launching the Portuguese Age of Discovery. Because of its location as the westernmost point in mainland Europe, the Portuguese were the first European nation to explore the Atlantic Ocean in a significant way.
Portugal may be a small country but with names like Prince Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, and even Christopher Columbus attached to its seafaring history, its influence cannot be overstated.
Everywhere you look in the old town, you can see the history. Lagos is full of squares and plazas, lined with authentic restaurants, cafes, and shops. It is like stepping into a different world.
By the early 15th century, the Portuguese had reached the shores of Africa. It was in 1444 that the first African slaves were brought to Lagos. The Mercado dos Escravos, or Slave Market Museum, provides an informative look into this dark and solemn period of Western history. The building that houses the museum was originally built in the 17th century as office space for the Royal Overseer.
The Slave Trade was so active in this area that it is estimated that by the 16th century, slaves made up nearly 10% of the population in the Algarve. Visitors to the museum will pass through a variety of exhibits and displays that detail the history and the growth of Lagos as a seaport. For those looking to experience the FULL history of this party of Europe, this is a must-see location.
Lagos’ historic city centre is surrounded by castle walls.
The Castelo dos Governadores (or Governors Castle) was first built during the Roman period but later expanded in the 16th century to protect the growing city. This is not a castle in a traditional sense and is more of a fortification. For those interested in military history or doing an in-depth exploration of this strategically important region, this is a great place to stop.
If interested in fortifications, Ponta da Bandeira or more properly, Nossa Senhora da Penha de França, should be added to the list of things to do in Lagos.
Built in the 17th Century, this fortification lies outside the city walls to protect the entrance to Lagos from the ocean. To enter the fort, you will cross over a drawbridge that spans across a moat. Inside you will find a chapel dedicated to Saint Barbara decorated with tile work from the 18th century. The barracks are used for art exhibitions and there is a small restaurant on-site to satisfy your hunger and while you explore what things might have been like hundreds of years ago.
Perhaps the most incredible thing about Ponta da Bandeira is the incredible panoramic views of the city and the coast. Truly breathtaking.
This church is located close to the Slave Market Museum. The initial church was founded in 1498 and expanded in the 16th and 17th centuries. Unfortunately, much of the original building was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755 but one of the finely decorated portals managed to survive and it can be traced back to 1612.
While this church isn’t overly decorative, it does provide a sense of calm and a glimpse into the past.
The Museu Municipal is probably the best museum in the Algarve. Anything you can imagine wanting to see or know related to Portuguese history can be found here.
The museum houses archaeological remains from the Neolithic, Roman, and Islamic periods in the area as well as weapons from the Age of Discovery, and coins from former Portuguese colonies. There are even contemporary and modern art exhibitions.
One of the most impressive things to see when visiting the Museu Municipal is Igreja de Santo Antonio. This Baroque-style church is a work of art. It dates back to 1707 and was rebuilt in 1769 after the great earthquake.
Inside the church are 6 paintings that depict the life of St Anthony and the lower walls are decorated with traditional blue and white azulejo tiles that can be traced back to the 1769 rebuild.
But that’s not all. Nearly the entire interior of the church is covered with intricate, detailed, gold-plated woodwork. While you may want to snap a picture to take home with you, it is strictly forbidden. During your visit, respect the sanctity of the location by following the rules.
More than just a collection of historically significant sites, Lagos offers an abundance of beaches and natural beauty.
The most popular beaches in Lagos are Meia Praia and Praia Dona Ana with soft sands and calm waters.
Meia Praia is the largest beach in Lagos and one of the largest in the Algarve. It extends for over 4km from the marina on one end to the Alvor estuary on the other.
If you are after a little peace and quiet, this beach is for you. It is a popular spot with tourists and locals alike, but it’s length allows you to find a little privacy if needed. Meia Praia tends to be most crowded on the western end, closest to the marina. If you walk east, the crowds will start to fall away.
This is a clean beach with calm, clear, shallow waters. Because this beach is surrounded by dunes, and not cliffs, it is not as sheltered so be prepared for a little wind from time to time. Of course, this wind makes Meia Praia an ideal beach for surfing, paragliding, sailing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing. It’s also a good spot for jet skiing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. There are equipment rentals available on the beach so that’s a bonus as well.
On a clear day at Meia Praia, it is possible to see west to the coast of Sagres and to the east you can see the beaches of Portimao and Carvoeiro on the horizon. Walk east along the beach to get a unique view of the city of Lagos.
There are a number of restaurants and bars to try in the area, especially near the western end.
Praia Dona Ana is a small, beautiful, bit of paradise. Sheltered by high cliffs, the sand is soft and the waters calm and clear.
The beach can get crowded, especially in the summer, but if you arrive early, you should have no problem finding a spot. To reach the beach, you will have to walk down a set of stairs (93 steps to be exact!) so keep that in mind if you are planning to bring armloads of stuff with you.
The water calmness and visibility make Praia Dona Ana a perfect place to snorkel. There are no strong currents or big waves and there is plenty of flora or fauna to explore beneath the surface.
There are many amenities available on this beach including showers, a restaurant, and chair, parasol, and sunshade rentals. At the top of the cliffs, by the car park, you can buy some light refreshments to help you through the day.
The cliffs that surround this beach provide an incredible view of the sea and they are perfect for viewing an Algarve sunset. These rock formations also provide a bit of shade and the shadows become quite prominent by 5:30 pm.
At both Meia Praia and Praia Dona Ana, the water is cold, all year round, so be prepared for a rather refreshing swim!
On the south end of Lagos stands one of the most remarkable natural features of the Algarve, the dramatic cliffs of Ponta da Piedade. Below these cliffs, there are unbelievable arches, grottos and sea caves that can be explored.
There are two primary ways to explore these incredibly beautiful rock formations: on land or by sea.
On land, there are footpaths that extend along the cliff tops with a set of stairs that leads to one of the most stunning coves in the Algarve. The boardwalk along the top of the cliff provides some amazing views. The boardwalk begins behind the car park and extends to the Cascade Wellness Resort. As with many other places in Lagos, the boardwalk is a great place to view a sunset!
There are a few options for exploring Ponta da Piedade by sea. There are many boat tours that take place in old fishing boats, giving you the chance to get up close and personal with many of the stone arches and formations.
For a more active exploration of the area, catch a kayak tour from Lagos or rent a stand-up paddleboard and take in the scenery at your own pace.
Lagos has many celebrations and festivals that are worth exploring if you are in town at the right time of year.
Banho 29 is a traditional event in Lagos that takes place on the 29th of August. Its exact origins are unknown but the tradition has been practiced for a very long time. In the past, villagers would descend from the hills to purify themselves by bathing in the sea at midnight.
Today, revelers come from all over the region to take part in the day’s events. Most of the festivities take place at Ponta da Bandeira and the nearby beach, Praia da Batata. The day is full of music, traditional foods, bonfires, and the popular “contest of old swimsuits.” At midnight, under the light of fireworks, the traditional swim takes place.
Freedom Day, or Liberation Day, takes place on April 25th and celebrates Portugal's independence. The day celebrates the 1974 coup that freed Portugal from authoritarian rule.
This national holiday has many state-sponsored and local celebrations that can be a lot of fun for visitors of all stripes. While the primary celebrations take place in Lisbon, you can expect a great fireworks display in the evening.
If you are in Lagos on New Year’s Eve, grab a bottle of wine and head down the marina for the fireworks. While festivities here are less rambunctious than they are in places like Albufeira, there will still be plenty of people around to help you ring in a new year in style.
Lagos is fabulous, but if you are looking to get out of town for a bit, there are plenty of places to go for a day trip.
About a 20-minute drive from Lagos is Praia da Luz. Once a small fishing village, it is now a resort town with an incredible beach.
Luz has a quiet, slow pace that is ideal for a relaxing day. You can visit the beach, hike the trails, or visit the many restaurants and cafes. This town is a tourist attraction that makes you feel at home.
Luz also gives you an opportunity to hop on a boat and take a tour to Sagres, the most western point in the Algarve. While the views from the shore are incredible, they are even better from the water!
Less than an hour away from Lagos is the town of Alvor. For those interested in getting close to nature should make a point of visiting Alvor.
The town lies on the Alvor estuary and the Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve. Alvor is full of white-washed buildings, cobblestone streets, and authentic restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy incredibly fresh seafood.
The primary attraction in Alvor is the elevated walkways and boardwalks that stretch over the dunes and mudflats of the Nature Reserve. The estuary is home to many different bird species. Alvor is the perfect place to take a nice long walk and enjoy the natural beauty of the Algarve.
Portimao and the surrounding area is only a short trip from Lagos, less than 40 minutes, and it offers a variety of activities.
Praia da Rocha is one of the most well-known beaches in the Algarve. This popular resort town offers a range of activities to suit all ages. From the beautiful beach to the many themed bars and restaurants, there is something for everyone.
About a 30-minutes beyond Portimao and more than worth a day trip is the Benagil Sea Cave and Praia da Benagil. The sea cave is one of the true marvels of the region and is more than worth the visit. For more information about visiting the cave, check out our complete guide here.
If you are going to Benagil Cave, you might as well keep going east to the nearby beautiful Praia da Marinha.
Portimao has a shopping mall and one of the best auto racing circuits in the world. It is also the perfect place to take a boat tour. A boat can take you up Arade River towards Silves or to explore the many caves of Lagoa.
Just under an hour west of Lagos is Cabo de Sao Vicente or Cape St
Vincent. This spot was once, quite understandably, considered the end of
Cape St Vincent is literally the most southwesterly point in mainland Europe and it is believed that Prince Henry the Navigator spent a significant amount of time here.
Atop the 60-meter high cliffs, there is a lighthouse that dates back to the 1840s and was built from an old Franciscan monastery. This lighthouse is the second most powerful one in all of Europe with a beam that can be seen from up to 60km away. Because the lighthouse is still in operation, you cannot tour it, but the views from the cliffs are more than worth the trip. And, a short car ride away is Fortaleza de Sagres, or Sagres Fortress, the navigation school founded by Prince Henry.
Whether you’re making your way from the airport in Faro to Lagos or taking a train from Lisbon, there is no shortage of things to do in Lagos.
You can explore this region by following our Lagos tour or plan your trip to include all of the amazing Lagos beaches. For some of the best places to stay in Lagos, check out our list of Lagos vacation rentals, which include units in the popular Boavista resort. Call or email us today to get started on the vacation of a lifetime!