The best things to do in Lagos? As Lagos is one of the most-visited destinations in the Portuguese Algarve, you won’t be surprised there are many sights to explore. It is one of the oldest cities in the Algarve. It was the place where the great voyages of discovery started, which started the Golden Age of Portugal. This rich history is reflected in the old town of Lagos, where you meander through a maze of beautiful streets. This rich history combines the coastal city with trendy restaurants, an impressive rocky coast and idyllic beaches. If you can only visit one place in the Algarve, we would recommend you to pick Lagos. In this blog we tell you why we fell in love with this coastal town and what the top 10 best things to do in Lagos are.
Read more: best hiking trails in Lagos.
Where is Lagos in Portugal and how to get there?
You will find Lagos on the Portuguese coast in the west of the Algarve. The nearest international airport is Faro. If you’ll get a rental car at the Faro International Airport, you can get in Lagos in about an hour. But as both Lagos and bigger cities like Faro in the Algarve and Lisbon up north have a train station, Lagos is also very well-connected by train as well.
Tip: the major highway between Faro and Lagos is a toll road. There are no toll booths however to pay the toll price as you must register your car online in advance. The will then be debited from your credit card. So make sure you have arranged this in advance or discussed this with the car rental company. Or just choose the ‘avoid highways’ function in your navigation.
Fortunately, parking in Lagos is not difficult. There is a large free car park here in the heart of Lagos, right next to the city walls. All the sights of Lagos are just around the corner.
We definitely recommend exploring the Algarve from Lagos with a rental car. We think Lagos is the best city in the south of Portugal, making this the perfect base to visit the rest of the Algarve. From Lagos you can drive to Sagres, the southwestern tip of the Algarve, in 40 minutes. And all villages, beaches and towns between Lagos and Faro are only a short drive away. Pick Lagos as your base and visit the picturesque fishing village Ferragudo or do one of the coastal hikes along the Algarve’s iconic rocky cliffs, such as the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail or the Trail of Headlands.
Where to stay in Lagos
When looking for a place to stay in Lagos, you should first find out where in the city you’d like to base yourself. You can roughly divide Lagos into five parts: around the three beaches, the harbor and the old town. We would choose the old town, where you’ll stay in the heart of the charming historic streets of Lagos and have the best restaurants and breakfast spots nearby. If you prefer to stay outside the touristy city center, we would recommend the area around Dona Ana Beach. This area has a beautiful beach with those iconic orange cliffs the Algarve is famous for.
There are plenty of hotels and hostels in Lagos Old Town, but if you are looking for a luxury hotel with a swimming pool, spacious and bright rooms and a sunny terrace, you should book your stay with Casa Mae. A great luxury hotel at Dona Ana Beach is Dom Manuel, an incredible adults-only hotel with an idyllic garden that is praised by everyone for its phenomenal breakfast.
The historic town also has many lovely boutique hotels. We highly recommend Casa Lumac, a small-scale boutique hotel where the owners welcome you personally and offer you a wonderful ‘home away from home’. The rooms are all bright, stylish and clean.
Seven minutes outside of Lagos, more inland, there is another special boutique hotel that we really want to mention despite its more remote location. Quinta Bonita is a small-scale country house with stylishly furnished rooms and a beautiful estate with phenomenal views, a swimming pool, terraces and gardens.
Our Lagos Tourist Map
10 best things to do in Lagos
#1 Lagos Beaches
Lagos has three city beaches, although there are many more beaches close to the city. The Lagos beaches are separated by the River Bensafrim which flows into the sea at Lagos. Right next to the old center is a wide boulevard along the river. The promenade leads to the Marina de Lagos with sailboats, yachts and fishing boats, as well as souvenir stalls and vendors selling boat trips to tourists.
Lagos Beach Map
East of the harbor is the largest, most extensive and widest beach in Lagos: Meia Praia. It goes all the way east to the next town, Alvor. On the beach is the old fortification Forte da Meia Praia, which you can visit freely, but isn’t much more than a ruin and not the main reason to come to Meia Praia. Visitors come here mainly for the long beach of up to 4 kilometers long.
The other sandy beaches can be found just south of the boulevard. They are closer to the old town, but they also a lot smaller. The first part of the beach is divided by the rocks into three parts, Praia da Batata, Praia dos Estudantes and Praia Pinhão. Praia da Batata is directly in front of the city walls. If you leave the old town through the city gate, you will first arrive here. From this beach, you can walk through a tunnel through the rocks to Praia dos Estudantes and further to Praia Pinhão.
It is a little further south Praia de Dona Ana, often praised as the most beautiful beach in the Algarve. You get there by going down a steep staircase from the rocky coast.
The beaches don’t stop there, but the more southern beaches are too far from Lagos to call them Lagos beaches. We can absolutely recommend you to visit them though. South of the Praia de Dona Ana is Praia do Camilo. There is a lovely vantage point on the rocky coast at this beach and from there you descend to the beach with steep wooden stairs. Even further south, is the nudist beach Praia dos Pinheiros and the less crowded Praia da Balança. You then arrive at the famous Ponte de Piedade viewpoint, but west of it are even more beautiful beaches. The Praia do Carnival, Praia de Porte Mós and Praia da Luz are all lovely beaches to relax and take a swim.
#2 The Old Town
Lagos is one of the oldest cities in the Algarve and you can clearly see that in the historic center. It is full of historical monuments, old churches and cobblestoned streets. The old city is it most beautiful part of Lagos and one of the best places to visit in Lagos. Wandering the old streets should definitely be on your Lagos to-do list.
Lagos has gained fame as the port city that was the starting point for the Portuguese voyages of discovery. The most important Portuguese explorer was Henry the Navigator – or perhaps better known as Dom Henrique in Portuguese – who explored the world from Lagos on behalf of Portugal. This marked the beginning of the Golden Age for Portugal as a prosperous naval nation. A large statue of the famous prince stands in Lagos in the square named after him, the Praça do Infante D. Henrique. But there are more places in the city that refer to these voyages of discovery. Lagos also has its Mercado de Escravos from the thirteenth century. This was the first covered slave market in Europe, although you can no longer notice that terrible history from the building.
The city walls of Lagos also go back centuries. Part of it is still standing, the most beautiful part of which can be found at Avenida dos Descobrimentos. The walls have a monumental city gate with a sea view. Also known as the Castelo de Lagos, the gate was one of the most important buildings in the city during the Middle Ages.
But a visit to the old town isn’t really about a specific monument or a well-known tourist attraction. It is the relaxed atmosphere, cozy squares, charming streets and beautiful buildings that make it wonderful to wander through the historic center. It’s a maze of small alleys, larger shopping streets and attractive squares. Even after a week in Lagos, we rarely managed to find our way and kept getting lost in the streets.
#3 The rocky coast at Ponte da Piedade
The icon of the Algarve is the Ponte da Piedade near Lagos. You simply cannot visit Lagos without visiting these rocks south of the city. It is a beautiful rock formation with golden yellow rocks that create lovely arches and pointed summits in an appealing blue sea. You could simply look down from the viewpoint, but going down the stairs gives you the best view of the Ponte da Piedade. There is also a striking lighthouse on the rocks that looks like a Wes Anderson movie set. From that lighthouse wooden boardwalks lead to the west in the direction of the coastal village Luz. The boardwalks also offer beautiful views of the rocky coast, so make sure to go there as well.
You can easily walk to Ponte da Piedade in 30 minutes from Lagos. There is no public transport, but a (rental) car or Uber is also a easy and fast way to get there. If you choose to walk from Lagos, we recommend that you first visit the lookout point over the rocky coast at Praia do Camilo. It’s right along your route. From there, don’t walk along the main road to Ponte de Piedade, but choose the footpath right next to the coast for the best views during your walk.
But the best way to get to Ponte da Piedade? With a kayak! From the old town of Lagos you can paddle a kayak to this iconic rocky outcrop. On the way, you’ll pass the photogenic coves and beaches of Lagos for two hours while always having that golden coast on your right. You will also pass under rock arches and through sea caves, making this an unforgettable experience. You book this kayak tour online for €35 per person.
#4 Hike from Lagos to the village of Luz
We already mentioned the boardwalks at Ponte da Piedade. These are part of a longer walk along the coast near Lagos. We absolutely loved the hike from the village of Luz to Lagos, passing the Ponte da Piedade on the way.
From Lagos, take an Uber to Luz. This costs a little more than € 7 and makes sure that you don’t have to hike the route there and back again. Luz is a cute little town with a fine sandy beach. From here you climb to the rock plateau Rocha Negra. It is a tough climb, but from the rock plateau you have a phenomenal view of the Praia da Luz and the rocky coast. The hike then heads over the Rocha Negra plateau along the coast to Ponte da Piedade. The whole walk you have views of the beautiful blue sea and the orange rocky coast. From Ponte da Piedade you walk along the rocky coast to the viewpoint at Praia do Camilo. Then you walk the last part back to the old center.
The total hike is about 10 kilometers, but you can shorten it. You could take an Uber back from Ponte da Piedade, or park your (rental) car there and take an Uber to Lux from there. If you want to make the hike even longer, it’s easy to do so as well. The hike is part of the Ruta Vicentina that runs along a large part of the Algarve coast.
Tip: if you like these kinds of hikes, we recommend visiting the Mata Nacional do Barão de São João Natural Park during your stay in Lagos. The park is located a little more inland and you can take lovely walks here, such as the short Lilac Trail that we walked ourselves.
#5 Ponte Romana de Lagos
One of the most photogenic spots in Lagos is the high bridge at Praia dos Estudiantes. You reach this city beach via a beach next to it, Praia da Batata, where a tunnel through the rocks leads you to Praia dos Estudiantes brings. As if that wasn’t idyllic enough, the Ponte Romana de Lagos awaits you at the end of the beach at a great height.
The bridge bridges the seawater between the mainland and a rocky island directly off the coast. Unfortunately you can’t visit the bridge from above or the island, because the bridge is on private property. It once led to the Forte de Pinhão, but unfortunately nothing remains of this fort. During high tide you can go under the bridge with a kayak. At low tide you can get close to it at the beach below.
#6 The street art of Lagos
You may not associate the Algarve or Lagos with modern street art, but in that respect this city really surprised us. Much of the modern art on the walls of Lagos is due to the LAC (Laboratório de Actividades Criativas), a cultural organization that has invited major artists on a number of occasions since 2011 to come to Lagos and create new art. At the LAC you can also get a free street art map to find the best works in the city. We also found this useful map online that is regularly updated with the latest street art in Lagos:
Most street art can be found in the Old Town of Lagos, but you can also spot beautiful works outside of the historic area. We walked around the old town in search of the most beautiful works and soon had some favorites. We loved the artwork by Michal Sepe in the old town ‘What goes around comes around‘. Unfortunately, the work is a lot more faded than we see in old photos, but it’s still very beautiful. We love how the artist manages to let the wall flow naturally into the mural.
Tip: in the summer, the LAC also organizes guided tours along the street art of Lagos.
The work of the Belgian street artist ROA is also impressive. He is known for his huge artwork of animals in black and white. Usually they are furry animals and he the artists uses a lot of detail to paint the hairs. But in Lagos he did a beautiful job with black and white two snails. You can find the mural in Rua Lançarote Freitas.
A third favorite is the work of Pipsqueak, a Dutch artist duo. You’ll find it in a tunnel just outside the city walls, towards the Lagos city camping site. Animals are depicted against a red background, including bears, birds and raccoons.
#7 Best restaurants and hotspots in Lagos
Because we travel around with our campervan, we usually cook our own mails in our camper bus. But Lagos has so many great places to eat out, that we decided to treat ourselves and explore the best restaurants in town during our stay for over a week.
Tip: unfortunately many great restaurants are not open all year round. In the winter, many great spots are temporarily closed, so check that carefully when visiting Lagos during low season.
Start your day with a good espresso or latte at Coffee & Waves, The Coffee Studio or Black and White Coffee Shop. They also serve a lovely breakfast or brunch. Abigail’s Cafe is another good choice to start the day with an acai bowl or pancakes. Nina 11 is also a cute breakfast place in the middle of a shopping street. The shop itself is tiny, so you’ll probably enjoy sitting outside on the terrace in the middle of the street, just like us.
For lunch, we can recommend Goji Lounge Café. With fresh juices, amazing buddha bowls, a cozy interior and a lovely terrace, this was definitely our favoriete lunch spot in Lagos. Right next door is Sweet Temptation, which is open all day, but we would recommend it for breakfast or lunch. Beats & Burritos is a good Mexican lunch spot.
If you are looking for a great place for the evening, you have to go to The Green Room. We just kept coming back here. They serve great cocktails and special beers and the menu with burritos, fajitas and tacos is just the best. The shared fajitas menu for two is especially a treat. Even if you reorder it a second visit.
#8 Dolphin watching and other boat tours
Always wanted to spot whales? This is your chance! Off the coast of Lagos, you have a great chance to see dolphins, especially in the warmer months. And with enough luck, you can even see whales! You book this dolphin tour online in advance for only € 40 per person.
If you like this kind of boat tours, you’ll love that there are many boat excursions to book from Lagos. Another great option is this Catamaran cruise, where you spend half a day exploring the coast and caves of the Algarve, have lunch in a picturesque bay and stop for snorkeling or swimming along the way.
#9 The Forte do Pau da Bandeira
Where the river Bensafrim flows into the sea, a monumental fortress was constructed a few hundred years ago. The Forte do Pau da Bandeira is one of the most iconic buildings in Lagos with a drawbridge and remarkable turrets on the corners. It was built between 1680 and 1690 to protect the quay and city walls against attacks from the sea. The low but very thick walls were built for fighting and firing cannons. A moat surrounds the fortress and access to the castle’s only door was over the drawbridge.
You can visit the fort from the inside, as it is now a museum. There is a small exhibition on the Portuguese voyages of discovery to learn more about the history of Lagos. Also beautiful is the view from the fortress over the city and city walls on one side and over the sea on the other. You can also visit the chapel, which is almost completely covered from walls to ceiling with colorful azulejos tiles from the seventeenth century.
#10 A boat trip to the Benagil Caves
The most famous attraction in the Algarve is probably the Benagil Caves. The sea has carved a remarkable cave into rocks and cliffs along the coast not far from Ferragudo. Especially iconic is the hole in the roof, creating a soft light in the caves. You can only visit the Benagil Caves from the water, which adds to the magic of this place.
As a boat trip is the only way to get to the caves, there are several tours departing from Lagos to the Benagil Caves. During the boat tour, you’ll visit several beautiful places along the Algarve coast and you’ll admire the rocky cast from the water. We found this Benagil boat trip from Lagos online for only € 40 per person.
Would you like an alternative to a boat tour? During the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail you will pass the hole in the roof of the Benagil Caves. The view is certainly not as spectacular as in the cave itself, but this way you get an impression of this natural wonder in the Algarve.