Albufeira is the biggest and perhaps most widely known of the Algarve resort towns. A once quiet fishing village now turned into a pure out and out tourist destination. Despite its reputation, it remains ever popular today with a lively mix of locals, seasonal visitors, and of course tourists. How exactly does a prime beach destination by day mix with an infamous party destination by night? Well you could easily describe it as a twin town, with a twin personality. With different areas for those looking for different experiences. Read on to find out everything there is to know about Albufeira, and if it’s the right destination for you!
A Brief History of Albufeira
Underneath the town and mass of development are the remains of a fishing village. Even before it was a small Portuguese fishing village the area was occupied by the Romans and the Moors. Its name today, reportedly comes from the Moorish al-Buħayra. Which means related or near to a lagoon. Albufeira would be one of the last hold outs of the Moors, before eventually falling to the Christian forces of Afonso III in 1249. Moving towards more recent centuries it became a fishing hub, and the town grew to accommodate a large fishing industry. However, during the latter half of the 20th century fish exports would decline, and the local fisheries only supported the local towns people.
Modern day Albufeira
Its economic decline would change considerably during the 1960s and 70s. Package holidays meant sun seekers from all over Europe could now experience, the sun, sea, and sand of warmer climates. The likes of Albufeira in Portugal, and Benidorm in Spain rode the wave. In Albufeira today, you can still see the scars of this rapid development, 1960s and 1970s concrete apartment blocks, mixing with uninspiring multistorey hotels. Underneath it all, and within the old town, the charming, cobbled streets, pastelarias and even a little bit of history do remain. It just completely depends on if you want to look and experience it, or not.
Albufeira Old Town
The old town is perhaps the most charming of Albufeira’s streets, and one of the few areas that still has a somewhat traditional feel. The main streets lined with calçada, and much smaller cobbled streets are definitely worthy of getting lost in. Although you will never be far from a ticket or souvenir shop. Supposedly there are over 100 cafes, bars, and restaurants here as well, so you are never far from a refreshment either! From the old town, it’s hard to decide which direction to head to. You can head west to its marina, south to discover its incredible beaches, or east for an introduction to the more infamous side of Albufeira.
Albufeira New Town – The Strip – Avenida Francisco Sá Carneiro
You can’t mention Albufeira, without mentioning ‘the strip’. For those unaware, the strip is actually around 3km from the Old Town. Which is how, and why, Albufeira can balance these twin personalities. That’s not to suggest that the old town is quiet or sensible in the evening, it’s just a slightly quieter experience. The strip is located on Avenida Francisco Sá Carneiro and is around 2km in length. However, its most popular and dense area is the southern 700m stretch known as Areias de São João. It is packed with bars, pubs, clubs, and international restaurants.
Walking along the strip is an experience. During the afternoon the terraces fill with drinkers awaiting the night ahead, and once the sun sets neon lights will guide them to an array of clubs and discos. Cheap drinks, cheap food, and an over-the-top party atmosphere is what the strip is known for, and what it delivers. Picking a hotel anywhere near the strip during the high season is only recommended if that is what you want. Bars, kebab shops, and café’s offering English Breakfasts, keep the atmosphere alive throughout the night, and into the following morning. There really isn’t a particularly quiet time, so you’ve been warned.
Miradouro do Pau da Bandeira
Heading back towards the old town and Albufeira’s main beach will lead you to the impressive Miradouro do Pau da Bandeira. It’s a fantastic look out point that gives you incredible views across the beach, and the whitewashed old town. You can look out east for views across Praia de Albufeira, or west across Praia dos Pescadores and into Albufeira. It’s well worth a stop and a few moments to appreciate some of the beauty that Albufeira does offer visitors.
Albufeira Museum – Museu Municipal de Arqueologia
To delve into Albufeira’s history, then its small Archaeological Museum is worth a quick visit. It’s located in the old town in the former town hall. Spread across two floors you’ll find several exhibits covering the Roman, Islamic, and Modern era. Most of the artifacts come from the surrounding area, so it’s great local museum. It costs €1 to enter, and children up to the age of 14 can enter for free.
Albufeira Church – Igreja Matriz de Albufeira
To continue on the cultural theme, take a short walk from the museum to the grand Igreja Matriz de Albufeira. Compared to other regional churches the whitewashed 18th century could almost be called plain. However, it does fit in well with its surroundings in the old town. Its construction dates to around 1782. Head inside and you’ll find a large altarpiece of the patron saint of Albufeira – Our Lady of the Conception (Nossa Senhora da Conceição).
Approximately 1.5km from the old town is Albufeira’s Marina. The modern marina surrounded by colourful developments is a completely different experience than both Albufeira’s old town, and The Strip. As a daytime activity, it’s a more peaceful experience and a walk around the marina is a nice change of pace. There are multiple bars and restaurants, but overall, the area is unhurried compared to the wider town. It’s also the departing point for many of the coastal excursions and tours you can take from Albufeira.
The Best Beaches in Albufeira
With the main sights covered, perhaps now we should turn our attention to the beaches in Albufeira. It is after all, widely known as a beach resort! Albufeira technically has two beaches that the town directly opens into – Praia dos Pescadores or Fisherman’s Beach, and Praia do Túnel or Peneco. All of these beaches exhibit the superb characteristics of the region, soft golden sand, and clear blue water.
Praia dos Pescadores – Fishermans Beach
The Fisherman’s Beach is named after the original inhabitants of the town. The 100m wide sandy beach would have been where the fishing boats were pulled up and looked after. Despite its romantic name, this is one of Albufeira’s most resort-like beaches and it can get very busy during the high season. The beach front area of Albufeira is also a mini resort of such, with a variety of bars and restaurants for refreshment. You’ll also find shops selling anything you might have forgotten for your day on the beach. Multiple sections are life guarded, and you’ll find your usual beach resort facilities like sunbed and parasol rental.
Praia do Túnel or Peneco
Although it appears to be one large beach, this stretch of sand is actually divided into two. As you head west along the Praia dos Pescadores you’ll soon find yourself on Praia do Túnel. It’s the same supreme stretch of sand, but at this end you’ll find a couple of interesting features. Located at the far eastern edge of the beach is the first. Elevador do Peneco – the Peneco Elevator. Resulting in divisive opinions, it’s either an impressive concrete structure housing an elevator. Or an unnecessary eye sore on a beautiful beach. In our opinion it’s a futuristic and unique focal point. It’s glass and concrete platform offers some incredible views, and it allows access to the beach for those of lower mobility. We recommend visiting and deciding yourself!
The second feature is the 20m tunnel that leads from the beach, directly onto Rua 5 de Outubro of Albufeira’s oldtown. The pedestrian only tunnel adds another unique way of getting from the centre of town, right to the beach. To the beach itself? Well, it’s the same blue flag beach mentioned earlier. As well as all the usual facilities like lifeguards and sunbed rental, you’ll also find a beach bar. Which also offers refreshments, free toilets, and changing rooms. Of course, the rest of the town and its restaurants aren’t far either!
Praia de Albufeira
Directly west of those two beaches, and separated by a small pier, is Praia de Albufeira. Yes, confusingly, Praia de Albufeira is not directly part of the old town of Albufeira but slightly offset from it. It is also sometimes referred to as Praia do Inatel, named after the hotel complex on eastern section of the beach. It’s the same supreme stretch of sand that forms a gently curved bay and offers views into Old Town Albufeira. Once again, you’ll find all the facilities you’ll need for a day on the beach.
Praia da Oura and Praia da Oura East
To the west of Albufeira’s main beaches are Praia da Oura, and Praia da Oura East. These two beaches are much closer to The Strip so are slightly less family oriented and more popular with young adults and a party atmosphere. The area surrounding the beaches is almost a mini resort in itself dominated by large hotels, but you’ll also find smaller cafés and restaurants. You’re also only a very short walk from The Strip.
Praia das Marias and Praia das Silvas
Don’t be fooled by the locals and media calling these secret beaches. Compared to the much bigger beaches closer to Albufeira. These are much more reminiscent of the famous west Algarve beaches you’ll find closer to Lagos. Although they are much smaller and surrounded by cliffs, they are widely known and get equally busy during the summer months. Praia das Silvas is served by a small café, which also offers sun bed and parasol rental. Continuing further to the east will lead you to Praia da Oura (Leste). As it’s the furthest beach, Praia da Oura Leste is often the quietest.
A Family Destination – Tours, Trips and Activities
The town and beaches aside, Albufeira offers a massive number of activities catering to all ages. Looking at the coast, there’s a whole variety of boat trips and tours. For the wildlife lovers, dolphin watching out at sea is an incredible activity. If you want to experience the sea, and a sunset then you’ll also find sunset catamaran cruises to take things at a slower pace. For the more active, you can also experience the coastline and its caves by kayak or paddle board. Looking back inland, you’ll find an array of waterparks and adventure parks in proximity.
For those looking to explore the regions fantastic wines, there’s even a few vineyards to explore and wineries for wine tastings. For those that want to visit the more traditional and historical Algarve, then Albufeira is connected to the towns of Silves and Loulé by public transport.
Somewhere to Stay in Albufeira?
Albufeira is a big enough resort that it caters for every budget, from lively hostels and budget hotels, to 5 star resorts.
For a a stunning beach front option then one of the best places to stay is the Hotel Sol e Mar Resort. The town centre hotel has a fantastic location and a selection of its own pools. For a more family friendly options with a focus on activities and great pools take a look at the Jupiter Albufeira Hotel – Family & Fun. For the full list of hotels in Albufeira check this list here.
Should You Visit Albufeira?
So, the final question. Should you visit Albufeira? We hope to have provided a balanced guide here, covering both its good and bad bits. Make no mistake, Albufeira is one of the most popular and widely known Algarve resorts, as such it’s also a launch pad of Portuguese discovery of sorts. In amongst the international eateries and tourist fare, you’ll find a few Portuguese gems, the beaches are of course stunning, and it is easy to explore a more authentic side to the Algarve. Alternatively, it is an out and out resort destination, it offers everything you could possibly need without having to go very far. For many families and tourists, Albufeira is all they wish to see of the Algarve. There is after all a good reason it become the most popular resort.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Albufeira!