Lagos in Portugal: a Guide For the First Time Visitor

Lagos in Portugal is in a region called the Algarve 300 kilometers away from Lisbon. The city is known for its role in the Portuguese nautical expeditions of the Middle Ages. You can feel the cultural and historical heritage of the region in the narrow cobbled streets of the old town, where traditional Portuguese houses and monuments are a reminder of the city’s former glory.

In Lagos, you will find beautiful golden sand beaches and mighty sandstone cliffs where pristine and calm waters invite you for a relaxing afternoon by the sea.

Although Lagos is one of the most well-known cities in Portugal, it remains authentic by preserving its past.

View over Lagos in Portugal
View over Lagos Credit: Bextrel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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The Ancient City of Lagos

Lacóbriga was the city’s original name when it was founded in the 3rd century. Since then, Carthaginians, Romans, and Moorish came and went, leaving their heritage to generations to come.

In the 15th century, Lagos was one of the most important harbors in Portugal. Ships built here traveled through unknown waters, discovering new territories from Ceuta to Sierra Leone.

Why should you visit Lagos?

The mix of the unique scenery offered by Lagos’s stunning seascapes and maritime history is hard to beat. Lagos offers a relaxing beach vacation, and for many, the sound of waves crushing the golden sand beaches might be all you need. But if like your holidays to pique your curiosity, Lagos might be just right for you.

Lagos in Portugal Old town
Lagos Old Town Credit: Claude Wians from Luxembourg, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the heart of the old town, the cobbled streets are filled with traditional buildings, many refurbished as bars and restaurants where you will find lively nightlife in the summer months. And the food… Yes, the food! In Lagos, the local cuisine takes advantage of the best fish and seafood the Atlantic Ocean offers.

When is the best time to visit Lagos?

Lagos is a place you can visit all year round. However, be sure to consider which is the best season for the activities you are planning.

In the Algarve, summer is the peak season, when the weather is warm and the sea invites you to swim. There is a party vibe, with the city is packed with people looking for fun. All over the region, you will find couples, families, and groups of friends enjoying sunny weather.

Over the Winter, the Algarve enters the low season; the weather gets colder and rainy and many restaurants and tours pause for the season.

October and February, however, offer mild temperatures that attract tourists from Northern Europe and Australia. If you are looking for nice weather and a quiet location, we recommend visiting Lagos in May, June, September, and October. Once the summer crowds are gone, the sunny weather will still encourage you to spend some time relaxing at the beach. However, most visitor will find the ocean too cold for swimming.

A Walking Tour of the Landmarks of Lagos

We suggest you start this walking tour at Forte da Ponta da Bandeira. The portcullis and drawbridge mark the fortress’ entrance. Once inside, you will discover a small chapel with walls covered in traditional Portuguese tiles.

The walls of the old city of Lagos Credit: Lacobrigo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Across the Avenida dos Descobrimentos, you will see Castelo dos Governadores, this 15th century castle was the Governor’s official residence when Lagos was the capital of the Algarve.

Eventually, the building turned into a hospital, and sadly few of the original features survived the reconstruction. Today, only the city walls and bastions remain.

At Praça Infante D. Henrique, there is Santa Maria church, the oldest in Lagos. Despite its medieval origins, the reconstruction works in the 18th century changed most architectural features.

The Oldest Church in Lagos

Within walking distance, the humble façade of Igreja de Santo António one of the most elaborate gilded woodcarving altars in the region.

In Lagos city center, you will also find the first slave market in Europe, Mercado de Escravos. Now used as a museum, the Slaves Market building is a landmark in Lagos that showcases the city’s history and educates future generations.

Mercado de Escravos Credit: Lacobrigo CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Outside of the town center, at Marina de Lagos, you can visit the Wax Museum of the Portuguese Discoveries and the Caravela Boa Esperança, a replica of the ship who sailed across the Cape of Good Hope.

Tasting the Algarve

At the Municipal Market, a 100-year-old building, local farmers sell locally produced organic fruits and vegetables. Alongside, the fishermen trade the freshest fish and seafood in town.

Seafood market in Lagos

Close to Lagos Market, you can taste all the ingredients you have seen in the most delicious combination at local restaurants in the town center.

  • At “Casinha do Petisco” we suggest the traditional “Cataplana”. The fresh fish and seafood will taste like you have the ocean in your mouth.
  • Are you looking for something simpler? Then, try the grilled sardines at “Escondidinho”. Every morning, this restaurant hidden between street corners receives fish directly from the Market.
  • And what meal would be complete without a dessert? At Gombá pastry shop you will find the traditional “Pastel de Nata”, or the “Gombá Coffe Cake”, the house specialty.

Join a 3-Hour Algarve Classic Food Tour and taste 10 of the most traditional dishes in Portugal,

Explore The Coastline

The rugged cliffs are a key draw card of Lagos and offer some of the most beautiful golden beaches in the western Algarve.

Ponta da Piedade

One of the most famous rock formations is Ponta da Piedade, 3 kilometers away from the historic center. You can take a local bus out or hike like we did, popping in and out of the beaches along the coast on the way.

At the top of the cliff, you can contemplate the Costa Vicentina coastline and Praia da Luz on the southwestern coast and the beautiful beaches of Meia Praia and the surrounding region.

Ponta da Piedade

Besides the lighthouse, you will find steep stairs leading you to water level. Once you reach the bottom, the sight of the caves will amaze you.

Alternatively, rent a kayak at Cais da Solária beach or join a guided Kayak tour or one of the boat trips at the Lagos Marina.

Visit all the pristine beaches

Within a short distance, there is Praia Dona Ana beach, considered by Condé Nast Traveller as the most beautiful beach in the world. Along with Praia do Camilo, these are the most sought-after beaches in Lagos.

Praia do Camillo in the off season

Which beach should you choose to visit?

  • If you visit Praia da Dona Ana or Camilo, especially in the high season, be sure to arrive early in the morning so you can guarantee a place for your towel.
  • If you prefer a secluded beach, we suggest visiting Pinhão. Steep stairs access this beach, making it difficult for most people. It is why there are fewer people, even in the summer.
  • Other options might be Praia da Batata, one of the local’s favorites. This beach is close to the historic centre and is accessible by wheelchair.
  • The Praia dos Estudantes is probably the most photographed seascape in the Lagos region. The Roman bridge connecting the cliffs fascinates visitors and acts as a reminder of an ancient fortress that no longer exists. Although beautiful, the cliffs guarding these beaches are not safe. It is why local authorities warn you to be aware of falling rocks.
  • If the beach is too crowded, you can always enjoy Porto de Mós or Meia Praia beach. These are reasonably close to the city and are the biggest in Lagos.

Check out our detailed guide to the beaches of the Algarve