To say that the Algarve stole my heart would be a massive understatement. I’m a beach girl at heart and nothing makes me happier than sunny days, the ocean breeze and watching the sunset over the sea on another summers day at the beach. Back in July we were blessed in that we got to experience Portugal with my parents who came out from South Africa. Yes, July, I’ve had a busy few months and am only getting around to finally writing about one of my favourite destinations now…..so here it goes. Staying in Vilamoura was one of the best things we could have done during our Algarve trip. Vilamoura is a modern, lively, and sophisticated area that has been developed around its marina.
Vilamoura is one of the largest leisure resorts in all of Europe. It’s located in Southern Portugal and was constructed in the 1980s as an elite golfing centre. Today it’s home to numerous parks, five golf course, multiple tourist facilities and is considered to be one of the most up-market areas of the Algarve. The main attraction of Vilamoura? The marina. You can find 5-star hotels, chic bars, gourmet restaurants, and world-class boats docked here. Just a short stroll down from the marina is Praia de Vilamoura, the main beach of the area.
Getting to Vilamoura
The Algarve was our last stop on our Portugal trip. We spent three days in Lisbon before staying in Vilamoura and researched our transport options before the trip. We considered hiring a car and driving from Lisbon to Vilamoura (the drive is +/- 3 hours) but were soon advised against it. Apparently Portugal drivers are not safest.
We then looked at both the train and bus options and found that the bus would be our best solution. We were initially more keen on using the train since we assumed that it would be quicker and more convenient. But we really struggled to find train tickets online, so looked into the bus route. As it turns out, the bus was a much better option for us. It was half an hour quicker than the train and would take us directly to Vilamoura. With the train we would have gone to Faro and then had to find our own way over to where we were staying in Vilamoura.
We used CheckMyBus to book our tickets and were very impressed with the service. The bus was fully equipped with wi-fi and plug points to charge our electronics, the seats were comfortable and spacious and everything ran smoothly and on time. The best part was that the bus stop was only about a two minute walk from where we hired our car. We actually had no idea where we would be dropped off and were fully expecting to use a taxi service to get us to EuropCar. So this was a great stroke of luck.
Getting around Algarve when staying in Vilamoura
If you really want to experience all that the Algarve has to offer, you will definitely need to hire a car when staying in Vilamoura. In fact, you would probably want to hire a car no matter where in the Algarve you staying, if you really want to make the most it. It was a lot bigger and more spaced out than we expected it to be. For instance, it took us about an hour to travel between Vilamoura and the Lagos area – which is a must visit. Also, public transport in the Algarve is almost non-existent.
We used Europcar and didn’t have any problems. Two weeks prior we had major issues in Madeira through a different company and ended up having to pay an extra 150 EUR – a story for a different day. So we were rather relieved when we got to Europcar in Vilamoura and everything went smoothly.
Tips for getting the best price when booking a car in Portugal
- It’s never too early to book a hire car. You can get great deal if you book long enough in advance. The later you leave it, the higher the costs will be. Especially in peak season.
- Carefully select your pick-up and drop-off time. Car hire is usually charged on 24-hour period. So if you pick up a car at 9 am on day one and drop it off at 10 am on day 2, you will pay for two days instead of one.
- If you are able to drive a manual car then you might want to choose this option to save costs. Automatic cars in Portugal are in short supply which means that they come at a premium cost. Often quite a significant extra cost.
Where to stay in Vilamoura
We found a beautiful little apartment on Airbnb located only about a 7 minute drive from the marina, which is perfect while staying in Vilamoura. It’s a spacious and modern two bedroom apartment located in the new development of Encostas das Olivera. The area was peaceful and quiet and we had full access to the communal swimming pool.
As you’ve probably heard, Portugal is super cheap in comparison to the rest of Europe. We paid £625 for four people for five nights and during peak season. Off season you can get this apartment for about £55 per night. There is cheaper accommodation available but we were looking for something homely and charming.
If you’re a golfing fanatic, Vilamoura is where you want to be. Home to six different golf courses, the famous old course being one of them, this is a golfer’s paradise. Our apartment was a 5 minute walk away from one of them so my dad was in his element.
What to do in Vilamoura
There’s a lot more to Vilamoura than you would expect. Aside from the many golf courses, you will also find a tennis centre, shooting club, lawn bowling club, sports club, five and four star hotels, self-catering villas, nightclubs, and an international casino.
But the heart of this small town lies in the marina. The Vilamoura marina is one of the jewels of the Algarve, offering a lively and exciting location both during the day and long into the night. During the summer months the marina is a hotspot for celebrity sightings thanks to the high number of celebrities, especially sport stars who have holiday homes in the area. Cristiano Ronaldo has frequently been snapped strolling along the marina in the summer.
There is an incredible mixture of bars, cafes, and restaurants along the marina front offering a variety of international and Portuguese cuisine choices. Whether you feel like seafood, indian, or maybe chinese food, there’s something for everyone. For the party-goers, there is a lively nightlife scene – we ended up at a karaoke bar late one night. There are plenty of bars with live music and even those where dancing on the tables is acceptable.
The marina is also the starting point for many different boat trips and cruises. You can do cave tours, sunset cruises or even fishing trips from here. One of the most popular trips is the Benagil cave tour. There’s so much that the marina has to offer. We made our way down here every evening while staying in Vilamoura.
What else does Vilamoura have to offer?
Located in the area of Quarteira is Aquashow, a water park that hosts one of the biggest water roller coasters in the world (travelling at more than 70 km/h). There are plenty of other slides and attractions here ensuring a fun day out.
Driving a buggy through the off-beaten tracks of the Algarve is a great way to explore the area. These adrenaline filled rides will lead you to the most amazing places of the region and are a lot of fun.
In September every year, the best golfers competing in the European tour head to Vilamoura to compete in the Portugal Masters.
The best beaches of the Algarve
If you’re looking for beautiful golden beaches and turquoise seas, then the Algarve is the place to go. It’s shown up on plenty of must-visit lists lately. It’s no surprise really, with the rich Portuguese culture, dazzling culinary scene, and incredibly appealing beaches. Sadly with only five days in the Algarve I didn’t get to visit as many beaches as I would like to have. Nevertheless, here were some of my favourites.
Praia da Marina; Lagoa
Praia da Marina took my breath away. This one was my favourite. It’s the the poster girl of Algarve beaches so I wish I had something more discreet and a little off the radar to talk about, but the natural beauty here is enchanting. The combination of towering cliffs, clear blue water, and golden sands is like something out of a movie. It’s located towards the centre of the Algarve coast and is about a 40 minute drive when staying in Vilamoura.
Praia da Marina is fairly isolated with limited facilities, so you will need to go prepared with drinks and snacks. There is a little cafe on the beach but it was closed when we were there. Also it’s a long walk down a winding path and some stairs from the car park. You might want to try pack lightly since the walk down is about 10 minutes and it’s all uphill on your way back up. It is absolutely worth it though.
After spending a few hours on the beach; basking in the sun, sandcastle-making, and swimming (FYI the water here is freezing) we made our way back up to the top. We then took the 4-mile walking trail along the cliffs and above the sea to admire the incredible views of the ocean and coves below. I can’t put the beauty into words, so I will let the photos tell the rest.
Praia da Falésia, Albufeira
Much closer to Vilamoura, about a 20 minute drive, you will find Praia da Falesia. This is where we spent our first day in the Algarve and got our first taste of Albufeira. This incredibly beautiful beach is characterised by its fascinating red cliffs. It spans across nearly 4 miles of beach between Vilamoura in the West and Olhos de Água in the East.
In 2018 Praia da Falésia was named as the number one beach in Portugal, the third best beach in Europe, and the number 12 best beach in the world by TripAdvisor. This is one of the must-see beaches when staying in Vilamoura.
Benagil Beach, Lagoa
Ok, so this beach has got nothing on the other two aesthetically speaking. But, it does have one major attraction; the Benagil cave. That infamous Algarve picture that you’ve likely seen all over the internet when searching Portugal, it’s situated right next to Benagil beach. However, you can’t actually see it from the beach. You will need to swim around the cliff and into the cave to experience it.
While it’s generally not advised to swim from the beach and around the cave, it’s absolutely possible. We did it with my parents and didn’t have any problems. But, the water can be rough and you do need to be careful of the kayaks and boats coming in and out of the cave. If you’re a fairly strong swimmer then you should be fine.
To be honest, we didn’t realize at first that the cave was right next to the beach. We planned on doing a boat trip to the cave, which is how most people experience it. There is a kiosk at Benagil beach to purchase tickets. However there were no tickets available until much later in the day and we weren’t planning on sticking around for that long. Later on in the day we realized that the cave was right there and that’s when we decided to take a swim to look at it. However, I would still advise doing a boat trip or taking some kayaks out if tickets are available. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos (since I swam) but it is a truly exquisite site.
While staying in Vilamoura we really got to explore the best that the Algarve has to offer. This has been one of my favourite destinations, with golden sand beaches that dreams are made of. What is your favourite beach destination?
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