If you find yourself in Portugal and beautiful beaches are your thing, you must spend a few days in Lagos. Lagos (pronounced lah-goosh) is one of the most popular and historic towns in the Algarve region and for good reason: it contains some of the region's best beaches and rock formations! The Algarve is a little slice of heaven located on Portugal's southern coast and offers the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon.
Before visiting Portugal, I knew that spending some time in the Algarve was at the top of my bucket list! Shahzeb and I only had one day to pull this off — and this day just happened to be the same day we landed in Lisbon. After doing extensive online research and speaking to some locals familiar with Portugal and its surrounding areas, it sounded like a day trip was going to be difficult, if not impossible. But still, I was determined. The gorgeous rock formations and clear turquoise waters were calling my name!
By car, Lagos is 2 hours and 45 minutes away from Lisbon. Game plan? We were to land in Lisbon in the morning, rent a car from the airport and make our way south to relax on the beaches of Lagos after our long haul flight! We knew it would only give us about half a day, so we decided to make the final call after we landed. As sleep-deprived as we were, we decided to just go for it! We made a pit stop to check into our VRBO and drove straight to Lagos soon after. We arrived around 3pm and left around 10pm that night, which left us about 7 hours to enjoy the town.
The verdict? Physically, it's totally doable as a day trip. If you can, take the time and spend at least 2-3 days there. If you can't, make sure you at least leave first thing in the morning. I recommend leaving Lisbon no later than 8am in order to make the most of your time there.
The moment I caught the first glimpse of those sparkling blue waters crashing against the orange limestone cliffs, I knew it was all going to be worth it.
Once you're in Lagos, what should you do? Here are my top recommendations!
1. BENAGIL CAVES
Discover some of the most impressive sea caves in Europe at Benagil Caves! This is definitely the highlight of the Algarve and my personal favorite part of the trip to Lagos. A small stretch of beach and several large rock formations inside the opening of the caves leaves the perfect little spot to sit back and enjoy the beauty of these naturally formed wonders. A large opening in the top lights up the cave during the day.
Getting to the caves
The quickest and easiest way to get to the caves is from Benagil Beach — the caves lie just around the bend to the left. You have a few options to get to the caves:
1. Boat Tours: You can purchase tickets from a vendor at Benagil Beach for a boat tour that takes you to several sea caves in the area, one of which is Benagil Caves. The boats slowly pass through each cave, giving you just enough time to capture a few photos before moving on. This is a great option if you want to see multiple caves in one go! Note: The boat tours continue from one cave to the next, which means you will not be able to get off the boat and spend time inside Benagil Caves. If you are looking to spend more time exploring Benagil Caves, see option 2!
Cost: €30 per person for a tour of 15 caves
2. Kayak: From Benagil Beach, you can rent kayaks or paddleboards and make your way to the caves on your own. There is a vendor located at Benagil Beach, from which you can rent kayaks or paddleboards to get you to the caves. This is the best option if you don't mind paddling to the caves and getting a bit wet!
Cost: €30 for a double kayak for 45 minutes
3. Swim: (though I wouldn't really recommend this option unless you are an expert level swimmer) Be safe if you choose to go this route, and make sure to check the tide and water conditions before you go. I met one girl inside the caves who swam around the bend from Benagil Beach to the caves but she was a lifeguard!
We chose to kayak to Benagil Caves because we knew wanted to spend some time on the sand to enjoy the caves and take some photos. Shahzeb and I found it fairly easy to kayak from the beach to the caves, as it only took us about 10 minutes each way. The water was a bit rough this day, so getting in/out of the kayak was the only difficult part. We were wiped out several times by the waves crashing against the shore and our kayak flipped over on multiple occasions as we tried to re-enter it from inside the caves.
A Note on Kayaking With Photography Gear
We didn't do the best job of protecting our camera gear and are paying for this oversight, so if you decide to take anything valuable other than a GoPro, please please please be careful! Sea water can be extremely corrosive to electronics and the damage cannot be undone.
2. PRAIA DA MARINHA
Known to be one of the most emblematic beaches in Europe, Praia da Marinha is just a 10 minute drive from Benagil Beach. Famous for its stunning cliffs and pristine waters, this award-winning beach is the one you'll most often see pictured in ads and tour guides of the Algarve. Even though it was quite busy (~ 3pm), it was so fun and lively! It's the perfect beach for people watching and getting some sunshine.
Getting to the beach
Route to Praia da Marinha and park in the lot or along one of the narrow streets nearby. Once you get to the top of the cliffs, take the stairs on the left to go down to the beach. Keep in mind, the route down to the beach is not equipped for wheelchairs or strollers, and the steps are be a bit steep and rugged.
WHAT TO DO
Bring a beach blanket and work on your tan or go for a swim!
Because the waters are so clear, you can bring along your own snorkel gear and take a dip down under to check out the marine life!
A small beach bar / restaurant is located near the bottom of the steps, or you can take your own picnic to enjoy on the beach! It can get extremely warm, so bring lots of water and stay hydrated.
3. PONTA DA PIEDADE
If you make it to Lagos, you can't leave without a visit to Ponta da Piedade! The most picturesque spot where giant rocky cliffs meet the turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean. There are many ways to enjoy this spot, but because we only had a few hours in Lagos we opted to do it by car. We made it to the top of the cliffs just in time for sunset, and it was pretty magical watching the sun disappear behind the limestone cliffs. A perfect end to a day in Lagos!
Lagos was definitely a trip for the books. It's one of the most beautiful and relaxing places to be in the summer, and certainly a place I would re-visit if I had the chance. If you find yourself anywhere near the Algarve region, I hope you'll explore this magical city and fall just as much in love with it as I did!