Lagos Tourism: Pros and Cons of visiting Lagos, Portugal

Budget Travel, Europe — By on November 4, 2010 at 12:00 pm

After almost a year of living in London, my visa was running out, and so was my cash.  Returning to the other end of the world (New Zealand) meant waving goodbye to the opportunity of a quick weekend getaway to the European mainland.  So, I joined a couple of friends in a last-ditch effort to see more of Europe. We bought three budget flights to Faro, on the southern coast of Portugal.

After doing our research we realized that the road paved with cheap airfare would lead us straight into a tourist trap, so we agreed to dodge the crowds and head west.  At random, we picked Lagos, one of the many towns dotted along the Atlantic coast.  We started questioning our choice as the two hour train journey from Faro to Lagos took us further and further into rustic Portugal. But, Lagos turned out to be one of the busier Algarve locations.  Like any other city, Lagos had its good and bad points, so if you’re planning a trip there, here are five things you should know, and a list of top notch hostels in Lagos to crash at.

1. Visit the beaches—they’re totally worth it

Lagos has many beaches all within a 3.5 mile walk along a cliff which ends at a lighthouse lookout.  You can take the stairs down to one of the four main beaches like the crowded Praia Don Ana or try a more adventurous route for an undisturbed spot of sun.  We did the cliff walk on our first day in Lagos, but we didn’t realize how hot it would be at midday, or that there were only a couple of restaurants along the way.  We didn’t bring any food but we found some fig trees that provided us with a sweet and juicy lunchtime feast.

After viewing all the beaches from above we decided to scale down a very steep pathway to a secluded patch of sand, occupied by half a dozen sunbathers and some kayakers.   We traded some Spanish guys a fig for fresh coconut and wondered how life could get any better.   When we realised that most of the boat tours go past our beach we were glad that we had opted to walk instead.  There was a very amusing moment however when a stray nudist from the neighboring beach wandered a bit too far and found himself feeling a little overexposed.

2. Other tourists are harmless

Many locations along the European coastline are so popular with British tourists that they start to resemble the English seaside, and we wanted to make sure we experienced some of the Portuguese culture.  Although Lagos had its fair share of foreigners there were still a reasonable numbers of locals around.  Portuguese music and dancing in the squares added the twist of traditional flavour we were after, and we only saw one English Pub in town.

The historic town centre with its white cobbled streets and quirky tiled buildings gave the old town great atmosphere, compared to some seaside resorts crammed with high-rise timeshare apartments.   I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed local grannies watching the tourists on the streets below, it definitely made the place feel less like a resort and more like a neighborhood.

3. The seafood is fresh

Foodies have a wide variety of restaurants to choose from, most specialize in traditional Portuguese seafood dishes served with a plain salad and either chips or rice.  Our host at the Gold Coast backpackers seemed to know everyone in Lagos and recommended restaurants owned by his friends, and they were good too!   You can easily get a main course for around 10 Euros, but be prepared to stand in line if you want to eat at a popular restaurant.  We usually set out to eat at 8.30pm and would finish at 11. The Mediterranean attitude doesn’t allow for diners in a rush.

At one place we found a too-good-to-be-true budget combo of 11 Euros for a salad, entrée, main, desert and drink.  Unfortunately our budget meal was greasy and bland, and we all felt so sick after dinner that we couldn’t finish our desserts.   After eating seafood almost every day we opted for traditional piri-piri chicken on our last night at a bustling local fast food joint. The spicy chicken and fries did not disappoint, and neither did the 3 Euro cooked breakfast from Café Odeon on the morning of our departure.

4. Activities are mostly water sport based, and can be limiting

Unless you’re really into water sports or you have lots of money to spend on boat trips, there doesn’t seem to be much to do in Lagos.  That’s why everyone is either lying on the beach, partying or eating out.  This could either be a pro or a con depending on what you’re after.  We found it ideal for a short break but wondered whether we would get a bit bored if we were staying for more than four days.

If Lagos gets too claustrophobic you can take a day trip to a neigbouring town.  Cape St Vincent is the Westernmost point in Europe and offers some stunning views, but not much else.  The bus to Cape St Vincent also stops in Sagres, a small beach town.  After a rushed visit to the Cape we spent the afternoon in Sagres, it was so hot that we headed straight to the nearest beach, settling our sweaty bodies on the sand and only getting up to swim or buy ice cream.  Nearby Fiesa also hosts an annual sand sculpture festival that is open day and night, but by the time we found out about it we didn’t have time to get there.

5. The public transportation isn’t very reliable

The trains and buses that run through the Algarve have a reputation for being less than reliable, the train we took had no air conditioning and an interior reminiscent of my grandfather’s late 80’s Mercedes.  The bus timetable to Cape St Vincent seemed so arbitrary that I suspect it could have been scribed by a drunken monkey tapping on a keyboard.   We had to choose between staying at the lookout for either five minutes or two hours, and the other tourists didn’t seem to realize that they had either to rush to get back on the bus or be stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

After renting scooters on a Greek island we wondered whether we could do the same in Portugal, but our hostel owner warned us of strong winds on the way to Cape St Vincent.   I would recommend hiring a car though if you wanted to explore the area at your leisure.

In summary, Lagos was a pleasant surprise, a mixed bag of pros and cons, a family friendly location designed for sun seekers with a reasonable but not overbearing party scene.  I’m glad I went when I had the chance but I’m not sure whether I would ever return.

After all, I do live half a world away.

Tags: , , , ,

    2 Comments

  • GAZ says:

    GOOD REVIEW

    well written and good review but I would name the places you didnt like

  • CatherineBadcock says:

    Thanks this helped me with my Geography homework on portugal alot, but do you know any bad locations in Portugal?
    Thanks