Algarve in Winter – best budget destination in Europe
Visiting the Algarve coast in February is our favourite remedy against the cold that keeps northern Europe in a tight grip. But February is not the only good month in winter to visit the Algarve: the region in the southern Portugal is also the warmest spot on the European mainland in January. Thus, as much as my family seek to explore new terrains, we are appreciating the comfort of repetition and the well known. In this spirit, after spending the 4th vacations in Portugal, enjoying the Algarve in winter, I think it’s safe to say it became a family tradition and if we’ve learned one thing: the February weather in Algarve is our favourite.
How’s the weather at the Algarve in winter?
The weather is mostly warm enough for T-shirts and outside lunches. The evenings can be quite chill though. (think about checking if you accommodation has a warming system!)
Personally we’ve been there in February and March and we could already spend some time by the sea and/or the pool and we even spotted a few people swimming. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
Portugal’s Algarve coast is the place to be if you’re seeking sunlight and beautiful sceneries – without spending a fortune
What to pack when visiting the Algarve in Winter?
With our travel history, we became really good in packing light and the Algarve is really an easy location packing wise. As a bottom line: Pack for spring, but also bring a down jacket, a rain coat and a scarf.
As the weather can be nice warm and sunny during the day and you might even find yourself wanting to spend some time sunbath by the sea. However, the evenings can be cold and under 10°C and it’s likely that you get a bit or rain as well. Make sure to pack shorts and beach wear, but also a pullover, jacket and rain coat.
Where to stay at the Algarve in Winter?
The Algarve coast is a relatively narrow stretch in the south of Portugal with a total lengths of roughly 160km, with Albufeira being in the centre. This excellent location makes Albufeira a perfect base for exploring the Algarve coast. A good point for staying in Albufeira is also, that the city is quite lively also in winter and you find many open stores, bars and restaurants. However, despite Albufeira is known to be a centre of mass tourism in summer, you don’t need to fear find yourself in super crowded places – the Algarve is very laid back in winter and so is Albufeira.
Eidtors Tip: I recommend to chose an accommodation that offers some indoor activities: indoor pool, gym, spa, games room… it’s a good remedy against cabin fever on rainy days. Even though we had great weather so far, weather stays unpredictable even at the Algarve coast 🙂 If you are traveling on a budget, check if your hotel room is equipped with a kitchen. Often those rooms even come with a washing machine, which is just perfect when you’re traveling with young children or generally with few luggage.
As the evenings can be quite chill, make sure your hotel room has not only an air con, but also a heating system!
The Hotel Cerro Mar Atlantico is a perfect match for our needs as a family of 4, travelling with a toddler. Check here if they are free on your travel dates
How to get around in Algarve?
As the Algarve is a rather small region, it’s perfect to explore. If you stay within the Albufeira area, you can be sure to be able to visit anywhere in less than 90 minutes. However, I strongly advise to rent a car. You find many rental companies in Portugal and the cars are in a good state and the roads are very safe and well maintained. We never experienced much traffic, not even in Faro.
Renting a car in low season is not even expensive. We never paid more than 100€ for a car including insurance. You can check for different rates and options here and I strongly advise to reserve your vehicle in advance.
25 best things to do in the Algarve in Winter
The fortress of Sagres lays on a peninsula and is strongly linked to Portugals nautical past and the 15th century explorer Henry the Navigator. Even Francis Drake can be linked to the fortress of Sagres: being himself, he pillaged it in the 16th century. Sagres is just stunningly beautiful. A trail leads once around the land tongue, along steep cliffs, rough landscapes and bat shit crazy fishermen that are balancing on the very edge of the crag to drag up their dinner – or crash in the stiff breeze. Either way it makes you hold your breath and it’s a beautiful walk , just take a hat, it could get cold.
2. Praia de Marinha
Praia de Marinha with it’s dramatic rock formations is probably the most classic Algarve postcard motive you can find. You REALLY don’t wanna miss it – trust me, you don’t. From the parking you can turn either right, to walk on the cliffs and enjoy the view or take the stairs on your left to explore the beach. Best reason to visit it when being at the Algarve Coast in Winter: you’ll be almost alone there!
To get to all those hidden spots, it’s the most convenient to rent a car – click here to get a rate
3. Menires Do Lavajo – Celtic remains at Portugal’s Algarve Coast
who would have thought that you find celtic signs in the southern part of europe? See the couple of Menhirs but don’t expect to much; it’s really only two and they are protected by a fence. But if you interested in celtic culture, you don’t wanna miss this. ,
4. Serra de Monchique – Algarve’s mountain chain
When leaving the coastline of Algarve and head inlands, you will soon stumble upon the hilly grounds of Monchique. It’s perfect for hiking. You should head to Moint Foia, the highest mountain of this chain. The streets might be challenging for people with motion sickness but Algarves’ highest peak will reward you with a spectacular view. In a 30km far distance you can even spot the sea. We usually use this trip for a Picnic at the mountain top and to fill up our water bottles with the local source water. That is really a thing by the way, people are queueing to fill up their bottles.
5. Ria Formosa – A natural park near Faro
The natural wetland park is very close to Faro and got elected to one of the 7 natural wonders in Portugal. The Ria Formosa is an important area for aquatic birds and stop over point on the migration route between Europe and Africa.
best tours to discover the Ria Formosa natural park
- discover the Ria Formosa natural park during a 3h bike tour in a small group click here for details
- take a 3 hours sailing trip from Faro through the natural park and explore culture and nature from a luxurious catamaran !! high value !! – click here to book
- explore nature up close while taking a dolphin and marine life eco tour – click for more info
6. Praia do Barril Beach, Tavira – Anchor Cemetery
Tavira, in the east of the Algarve Coast is a fishermen town that once thrived on the tuna fishing industry. The tune fishers are long gone but the anchors of their boats are left. Lined up and rusting on the beach. Read on here to get more info on Tavira. If you’re staying over lunch or dinner time you’ll be happy to hear that Tavira has some really nice restaurants!
7. Explore the Algarve coast by bike
Algarve is great for bike tours, especially during the cooler seasons. If you’re not coming with your own gear, there are plenty of stores where you can get rental bikes. Or you take an organised tour, click here to see all offers and best deals
from Albufeira – take a guided 4h Mountain bike tour along the Albufeira coast and countryside: get more info here
8. Cape St.Vincent – the most southwestern point of Europe
This iconic spot is the most southwestern point in Portugal and even Europe. It’s a great view along the coast line. It’s very close to Sagres (15min drive) and makes a really nice day trip.
9. Lagos Zoo – top pick for kids!
unlike most other theme parks in the Algarve region, the zoo is open though-out the whole year. The Zoo of Lagos is specialised on birds, fishes, mammals and reptiles. Some feedings are open for public.
10. Algar de Benagil
It’s probably one of the most famous caves ever. The Algar de Benagil is reachable by boat only and should be on every bucket list. You can book a tour from Portimão or Lagos to visit the caves. Often those tours are combined with a Dolphin watching tour or a coastline tour.
11. Alvor Broadwalk
This broadwalk starts in the city of Alvor and leads through the salt marsh lands and wetlands and until the Alvor Lighthouse. The area is great for bird spotting. Check this page for more info.
12. Fort of Cacela
The fortress was build during the muslim period around 250 years ago and belongs to the protected area of the wetland park Ria Formosa. The Fortress is not far from Faro and grants you a view until Spain.
An ancient maritime town with historic city walls. Great for having a stroll through the typical old town, with plenty of shopping possibilities and also Bars and Restaurants. If you plan to have lunch or dinner in Lagos, don’t forget to book your table in advance. If you need some restaurant inspiration, check out this post about the best restaurants in Lagos, Algarve!
14. Storks – Algarve is an important stop over on their migration route between Africa and Europe
You see them all over Algarve, on chimneys, churches and utility poles. When we visited the Algarve coast in February, they were literally everywhere.
15. Go surfing!
The Algarve coast is one of the best surfing spots of Europe, if not world wide. The idea to get on a board in December, January or February might not be the most appealing perspective, but winter is actually the best season for surfing in Portugal and you find some of the best waves worldwide at the Algarve in winter.
16. Enjoy spring blossoms and orange trees
While the northern parts of Europe are cold and frosty, the Algarve’s almond trees are in full bloom from January. And the best: they are everywhere! They are one of the reasons why it’s so great to visit Algarve in winter; it is not winter anymore 🙂
A bit off the coast lays the typical Algarven town of Loulé. The indoor market offers a huge selection of fresh fish, local fruits, veggies, cheese and everything else the region has in display. You don’t wanna miss the old town neither. The cobbled stoned streets are cute and cozy and make great motives to rock your instagram profile #nofilterneeded. Visiting this cute town is one of our favorite things to do in Algarve in Winter
18. Algarve Shopping – an covered shopping mall near Albufeira
The perfect deal for rainy days; the shopping mall Algarve Shopping just a short drive out of Albufeira. You find all common stores there in a nice setting, mainly covered. It’s a cozy mall that looks like a little Portuguese village and a good activities for not so bright days during winter in the Algarve.
19 .Faro – take our free walking tour
Faro is the administrative centre of the Algarve coast and the biggest city within the region. It’s a nice town to do some shopping or have a dinner out. The old town is worth a visit; check out our free self-guided walking tour. Faro is as well a good starting point for many tours, for example to the wetland natural park Ria Formosa or dolphin watching cruises. And after an exciting day outside, what’s better than enjoy a dinner? Check out TheFork to get up to 50% off your bill if you reserve online.
Faro is a popular starting point of various Tours and Activities – click here to see all offers
Just a few kilometres east of Faro and within the protected area of the natural park Ria Formosa lays Olhão. A little fisher town with narrow streets and and typical little shops. Olhão is also port of departure of ferries to Armona and Culatra, 2 of the offshore islands.
It’s the largest city in western Algarve. It offers plenty of shopping and dining options ( and is also a good starting point to visit the Benagil Caves or to walk the Alvor Broadwalk. Portimão is also the departure point for many boat tours, check zigzagonearth’s review of the different tours and packages.
Probably the most lively town at the Algarve coast. In summer Albufeira is a touristic stronghold, most likely the biggest in the entire region. But if you are visiting the Algarve in winter, you find this town peaceful and calm. Most stores and bars are open though, and you can spent a great time on empty beaches. Check here for your best options, reserve online and get up to 30% discount!
Silves is situated a bit inland, without direct access to the sea. One of the top activities in this town is to visit one of the wineries and join a wine tasting.
24. Viva de Lagos Science Centre: Top pick for kids!
An exhibition for the whole family. Plenty of hands-on exhibits, a fun and interactive way to approach science. Perfect to spent a rainy day. The Lagos Science Centre is open year round.
25. join the carnival festivities
Carnival usually takes place in February. Enjoy parades, dancing, singing and beautiful costumes. The carnival at the Algarve coast is closer to the Brazilian carnival than the venetian and you the most colourful festival takes place in Loulé.
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