The Algarve is the most popular tourist destination in Portugal and one of the most popular ones in entire Europe. The sandy beaches and the impressive cliffs near Lagos attract people from all over the world resulting in a triplication of Algarve’s population during peak holiday season.
This means that you’ll be confronted with masses of tourists during the months of June - August, most of them being from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany.
In case you want to avoid the crowds, enjoy empty beaches and appreciate the vernal beauty of Algarve’s countryside, you’ll highly fancy the idea of traveling to Algarve during winter. Don’t worry about the weather: Algarve’s mediterranean climate boasts an average of 170+ hours of monthly sunshine from November - February.
The perfect getaway during long, cold and grey winters in Northern Europe!
Unlike the widespread idea, that there is nothing to do in the Algarve during the winter months, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to outdoor activities.
Not only are there over 25 top-class golf courses, but the Algarve also became a very popular destination for birdwatching. During the migration and winter season several hundreds of different bird species can be found in Southern Portugal.
This post will focus on things to do near Faro, Algarve as this area is still mostly unspoilt with its empty, sandy beaches and natural reserve of Ria Formosa which are quintessential for the beauty and relaxation of Algarve during the winter months. November - March are considered as off-season/winter months in this post.
Here they go, the Best Things to do near Faro in sunny Algarve during winter.
Geographic situation: Southernmost region of continental Portugal. The administrative centre is the city of Faro.
Language: Portuguese. English is spoken as well.
How to get there: By airplane to Faro Airport or Lisbon Airport and drive 2 hours to Algarve. Check prices on rental cars.
Activities: Tourism, food production including fish and other seafood, different types of fruit like oranges, figs, plums, carob beans and almonds.
Where to stay in Faro, Algarve
|My Home Away from Home|
|Quinta do Lago Country Club in the heart of Natural park Ria Formosa|
|Faro Boutique Hotel|
Diamond Villas at Vilar Do Golf by Diamond Resorts
|Quinta dos Poetas, Hotel Rural|
|Pousada Palacio de Estoi – Small Luxury Hotels of the World|
Birdwatching is one of the most popular activities to do near Faro, Algarve during the winter months mainly due to 2 reasons:
- Temperatures are mild and allow you to observe birds all day long.
- West European waders can especially be seen during the months of autumn and spring as the wetlands near Faro become refueling grounds for the birds on their migration route.
For those associating birding with boredom, elderly people and weird safari outfits… you couldn’t be more wrong!
To me, birdwatching was the ultimate opportunity to appreciate nature’s beauty and wealth. On top birdwatching in Algarve was not only extremely educational, but ultimately very relaxing. It’s comparable to get a drink and watch nature happen.
The ideal site for birdwatching in Eastern Algarve is the famous Ria Formosa Natural Park which consists of 18.000 hectares of marsh lands protected by a 60 km long sand-dunes and islands. This natural protection stops the ocean from entering the marsh lands and created a wonderful harmony between sweet and salt water, an ideal habitat for a unique biodiversity including waterbirds, reptiles, and amphibians.
The marsh lands are only a few meters away from Algarve’s main airport, Faro airport, but our guide informed us that the birds apparently got quickly used to the noise of the planes. There was a slight decrease in species right after the construction of the airport, but over the years the bird population recovered and the area is now considered as one of the most important wetlands in the world.
I did my initiation in birdwatching in the swamps between Quinta do Ludo and Quinta do Lago, the famous luxury estate. This area is especially appropriate for novice birders as during a walk of 2 or 3 hours you can easily spot a large variety of species. The density and diversity of birdlife is considered unmatched by the rest in the natural reserve of Ria Formosa.
The real curiosity of the swamps near Quinta do Lago is that some of the ponds are located on golf courses. Thus don’t be surprised to spot a "Red-crested Pochard" next to golfers perfecting their swing.
Some of the spotted species include "black-winged stilts", "Kentish plovers" and the "Purple Swamp-Hen", the symbol of Ria Formosa Natural Park.
I even got to see a few flamingos! (Apparently their population increases up to over 2000 between August and March.) Did you know that flamingos are not really pink? They only turn pink when they eat a lot of shrimps, else wise their plumage is rather greyish. Needless to say that I was a bit disappointed when discovering that flamingos are not as pink as nail varnish...
2. Visit the Salt Mines of Ria Formosa
The Natural Park of Ria Formosa has been since the Roman ages a ground for salt farming. Indeed the Algarve salt from Ria Formosa is appreciated all over the world by top chefs because it’s unrefined, uncontaminated and unprocessed.
Salt mining has a very long tradition in this part of the Algarve, Portugal and nowadays you can still stumble upon ruins of salt mines from Roman times. Until the implementation of stricter rules and laws defined by the European community, the salt of Ria Formosa was harvested like 2000 years ago. The design of the salt mines still contains historic elements such as basins and tide mills used for salt harvesting during centuries.
Due to the traditional way of harvesting, the salt from Algarve contains high natural levels of magnesium and potassium.
3 kinds of quality levels are produced in the salinas of Ria Formosa:
- The most coveted part of salt is the “Flor de Sal”, which is richer than any other salt in minerals and trace elements. Gathering the Flor de Sal is compared by the local population to skimming the cream off the milk as it needs to be harvested by hand.
- "Sal Tradicional": this salt is gathered by hand as well and dried in the sun which maintains the sea water’s minerals. The sal tradicional precipitate to the clay bottoms of the ponds.
- "Sal do Mar": Is gathered at the end of the season by small machinery and is of a more solid structure.
The excellent qualities of the Algarve salt are due to the fact that the salt mines of Ria Formosa are protected from the sea by 2 peninsulas and 5 barrier-islands and that the area is mostly car-free. Indeed low air-pollution significantly contributes to the high quality of the Portuguese salt. The rest is a result of the combined work between the hot Algarve sun and fresh ocean winds.
The saline wetlands of Ria Formosa are easy reachable whether you’re staying near Faro, Loulé or the prestigious Quinta do Lago area. During off-season, the marsh lands of Ria Formosa is not massified and you’ll enjoy a pleasant walk in the mild autumn or winter months of Algarve.
3. Play Golf!
Playing golf is one of THE top things to do in Algarve, especially in months between the autumn and spring months when temperatures are still mild.
Algarve seems to be heaven for golfers as it boasts not only sunshine almost all-year round but also a large variety of over 40 golf courses.
There must be a reason why sunny Algarve is winning such prestigious golf awards in a row. IAGTO, the International Association of Golf Tour Operators elected the Algarve as Europe’s Best Golf destination in 2014 and 2016 and the region was ranked several times as Best Golf Destination in 2015, 2017 and 2018 by the renowned “Today’s Golfer” magazine.
As you might know from my first golfing experience, I initially had some difficulties to see the interest of golfing. I am more the kind of “active” sport lover such as surfing, cycling or sailing. But never say never and I finally ended up enjoying my first golf lesson in Italy. I even got absolutely hooked to the long shots!
All the better when I got to work on my swing at the prestigious Paul McGuinley Academy in the beautiful area of Quinta do Lago. Luis, the most patient/passionate golf instructor I had so far, gave valuable tips on how to improve my golf technique. Only long shots during 1 hour! Somehow the long shots have such a relaxing and balancing effect on me…
The reasons why golfing in the Algarve is one of the most popular things to do during off-season are obvious. Some of the golf courses have direct views on the ocean, others are surrounded by the natural reserve of Rio Formosa where the scarcest bird species are looking for their daily meal. The region of the “Golden Triangle” between Vilamoura, Quinta do Lago and Vale do Labo is famous for this harmony between the swamp lands and golf courts. Some of their holes are even located on edges of a ravine and require a shot over a beach!
Some of the courses have been designed by legendary players and champions such as Ronald Fream, Rocky Roquemore or Arnold Palmer. As most hotels and resorts are used to golf loving clients, they’ll easily make all the necessary arrangements for you to get you on the golf court.
If you’re a beginner like me, you’ll be spoilt for choice of Golf Academies along the coast of Algarve who work with multilingual instructors.
In case the idea of golfing never crossed your mind, why don’t try something different and enjoy the mild sun on the golf courts of Algarve.
4. Visit Loulé Market
A visit of the emblematic market of Loulé will be the highlight of your trip to Faro, Algarve during winter.
The picturesque town of Loulé is located in the inland of Algarve and was not affected by the touristic mass constructions. As the town is well connected by public transport, it’s a perfect day trip when visiting Algarve.
Its narrow, cobblestone paved streets, its impressive castle and a very traditional Portuguese atmosphere will make you fall very quickly in love with Loulé. After experiencing the rather touristy coastline, I was happy to mingle with locals and have a Portuguese coffee on one of the numerous terraces. I really enjoyed all the bright, white houses and some of the leftovers of Loulé’s carnival, which is one of the most important one in the region. The town also boasts an impressive Moorish heritage.
When visiting Loulé, you can’t leave without strolling through the traditional market. The Moorish-inspired construction was finished in the twentieth century and was built on purpose to attract visitors from all over Algarve. Indeed the combination of bright red and white is a perfect photo motive.
As I absolutely love Mediterranean markets, I couldn’t wait to immerse in the pulsing atmosphere of Loulé market. Of course you’ll find loads of fish, fresh vegetables and exotic fruits from Algarve and Alentejo region. But my attention is naturally drawn to the things that you can find nowhere else.
Things that you’ll only get to experience here in Algarve...
And Loulé market is a treasury for hidden, local gems. First, there was the impressive bacalhau (salted cod) stand followed by a family offering a large variety of sausages, choriços and sheep cheeses from Alentejo. Another stand offers “Fig Stars” which are a coveted dessert made of almonds and dried figs.
Algarve is famous all over Portugal and Europe for its traditional hot, spicy piri-piri sauce. Thus you’ll see hanging peppers and chilies everywhere! I fell in love with their bright, bold colors. The piri-piri sauce is available in different degrees of spiciness and you’ll find a different piri-piri sauce on almost every stand. Don’t miss to visit the stall of the expat ladies that are growing their own chilies and produce hot piri-piri sauce with promising names such as "Bloody Hell", "Satan's Breath" or "Smoke Bomb".
But Loulé market is not only about food. There’s a little cork shop in the right corner, which sells locally made bags, baskets, purses and jewelry made of cork from Algarve and Alentejo. You shouldn’t miss the colorful pottery stand neither!
Opening times: Mon-Sat from 7am to 3pm.
Best day to visit is Saturday morning, when there are even mors stalls outside.
You want to get more valuable insights in Algarve’s food and craft culture? I recommend visiting Loulé Market with lovely Diana from Portugal4U.
5. Enjoy Desert Beaches
Well, the desert beaches are to me the biggest advantage of visiting the Algarve and especially the region of Faro during winter.
Beaches are already the most prominent attraction of sunny Algarve, but they tend to be very crowded during the summer months. Ponta da Piedade, Praia do Camilo and Praia da Marinha became emblematic for the golden cliff coast of Southern Portugal. They are part of almost every itinerary through the Algarve. Everybody wants to get that perfect photo shot of the spectacular cliffs near Sagres or the wide beaches near Tavira … preferably without any other people standing in the frame.
Can you imagine the thrilling sensation when you’re approaching a beach and it’s totally empty?
Well this situation is very likely to occur when visiting the Algarve during the winter months in off-season.
After having visited already the most emblematic beaches in the western part of Algarve, I was amazed by the wide, long sandy beaches near Faro.
Some of the prettiest beaches in the area of Faro are:
- Quinta do Lago Beach with a sand dune backdrop and the natural reserve of Ria Formosa,
- Praia de Faro
- Cabo de Santa Maria on the Ilha da Deserta Island
- Praia de Garrao
- Praia do Ançao
6. Visit Ponta da Piedade
A trip to Algarve isn’t complete without visiting the most emblematic beaches and fascinating coastline of Ponta da Piedade near Lagos. The interplay of wind, erosion and seawater created a truly unique setting including natural tunnels, grottos, towering cliffs and rock pillars towering inside the ocean.
It’s easy to understand why this breathtaking setting attracts thousands of visitors during the summer months.
If you want to experience Ponta da Piedade away from the masses, you’ll fancy the idea of visiting during the months from November - March. Even if temperatures don’t get as high as during the summer months, just bring a jacket to enjoy sunset from the almost desert viewpoint of Ponta da Piedade.
Other emblematic beaches you’ll likely enjoy near Lagos are:
- Camilo Beach, idyllic beach set amidst the sandstone cliffs of the coastline, with a long staircase leading to the beach
- Praia da Marinha with Benagil cave close to Portimão
- Praia Dona Ana, a small beach sheltered by high sandstone cliffs, turquoise waters lap the golden sands.
- Praia da Batata, the closest beach to Lagos town centre
7. Enjoy Local, Portuguese Food
Portuguese food is not only one of the most delicious food that you’ll ever get but also some of the healthiest.
Especially the region of Algarve boats some very tasty traditional delicacies that you need to try.
The most known are:
- Frango piri-piri: hot & spicy piri-piri chicken
- Cataplana de marisco
- Leitão: suckling pig
- All kinds of fresh fish and seafood
- The couvert (my favourite!), a starter consisting of a bowl of olives, marinated carrots or a selection of cheeses
Off-season is a great time to enjoy the best food from Portugal and Algarve, as restaurants are not packed and you’ll enjoy a more attentive service.
Even if it may be very tempting to stay close to your resort or hotel, I recommend to visit some of the following restaurants that are super popular among locals…. Which means VERY tasty food at a good price.
Here some of the tried & recommended restaurants near Faro and Loulé:
7. Shopping in Faro
As temperatures are still not warm enough to lay on the beach, I love to go shopping as an alternative to the beach. I tend to avoid large shopping malls (they have the same shops as everywhere else on the planet) and immerse in the historic city centers of Algarve’s picturesque towns.
A shopping experience in cobblestone paved streets and white house fronts framed by the first spring blossoms, just isn’t comparable to shopping in the mall.
If you’re staying in the area of Faro, I recommend a shopping afternoon in Faro, Olhão or Loulé.
In Faro, the main shopping area is next to the Jardim Manuel Bivar and in the Rua Dr. Francsisco Gomes, you’ll find everything from shoes, clothes, textile shops etc. Head then to Rua de Santo Antonio, Galerias Faro and Rua de Portugal for independent boutiques.
Look out for shoes made in Portugal as you’ll hardly find such high quality for an affordable price. On top you’re purchasing a local good!
If you’re looking for fresh cheese, cold meat, fish or healthy fruit you shouldn’t miss the Mercado Municipal (market halls) of Faro, Olhão and Loulé.
You want to bring a typical souvenir from sunny Algarve?
- hand-painted ceramic tiles and honey pots,
- cork products
- Food such as olive oil, choriço, goat cheese, dried meat, piri-piri sauce
- Typical liquors: Ginjinha or Medronho (tree strawberry) spirit.
9. Biking in Algarve
Winter in Algarve is made for long cycling tours. When temperatures are still not warm enough to lay on the beach, then it’s about time to enjoy the sunshine on your bike.
You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a cycling route. Whereas the western coast is steep but completely unspoilt, you’ll find flatter routes along the seashore and in the natural parks of Ria Formosa and Guadiana river.
The inland of Algarve is a gratifying destination for a cycling tour as well as you’ll see the natural beauty of the scenery: valleys, hills, blossoming flowers, scents of the lush countryside etc.
And you’ll likely be tempted by stopping by at one of the several bars serving delicious, traditional Portuguese food.
10. Unwind in Ria Formosa, Natural Park
As mentioned earlier, one of the least expect things to visit when being in Algarve is a natural reserve that is famous all over the world for being a bird sanctuary and having a unique fauna in Southern Europe.
Indeed Algarve is not all about beaches! And especially when traveling in winter, alternatives to the beach are most welcome.
In case you’re looking to relax and unwind from your daily stress back home, I recommend staying close to the Ria Formosa Natural Park. (Read more about where to stay near the natural reserve).
Nature created a unique microcosm in which large sand dunes and barrier-islands are protecting the ocean from coming into the riverbed which resulted in one of the largest area of marshlands in Southern Europe.
The natural park of Ria Formosa is ideal for wandering and absorb nature’s beauty. The only noise you’ll here are the birds and the splashing of the water. Can it get more relaxing than this?
Whether you’re into biking, trekking, Stand Up Paddling or birding… Ria Formosa will be your happy place when visiting the Algarve during off-season.
I loved observing the hundred kinds of birds and how the landscape was changing according to the tides, the wind or the currents.
I hope some of these, admittedly very personal, highlights of my visit to Faro and the rest of Algarve, could convince you to include Algarve in your winter travel plans.
Have you been in Algarve during winter? Did you enjoy it? I would love to hear about the things you loved (or loved less) in the comment form.
Map: Highlights of Algarve in Winter
In order to get more information on tourism in Algarve, Portugal, I recommend the site of Tourism Board of the Algarve.
Do you need a guide to get the best background stories of Algarve? Drop a message to Diana from Portugal4U, she was a real enrichment of our visit.
Still looking for a place to stay near Faro, Algarve? Why not stay at the relaxing Quinta do Lago Country Club, in the heart of Ria Formosa Natural Park.
Disclaimer: I have been a guest of the Quinta do Lago Country Club. All my opinions, as always, are my own. This posts contains affiliate links. In case you purchase one of the items, I'll receive a small commission. The price remains the same for you.