Kilometres of sand dunes bathed by calm warm waters, natural grottoes carved out of the cliffs by the sea, historical monuments that tell stories of former glory, a modern marina, a busy nightlife, proximity to golf courses and a large selection of bars and restaurants have contributed towards making Lagos one of the most popular holiday destinations in the Algarve.
Lagos is a busy town that has developed around its beautiful natural harbour and the sea. The 15th century saw the great expansion of Lagos when Henry the Navigator lived in Lagos and his famous Discovery period promoted increased maritime activity from its shores and made it an important trading centre for the exotic materials being imported into Portugal. Street names alluding to the Discoveries abound in Lagos, reminding visitors that caravels were equipped here, that the famous Gil Eanes departed from here to round the Cape Bojador and that Lagos was the location of Europe’s first European slave market.
Nowadays, Lagos is a bustling modern town that has learnt how to develop around the tourism industry. Tribute is paid to the past, as the careful conservation of the remains of its historical monuments shows, but it has learnt how to combine this with a host of modern amenities aimed at attracting visitors. The charming town centre with wrought iron balconies, carved stonework and colourful patios is ideal for a picturesque stroll after a day spent lounging on the beach and offers an astonishing amount of restaurants, bars and night clubs for evening entertainment. The Lagos marina contains a variety of restaurants and provides activities such as deep-sea fishing and boat trips for visitors wishing to see the Algarve from the water. This is well worth it in the area around Lagos as the coastline provides beautiful examples of carved out cliffs and grottoes that can be marvelled at from a distance or entered by boat. The sculptured cliffs of Ponta da Piedade, located some 3 km from Lagos, are said to provide one of the most beautiful sights in the Algarve.
Shoppers and browsers will be well satisfied in Lagos. The old town has a large array of shops selling local items such as leather goods, copperware, filigree jewellery, wickerwork and lace as well as the customary clothes and shoe shops. The Lagos flea market also attracts visitors from all over the Algarve and can be a good place to pick up some bargains.
History enthusiasts will also come away content. Despite the destruction of many of Lagos’ historical treasures in the 1755 earthquake, there are many interesting monuments to visit. Various original 14th or 15th century churches have been rebuilt or added to in later centuries, the most impressive being St. Anthony’s Church, where the young King Sebastião reputedly attended his last mass before the expedition to Africa that cost him his life. It is famous for its baroque gilt work that has earned it the epithet “golden church”. The hilltop St. Sebastian church affords a panoramic view over Lagos and the sea, and the site of Europe’s first slave market at the Casa das Arcadas is now an exhibition and handicraft centre.
Just outside the town, Lagos’ main attraction is undoubtedly its proximity to a number of astounding beaches. The long stretches of sand in the Meia Praia and the Dona Ana beaches make them the favourites although those with personal transport will be spoilt for choice with the large variety on offer in the area. Most of these beaches possess good infrastructures and provide amenities ranging from the hire of water sports equipment to limited mobility aids. If your holiday coincides with the end of August, join the festivities of the traditional 29th August midnight swim, when the population gathers on the beaches for an evening of outdoor eating, singing, dancing and the proverbial midnight swim.
The gastronomy of the region is mostly based on fish and shellfish, served in a variety of forms. Mussels, clams, whelks, cockles and fish are the basic ingredients for soups, stews and steamed in the typical Algarve copper recipient, the ‘cataplana’. The cinnamon-flavoured local sweets, the ‘Dom Rodrigos’ and the ‘Morgados’, made with honey, figs and almonds are held to be a delicacy and go very well with the sweet local fortified Moscatel wine.