On our latest visit to Portugal, my husband and I decided to visit a few new places we hadn’t seen before. While we made Portimao our home base for a few days, we managed to squeeze in a day trip to Lagos. And we were very glad we did!
How to get to Lagos
Lagos is located in the Barlavento region in the Algarve, along the Atlantic ocean. If you’re coming to Lagos via Lisbon, you have a few options:
- Direct by bus (Rede Expressos or EVA Transportes) leaving from Lisbon Sete Rios Station or Oriente Station – approximately 4 hours
- By train from Entrecampos station in Lisbon, with a transfer in Tunes – approximately 3.5 hours and up (some journeys may require an overnight stay in Tunes, depending on your departure time)
- Drive – approximately 3 hours
The nearest airport for Lagos is in Faro. So if you prefer to fly, you’ll need to take a bus or taxi from the airport to Faro city first. Then you can reach Lagos either by bus or train. The Lagos Portugal Guide website has great information on all the transportation options.
If you’re staying in Portimao, as we did, getting to Lagos is super easy. It’s about 35 minutes by car, bus or taxi. Or, you can go by train, which was the option we chose.
This was the timetable at the Portimao train station. As you can see, the Algarve regional railway services all the major hubs along the Algarve region of Portugal. This is especially great if you want to spend some extended time in the Algarve. You can town-hop all along the coast, from Lagos in the west to Vila Real de Santo Antonio in the east!
The train fare is very reasonable, too. It was only €2.05 one way to get to Lagos from Portimao. We decided to get a return ticket, which cost us a whopping €4.10 each!
Don’t let the rough-looking exterior of the train deter you from using it as a mode of transportation in the Algarve. The inside was clean and comfortable.
The train is a great way to travel through the Algarve. It even goes along the sandy beach heading into Lagos for a portion of the journey. Check the official Comboios de Portugal website for times and fares.
Arriving in Lagos
The train station in Lagos is fairly new. But across the street you’ll see the old, now-abandoned train station, decorated in beautiful green Portuguese tiles:
Once we got off the train, we had to cross a footbridge past the marina in order to get into the town proper.
The footbridge takes you to the Avenidas dos Descobrimentos. This is the main street extending from the marina to the mouth of the river.
The first thing that caught my attention was a long line of outdoor vendors along the promenade.
I love shopping in markets around the world. I don’t know if this street market is open daily or not, but it did appear when I looked Lagos up in Google Maps. So it must be held frequently enough that the Google Maps people caught it! This market was all merchandise; no food or produce. But look at these adorable and colourful bags! The fish bags are the cutest!
There were so many things I wanted to buy, it was hard to restrain myself. They had cork purses and wallets, shoes, hand painted ceramic tiles, coasters, paintings, clothing and more. I ended up buying a pretty sage-coloured summer dress for €20.
What to See and Do in Lagos
Across the way from the market is a replica of caravel Boa Esperança. Bartolomé Díaz, a Portuguese explorer, sailed a ship like this around the Cape of Good Hope in 1488. (Boa Esperança means “Good Hope” in Portuguese. You can read about our own visit to the Cape of Good Hope here!) The replica, built in 1990, is a floating museum and training vessel. But it’s not just for show – it’s used in races and other nautical events!
Forte da Ponta da Bandeira
After we did a bit of retail therapy, we headed to the Forte da Ponta da Bandeira. This fortress dates back to the 17th Century. Throughout the 1600s, pirates were a real threat along the coast. The Spanish also attacked the Algarve during the Portuguese Restoration War (1640–1668).
This fort was built between 1679 and 1690, and has a small drawbridge leading to the door. It’s now a museum showcasing the Portuguese Discoveries. But unfortunately, even though we arrived during regular operating hours, the building was closed so we couldn’t go inside.
One big difference we observed between Portimao and Lagos was the size of the waves. The ocean was much more aggressive here. I wouldn’t want to go wading in these rough waters. Still beautiful though!
Castle of Lagos
Although we didn’t have time to visit, Lagos even has its very own castle. It’s across the street from the fortress. It’s called the Castelo dos Governadores, or Governor’s Castle, and includes the remains of the old city walls. The walls date as far back as the Roman era, with modifications throughout the centuries. The walls had nine towers for defence.
St. Goncalo of Lagos Statue
Heading a little further south, we passed the statue to St. Goncalo of Lagos. He was born to a wealthy fisherman in Lagos in 1360, and he dedicated his life to pastoral work. Goncalo studied in Lisbon where he entered the Order of the Augustinians. He died in 1422; however, the story goes that Goncalo appeared to a relative after his ship sank, and guided him safely to shore. Due to this miracle, Pope Pius VI beatified Goncalo in 1778. He’s been the patron saint of fishermen in Lagos since 1972.
Lagos is well known for its many beaches, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to check out at least one or two.
Praia de Batata is the first beach on your left, just after you pass the Ponta da Bandeira fort.
It’s also one of the busiest beaches in Lagos, since it’s the closest to the town centre and main attractions. By the way, batata is Portuguese for potato!
If you continue along this same path past the statue of St. Goncalo, you’ll see a Romanesque bridge overlooking a small but lovely beach, called Praia dos Estudantes (Student’s Beach). This bridge was once part of the Pinhão Fortress. An earthquake in 1755 triggered a tsunami, which almost completely destroyed the fortress:
Praia do Pinhão is the next beach you’ll come across, which is really beautiful. The mustard-yellow and rust-hued cliffs surrounding it are quite dramatic. It doesn’t offer any amenities though, so bring your own water, snacks, towels, etc.
Praia da Dona Ana is a larger stretch of sandy beach, and has all the amenities you could want, including a restaurant, boardwalks, etc.
The rocky outcroppings all along the coast here are just stunning. I especially loved the natural archways and grottos cut into the rock here and there along the beaches.
My husband and I aren’t really “beach people,” but Portugal made us re-think our stance:
Ponta da Piedade
We then headed to the Ponta da Piedade, or Mercy Point. Ponta da Piedade is surrounded by dramatic cliff faces. There’s a restaurant and old lighthouse here, but really the main attraction is the view.
The route we took meant walking along a busy road, but I’m sure there are easier pedestrian-friendly paths to follow. But, along the way we came across many small shrines like this one:
Many of the paths here are just sandy trails. So I would recommend good footwear.
This is the lighthouse, built in 1913. I don’t believe it’s open to visitors.
This archway is called the Catedral. It does remind one of a cathedral arch, doesn’t it? You can explore this area by boat as well, which will take you to some of the grottos and cool rocky caves carved into the rock faces.
This was just such a beautiful area. I could have stayed here all day!
You can walk to the Ponta da Piedade from Lagos, or you can take the mini train during high tourist season.
It was at this point that we decided to walk a bit of the clifftop boardwalk, which connects to the Ponta da Piedade. The boardwalk is quite extensive, but we only had so much time to explore!
You can see a bit of Lagos in the distance. The clifftop walk is great for getting out of town and seeing a bit of nature.
And of course, these views can’t be beat:
It’s important to stay on the designated paths, as the cliffs are unstable. We saw several people climbing over the railings to get that perfect selfie.
Slave Market Museum
On our walk back to Lagos, we stopped in at the Slave Market museum (Mercado de Escravos).
This was the first slave market in Europe. Some of this building dates to 1444, though most of it was rebuilt in 1691. African slaves came into Europe through markets such as this one.
The museum itself is quite small, and doesn’t have very many artifacts from those dark days in history. But they did recently implement augmented reality exhibits, which you access via tablets they hand out. So if you held up the tablet to the wall map below, for example, you could click on different areas to learn more about it.
They’re still working out the bugs, but I think it’s a nice addition to the museum.
We didn’t stay in Lagos long enough to explore the town center, as I wanted to get back into Portimao before their museum closed. But the day trip to Lagos was definitely worth our time!