For many Algarve lovers, Lagos is one of the most attractive historic towns along this stretch of southern Portuguese coastline. A lot of the town suffered damage during the big earthquake of 1755, but today it’s a thriving resort, market town and working fishing port.
It also has a marina to rival some of the five-star marinas in the swishest resort in Europe, in fact the yacht harbour with its eclectic selection of cafes, pizzerias and restaurants is a lovely place to while away half a day.
Unlike popular timeshare favourite Albufeira, Lagos is relatively uncrowded, although it does get busy in summer, but if you’re looking for a slower pace with fewer bars and fewer crowds, it’s the perfect town for a winter sun holiday. Temperatures here do drop at night (in early winter they’re about 10C at night and daytime temps can reach 22C or so) – but the best part is the big blue sky and sun!
Stroll along the marina and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a vacant mooring space. The place is packed with gleaming white yachts of all sizes and this is the start of the toy train (which runs from May – September but doesn’t run in winter).
The Slave Market and Praca da Republica
You’ll probably recognise this square from the tourist brochures, but did you know that the building in the corner, with arches, was Europe’s first slave market? It opened in 1444 and a hundred years later up to 10,000 slaves were being shipped from Africa to this part of the world. It has a sadness about it and has been turned into a gallery of sorts.
The Church of Santa Maria
Opposite the Slave Market is the impressive church of Santa Maria. The history books say that the young kind of Portugal, Dom Sebastiao, roused his troops from a window of the church, calling them to come and fight the Moroccans. But they set off in 1578 and the young King never returned.
Praca Gil Eanes
When someone asks you to meet them at the main square in Lagos, chances are it’s here, where a controversial statue of Dom Sebastiao looks over the passers by. It’s not everyone’s favourite sculpture, but it’s a lovely square to have coffee in, with a few clothes boutiques, pharmacies and newsagents dotted about nearby.
If long, brisk walks along the coast are your idea of heaven in December, one of Lagos’s local soft,, is an absolute stunner! You won’t believe the kilometre after kilometre of soft, white sand and if the fresh air’s making you peckish, stop off at one of the beach restaurants along the way. Linda’s is popular in summer but it closes in winter, whereas Bahia, famous for its early evening live music, stays open for most of low season.
Praia da Batata
Yes, batata means potato and Lagos has a “Potato Beach”! You’ll find it on the edge of town just beyond Forte Ponta da Bandeira and you can get to it through a natural rock tunnel. This is where Lagos locals celebrate the end of summer at the traditional Banho festival when everyone wades into the water and celebrates the end of August with midnight swims, but it’s considerably quieter in winter. A lovely place for a walk with its alluring stretch of uncluttered sand.
If you’ve been driving around town looking for the local zoo but can’t find it, there’s a reason why! The Zoo is situated outside Lagos, at Quinta Figueiros, in Barao de Sao Joao, one of the charming little villages in the hills just outside town. Set in thirty square kilometres of land, the Zoo makes a point of publicizing environmental awareness and you’ll get to see various exotic birds here so don’t forget the camera! Birds that call Lagos Zoo home include toucans, ibis, parrots and flamingos and there are wallabies and monkeys, too. There’s a children’s petting zoo area, a shop, a restaurant and a children’s playground in case they’re “zoo’d out” before it’s time to go home.