Lagos is a charming Algarve coastal town that has retained its traditional Portuguese character whilst developing into a cosmopolitan holiday destination that welcomes thousands of visitors every year.
Historically, Lagos’ greatest allure has been its geographical position. Lying opposite the north African coast in the Bensafrim estuary, it attracted settlers, foreign invaders and became a focal point for discovery voyages at the time of Portugal’s Golden Age of Discoveries. Prince Henry the Navigator brought fame to the region by founding his navigation school in nearby Sagres, by residing in Lagos and building his famous caravels in the town. Lagos soon became a hub of maritime activity as explorers such as Gil Eanes, the first to round Africa’s Cape Bojador in 1434, departed from the town in search of new land and fortune. Vessels returning laden with riches and slaves transformed Lagos into a base for African trade and brought increased wealth and prosperity to the area.
Nowadays, the allure is all to do with the region’s abundance and variety of beautiful beaches. Visitors are spoilt for choice with the long stretches of sand dunes of beaches such as Meia Praia or the smaller, sheltered coves of the likes of Praia da Boneca or Praia Dona Ana. Both alternatives are equally appealing: the size of Meia Praia makes it a favourite for the practice of water sports while the cliffs of the smaller beaches provide grottoes, rock pools and enchanting nooks and crannies that delight all the family. The coastline in the area is particularly attractive and can be explored from the sea on one of the scenic boat trips that regularly depart from the marina. It is also a favourite place for snorkelling and scuba diving.
The town itself is best explored on foot. Despite the destruction caused by the 1755 earthquake, many of the houses in the historic city centre still retain the traditional stonework, the quaint wrought iron balconies and the shaded inner patios. Shops, bars and restaurants line the cobbled streets, making it a very pleasant spot for a stroll and a taste of the local gastronomy. Marinated horse mackerel, whelks and beans, razor clam stews and stuffed squid are some of the delicacies on offer. The area also has a very lively nightlife.
Lagos marina has a more contemporary feel to it. Lined with shops, cafés and restaurants, it is a great place to sit back with a drink and watch the world go by.
Avid golfers can choose from two nearby golf courses, both of which provide breathtaking views of the surroundings. Palmarés Golf is situated to the east of Lagos on the hills overlooking Meia Praia beach and Boavista Golf Resort lies to the west above the coast leading to Praia da Luz.
Places to see
Igreja de Santo António (St. Anthony’s church)
The impressive gilt carving of the sanctuary is one of the most beautiful in Portugal and has made this 18th century church a striking example of Portuguese baroque. The ornate interior contrasts greatly with the simplicity of the exterior.
Igreja de São Sebastião (St. Sebastian’s church)
Originally a 14th century chapel, it was made a church and dedicated to St. Sebastian in 1463. The church contains a large 18th century statue of Our Lady of Glory that came from Brazil and a 16th century crucifix that is said to have been used in the famous Alcácer-Quibir battle. From its hilltop vantage point, the church commands fabulous views over Lagos and the sea.
Historical sites and museums
Muralhas (Town Walls)
Originally of Carthaginian or Roman origin, the ramparts were extended by the Arabs and then again in the 14th and 16th centuries to accommodate the town’s growth. The walls offer beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding hills and the bay of Lagos.
Castelo dos Governadores (Governors’ Castle)
This castle was rebuilt on the site of a former Arab castle during the 14th-16th centuries to become the residence of the governors of the Algarve. Partially destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, it contains a beautiful example of a Manueline window, alongside which King Sebastião allegedly said his last prayers before his fateful trip to Africa.
Mercado de Escravos (Slave Market)
Slaves brought back from the African continent in 1444 were sold here in what is held to be the site of Europe’s first slave market. The ground floor of the building now houses an art gallery.
Museu Minicipal Dr. José Formosinho (Dr. José Formosinho Municipal Museum)
Adjoining St. Anthony’s church, this museum contains unique collections of religious art, archaeological findings and paintings in addition to sections dedicated to Lagos’ history, Algarve ethnography and mineralogy. Entrance to the museum includes admittance to the church.