Lagos, Portgual is known as the jewel of the Algarve for good reason. With the sun out hitting the sea, surf, and rocks, it glitters like a jewel. While the beach is likely to be the center attraction of any visit, there’s plenty more to do around the great town after the sun – or sunburn – get too intense. Save the burn for the spicy fish stew and head into town for the best this laid-back region has to offer.
Lagos also makes for a great family friendly vacation destination even with little children. The relaxed atmosphere of the town offers a slow down from the hectic pace of exploring the larger cities of Portugal like Lisbon and Porto. It’s also a fairly short drive with options for great detours from Lisbon so easily paired up on a trip with other cities. the Algarve region of Portugal isn’t as well known as other beach areas in Europe, so while there is definitely an influx of tourists, particularly British in the summer, it manages to feel peaceful and relaxed still.
Lagos also has more than just the beach with great restaurants with fresh fish right from the sea. There are a multitude of other options for the less fish-inclined like BBQ chicken, Portuguese BBQ meat, and even a bunch of Indian restaurants. Plenty of bars and cafes line the town too, perfect for grabbing a refreshment before or after a long day in the sun. With sun more days than anywhere else in Europe, it’s a good thing Portugal has such good beer too.
Sitting at a cafe in the middle of a small square in front of one of the town’s large churches, my wife and I realized Lagos was perfect for us with our twin two-year-olds. As they sat watching people pass the large water fountain in the square and pointing out dogs, we listened to a busker play some sort of stringed instrument while enjoying two glasses of one of Portugal’s popular beers, SuperBock. After a morning in the sun on the beach where our boys chased seagulls and the waves and built sandcastles, it gave us a nice reprieve before heading to dinner.
We stayed at Villa Doris Suites, and couldn’t have been happier. The rooms were located less than 500m from the beach which meant when we invariably forgot something for the boys on the beach, someone could run up and get it quickly. The rooms were large, modern, and nicely since the boys seemed to drag in bucket-fulls of sand, had tiled floors. The AC was the best I’ve ever had in Europe, especially at a beach town. It made parking considerably easier too as the beach lots were often packed by early-morning but we never had a problem finding a spot at night.
Our favorite beach, Praia Dona Ana, was a short walk away. Lagos’s beaches are dramatic and stunning thanks to rocky cliffs that tower over and provide shade and privacy. I had been looking at one of Lagos’s beaches for the last year on the homescreen of my Pixel 2XL without realizing it. This means that beaches end to be down some stairs which make bringing all the stuff toddlers need for a day on the beach tough, but it’s still doable. The shade from the rocks makes up for it though and means less re-applying sunscreen every 15 minutes.
In town, we explored the historic winding streets of the old town near the waterfront. Lined with restaurants, the sidewalks are a pleasant spot for a family walk before or after a meal. The cobblestones even helped rock our boys to sleep in their strollers with full stomachs. It even gave us the option to stop for a drink at a cafe. While the option of a small 20CL beer is nice, the sun in he Algarve definitely calls for the large half liter glasses.
The perfect spot to eat dinner is Tasca Jota. The location outside of the main town, though still a close walk from it, shouldn’t impact the decision to go there as it masks a modern and brightly lit fantastic seafood restaurant. Though a little upscale, they’ve got plenty of high-chairs and the staff is great with kids. It can be hard to get a table, so we were glad we booked a table with TheFork, apparently Portugal’s version of OpenTable. When we arrived it was empty, but within 30 minutes it was absolutely full. All the fish dishes were excellent, but the cataplana took the cake. A traditional Portuguese seafood stew, it’s like a blend of Paella and Cioppino cooked and served in a copper pot. The boys loved the pasta so much they ended up wearing half of it. Thanks to a large sink right outside the kitchen we got cleaned up again before leaving. It was one of our most Portuguese meals as we had such a great time we actually sat and enjoyed the time together for hours.
We opted to not to grab dessert at the restaurant and headed back into town instead. As the sun set, we saw that the town livens up at night with clubs and bars we hadn’t noticed during the day. We continued on, stopping for Gelato in town just along the water. It was among the pricier gelatos we had on the trip and not quite as good as the ones we had at Gelatos de Portugal in other towns, featuring traditional Portuguese flavors, but on such a warm day, it was still perfect and the boys even enjoyed some. We ate as we walked along the water, past the medieval castle and the newer fort along the harbor as the sun finally set.
Lagos converted me into a lover of beach vacations with family. I loved the beach growing up, but with two toddlers, I preferred exploring cities and sights because the walking around was often easier. However, a day on the beach in Lagos convinced me it can be nice to take things slow and find time to just sit and enjoy. Maybe our next trip will center around the beach rather than just spending a few days at it. Maybe Lagos will inspire your family in the same way.