Little more than a fishing village at the beginning of the 1960s, Albufeira is now the busiest vacation resort along the Algarve, which runs in a necklace of sandy beaches and pretty towns along the south coast of Portugal. It’s a cultured city with roots that stretch back to Roman times, but thanks to a devastating earthquake in 1755, much of the old town has disappeared.
Historic buildings that do remain in the once-Moorish old town include the 14th-century Capela da Misericórdia (Chapel of Mercy), which was formerly a mosque, but most of the whitewashed, Baroque-style churches have been replaced since the earthquake. A few fragments of the castle walls are still standing along with the castle’s landmark clock tower, but it is the squat, stone Torre da Medronheira, which was built in the 1500s as a watchtower for pirates, that has best stood the test of time.
A 30-km (18.5-mile) string of sandy beaches graces the Albufeira waterfront, with a stretch to suit everyone from deserted sweeps of sand at Praia dos Salgados or pretty cliff-backed coves such as Praia da Coelha. The most popular and crowded is family-orientated Praia de Pescadores (Fisherman’s Beach) in the heart of the city, where traditional fishing boats still bob incongruously in the water among the swimmers. To the west of Praia de Pescadores, Albufeira’s smart new marina is backed by brightly painted, smart apartment blocks and surrounded by the city’s best seafood restaurants. It is also the base for a range of water sports and tours from speed boating and scuba diving to paragliding and dolphin spotting.
Albufeira’s late-night clubbing scene lies east of the old town and is centered on the southern end of the notorious Strip, which is rowdy around Areias de So Joao but becomes progressively more staid as it heads north into Montechoro, where there are a sprinkling of designer shops and high-end restaurants tucked away in cobbled backstreets.
Albufeira is an easy drive of 42 km (26 miles) from Faro airport on the Algarve; it is also possible to get there by taxi, bus or train. The main tourist information office is at Rua 5 de Outubro, by the tunnel down to Praia de Pescadores. The Tower of Medronheira is open daily from 9am–6pm.