Travel guide to Vilamoura: Planning your trip to The Algarve
The beautiful Algarve, one of Portugal’s most visited regions and one of the most popular beach destinations in Europe. I visited Portugal for the first time back in September when I spent 5 days in Vilamoura on a girls holiday – how it took me 26 years to visit Portugal I will never know!! I absolutely fell in love with the Algarve during my trip; the weather was amazing, the beaches were stunning and the food was incredible! If, like me, it’s your first time visiting the Algarve or you’re planning a return trip there for 2020, here’s my travel guide to Vilamoura, and how I would recommend you spend your time there…
Wander around the marina
The marina is without doubt THE place to be in Vilamoura, with a wide range of shops, bars and restaurants lining the harbour. Sip cocktails as you watch the mega dollar yachts bobbing up and down in the harbour, or take your pick of some of the Algarve’s best restaurants and enjoy lunch or dinner by the sea both day and night. There are plenty of lively bars (including at least three Irish bars!) that are open until late, offering lots of places to enjoy a few drinks. The marina is the hub of Vilamoura and has a real buzz about it, so you’ll definitely find yourself spending lots of time here during your holiday, and no travel guide to Vilamoura would be complete without it!
Go to the Aquashow Waterpark
Located in Quarteira, just a 10 minute taxi ride (or short bus ride) away from the marina, the Aquashow Waterpark is a fantastic day out for all the family and offers something different on my travel guide to Vilamoura. There are huge water slides for the thrill seekers, smaller rides and flumes for the less adventurous and even land rides for those not wanting to get too wet. An onsite café and shop allows you to purchase food, drinks and souvenirs, and there are lockers available for a small charge. There’s a lazy river, wave pool and large swimming pool if you’re looking to have a more chilled out day instead of going on ride after ride. We spent the morning on the big rides and then the afternoon on the smaller rides and had an amazing day doing something different that didn’t involve the beach or the marina, but whatever your reasons for visiting, you’ll be sure to have a fun filled day out at Aquashow – an absolute must see on your travel guide to Vilamoura!
Hop on a dolphin watching boat tour
I reeeallly wanted to do this during my time in Vilamoura but sadly we ran out of days and didn’t manage to squeeze it in! There are plenty of boat trips to take in Vilamoura as the area is fantastic for dolphin watching, with the Atlantic Sea being one of the best places to spot them in the wild. Some trips take you out to the middle of the sea and into the Benagil Caves for a fantastic experience, whilst others just focus on offering amazing opportunities to see some brilliant marine life. Next time I am in the Algarve I will definitely be taking a boat trip as I have only seen dolphins in the wild a handful of times and they are my favourite animals in the world so you can imagine how gutted I was that I didn’t get chance to try and see them this time round!
Explore the two long sandy beaches
There are two beaches at the heart of Vilamoura, Praia de Vilamoura to the east – the most well known as it is right by the marina – and Praia da Falesia to the west which is located a little further away. Both beaches are equally as beautiful, with long stretches of golden sand and deep blue waters that are perfect for swimming in. I was really apprehensive about swimming in the sea as Portugal sits on the Atlantic Ocean which is notoriously chilly and no where near as warm as the Med, but once I got over the initial shock of coldness and started swimming properly I completely forgot I was in the Atlantic and enjoyed spending plenty of time in the water! Both beaches have sunbeds and umbrellas to hire, and there are small beach bars too, with the luxurious Puro Beach on Praia de Vilamoura being part of the Anantara Vilamoura hotel (more info below) and THE place to sunbathe if you’re looking for VIP treatment.
Get involved with the golfing
Known for its excellent golfing facilities, home to no fewer than 40 golf courses across the resort, no guide to Vilamoura would be complete without mentioning the G word, even though I am quite possibly the least likely person in the world to play golf! I think September must be big in the golfing calendar because there were sooo many groups of men there who were either on stag do’s or group golfing trips – the majority of which were taking over the Irish bars night after night! The Portugal Masters, held in October, are a super popular time to visit, so I would avoid going to Vilamoura at this time if you aren’t bothered by the golfing as accommodations are more expensive and restaurant capacities are limited as they are often inundated with groups.
Where to stay
We chose to stay at the Dom Pedro Portobelo Hotel, which is in a perfect location for exploring all that Vilamoura has to offer. Just a 4 minute walk away from the marina, the hotel is close enough to the action without being right on the harbour and offers fantastic value for money. There’s a restaurant and large pool onsite with accommodation options ranging from standard double/twin rooms to spacious 1 or 2 bedroom apartments. We had a 1 bed apartment that slept 4 of us comfortably, and our spacious balcony had views overlooking the pool and the sea in the distance. Faro Airport is a 25 minute drive away, and I would recommend booking a shuttle transfer before you travel as they are so cheap (£13pp return) instead of just jumping in a taxi when you get to the airport. The Dom Pedro Portobelo is one of many hotels in Vilamoura from the Dom Pedro brand and I would thoroughly recommend them to anyone looking to enjoy a fantastic stay in Vilamoura without the hefty price tag that comes with staying on the marina!
If you have a bigger budget, you’ll be spoilt rotten at the Tivoli Marina, right at the heart of the resort and commanding some of the best views in the area! The excellent location, top notch restaurant and spa and the exquisite rooms with stunning marina views will give you a fantastic stay at any time of year. Alternatively head to Anantara Vilamoura, located a 15 minute drive from the marina by complimentary shuttle, which is a world away from Vilamoura’s buzzy atmosphere but amazing for golfers and those who want luxury, privacy and peaceful surroundings. There are 4 pools, 3 restaurants and 2 bars as well as a spa and state of the art gym with a world class golf course home to the Portugal Masters directly opposite the hotel. I was lucky enough to see both of these 5* hotels during my time in Vilamoura as I was doing some site inspections for work (even whilst on holiday – dedication or what?! ) and got to really experience the luxurious nature of them both, so can whole-heartedly recommend them if you’re looking to splash the cash and I definitely wanted to include them on my travel guide to Vilamoura.
Where to eat/drink
The marina is really the only place to go in Vilamoura to ensure you get a top notch meal, and I have to say we were blown away by the quality of food night after night during our holiday here. The meat and sea food dishes were amazing, with fresh produce and eclectic menus to choose from no matter which restaurant you ended up at. We ate at Italian, Portuguese and Mediterranean restaurants during our holiday and certainly weren’t disappointed. For drinks, I would head to the cocktails bars along the harbour front if you’re looking for something sophisticated and casual, but if you want somewhere a bit more lively I would definitely choose one of the Irish bars to get you in the mood for dancing!
As you can see from my photos, I had an absolute ball during my time in Vilamoura, and I definitely could have spent another few days lazing on the gorgeous beach, admiring the glitzy marina and swimming in the deep blue sea. With so much to see and do, the Algarve provides the perfect place for a week long holiday or a weekend escape for couples, families and groups alike. Hopefully my travel guide to Vilamoura has shown you that this part of Portugal is perfect for all types of travel, but if you need convincing further, take a look at this gorgeous candyfloss sky which lit up the marina night after night once the sun had started to set – truly magical, am I right?!