Portugal's southern coast is renowned for its hot weather and long sandy beaches, and as a result, the Algarve has become one of the most popular summer vacation destinations in Europe. Head there between late June and early September, and you'll find most towns and villages crammed full of fellow tourists. Prices skyrocket, service levels drop, and it's hard to find a square inch of sand to yourself.
Unless you head to Sagres, that is. This small, somewhat-ramshackle town lies close to the southwestern tip of Portugal, its remote location making it a very different proposition to the popular holiday resorts of the central Algarve.
Even in high season, the beaches are quieter and the streets less crowded than further along the coast. With a laid-back surfer vibe and mostly simple accommodation and dining options, Sagres won't appeal to everyone. If you're looking for a local experience or a good base for exploring the rugged countryside nearby, however, it's well worth checking out. Day trips to Sagres are possible, ideally by car, although there is also a reasonable bus service to and from Lagos.
Wondering what to do while you're in town? These are the top things to do in Sagres.
Relax on the Beach
As with the rest of the Algarve, it's the beaches in Sagres that are one of the town's biggest drawcards.
Most popular is Praia da Mareta, its long stretch of golden sand somewhat sheltered from the strong breeze. Here's where you'll find most of the popular bars and restaurants, ideal spots to relax with a drink after working on your tan for a while.
If the wind is really blowing and you need as much protection as possible from it, head to the small Praia da Baleeira, next to the harbor used by the local fishermen.
For those rare occasions when the main beaches get a little crowded, walking slightly out of town to Praia do Martinhal will almost certainly yield a stretch of sand to call your own.
Praia do Tonel faces west, right into the prevailing wind, so it's best left to the surfers unless you like huge waves and plenty of sand in your face.
The relentless Atlantic waves draw surfers to Sagres like moths to a flame. The angle of the headlands means some beaches are much more sheltered than others, making the surfing appropriate for a wide range of skill levels.
If the surf isn't much good on one of Sagres's four main beaches, it's worth taking a look at the others—conditions vary significantly between them, depending on the wind and tides. You can also head slightly northwest of town to Praia do Beliche, another popular surfing spot.
There are several surf shops in Sagres, and lessons are relatively inexpensive. It's also possible to hire whatever gear you need from the stores, avoiding the hassle of transporting it.
If being dumped by waves all day isn't your idea of a good time, kitesurfing is another good option. It's probably best left to those with prior experience, however, as the wind can be strong and very gusty.
See the End of the World at Cabo de Sao Vicente
Back in medieval times, Cabo de São Vicente (Cape of Saint Vincent) was believed to be the end of the world. We know better these days, of course, but when you're standing there on the rugged cliff top, being buffeted by the Atlantic winds and gazing out at nothing but ocean, it's easy to understand why.
The westernmost point of mainland Europe, Cabo São Vicente lies around four miles from Sagres. A barren, desolate place, there's little in the way of manmade structures atop the 250-foot cliffs except for the lighthouse, the beam from which can be seen 35 miles out to sea.
If you're planning a visit, take good footwear and warm clothes, as the ever-present wind usually means a big temperature drop compared to even a short distance inland.
Visiting Cabo São Vicente is best done by taxi or in a rental car, but you can also take the bus that runs twice a day from Sagres (although not at weekends or on public holidays). A single ticket costs two euros, and the bus waits half an hour at the lighthouse before returning to town. Don't miss it, unless you want a long wait or a long walk back!
Visit Fortaleza de Sagres
The only real tourist attraction in town, Fortaleza de Sagres sits atop a rugged headland to the south of Praia da Mareta. This fort dates from the 15th century, and is unique in that it only contains one exterior wall. The rest of the fortress's defenses were provided by the towering 200-foot cliffs that were considered impossible for attackers to scale.
Built to deter attacks by pirates from North Africa, the fortress was enhanced over time, but significantly damaged by the tidal wave from the massive 1755 earthquake that flattened Lisbon and much of the Algarve.
These days it's the setting that's the biggest drawcard, rather than the remains of the fort itself. The three euro entry fee gives access to a lighthouse, small church, and a huge stone maritime compass that's over 100 feet in diameter, likely from the 16th century.
There's also a mile-long clifftop walking path with great views. Allow up to an hour for your visit.
Enjoy a Slice of Local Life
Once you're done with the small number of attractions in and around Sagres, it's time to kick back and enjoy the relaxed ambiance and low prices that make the town so appealing to certain types of visitor.
Rather than expensive resorts and high-end restaurants, you're more likely to find simple hotels and small, family-run eateries specializing in local fare—which, in this case, usually means whatever the fishermen have caught that day.
Speaking of fishermen, it's worth spending a few minutes checking out the working harbor in the east of town. It's definitely not tidied-up for tourists, instead giving visitors a glimpse into what it's really like to make a living from the ocean in this part of the world.