Lagos is a popular resort in the Algarve region that is a living portrait of Portugal's long love affair with the ocean. This town of just 25,000 people has a beautiful natural harbor prized by the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, and was the starting point for many historic voyages of discovery.
The city's traditional buildings, still intact, and its pleasant cobbled streets make that history ever more tangible. Recreationally, Lagos is a seaside haven, with superb sandy beaches and coves - the "Surf Central" of south Portugal.
Lagos, (pronounced la-goosh) on the western side of the Algarve has a long history as a sea port and ship-building centre going back to the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Moors. Henry the Navigator launched many of the ships that set sail during Portugal's golden "Age of Discoveries" in the 15th and 16th centuries from Lagos.
The main beaches near Lagos are Meia Praia a long 4 km stretch of sand to the east of town reached by bus from the Avenida dos Descobrimentos. On a promontory to the south of Lagos there are a number of small, idyllic cove beaches: Praia do Pinhão, Praia Dona Ana, Praia do Camilo (pictured) and Ponta da Piedade - all reached on the Toy Train (Comboio Turistico) from the town centre or by kayak or boat trip from Cais da Solaria.
Back in town, historic sites include remnants of Lagos' slave market (now a new museum) and the old Customs House in the Praça do Infante Dom Henrique adjacent to the sea front. Lagos was the port where the first African slaves were brought to Portugal in 1444. By the 16th century it is estimated that slaves made up about 10% of the population of the Algarve. The Slave Market Museum (Mercado de Escravos) has interesting exhibits on the history of slaves and slavery in the Algarve.
The Portuguese Discoveries Wax Museum (Museu de Cera dos Descobrimentos) opened in 2014 and has 22 life-size wax figures presented in 16 historical scenes including Henry the Navigator - the "father of the Age of Discoveries", Vasco da Gama, Gil Eanes, who was born in Lagos and was one of the very first captains to explore the coast of Africa, Bartolomeu Dias, Luís de Camões, author of the classic Os Lusíadas and Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) the Portuguese navigator and explorer who is credited as being the first European to sail across the Pacific Ocean.
The Castelo dos Governadores (Governors' Castle) was originally built by the Arabs and strengthened after the Reconquista. It was from the Manueline Window here that Dom Sebastião addressed his troops before leading them to disaster at the Battle of Alcácer-Quibir in Morocco in 1578.
The nearby church of Santa Maria dates from the 15th century. Much of the rest of the old town was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake but the fine Igreja de Santo António (Church of Saint Anthony) predates that disaster, though it was heavily damaged and subsequently restored.
Next door is the Museu Municipal (Tel: 282 762 301), through which the Church of St. Anthony is accessed) with an odd assortment of exhibits - weapons from Mozambique, archaeological items and antique cannonballs. Parts of the city walls survive along with the waterfront Forte Ponta da Bandeira on Avenida dos Descobrimentos - a small, square fort built in the late 17th century to protect the entrance to the harbour.
Lagos Zoo 8 km to the north west of the town off the N120 to Aljezur is worth a visit for its collection of exotic birds and wild animals.
Farther north still is the Barragem de Bravura a picturesque reservoir set in delightful woodland.
Other things to do in and around Lagos are boat trips and dolphin viewing bookable at Lagos Marina, diving, sea kayaking and snorkelling. Horse-riding and cycling trips can also be booked. Lagos is also a good base to explore the nearby Natural Park - Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alenttejano e Costa Vicentina and the usually more tranquil (especially off-season) resorts of Luz and Burgau (accessible by bus) - to the west of the town towards Sagres.
Praia da Luz, 10 km west of Lagos, is an attractive, tranquil resort centered around the crescent-shaped beach backed by villa complexes, holiday villages, apartments and hotels.
Burgau, 18 km west of Lagos, is a mix of traditional Algarve fishing village and growing resort complete with British-style pubs. West of Bergau is the pleasant beach of Cabanas Velha.