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In the Algarve region of southern Portugal, Albufeira is a famous tourist town on the Iberian Peninsula’s Atlantic coast. Founded as a small fishing village, Albufeira now boasts many popular bars, restaurants, pubs, cafes, and cultural attractions along with long stretches of clean sandy beaches.
Albufeira remains a popular vacation destination in Portugal due to its relatively low cost, pleasant Mediterranean climate, great hotels, and the region’s open and tourist-friendly culture. This charming medieval fishing town is today one of Europe’s most iconic vacation destinations for beach-lovers, party-goers, and history buffs alike.
Like many coastal towns in southern Europe, Albufeira was founded by the ancient Phoenicians. These sea-faring people established many fishing and trading towns throughout the Mediterranean. Romans later named the town Baltum before it was occupied by the Moors during their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century. The Moors called the village Al-buhera, from which the modern name Albufeira is derived. It was finally re-conquered by the forces of King Alfonso III during the Reconquista.
Owing to its rich history, Albufeira exhibits cultural influences from the different peoples who have inhabited it throughout the centuries. Many of the hotels in Old Town, for example, are set in traditional Iberian-style buildings. Notable historic attractions include the ancient Roman bridge and the 12th-century Moorish castle at Paderne.
Other landmarks are the 19th-century Tower Clock, a functioning bell tower located on Rua Bernardino de Sousa; the 16th-century Tower of Medronheira, constructed by King John III; and the 18th-century Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, a neoclassical-style church on Rua da Igreja Nova that was built to replace the old chapel which was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake.
Today, Albufeira is divided into two halves: the historic oceanfront “Old Town” and the newly-developed areas of Areias de São João (home to the “Strip”) and Montechoro. Those who want to experience the traditional cobbled streets, medieval architecture, and old-world charm of Portugal would do well to look for a hotel in Old Town, although it’s worth noting that accommodations in this area are in high demand and can be a bit more expensive. While Old Town is designed for walking, travellers should be aware that the area is quite hilly.
Areias de São João and Montechoro, both within two kilometres of Old Town, comprise Albufeira’s “New Town.” Here, travellers will find streets lined with bright neon lights and modern clubs and bars that serve as the heart of the city’s bustling nightlife. Many businesses in these districts are open all night long, making them ideal for club-goers who want to drink, dance, and party the night away. Avenida Dr Francisco Sà Carneiro – the aforementioned “Strip” – features many boutique shops and upscale restaurants in Areias de São João.
Old Town has its popular bars, clubs, and live music venues as well, but these usually close up in the early morning hours past midnight. As one can imagine, this part of Albufeira tends to be more relaxed and offers plenty of laid-back restaurants, cafes, and shops selling traditional Portuguese crafts such as hand-made leather goods.
Restaurants in Albufeira offer a wide variety of fare from American-style pizza and burger joints to traditional Portuguese cuisine. Naturally, seafood eateries abound as well. Fish-based dishes are particularly abundant and quite cheap. The area is well-known for its excellent traditional stews such as the shellfish-based amêijoas na cataplana or the popular Portuguese fish stew known as caldeirada. Algarve is also particularly famous for its piri piri chicken, a zesty poultry dish made with a spicy sauce unique to the region.
While Albufeira is a treasure trove for seafood-lovers, those who aren’t fond of food that swims still have plenty to choose from. Traditional pork dishes such as javali and leitão remain very popular in the area, while pasteis de nata, a Portuguese egg tart, can be found just about everywhere. Along with sit-down restaurants, Albufeira boasts a plethora of inexpensive bars, cafes, and snack bars offering drinks and light casual fare.
Another regional specialty is Aguardente de Medronhos, a potent and high-proof fruit brandy native to Portugal and the Algarve. The spirit is distilled from the fruit of the Medronho plant, known by locals as the “strawberry tree,” which imparts a fig-like taste to the brandy. The result, however, is not a mild fruity drink – the name “Aguardente” comes from the Portuguese words for “burning water,” owing to the burning sensation it gives when going down the throat.
As one of southern Europe’s most famous beach destinations, Albufeira attracts crowds typical to such places. Long stretches of unpolluted beaches and clean water make it ideal for lovers of the sea, and many places offer boating, fishing, diving, and water-sports. Other popular area activities include golfing, hiking, cycling, and horseback riding for outdoorsy types who want a break from the beach.
The area remains popular with solo travellers, couples young and old, and families. Clubs and bars attract the younger crowd, while the long coastline features plenty of quiet kid-friendly beaches such as Praia de São Rafael that are tucked away from the party areas. Many hotels offer competitive all-inclusive packages as well. Peak seasons for Albufeira are summer and New Year’s, where hundreds of thousands of people flock to the area for vacation and celebrations. Many travellers come during autumn and winter as well, a time when the businesses are still open and the crowds have thinned.