Are you wondering whether there are enough things to do in Sagres to justify a day trip or considering using it as a base when you’re in the Algarve?
Read on to find out what’s in store so that you can decide if it’s the right place for you to visit, and for how long.
Sagres, located on the extreme western tip of Algarve, makes for a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. I found the town itself to be laid-back and quite different from others in the Algarve.
As such, it attracts a different type of visitor; lots of surfers, outdoor enthusiasts and slow travellers as well as the day trippers who come to see the fortress and gaze out to sea from the southwesternmost point of mainland Europe, i.e. Cape St. Vicente.
Sounds like your kind of place? In that case, here are my best things to do in Sagres.
1. Visit Sagres Fortress
Discover this remarkable fortress and take a walk around the headland for even better views than you get from the lighthouse (see below). The fortifications date back to the 15th century when the Portuguese coast was regularly being attacked by pirates from North Africa.
Prince Henry the Navigator ordered the fortress to be built and he spent a lot of time there, planning journeys which began the golden era of Portuguese exploration and studying the art of seafaring. He subsequently died in Sagres in 1460.
The devastating earthquake of 1755 destroyed most of the fortress, which was restored in the 20th century.
Structure-wise, the famous wind compass, the 16th century church of Our Lady of Grace and the former barracks are all that’s left of note, aside from the ramparts, entrance and cannons.
The modern building inside the fortress is now home to a gift shop and and exhibition space, which unfortunately I just missed out on visiting as it opened shortly after I was there.
As well as contemporary art exhibitions, it contains a permanent immersive experience about the Discoveries and the relevance of Sagres to the history of humanity. The multisensory exhibits enable you to feel the turbulence and power of a storm at sea, and learn about the different trade routes that Sagres was a part of.
As you follow the walkway around the cliff edge, you’ll not only see the different beaches and the natural park that surround Sagres, you can also see weird rock formations. This almost alien landscape is made up of knobbly chunks of limestone that were formed in the late Jurassic period.
I also enjoyed the chamber of sound sculpture called A Voz do Mar (The Voice of the Sea) by Pancho Guedes, which is a small concrete maze that emphasises the booming of the waves below through a hole in the rocks.
The opening hours of Sagres fortress are from May to September 9:30 am to 5:30 pm (this is just temporary, it’s usually until 8:30 pm. See this website for updates) and October to April 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. The last entry is 30 minutes before closing. Closed Public Holidays. Tickets cost €3.
Tours that visit Sagres fortress
You can take this Sagres & Cape St. Vincent Half-Day Tour from Lagos where you’ll visit the fort, Porto da Baleeira, Praia do Beliche and Cape Saint Vincent.
Or, if you’re based in Albufeira, this Half-Day Lagos & Sagres Highlights Tour covers all of the must sees, including the Fortaleza.
You can take a private Sagres coastline and fortress road trip, where you’ll explore the high cliffs, secluded beaches and picturesque villages in the western Algarve with a picnic at a hidden fortress, time in Sagres fortress and a stop at a hidden beach to enjoy a walk or a swim.
2. See the “End of the World” at Cabo de Sao Vicente
The wild and rocky headland called Cabo de São Vicente is 6 kilomteres outside of Sagres and sits at the southwesternmost point of Portugal and of mainland Europe. The stunning windswept cliffs offer an experience that will leave you feeling like you are at the end of the world, (which is true, in a way.)
These cliffs were the last piece of land many sailors saw as they set off on their voyages of discovery into uncharted waters in the 15th and 16th centuries. Interestingly, St. Vincent’s Cape is also one end of the world’s longest straight path journey without hitting land, the other end being Jinjiang in China, 11,241 kms away.
The cliffs rise vertically to a height of 75 metres and are crowned with a bright, red lighthouse standing proudly on top. When I visited in October 2022, the lighthouse was covered in scaffolding, making it less than impressive, but that should be gone by the time you read this.
Built over the ruins of a 16th-century Franciscan convent in 1846, the lighthouse itself stands 24 metres tall and its light is one of the most powerful in Europe. (Its lamps can be seen more than 60 kms away.)
Visiting Cabo de Sao Vicente during the day time is impressive but catching a sunset at “the end of the world” can be a deeply moving experience, as long as you’re wrapped up warmly against the wind.
Tip: Just pick your spot on the cliffs with care, i.e. a little away from the walls – some people had been using the space between the building and the bushes as a toilet! (You have to pay to use the ones in the lighthouse.)
If you’re based in Sagres or Lagos, you can experience the sunset on this Sunset Sagres & Jeep off-road Algarve Natural Park West Coast secret spot tour.
For anyone staying in Lagos, you’ll be picked up from your hotel for this Sagres: Small group (max8) Sunset Tour by minivan and enjoy a glass of port wine and a pastel de nata as you watch the sun go down.
Art and history at the lighthouse
At the entrance to the lighthouse complex (where the café, shop and toilets are), take a moment to admire the ceramics display by local artists based in nearby Monchique, i.e. Studio Bongard.
I completely missed it when I visited the lighthouse but apparently there is a Lighthouse Museum inside it, which gives a powerful account of Sagres’ role in Portugal’s maritime history.
There are also many rare birds to be spotted flying around the cliffs, so pack your binoculars or, better still, take a birdwatching tour.
3. See fishermen at work at Porto da Baleeira
This small scenic harbour is great for watching the fishermen sort their catch and fix their nets or to take a stroll along the quayside gazing out at the panoramic ocean views.
The ideal place to eat a local catch of the day is the restaurant above the fish market, A Sereia.
4. Head to one of the great Sagres beaches
Because of the choppy characteristics of the ocean, Sagres is a favourite area for water sport enthusiasts, predominantly surfers, bodyboarders and kite. However, the beaches themselves attract people who are just as happy to soak up the sun or walk along the sands.
Each beach around the Sagres headlands faces a different direction and has different wind exposure so choose the one that best matches your needs.
Praia da Mareta
The biggest beach in Sagres, Mareta beach is easily walkable from the town. It’s a great beach for families as it’s also life-guarded throughout the summer. Because of its size and location, there’s a good choice of restaurants and eateries around.
Praia do Tonel
Primarily, this is the beach for the surfers and anyone who wants to do more than just lay on a towel all day. Praia do Tonel is quite an open area, producing winds and waves that delight the more water-sporting visitor. If you’re looking for surfing schools, there are several here.
Praia da Martinhal
A great place for windsurfing and families that’s never too busy and has a couple of restaurants. A little further out than Mareta, Martinhal beach is perfect for lounging and has all you need for a lovely day at the beach. You’ll also be reassured by the lifeguard presence during the summer.
Praia do Beliche
This small, unspoiled beach lies between the fortress and the lighthouse and is popular with surfers. It’s lovely to gaze up at the high cliffs above when you’re down in the sand dunes although it can be a little windy at times.
5. Explore the Western Algarve on a road trip
Discover soaring cliffs, never ending beaches, powerful waves and some of the most breathtaking views on a private half or full day road trip of West Algarve. Besides the lighthouse of Cabo de São Vicente and the fortress, you’ll drive up along the coast seeking out beautiful beaches and spots to enjoy.
6. Go hiking around Sagres
Ensconced within the Costa Vicentina Natural Park, Sagres is surrounded by countryside that lends itself to hiking. If you venture out on your own it probably won’t be long before you see others enjoying the scenery. Some will be following the Rota Vicentina long distance hiking trail that passes through Sagres. Others will be on shorter walks.
You can choose from a range of trails, with a nice mixture between easy and challenging. A very easy yet interesting walk is the one around the fortress headland, although you have to pay the entrance fee to access it.
I also loved walking along the cliffs between Baleeira Port and Mareta Beach. In the spring, they are covered with wildflowers.
AllTrails has 13 fantastic scenic trails in the Sagres area, from circular to linear, from just a few kms in length. Some are perfect either for families while others are better suited to the more experienced walker looking for a challenge.
7. Cycling around Sagres
The wild scenery of Sagres is perfect to explore by bicycle and there are plenty of bike hire places to be found. You can hire an e-bike for around €30 per day and set off for an adventure along the rugged coast.
For those who like to venture off on their own, the Portuguese Trails website has a wide selection of routes you can download that cover both short and longer distances.
8. Spend a day bird watching around Sagres
The wonderful landscape of the Sagres peninsula is a great place to learn about some of the many species of birds found in the area. If you’d like expert guidance and a memorable experience, this full day tour could be just for you.
9. Try surfing in Sagres
No matter what your level of surfing expertise may be, Sagres is a great place to take to the waves. The calmer waters of Mareta and Martinhal beaches are the best if you’re inexperienced whilst the more exposed bay of Tonel is for the more advanced surfer.
10. Shop for ceramics
For colourful hand-painted painted dishes and ornamental objects, try Artesenato a Mó, on the road to the lighthouse.
For something more unique and artistic, a small selection of the works of Studio Bongard are available at the lighthouse. However, if you can fit in a trip to Monchique to see their full range, it’s worth the trip.
Where to stay in Sagres
Martinhal Sagres Beach Family Resort Hotel has boutique-style rooms and villas with private balconies and terraces. You can choose from 5 pools and 3 onsite restaurants. Martinhal beach is only 150 meters from the property. See the photos.
Actually in the Costa Vicentina Natural Park, Memmo Baleeira – Design Hotels has an outdoor pool with marvellous ocean views and rooms with private balconies. It’s very close to the historical centre of Sagres and some rooms have sea or garden views. Check availability.
How to get to Sagres
Because of its southwesterly position, Sagres is quite a distance from the nearest airport, Faro. To drive will take about 1 hour 20 mins and the easiest route is inland, on the A22. The journey by public transport is long (around 4 hours) and involves a change at Lagos.
For simplicity and ease, you can take this Faro Private Transfer to Sagres where you’ll be picked up at the airport and taken to your Sagres hotel.