The Algarve is famed for its warm, beachy weather. So, there’s nothing more liberating than to hit the road as soon as you touch down here. We’ll give you a few insider insights on some of the most scenic day trips you can take from Faro, the Algarve’s capital. Think Rococo architecture, pretty fishing villages, Atlantic sunsets, and even an excursion over the border into Spain. Car hire has never felt so freeing.Car hire Faro
Spend a few hours in the little town of Estoi, situated 10 kilometres from the coast and boasting two iconic sites: the azulejos-tiled Palácio de Estoi, and the Roman Villa of Milreu. Make your trip to Estoi during the week, as the sleepy enclave doesn’t really do Mondays. Jump in the car and head there between Tuesday and Friday and you’ll get the full flavour of this pretty, Rococo-clad town’s charms. When you’re done wandering between historic buildings, grab a spot in one of Estoi’s many open-air restaurants and relax as you watch local life unfold around you.
Olhão is the Algarve’s largest fishing port, so we’d recommend heading there for the delectable seafood alone. Less than 10 kilometres from Faro, Olhão makes a great starting point for your rent-a-car excursion, especially if you’re looking for a day of island exploring. Drop off the car and then head towards the boats for a short trip to one of the islands that lay just across the water. Dive or snorkel on Ilha da Culatra, or kick back on Ilha da Armona and soak up one of the best beaches on the Algarve.
Often cited as a hidden gem, Ria Formosa Natural Park lies just beyond Olhão and is popular with families on self-drive day trips. The park covers 60 kilometres so car hire is essential for your visit, and will give you the chance to see flamingos and various species of rare, migrating and endangered birds up close.
One of Europe’s most important wetlands, Ria Formosa also offers the chance to drop off the car and stretch your legs whilst boat-tripping between its many islands, as you drift alongside the sand dunes that separate the park from the coast. Blissful.
For a longer drive (but still only taking just over two hours), consider heading west over the Spanish border into historic, orange tree-lined Seville.
The route between the Portuguese capital and the southern Spanish city is a road trip that proves the old adage more true than ever: it’s about the journey as much as the destination. Cruise past coastal islands and wildlife spots alongside marshlands. The Coast of Light is what car rental was invented for.
Note that this route will include tolls and that you’re also crossing into a different time zone. So, remember to reset your watch!
Now, it’s time to use your rent-a-car for a truly iconic road trip experience, one that takes in crashing waves, cliffs giving way dramatically into the sea and long days of exploring that melt into Europe’s most stunning sunsets.
Rugged and remote Sagres, the most south-westerly point of Europe, is only an hour and a half’s drive from Faro but it’ll feel like a different country entirely. Spend your day hiking, cycling and surfing at the Cabo de São Vicente headland before pitching up on a cliff edge to watch the sunset from across the Atlantic. You’ll return refreshed.
If you found Sagres a refreshingly low-key alternative to the bigger Algarve resort towns, packing up the hire car and driving further north will solidify this feeling. The extravagantly named Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina is another chance to get close to wildlife. It’s regularly visited by those who want to study its unique landscape which has been moulded by years of erosion from the Atlantic. It’s a haven for rare birds and makes a hugely rewarding 100-kilometre coastal drive.
Across the Spanish border and just past the ancient port city of Huelva, you’ll find the Parque Nacional de Doñana. This Andalusian national park is a perfect car rental option if you’re travelling from Faro or its environs: it takes less than two hours to drive. The park houses a 13th Century religious sanctuary and a 20th Century palace (if you want to get your history fix), multiple hiking trails and a beachfront promenade that’s packed with restaurants perfect for a long, lazy lunch.