Albufeira: A Sun-Drenched Retirement in Portugal's Algarve
By Terry Coles
One of the liveliest cities in the central Algarve is Albuferia, a former fishing village, now a mecca for both tourists and expats from around the world. With a year-round population of 50,000, the city swells to over 300,000 in the summer. Tourists from the U.K., Europe, and North America flock here to enjoy the endless hours of sunshine, water sports, beaches, and nightlife in this affordable wonderland. But there is also a sizeable expat population that enjoys all that the city has to offer year-round, and for good reason.
The Algarve boasts over 300 days annually of sunshine, some of the mildest weather in all of Europe, miles of stunning coastline, affordable healthcare, world class cuisine, shopping, and plenty to do.
Retire in Albufeira, Portugal
Like the rest of the Algarve you will have no problems getting by here speaking only English, although learning some Portuguese will enhance your everyday life. Albufeira comes with modern shopping malls, grocery stores, top-notch medical and dental clinics, and plenty of restaurants covering an array of food choices. There is a large, well-established expat community already living here so making friends and fitting in will be no problem.
Whether a retirement destination or a spot for younger, digital nomads with kids, this could be the perfect place for you. Expats relocating with children will find an assortment of schools from public, private, and international options starting at the pre-school level and extending into adulthood.
Faro International Airport is just a thirty-minute drive from the center of Albufeira making it easy to go back home or explore the rest of Europe. Public buses offer easy access around the city while long-distance buses and trains provide connections to all major cities throughout the country.
Lifestyle in Albufeira, Portugal
Because this is a premier holiday destination there is no shortage of things to do for old and young alike. Enjoy one of the many water parks, play a round of golf, visit giant sand sculptures, explore nearby castles and forts, dine and people watch to your heart’s content, or chill out on the beach and do absolutely nothing.
Wander the cobbled streets and mosaic-tiled plazas of the charming old town that has over 100 family-friendly restaurants, pubs, and shops. White-washed structures dominate the landscape with a handful of quaint guest houses nearby. The closest beach called, “tunnel beach” is accessed by walking through a tunnel from the main plaza in the old town. If this beach is not to your liking fear not since this is, the Algarve famous for its coastline with some 100 named beaches in the area.
If more excitement is what you crave just head to The Strip, the liveliest part of the city. This popular area is where locals and tourists go to find reasonably priced restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shops, tattoo parlors, fast food, and tourist shops. Here’s where friends meet to party hardy all night long.
Some beaches offer rentals of chairs and umbrellas and have nearby facilities and restaurants. Here you’ll find some of the warmest water in the country, but it still only reaches a high temperature of around 70 F even in summer.
About three miles east is the beautiful Praia Olhos da Água, a small stretch of sand in a tiny cove. The shallow waters here are filled with stately rock formations that provide a bit of shade and privacy besides being a delight for the eyes. Even further east is one of Portugal’s most stunning beaches, Praia da Falésia. The name translates to, “cliffs beach,” because of the orange and tan limestone cliffs that frame the coastline, topped off with a pine forest above. The endless band of golden sand extends into the neighboring resort town of Vilamoura, great for a long beach walk. A bit more tranquil is the Albufeira marina where local expats meet for weekly get-togethers at an Irish pub. The boardwalk is lined with shops and restaurants and nearby kiosks offer boat excursions and sightseeing cruises.
The area has several water and theme parks for family entertainment too.
Zoo Marine, a local theme park offers dolphin and seal shows, opportunities to swim with dolphins, a large wave pool and beach, a Jurassic Park-themed river ride, and even has an attached hotel. Aqua Show, the largest water park in Portugal features a large indoor wave pool, water slides, a lazy river, jacuzzi, thrill rides, a restaurant, and a hotel for plenty of family fun, for children of all ages.
Cost of Living in Albufeira, Portugal
A couple can live in Albufeira for around $2,800 and up, with rent or mortgage taking up most of that amount. The city has many upscale, newer, apartment complexes where expats enjoy living with a shared pool, garage, and easy access to beaches and amenities. Expect to rent here for around $1,000 a month for a two-bedroom, unfurnished apartment. Although expats can use the public healthcare system that offers low-cost doctor and hospital visits, most expats choose to keep private, low-cost health insurance, too. This assures them of no wait times and the ability to see an English-speaking doctor of their choice. Health insurance costs start at $50 and up depending on age, pre-existing conditions, and how comprehensive the policy is. Most expats find that dining out, buying groceries and other expenses cost far less than they paid in North America.
Enjoy lunch for two at most local restaurants for around $20 which typically includes a starter, main course, and drink. Upscale restaurants can be found where dinner and wine could run around $75.
With modern amenities, great healthcare, plenty of beaches, mild year-round weather, and a large expat population, Albufeira has much to offer.
Things to do in Albufeira, Portugal
The great thing about spending time in Albufeira is that you can do as much—or as little —as you like, and experience the best parts completely independently or as part of a tour.
Hiring a car is cheap and convenient if you want to explore surrounding areas, but many locals just get around with taxis, buses, and train trips; a car is optional here. Uber is available too. The three-wheeled tourist tuk-tuk has also made it to Albufeira, but you’ll never see a local in one.
Insider tip: if you buy your train tickets a week or more in advance in Portugal, you’ll often get them up to 50% cheaper.
Some of the best things to do in Albufeira:
Stroll Through the Old Town
Albufeira’s historic center is a delightful maze of narrow streets with mosaic tile patterns, whitewashed houses, and intriguing little shops. The main square, Largo Duarte Pacheco, is surrounded by bars and cafes, and is a fine place to sit in the shade and people-watch as you sip coffee and tuck into some freshly grilled fish or local chourico sausage.
The beaches in front of the old town can be accessed by elevator, escalator, or through a tunnel, and the viewpoint at Pau da Bandeira offers the best panoramic view of the city. Even with all the mass tourism here, you can still see fishermen mending their nets by hand and unloading their catch, just like in decades past.
Enjoy the Sea
The mind-boggling variety of boat trips and water sports available in Albufeira is impressive. Take your pick between surfing, stand-up paddle-boarding, kayaking, jet-skiing, and parasailing. Boat options range from luxury sailing yachts to high-speed jet boats—and everything in between.
Party Hard at “The Strip”
Just east of the old town, you’ll find the nightlife center of Albufeira, where hen and stag parties, youthful graduation celebrations, painful karaoke, and excessive neon are the order of the day—at least during the June, July, and August peak. If you’re after a slightly quieter vibe, head toward the north end of The Strip near the Montechoro Hotel.
Albufeira makes a perfect base for checking out the rest of the Algarve to the east and west. Lagos, Praia da Rocha, and Vilamoura aren’t far way, and Tavira, close to the Spanish border, is a breathtaking coastal oasis that should not be missed.
Albufeira is blessed with three top-notch water parks, all less than 20 miles away. Aquashow Park and Slide n’ Splash are the places to be when the weather heats up, and Zoomarine also incorporates a sea life center.
Outdoor pursuits abound in Albufeira. If riding a horse on the beach, cycling through shady olive groves, deep-sea fishing, Paintball, zip-lining, off-road jeep touring, and snorkeling in crystal-clear waters sounds like your kind of lifestyle, you’ve come to the right place.
Featured Image Copyright: ©iStock/mtcurado