Albufeira in Portugal used to be a quaint little fishing village typical of the Algarve. It has all the whitewashed cottages, winding narrow lanes, lovely beaches and charm that you would expect an old fishing village to have. These days, however, Albufeira is better known as Portugal's top package-tour destination than it is for its fish. Whilst the centre still retains its attractiveness, it is surrounded on all sides by hotels, apartment-hotels and resorts. Nonetheless, Albufeira is a pleasant place to spend a holiday, just don't go there expecting unspoilt, rural magnetism as there are more souvenir shops per head than you can count.
The famous earthquake that shook Portugal in 1755 had a great impact on the structure and architecture in Albufeira, yet it has managed to retain some of its original Moorish allure in parts. When the Moors ran the Algarve, Albufeira was known as Al-Buhera, or Castle-by-the-Sea, and the remains of the castle can still be visited here. The beaches are this town's main attraction these days, and there are some very beautiful stretches of coast towards Galé, or more touristy and built-up expanses of sand at Praia da Oura and nearby.
Aside from lounging on the beaches, visiting the cafés and buying souvenirs, what activities are there to do when on holiday in Albufeira? Well, you could visit the Museu Arqueológico in the old town hall if you are there from June to September. It has a well-organised collection of Neolithic artefacts, Roman mosaics, and other pots and treasures from various periods in the town's history.
The old church of Ermide de São Sebastião exemplifies some Manueline architecture mixed with Baroque construction, and is just to the west of the tunnel leading down to the beach near Praça Miguel Bombarda. Inside the church there is a religious art museum, which is in attractive surroundings if a little insipid itself.
If you are bringing children to Albufeira they might like the Zoomarine complex at Guia, about 8km northwest of the town, where they can swim in the gigantic pools and watch dolphins and seals performing crowd-pleasing tricks.
Cheaper alternatives include long walks in the countryside (make sure you have a map, comfortable footwear, and plenty of water) where there is a variety of wildlife to spot. This kind of tourism is more responsible than the organised safaris as it is less harmful to the environment. If you take a picnic, clear up afterwards to ensure that this lovely area remains as unspoilt as possible for future generations to enjoy.
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