Popular since the Phoenicians settled here in ancient times, Lagos is one of the few Algarve holiday resorts to maintain its status as a real town as well as a tourist destination. It is a fishing port and a market town first, a top holiday spot second. All this means that Lagos is a vibrant and exciting place to visit and, when you couple this with the fact that some of the best beaches in Portugal are next door, an all round winner.
Pronounced 'la-goosh,' with the emphasis on the 'la', Lagos began life as an important harbour, which is just one of its natural assets. The Moors used it as a trading post until Afonso III recaptured it in 1241. Prince Henry the Navigator's ships set sail from Lagos in 1415 and explored the West African coast, which made it popular with businessmen in Portugal but the focus of bad feeling for the first slaves sold here in 1444. Its career as the capital of the Algarve ended with the earthquake in 1755, when much of the town was razed to the ground. All that remains from before the earthquake are the town walls, the layout of narrow streets and the delicate Igreja de Santo António church. The interior is a sight to behold with prolific carvings of cherubs, fish and fauna, and the Museu Municipal next door is equally crammed with hosts of weird and wonderful stuff, from Neolithic pottery to straw hats.
More recently, a huge marina has been built and the tourist trade has blossomed as Lagos attracts all kind of visitors, from young backpackers to rich owners of holiday homes. All of them are attracted by the wonderful Meia Praia to the east of town, a long stretch of sand that accommodates even the enlarged summer population. From the old town you can easily walk west to a number of tiny cove beaches, such as Praia do Pinhão, or the photogenic Praia de Dona another five minutes further along. It is best viewed out of season to avoid the crowds.
Accommodation is booked up months in advance of the summer so, if you arrive unprepared, you will either need to find a private room (try asking at the tourist office but be warned that it is a 20-minute walk from the centre) or plump for something offered by the touts at the bus station. As long as the room is central you can find something better later on.
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