As you may have seen if you've been following me over on Instagram, I ended last month with a week in Portugal with some friends from school. It was such a fun week full of sunshine, pool time and great food and I picked up a number of holiday recommendations along the way. Whether you're planning a trip to the Algarve or just looking to keep your wanderlust at bay, this one's for you.
Where to stay
I initially did quite a bit of research into which area of the Algarve would be best suited to the kind of holiday we wanted. It needed to be somewhere lively and central and not too far from Faro airport, as we weren't hiring a car. We settled on the town of Albufeira, with numerous shops, bars and beaches on its doorstep.
We stayed at the Ondamar Hotel, a four-star hotel made up of apartments for both boarding and self-catered guests. We opted for self-catered to keep costs down, though the restaurant where meals were served did look lovely and I'd be tempted to splash out on all-inclusive in the future. The hotel is very reasonably priced compared to its competitors and for the standard of service provided - every member of staff we met was polite, friendly and accommodating to our needs. The pool area was luxurious with indoor and outdoor pools and a jacuzzi; as well as a fully-stocked pool bar serving cocktails and lunchtime snacks.
The staff kindly arranged our airport transfer to Faro for an additional €80 return, ensuring our trip ran smoothly. There was also a complimentary shuttle service to Albufeira Old Town running three times per day. Reception can also book you a taxi, usually costing less that €5 in and around the town.
I would 100% recommend the Ondamar Hotel for anyone travelling in the area, though there are a whole host of accommodation options to compare on sites like Booking.com, from budget to luxury.
Where to eat
Bella Canela, Rua de Dunfermline
Bella Canela was just across the road from our hotel, so we stumbled across it almost as soon as we arrived. What struck me most about this unassuming little café is that they serve everything - literally everything. Whether you're craving an all day breakfast, a traditional paella, pizza, pasta, crêpes, waffles or just a coffee, they serve it. Though it's not Michelin star cooking, it's good hearty grub and it's cheap. We got a main meal here for around €10 each.
Big Shanghai, 6-7 Rua do Municipio
Our taxi driver recommended the Big Shanghai when we first arrived in Albufeira, as did the man who greeted us at reception. We were originally going to save it for the last evening and dress up a little for the occasion, but ended up visiting about half way through the week because we just couldn't wait. The atmosphere here is a little more upmarket than elsewhere in town but the food is the same, very reasonable price. We ordered a selection of dishes including duck pancakes and still ate for under €20 each. I couldn't fault the food itself and, to be honest, sometimes you just can't beat a Chinese.
N'ICE CREAM, across the Algarve
If you know me, you'll know I love a good holiday ice cream. Nothing beats creatively-flavoured gelato from a proper gelato shop. No Mr Whippy, no supermarket-bought Ben & Jerry's - the real deal. I'd seen Pozzetti recommended several times while I was researching but never ended up trying it, purely because N'ICE CREAM looked that much better. Both Pozzetti and N'ICE CREAM have multiple stands in Albufeira Old Town alone, so you can't really miss them. N'ICE CREAM serves flavours such as Mars, Oreo and Piña Colada in giant scoops for just a few euros and had me returning multiple times during the holiday.
What to do
Heading down to the beach front, there's a whole host of boat trips and watersports being advertised. You can try banana boating, go dolphin spotting and even take mini car-shaped slides out in the sea. We went for a simple cave tour as it was the cheapest option at just €20. We were taken out on a speed boat for an hour's trip along the coastline. Our guide was so helpful and told us loads about the area and its history. The boat ride itself was also pretty fun on the windiest day of our trip!
Albufeira is scattered with little independent shops, particularly in the back streets of the Old Town. They're full of beautiful Urban Outfitters-esque tapestries, handmade jewellery (we stumbled across a stall on Avenida 25 de Abril selling the most amazing earrings for €1), cork bags and ceramics.
We also came across a Calzedonia store, tucked away on Rua 5 de Outubro, where I bought my red bikini. Calzedonia was a brand I loved when I lived in Cyprus and one that, though it does ship to the UK, is cheaper in euros.
Another thing Albufeira is full of is "Chinese shops". These tend to be full of Chinese imports from clothes to shoes to knock-off designer bags to makeup. You name it, they probably have it. Though not the best quality products, these shops are so cheap that finding an amazing bargain almost became an addiction for us on this trip.
We went for a few nights out while in Albufeira. "The Strip" (Avenida Sá Carneiro) is known as a hub for young tourists but we definitely preferred the vibe of the Old Town. The Old Town was busy most nights, whereas The Strip was dead on weeknights.
One thing to note is that drinks in Albufeira are cheap and strong. We headed down to Piccadilly Cocktail Bar on Rua Cândido dos Reis on a couple of nights and were offered two cocktails, two shots and a daiquiri for €5, complete with sparklers and decorations. You can wander around the Old Town in the evening and be offered free drinks almost everywhere. Of course, I stayed sober but the others were living the dream!
On the strip, the best place we visited was Patcha Bar. The staff were lovely and the cocktails amazing - they do an insane Virgin Pinã Colada! They have a dance floor and a great DJ, perfect if your idea of a night out is a good boogie.