Praia da Luz is a small fishing village in the Western Algarve in Portugal, dating back thousands of years. The sand beach stretches from the rocky coastline close to Fortaleza the Luz, to the Rocha Negra headland. A lot has happened to Praia da Luz, including unwanted and unfair attention because of the Madeleine McCann disappearance. But Praia da Luz is resilient and remains the quaint beach village that everybody loves so dearly.

When you ask people what makes Praia da Luz special, it is the tranquility, the friendliness, the sun, the beach, and the cliff walks. A happy place, a home away from home. As someone who first visited over 40 years ago, and now actually lives in Luz, here are the reasons why it is worth spending your vacation here. Or at least a couple of days.

Flowers & Portuguese charm

Church Igreja Nossa Senhora da Luz

As you drive down into the village, through the narrow streets lined with white houses, you will notice the abundance of bougainvillea and oleanders. It’s probably the contrast of the colors against the white houses that make it stand out more than usual. But still, when walking around town, you will be amazed by the wide variety of flowers that people have in their gardens.

In the center of town, right at the water, you find the iconic 17th century Fortaleza on the point, which is now a restaurant with incredible sunset views. On the other side, the colorful church Igreja Nossa Senhora da Luz. Make your way down to the water and follow the narrow palm-lined boulevard for a great introduction to one of the best beaches in the Algarve.

Beach walks

Praia da Luz basically has 3 beaches, including a small one to the right of the Fortaleza and a hard to reach beach near Rocha Negra. The main beach is ever-changing depending on the tides and the amount of sand the waves bring to shore. The main beach is perfect for beach walks. On one end, you have the huge cliffs as a jaw-dropping backdrop. On the other end, the small boulevard lined with palm trees and its historic skyline with the Fortaleza and the church. Pro tip: in summer, when there is much less sand on the beach, at low tide the rocky bottom appears which is covered with a kind of green moss. Spectacular for photos, but be careful, it gets slippery!

During sunrise and sunset, Praia da Luz is popular for dog walks and it is widely accepted having them off the lead and running around freely. During winter, you will have dogs all day but at that time, the beach is mostly empty anyway. In summer, dogs are only tolerated until around one hour after sunrise, and one hour before sunset. This is important as the beach can get pretty crowded and there are loads of little kids. Don’t worry too much about stepping into a fresh one, almost all dog owners clean up after their dog!

Cliff walks

Triangulation point in the Algarve near Praia da Luz

My personal favorite: the cliff walks along the ocean! The most impressive ones are facing the beach, on the left side. You can take a small road up until you reach the first plateau. From here, you already have a great panoramic vista of the town. When there is less sand in the bay, the water gets so clear you can see all the ‘veins’ of the reef below.

For the sporty people and those looking for one of the best views in the Algarve, follow one of the paths (the left one is easiest) leading up to the pointy statue up the cliff. This is actually a triangulation-station, or also called a trig point. They used this back in the day for surveying purposes but is now only useful for hikers for navigation. This particular one is called Marco Geodésico da Atalaia, standing tall at 109 meters high. This is also the start of a walking trail that takes you all the way to Porto do Mos and past some scary, but beautiful cliffs and vistas.

All the way on the other side of town, you find another incredible nature area. Basically, you walk past the Fortaleza and stick to the ocean. There are trails all the way to Burgau. If you like peace, calm, fresh air, and the ocean, this is a hidden gem. Don’t tell anyone I told you!

Afternoon canecas

As the sun starts to go down, the boulevard comes to life with vendors and street musicians. These are mostly nomads coming from all over the world trying to earn a nice meal. There are quite a few outside terraces where you can enjoy a beer or wine. Praia da Luz is extremely popular amongst English tourists so you will see a lot of pints. In Portugal, they call a pint a ‘caneca’. While drinking, take in beach life at its best: people walking on the beach, dogs running around the happiest they’ve ever been, a dad with his kids playing soccer, kids daring to go in the cold water, and watch the surfers catch their waves.

Surfing

Rocha Negra cliff coast in the Algarve

In summer, the ocean on the south coast of the Algarve is flat. As most people visit Praia da Luz in the summer months, it is hard to imagine that this is a popular surf spot. The waves start breaking at Praia da Luz when the big winter swells hit Portugal on the West Coast.

The surf can get really good, but it is inconsistent so weeks can go by without a surfable wave. The reef to the left of the beach at Rocha Negra offers a more consistent wave between October and April. But, apart from the real good days, it is mostly a longboard wave. The downside is that Praia da Luz became quite known in the surf community so it can get really busy. Too busy actually. So, if you are a surfer, be respectful to the people around you. And know that if the surf is good, many other great spots on the South coast are a lot less busy.

Best time to visit

The best time to visit Praia da Luz really depends on what you want to get out of a vacation. Praia da Luz is basically a year-round destination. Families with young kids usually have no choice other than to come during the summer holidays. The beach gets crowded but still, Praia da Luz keeps its charm. For others, you are far better off in the shoulder season, especially September or October when the water is a lot warmer and accommodation is cheaper. Bars and restaurants are still open, but it doesn’t feel busy anymore. April through June has a similar feel.

For people that love nature, the quiet, long beach walks, and don’t mind wearing a jacket while enjoying the sunny skies, the winter months are perfect. Bring your dogs, they will love it! Surfers will definitely get luckier November to February but bring a good wetsuit.

Final thoughts

Flowers in Praia da Luz

I actually remember my first visit when I was 3 years old. People always say that ‘back in the day’ things used to be much better. Sure, tourism took over, real estate development tripled the town’s size, and the semi-high rise is not the most beautiful. But there is something intangible about Praia da Luz which sets it apart from many of the other beach towns in the Algarve.

I guess I’ll see you at the beach!