Sagres, a small town on Portugal’s (and Europe’s) southwesternmost tip, is one of Algarve's most historical sites and a place of romantic pilgrimage. Prince Henry the Navigator built a fortress here, and although much of it was destroyed in an English attack in 1587 and in a major earthquake in 1755, most of it still stands. An enormous pebble wind compass 43 meters (141 feet) in diameter, thought to have been used to teach navigation, remains clearly visible on the ground, and there’s also a simple but captivating chapel from the 15th century. It was on this site that the prince gathered the most renowned astronomers, geographers, cartographers, and shipbuilders of the time to study the sea and the sky to launch his expeditions.
Nearby is Cape St. Vincent, mainland Europe's southwesternmost point, known to the Romans as Promontorium Sacrum (“sacred promontory” and the probable origin of the town’s name) and to ancient mariners as the "end of the world." It was where it was believed the sun sank into the ocean every night, and the awe-inspiring sight, standing on the cliffs fronting the immense Atlantic, can still make it feel that way today.
The windswept town is cooler than the rest of the region, so it’s not the preferred destination for a holiday in the sun. However, it’s the southern end of Costa Vicentina, which is said to be Europe’s last wild coast, with stunning remote beaches that are ideal for surfing and naturism. A number of surf schools, open throughout the year, offer lessons and rent equipment. Even in the summer, the town of just around 2000 people is very quiet. Most tourists are surfers, hikers, hippies and backpackers. Others are day-trippers from Lagos, who visit the fortress and the cape, and stay for the sunset. There’s a cool, laid-back vibe, and many prefer that to the more crowded Algarve.
Things to See and Do in Sagres
Sagres’ main landmark is Algarve’s most visited monument. It’s listed as a European Heritage site, since it played a major role in the history of Europe. Although it was built in 1453 to protect Portugal’s southern coast, it ended up being Prince Henry the Navigator’s headquarters when he decided to send explorers far out into the Atlantic to find new maritime routes. This led to the so-called “Age of Discovery,” with Columbus reaching the American continent, Vasco da Gama making it to the East by sea, and Magellan circumnavigating the globe. The fortress' dramatic location alone would be worth a visit, but its historical significance makes it a must-see on a trip to Algarve.
See the Sagres Fortress Guide.
A lighthouse built in 1846 marks the southwestern tip of Europe and what was once believed to be the edge of the Earth. It has a 95km (60 mile) range, said to be the most powerful in Europe, and stands on a headland. It’s visited for the raw beauty of nature around it, and to stand and take selfies at “the end of the world.” The sheer cliffs are 75 meters tall (about 250 feet) and pounded by the Atlantic. The sound of the waves, powerful winds and views are truly breathtaking. After visiting the lighthouse, stay on the clifftop for the sunset, which is especially beautiful here. The cape is named after St. Vincent because it’s said that it was here that the saint’s remains were found before being taken to Lisbon in 1173. It’s not within reasonable walking distance from the center of Sagres (it would take about one hour), but it’s less than 10 minutes by car. There’s also a bus (number 47) from the center of Sagres (originating in Lagos), but only three times a day.
Just before you reach Cape St. Vincent, you pass by a fortress originally built in the 16th century to protect the coast and the local tuna fishing industry. It was destroyed by the British in 1587, but rebuilt in 1632. The 1755 earthquake left it badly damaged and it was subsequently abandoned. Mostly restored in the 1950s, it opened to the public but closed again in the 1990s out of precaution, due to the instability of the cliff that it stands on, caused by erosion. This means that you can only see it from outside, but there are striking views of the coast. You can also see the exterior of its 15th chapel, which was donated by Prince Henry the Navigator.
About 10 minutes to the northeast of Sagres is a charming little chapel that preserves the original Gothic architecture of the 15th century. It’s one of the oldest monuments in Algarve, since almost everything else was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. It was dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who was much venerated in Spain. It’s said that the Portuguese king Afonso V had visited the Royal Monastery of Santa María of Guadalupe in the neighboring kingdom at around the time of the chapel’s construction. Prince Henry the Navigator had a house nearby and prayed here in the 1450s. Due to its historical significance, it’s classified as a National Monument. A farmhouse next to it was renovated in 2008 to house a small museum explaining its architecture and history, and recalling the life of Prince Henry and the history of the spice trade. It’s closed on Mondays and public holidays.
There are wonderful beaches with dramatic landscapes around Sagres, such as Praia da Mareta (just below the main square), Praia do Martinhal (ideal for windsurfing), Praia do Tonel (for surfing), and the isolated Praia do Beliche (naturist-friendly). For a complete list and guide, look here: Sagres Beaches
How to Get to Sagres
Sagres is about 90 minutes from Faro, 35 minutes from Lagos, and just over 3 hours from Lisbon. The town doesn’t have a train station, so if you’re not driving, you can only get there by bus. There’s an express from Lisbon, but no direct bus from Faro or its airport. From Lagos, there’s Vamus bus 47, but avoid going on weekends, when there are only five departures. An alternative to the buses is using a transfer from the airport or Uber from Lagos (which should cost 25 to 35 euros). For the complete information, look here: Sagres Transportation Guide
Hotels in Sagres
Martinhal Sagres Beach Family Resort Hotel
One of Europe’s top family resorts faces the ocean in Praia do Martinhal. It has standard hotel rooms and dozens of villas, four kids’ clubs with activities for every age, three restaurants, a spa, a tennis court, and five heated pools.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Martinhal Sagres Beach Family Resort Hotel
It was one of Portugal’s first design hotels and has been remodelled to keep up with the times. It overlooks the harbor and there are sea views from most of the 144 rooms with balconies. There are more views from the restaurant and from the outdoor pool. It’s also possible to relax inside, in the heated pool, which is part of the spa.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Memmo Baleeira
Pousada de Sagres
It was one of the first hotels to be built in Algarve, and continues to offer some of the best views of the region. It faces the promontory topped by the Sagres Fortress, so there are views from many of its double and twin rooms. Facilities include a restaurant, an outdoor swimming pool, and tennis courts.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Pousada de Sagres
Mareta Beach House
As indicated by the name, this villa stands above Praia da Mareta. It has double and family rooms, many of them with a view of the beach. The highlight is the heated infinity pool on the terrace.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Mareta Beach House
Mareta Beach Boutique Bed & Breakfast
Also located above Praia da Mareta, this bed-and-breakfast has bright minimalist rooms and you can admire a view of the sea from many of them. The main beaches and Sagres Fortress are within walking distance.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Mareta Beach Boutique Bed & Breakfast
Mareta View Boutique Bed & Breakfast
This bed-and-breakfast has the best view of Praia da Mareta. Its tropical garden is right above it and features loungers for sunbathing and a hot tub for relaxation. Try to book a room with a sea view.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Mareta View Boutique Bed & Breakfast
Casa Azul Sagres
It’s completely blue outside, but quite colorful inside and a good value in the center of Sagres. It’s divided into double and twin rooms, family rooms, studios, and apartments with one or two bedrooms.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Casa Azul Sagres
Located close to Praia do Tonel, this highly-rated property is a group of renovated houses. While they maintain the original architecture, the interiors have all the modern comforts. They’re small, traditional houses, about the size of a hotel room or small apartment, but are very comfortable and charming.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Cercas Velhas
Blacksheep Sagres Guesthouse & Surf
This exceptional guesthouse attracts surfers, thanks to its reasonable prices. It has mixed and female dorms, plus double rooms with private bathrooms, and a terrace where guests get together in the sun or at night, enjoying drinks, meals, or the Jacuzzi. It’s well located on Sagres’ main road, where there are restaurants and a big supermarket.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Blacksheep Sagres Guesthouse & Surf
Sagres Sun Stay - Surf Camp & Hostel
If you want to spend a few days surfing in Sagres, this is a good value. You have the choice of mixed dorms or private rooms accommodating two to three people. The center of town and the beaches are a short drive down the road, and for when you just want to relax in the sun, you can stay on the terrace and swim in the pool.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Sagres Sun Stay - Surf Camp & Hostel
Wavesensations Sagres Surf House
The most attractive of Sagres’ surf hostels is by Praia do Tonel and also within walking distance of Sagres Fortress. There are dorms for males and females, plus twin, double, and triple rooms with an elegant contemporary design. Best of all is the large terrace to sunbathe and enjoy meals.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Wavesensations Sagres Surf House
Sagres isn’t just great for surfing, it’s also a fascinating diving site. You can explore underwater caves and shipwrecks, and the diving center associated with this bed-and-breakfast can arrange that experience for you. It’s located between the beaches of Mareta and Martinhal, and offers private and shared accommodation. You can either stay in the mixed dorm or in a studio equipped with a kitchenette.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: PuraVida Divehouse