Life in Portugal: Lagos
Carla and I are in Portugal for three months – from mid-March through mid-June. And we are focused on a very specific mission. . . searching for our new home. We will be sharing our thoughts with you on 8-10 very livable places in Portugal and hope you will find this helpful should you also be one of the many people thinking about expatriating here.
We’re excited about sharing all of this . . . so, let’s jump right in. First up is Lagos, Portugal.
Lagos is a small town in southern Portugal's Algarve region and offers some of the most stunning beaches, not only in Portugal, but all of Europe. If you love being near the ocean, it’s hard to imagine a better place. Lagos has a year-round moderate climate, with an average high ranging from 52° F in winter to 75° F in the summertime. There is typically a nice breeze blowing and many homes still don’t have air conditioning (although we were glad to have it last year during September!). The population is @ 35,000. . . and that number swells considerably in the summer.
I appreciate the juxtaposition of a dynamic and majestic coast with a laid-back, human scale town. And that is Lagos. As you walk the cobblestone pedestrian streets it’s easy to be captivated by the charm of this magical place. If you’re looking for grand architecture and a plethora of museums and sites, Lagos will probably underwhelm you. However, there are sweet cafes, shops, and street musicians around every corner. Just walking the streets and breathing in the “overallness” (I think I just made up a word) is easily the best part of Lagos.
The town is indeed charming. As you stroll its mostly pedestrian cobblestone streets, you’re struck by how much activity there is while at the same time how laid-back it feels. The streets are full and alive without being loud. The locals are very friendly. The diversity is huge, with people from Brazil, Argentina, Germany, The Netherlands, India, The UK . . . and more. The airwaves are full of conversations featuring so many different languages that it almost sounds like music. (I guess it’s a blessing we can’t understand most of what’s being said) For this traveler, the diversity of people and languages is quite comforting and feels very natural. It feels like how the world should look and sound – people of various colors from different countries, speaking different languages – all greeting one another with a smile.
The architecture of the historic city center is very appealing. Many of the buildings are painted white to reflect the sun and are typically two-stories high and occasionally as high as three stories. That scale feels good to us. It doesn’t overwhelm, but it does create a feeling of comfort, and the size allows the people and the natural world to come forward and be part of the town’s more general architecture. There are almost no bugs - which means no screens - so doors are left open and the entire town resembles an open-air market. And if urban hiking is your thing, just strolling the streets is a joy. There is also a very flat and easy-to-stroll promenade along the marina, where we enjoy walking and checking out the merchant’s stalls, especially in the morning.
The Beautiful Coast
If you see nothing more than the coastline of Lagos, you will fall in love. The cliffs are dynamic and majestic. For those of us who are used to the eastern United States beaches, the coast of Lagos will seem otherworldly. It really is that magnificent. The beautiful cliffs have loads of walking paths and the views are amazing. Carla and I will walk anywhere from 7-12 miles each morning and, with all the fantastic food here, it’s a great way to keep the “love handles” at bay.
Walking the cliffs, as we do, is not the only outdoor activity here in Lagos. Coastal activities abound . . . swimming, cliff climbing, kayaking, surfing, and boating are quite popular, and many people come here specifically to enjoy the water activities.
We have found the people of Lagos to be very friendly and welcoming. They are accustomed to visitors from all over the world and they seem to welcome us with open arms. It’s such a treat to encounter people from many nationalities and backgrounds, and it’s especially helpful that English is everyone’s second language - although we still try to speak what little Portuguese we know with the locals. Carla has been learning a little Portuguese each time she visits the local market and the shop owner seems thrilled that she is trying to learn. We have enjoyed not only the diversity of cultures here in Lagos, but also the diversity of ages. Even as the climate is quite inviting for retirees, Lagos is anything but just a retirement mecca. From walking the streets, you’d be more inclined to think it’s a young person’s town. With the beautiful coast and its many opportunities for outdoor activities, the town draws a fair share of young, healthy outdoor enthusiasts as well as families. The population mix is quite diverse and very appealing. If you plan to live here and would like the opportunity to connect with other folks, who, like yourself, have chosen to live in Portugal, there are several expat groups (another expat group) that meet regularly.
Lagos and the Algarve region have some of the best food we’ve found anywhere. The seafood is local, fresh, and delicious. The Italian food and especially the pizza are the best we’ve ever had, and several places offer delicious fruit and yoghurt bowls for breakfast. You’ll also find tapas, burgers, fresh salads and much more at some of the very popular eateries. The area is famous for Cataplana de Marisco - Portuguese soup or stew. It’s a wonderfully delicious concoction of lobster, clams, squid, and whatever other fish of the day is available. It’s the signature dish of this region and for very good reason!
We have also been quite impressed with the plant-based options available here in Lagos. Whether it’s oat or almond milk for your latte, vegan burgers, or even vegan pizzas, this town caters to all sorts of dietary needs, and they are very easy to find on the restaurant menus. It’s not just the dining out options that are superb here . . . there are several small markets in town that carry all the necessities, including nice assortments of fresh fruits, vegetables, and delicious baked goods. And every Saturday the large town market is in full swing. Don’t be fooled by the fact that milk and apple crates are used for displays. The freshness and quality of the food is second to none, and the folks in Lagos know it, as Saturday morning the market is jammed pack with shoppers!
Feeling safe is important wherever you are, and Carla and I feel so safe in Lagos that we don’t even think about it. Of course, it’s always wise to be smart and alert, but Lagos has almost zero crime. Because so many of the statistics and metrics for safety are measured by country (rather than by towns), it’s easier to provide a report on the safety of the country of Portugal rather than its individual cities:
Portugal is considered one of the safest countries in Europe to visit and live. In fact, it was ranked 6th on the most recent edition of the Global Peace Index. The Global Peace Index is a report that is released annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace. It ranks 162 countries around the world according to their levels of peace. Portugal scores even better than Singapore and Japan, both well-known for being very safe. Petty crimes such as theft and vandalism are rare, and violent crimes are even rarer. In stark contrast, the US is ranked as the 122nd most peaceful country in the world.
It’s easy to live in Lagos without a car. It’s a very walkable town and if you’re not looking to venture too far from the city itself, then all you’ll need is a good pair of tennis shoes. If you want to explore the surrounding Algarve region, however, a car is a nice option. You can drive an hour in almost any direction and there are charming villages that are not on any routes for the trains or buses. If you are only going to the larger towns, then you will be fine with the public transport system. We have found that the trains are cheap and slow and tend to stop at every town along the coast while the buses are nicer and better for longer trips, such as Lisbon.
If you want to use Lagos as a home base from which to travel and see the rest of Europe, your airport is in Faro, which is 65km away and about an hour and 45-minute train ride each way. You can also take an hour-long cab ride, but that will set you back $150 each way.
Lagos is a delightful, easy, and very enjoyable town. Most of life here happens outdoors and there is a jubilant vibe or feeling that permeates the town – with people walking the streets, eating outdoors, and street musicians bringing their talents to the popular squares. It’s lively, but not too noisy. And, if you need or want a break from the town scene, the cliffs and ocean are literally just minutes away. This town is wonderfully livable.
Lagos has changed dramatically in the past 58 years. The opening of Faro Airport in 1965 made it easier for tourists from all over the world to come to Lagos . . . and they did. As more and more people flocked to this seaside town, it slowly changed from a quiet little fishing village to the vibrant and international town that it is today. With infrastructure investment and new roads connecting the Algarve to Lisbon and Spain, an influx of people also began settling in the area in the 1990's. People from all over Europe and beyond were discovering Lagos - and what they found was a beautiful, romantic, and peaceful place with a delightful climate and wonderful, easy way of life.
Could Lagos be our next home? We’ll share our takeaway in next week’s blog.