Portugal is so beautiful and diverse that it is difficult to say for sure which part of it is the best retirement location. It all depends on what you want and what you consider to be your priorities.
We will start with the most popular region of Portugal – the Algarve – then we’ll look further north.
The Algarve: expats’ favourite
The Algarve in Portugal has been acknowledged by Forbes as the most affordable place for retirees in Europe. Other advantages are the stable weather and some of the best beaches in Europe.
Indeed, the sunny coastal region of Algarve, home to more than 100,000 resident expat retirees, might well be one of the best places in the world to live or retire to.
Particularly appealing are the two municipalities of Silves and Lagoa.
In these two spots, you can enjoy the best the region has to offer, from medieval towns and fishing villages to open-air markets, local wine, and some of Europe’s best sandy beaches.
This is a land of cobblestoned streets and whitewashed houses with lace-patterned chimneys surrounded by fig, olive, almond, and carob trees.
The Algarve has probably the best weather in the country and one of the most stable climates in the world. With almost 3,300 hours of sunshine per year, it enjoys more sunny days than almost anywhere else in Europe.
There is a catch, however, – as a result, the Algarve has a reputation as a top tourist destination for both the Portuguese and other Europeans.
The Algarve is most loved by British expats in particular. One American expat observed the consequences of such popularity: “The Algarve is dead in winter, congested in summer, and stuffed with Brits whatever the season.”
There is, of course, a slight exaggeration to that statement, and if you are British you probably won’t mind fellow compatriots, but on the whole, the author captured the essence of the Algarve – it is full of expats.
So if you’re looking for warm weather and a large expat community (especially British), head to the Algarve – you will find what you want there.
If you are a devoted golfer, the Algarve is definitely the right place for you. The region boasts 42 courses in less than 100 miles and is generally recognized as a top golfing destination in continental Europe, and some would say the world.
The Algarve beaches deserve a separate mention.
If you retire there, you will have access to the best stretches of sand in the whole of Europe.
There are more than 150 beaches to choose from.
The Algarve’s 100 miles of Atlantic coastline is punctuated by the most spectacular jagged rock formations and beautiful lagoons. The water off these shores is a delightful azure, and the cliff-top views are simply breathtaking.
Lagos and the west coastline of the Algarve
Lagos (pronounced lah-goosh), is a fantastic town in the western Algarve that attracts both expats and tourists in big numbers.
Lagos has a lot to offer: built on the bank of the Rio Bensafrim, it is a very attractive 16th-century walled town.
Its cobbled streets are lined with whitewashed houses and interrupted by pretty plazas of various sizes. Praça de Gil Eanes, for example, is usually buzzing in the evenings with live performances, music or medieval fairs of all sorts.
When Portugal is playing football, or there is a major competition on, the cafes will have big screens up in the square for everyone to watch and cheer.
The town is full of really good and inexpensive restaurants, the beaches around it are simply stunning, and during the tourist season, there is a lot going on including open-air concerts and a pretty active nightlife.
If you go along the coast west of Lagos, as far as Sagres, you will find that it is one of the least spoiled parts of the Algarve. This is because the territory belongs to the Nature Park – the Parque Natural da Costa Vicentina, and large buildings are not allowed on the coastline west of Burgau.
As a result, there are no high-rise buildings or large and noisy resorts, and the whole area west of Luz at Burgau and Salema remains largely peaceful and low-key.
Most of the coast is linked by a coastal path and you can easily walk between the villages. Salema to Luz, or Luz to Lagos are particularly beautiful routes.
Faro – the Algarve capital
If the busy and somewhat hectic atmosphere of the western Algarve is a bit too much for your liking, head to Faro and see what you think of it.
Faro is quite different from its western neighbours. It has an international airport, a modern shopping centre and high-rise apartment blocks, so it’s easy to get something of a big-city vibe living there.
It’s also a university city, so unlike the tourist areas to the west, Faro is full of life all year round, especially during term-time.
It’s not a problem to get to a beach from Faro – there are boats and buses running from the centre of town out to some excellent local beaches.
The closest one is a vast and sandy beach, Praia de Faro. This fabulous soft golden beach stretches for 5km along the entire sea-facing side of the Ilha de Faro (Faro Island). The best bit about Praia de Faro is that it’s largely undiscovered by foreign tourists.
Faro itself is incredibly spectacular, especially within the old walled town and the area surrounding the marina.
Faro is a city full of history, great shops, restaurants and cafes, theatres and galleries, great beaches and the Ria Formosa nature reserve on the doorstep. The centre, as it is often the case with historic cities, is compact, so that everything you need is within easy walking distance.
There is no doubt that the Algarve, with its delightful climate and incredibly pleasant beaches, is deservedly a gem of Portugal.
However, there are other destinations worth looking at before you choose to settle down and enjoy your retirement living in Portugal. So, let’s head up north and explore places very different from the Algarve, but nonetheless capable of offering you a brilliant retirement experience.
Lisbon: a proper capital city living
Lisbon, as you would expect, is a very cosmopolitan city. It is the perfect location for culture lovers and those who crave an active lifestyle in the cultural heart of continental Europe.
Compared to other European capitals, Lisbon is calmer and less ‘capitalised’, and this is exactly why it can be a perfect place for your retirement.
Lisbon uniquely mixes the developed infrastructure and busy cultural life befitting a proper capital city with the quiet, almost sleepy, charm of an antique town.
If costs associated with living in a capital city scare you, look closely at the cost of living comparison sites like Expatistan, and you will find that Lisbon is less expensive than other European capitals. As an example, monthly rent for 85 m2 (900 Sqft) furnished accommodation in an average (not the most expensive) area in Lisbon is around €900.
Public transport (bus and metro) is inexpensive. It means there is no real need to own a car if you live in Lisbon, so no petrol costs, no car insurance and servicing costs, no parking problems and no toll charges (which can be quite hefty in Portugal).
If you have the desire to travel a lot while retired, Lisbon is perfectly positioned to be your HQ.
Firstly, it is brilliantly connected to other cities in Portugal, as well as both Europe and Africa.
Secondly, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour flight to Paris and just over one hour to Casablanca. Plus, you’ll have your pick of bargain fares from the discounted European airlines that fly out of Lisbon airport.
Cascais: Lisbon on sea
For those who love to frequent Lisbon, but would prefer a more coastal location, Cascais might be the perfect spot.
A 25-minute train ride from Lisbon, this coastal town (pronounced Cahsh-Kaish) boasts good weather, a reasonable cost of living, wonderful beaches and a great entertainment environment.
Cascais is the final stop at the end of one of the suburban train lines out of Lisbon. It used to be a small fishing village, but in the 20th century, it transformed into a stylish beach town.
However, if you live in Cascais, you can easily pick up on its fishing past. There are plenty of colourful boats bobbing in the harbour. The daily catch is still auctioned in the harbourside square, and the fishermen can be seen mending nets on the quay.
Cascais is like a suburban continuation of Lisbon – still cosmopolitan (read: plenty of expat retirees), but more residential, closer to the coast, and full of activities for those who like to be outdoors: golf, sailing, diving, biking – you name it.
Beaches in the proximity are pretty and full of soft beautiful sand, however, they do get crowded in summer.
The Praia do Guincho beach, a beautiful stretch of sand known for its dangerous undercurrent is the place to go to sample what the local waters can deliver to your table.
The seafood available there is second to none and you can try some of the more obscure Portuguese varieties such as percebes (goose barnacles) and small lobsters known as bruxas (witches).
Not far away there is the well-established complex of Quinta da Marinha which boasts 18 holes of sometimes challenging seaside golf and offers horse riding as well.
And of course, having Lisbon and other great cities of Europe at your doorstep enhances your life incredibly.
Fancy Living in a University Town? – Choose Coimbra
The idea of retiring to a university town seems to be picking up and gaining popularity.
Most people nearing retirement age, they say, have fond memories of their college days – a sense of independence, anticipation and entering adulthood.
So if you want to recreate that horizon-broadening experience and sense of adventure when retiring to Portugal, why not choose Coimbra?
As with any university town, Coimbra boasts a stimulating atmosphere, a diverse population, a stable economy (for the most part), and lots of restaurants, shopping and cultural events.
The place is alive with sports, activities, entertainment, and cultural and educational opportunities.
Coimbra is like Portugal’s Oxford – full of students clad in black robes and that special atmosphere that only an old European university town can have: a curious mix of mystery and modernity, a sense of belonging to a special club.
Coimbra is a very old university with great history and heritage, originally founded in 1290. In the 12th century, the town was the capital of Portugal.
Now it has a population of 106,500, and almost 25 percent of them are university students. It is a town with a mix of the old and the new – medieval churches and chill-out bars.
The town is just a 2-hour train ride away from Lisbon, so you will be able to visit the capital as often as you want.
Buying a home for your retirement is cheaper than in Lisbon or the Algarve. There is plenty of choice of houses with land and gardens around Coimbra, or apartments in the city itself.
Porto: for wine and food lovers
Did you know that Portugal is named after its second-largest city, Porto, whose Latin name Portus Cale gradually became Portugal?
Lisbon is bustling and captivating, and the south of Portugal may well be a dream location for many of us suffering from uninspiring drizzly summers, but Porto shouldn’t be overlooked when considering where to retire in Portugal.
Yes, we are moving even further north now, and yes, it does rain a lot in Porto from November till March.
However, if it’s a moderate climate with lovely warm and sunny summers you are looking for, if you are a wine and food connoisseur, and if you like to relish colourful ancient city centres without being baked by a powerful southern sun, Porto is the right place for you.
It might not be the hottest place in Portugal, but Porto enjoys a huge amount of sunshine during the year.
The city is definitely a gourmet delight, serving everything from caldo verde, prince of cabbage soups, to spicy sausage dishes. It’s also the place that turns typical Pinot Grigio drinkers into avid fans of the Douro Valley wines.
Porto is full of small, independent family-owned shops, cafes and vintage stores. There are plenty of flea markets that sell vintage stuff.
With its quieter and more contemplative attitude, Porto is probably more fado (fatalistic) than anywhere else in Portugal.
It’s less refined than Lisbon. It’s simpler, unpretentious, and some back streets are downright scruffy and dirty. But the charm of the city is irresistible, and for many, it is impossible not to fall in love with Porto.
Final thoughts on where to live in Portugal
As Portugal is gaining in popularity as a good value-for-money retirement destination, more and more locations are being ‘discovered’ by expatriates looking for their perfect retirement destination.
You might want to consider a resort town of Sintra just outside of Lisbon, the whole district of Setubal that is full of Roman heritage, Aveiro (known as the Venice of Portugal), Braga, famous for chilled lifestyle and attractive property prices, or the tiny town of Chaves renowned for its spas, or dozens of other attractive locations found in Portugal.
You might find useful:
- Living In Europe After Brexit: What You Need To Know – links and resources to constantly updated official pages about Brexit and how it can impact UK expats;
- What’s Good and Bad About Living in Portugal? – a detailed overview of the advantages and disadvantages of living in Portugal to help you benefit from all the positives while being prepared to deal with the negatives;
- Visit our Portugal Country Guides page for more guides and information on Portugal.