Loulé – the complete guide (2019)
Loulé is the ideal town in the Algarve to explore for a day trip. In this historically interesting town you can discover a real taste of Portuguese culture. The town has a beautiful centre and a magnificent market hall. The narrow streets take you to important churches and you can discover the ruins of a 13th century castle. When you are visiting the Algarve in August, then the Noite Branca (White Night) is one popular party not to be missed. After reading this article you will be the tour guide when visiting Loulé.
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Contents of this article
There are a couple of very good restaurants in the area of Loulé. Below you can find our favourite ones.
- A Tia Bia. This Portuguese restaurant serves traditional local food. The name of this restaurant translates as ‘Aunt Bia’, which is exactly the feeling you get here. It feels like your aunt has cooked a delicious meal for you. Excellent place for lunch.
- A Quinta. This restaurant has a daily changing menu, but every day it serves fresh and delicious food. They have fantastic wine and good cocktails as well. Good location and good atmosphere. Nice terrace outside too.
- Cozinha Japonesa Artigo Tres. This is one of the best Japanese restaurants in the Algarve. The food is amazing and the sushi very fresh. Eating here is a great experience. Service is good and prices are reasonable.
- Vegan Joe’s. This restaurant serves only vegan food, as well as great juices. The menu changes every week, so there is always a new reason to come back. All fruits and vegetables are produced locally. If you like vegan food, this is your place.
What to see
Mercado de Loulé (market)
One of the most interesting places in Loulé is Mercado de Loulé, also known as the municipal market. This is where locals buy their groceries. The building of the market is quite unique: it has an oriental architecture and stems from 1908. It has been renovated between 2004 and 2007.
Make sure you also go inside the market hall. Here you can buy fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, handicrafts, herbs, spices and much more. The best day and time to visit the market is on Saturday morning. There are a lot more stalls on that day, as well as an outside market. However, it can get quite busy. Try to be there early, because fresh products are sold quickly.
After visiting the market hall, walk down the Praça da República. This is the large street in front of the market. From there you can admire the town hall (19th century) and an old town gate on its right side.
Castle of Loulé (and municipal museum)
About a 4 minute walk from the market hall, you can find the medieval Castle of Loulé. In the Middle Ages, the building was used as the residence of the town’s governor. Several Portuguese kings also lodged in the castle while visiting the town. Nowadays, the castle also houses the municipal museum of Loulé, which displays historical artefacts. All exhibits are explained in both Portuguese and English. In the castle you can also see a library room and a reproduction of the medieval kitchen. From the tower of the castle you can enjoy a beautiful view over Loulé. The entrance to the castle can be a bit hard to find, but the castle is definitely worth a quick visit. Entrance is € 1,62.
Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Conceição
Near the castle you can find the small but lovely chapel of Our Lady of Conception (in Portuguese: Nossa Senhora da Conceição). It was built in the 17th century in honour of the patron saint of Portugal. Inside, you can see beautiful glazed blue tiles covering the walls, showing scenes of the life of Mary. The altarpiece consists of gilt carved wood, showing several statues of the family of Our Lady. The chapel is absolutely stunning from the inside. Definitely worth a visit. Moreover, entrance is free.
Church of St. Clemente
The oldest church of Loulé is the church of St. Clemente (in Portuguese: Igreja Matriz de São Clemente). The church is situated in the old town, about 300 metres from the castle. It is a Gothic building from the second half of the 13th century. The church was built on the site of an old mosque. The bell tower of the church replaced the minaret of the mosque. From the outside you can see the Gothic portal, which is simple but beautiful. Inside the church you can find a really nice organ. It is a typical and peaceful old church.
Shrine of Nossa Senhora da Piedade
From all over Loulé you can see a unique building, which is the shrine of Nossa Senhora da Piedade (in Portuguese: Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Piedade). The building looks very modern and kind of looks like a spaceship. However, inside it is a religious place and thus very quiet inside. The shrine of Nossa Senhora da Piedade is situated on top of a hill. You can see pilgrims walk up the path towards the shrine, but it is quite a hard walk. It is easier to drive up the path. From the shrine you have an amazing view over the town of Loulé and the surrounding area.
Parque Municipal de Loulé
In the centre of Loulé you can find a nice park, called the Parque Municipal de Loulé. The park is clean and peaceful. It is a great place to walk through and enjoy the day. There are plenty of benches, so you can relax. Near the entrance to the park you can find a monument dedicated to Duarte Pacheco. He was an engineer and statesman from Loulé in the 20th century.
Trilho da Fonte Benémola (walking trail)
About 10 kilometres north of Loulé, you can find the walking trail of Fonte Benémola. There are actually two circular trails: a longer one (9 kilometres) and a shorter one (4 kilometres). Both are very nice walks and quite easy to do. You will see interesting flora and fauna on the way. Make sure to wear good shoes and bring some water. The area is also great for a picnic. If you like walking in nature, you will love this area.
Every Saturday morning there is a gypsy market on the western side of Loulé. You can buy handbags, clothes, shoes, jewellery and much more on the market. Make sure to negotiate the prices. If you like to get a bargain, visiting this gypsy market will satisfy you.
Church of São Lourenço (Almancil)
In the nearby village of Almancil you can find one of the most beautiful churches in the area, called the church of São Lourenço (in Portuguese: Igreja de São Lourenço de Almancil). While the church is relatively small, it is the inside that is absolutely stunning. The interior of this church is almost completely decorated with blue and white glazed tiles made in 1730, depicting scenes of the life of St. Lawrence. However, it is prohibited to take photos inside. Still, this church is definitely worth a visit.
Quinta do Lago
Quinta do Lago is an exclusive tourist and golf development area. There are several golf courses, luxury villas, apartments and superb luxury hotels. Many sports facilities are available, such as golf, tennis and water sports. If you are seeking luxury during your holiday, go here.
Vale do Lobo
Vale do Lobo is another luxury resort development. Here you can find a five star hotel, luxury villas, apartments, several golf courses and many other sports facilities. You can also find a long sandy beach with very clean water, protected by high sand cliffs. The beach of Vale do Lobo is highly recommended.
Quarteira is an old fishing village located in the municipality of Loulé. The village has a nice beach, with a modern boulevard along it. Quarteira has become an important tourist centre. You can also find many restaurants, bars and hotels in the area. Great to visit the beach of Quarteira for a day and have lunch near the promenade.
Countryside trip (Querença, Alte and Salir)
You can make a trip through the countryside surrounding Loulé. This shows you another side of the Algarve. You will come across beautiful landscapes, typical vegetation and old culture. About 11 kilometres north of Loulé, you can find the picturesque hilltop village of Querença. This is a typical small Portuguese village. The church in the village has a manueline portal (16th century), interesting works of carving, glazed tiles and a statuary. Located near the walking trail of Fonte Benémola. Nearby you can also find the grottoes of Salustreira, with stalactites and stalagmites.
Other nearby villages worth visiting are Alte and Salir. Alte is a small picturesque village, famous for its fountains. And the little village of Salir has the ruins of a Moorish castle, which provides good panoramic views over the countryside. Not too far away you can find the beautiful mountains of Rocha da Pena and Cerro dos Negros.
If you wish to stay in Loulé, there are several good options. Below you can find our favourite hotels in the area.
- Casa Mocho Branco. This hotel in the countryside has a nice infinity pool, from where you can enjoy the view over the surrounding area. Rooms are quite big and the breakfast is exceptionally good. There is a nice garden as well. Highly rated.
- Loulé Jardim Hotel. This hotel has spacious rooms and friendly staff. There is a gym and a rooftop terrace with lounge chairs and a swimming pool as well. Located in the centre of Loulé, across a small park.
- Loulé Coreto Guesthouse. This bed and breakfast has everything you need for a great holiday in the Algarve. Rooms are clean and comfortable. Excellent value for money. Located near the market hall, in the centre of Loulé.
After the busy summer season of last year, we recommend to book your hotel now, as it will probably sell out. Below you can find a map with the location of hotels in Loulé. By changing the date of your holiday, the map will show you the current prices.
Between Loulé and Faro you can find MAR Shopping centre, which is the biggest shopping centre of the Algarve. It is a great place for shopping. You can find an IKEA, as well as dozens of other shops, such as H&M, Fnac, Primark and Zara. There is also a cinema, a food court and a supermarket in the shopping centre. If you are looking to buy new things, visiting this shopping centre can be a nice activity. Part of the shopping centre is also an outdoor designer outlet, which includes many shops. Here you can find a variety of shops, offering reductions on big brand names.
Events in Loulé
There are a couple of unique events in Loulé every year. Below you can find our favourite ones.
Carnival in Loulé
The carnival in Loulé is an event that guarantees 3 days of party. It is held every year in February and is famous across the Algarve. Just as the carnival in Brazil, this carnival has parades, costumes, music and dancing. The carnival is held in the centre of Loulé and there is a small entrance fee.
Noite branca is a festival that is held every year in Loulé to celebrate the end of summer. People come together and everyone wears white clothing. There is live music and people dance. It is a lot of fun.
Festa da Mãe Soberana
An important religious tradition in Loulé is the Procession of the Sovereign Mother (in Portuguese: Festa da Mãe Soberana), which is the patron saint of Loulé. It is held on the second Sunday after Easter. During the tradition, the statue of the patron saint is brought from its sanctuary to the church of São Francisco. You can see many people following the statue of the patron saint. The day usually ends with fireworks.
Loulé is a great destination for a day trip. However, there is much more to see in the area. For example, you could explore Faro and the natural park of Ria Formosa. Another great activity is to go dolphin watching. Or you could explore the coastline of the Algarve by boat. Some of these excursions can already be booked online. Below you can find our favourite excursions near Loulé.
Loulé – general information
Loulé is a municipality in the Algarve with more than 70.000 inhabitants. In terms of size, Loulé is the largest municipality in the Algarve. The biggest city is Loulé with around 20.000 inhabitants, but the municipality also includes the popular holiday destinations of Quarteira, Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo, Vilamoura and some other small towns.
The most important characteristic of this region is the originality and simplicity of its architecture, its traditions, and the way of life of the people. This is because the hinterland of the Algarve has not changed as quickly as the coastal regions. One example of its architecture is that you can find typical chimneys, decorated with geometric motives, in Loulé.
Administratively, the municipality of Loulé can be divided into several civil parishes (freguesias):
- Querença, Tôr e Benafim
- São Clemente
- São Sebastião
Long ago, Loulé was an Arabian town called Al-Aliya. Since then, Loulé has preserved the ruins of its medieval castle and city wall, its narrow streets and some interesting churches. Loulé has long traditions of craftsmanship, which date back to the time of the Moors. Until a few years ago, there were many workshops where you could watch the craftspeople manufacturing leather, wood, copper and other products. Today there are just a few left. They can be seen in the old town near the castle, for instance at Rua da Barbacã.