Olhão – the complete guide (2019)
Olhão is the largest fishing port of the Algarve. The town is only 10 minutes from Faro by car or train. To be fair, Olhão isn’t the most stunning town of the Algarve. However, Olhão is the gateway to some of the most beautiful islands of Portugal. It is also a great starting point to discover the natural park of Ria Formosa. Furthermore, you can enjoy delicous and traditional food in the town. Whether you are staying for several weeks or just for a daytrip, Olhão surely has something nice to offer you. After reading this article, you will be the tour guide when visiting Olhão.
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While the town of Olhão doesn’t have any beaches, you can take a boat from Olhão to several stunning islands. Such a boat trip is highly recommended. These islands have beautiful beaches.
Ilha da Culatra. This is a beautiful island that separates the sea from the natural park of Ria Formosa. You arrive in either the village of Culatra and Farol. From there, it is only a short walk to one of the best beaches in the Algarve. The sand is white and the sea water here is exceptionally clean. Also a great place for diving or snorkeling.
Ilha da Armona. This island near the coast of Olhão has many kilometres of unspoiled beach. The sand is white and you will have plenty of space on the beach. Perfect destination for a daytrip.
Restaurants in Olhão
The local food of Olhão is mainly fresh fish, shellfish and clams. You should not leave the town without tasting one of the several fish or shellfish specialties. In fact, there are a couple of superb fish and seafood restaurants in the town. Below you can find our favourite restaurants of Olhão.
- Vai e Volta. This Portuguese restaurant serves some of the best grilled fish of Olhão. They have an all you can eat of fresh grilled fish concept. You also get bread, olives and salad with the fish. Prices are quite cheap as well (10 € per person).
- Restaurante Prazeres. The restaurant serves delicious and traditional Portuguese food, with a focus on shellfish and seafood. All products come from the Olhão region. If you love seafood, this is your place.
- Pizza na Pedra. Without a doubt, this restaurant serves the best pizza of Olhão. They also serve pasta and have an extensive wine list. Very good service as well.
- Indian Hut Restaurant. This is one of the best Indian restaurants in the area. Their homemade curry is amazing. And if you like spicy food, you won’t be disappointed. Also the waiters are very friendly.
What to see
The municipal market
A visit to Olhão isn’t complete without visiting the municipal market (in Portuguese: mercado municipal). The municipal market is located on the street Avenida 5 de Outubro, near the waterfront. It actually consists of two markets: the fruits/vegetables market and the fish market, each with a separate red-brick building.
The buildings are built in 1915 and have been renovated in 1997. Around the municipal market you can find several bars, where you could eat or drink and enjoy the view over the sea. On Saturdays, there is also an outside market on the street, with a selection of local goods, accessories and clothes. The Saturday market of Olhão is one of the biggest markets of fresh products in the Algarve.
The fruits and vegetables market
In the fruits and vegetables market you can find all sorts of fresh products. You can also find flowers, dried fruits, meat, nuts and traditional sweets here. Many locals come to this market to buy their fruits and vegetables.
The fish market
The fish market in Olhão is the biggest and most interesting fish market of the Algarve. There are so many different types of fish to choose from, including sardines, octopus, clams and eels. The best time to visit the fish market is on Saturday morning.
Our Lady of the Rosary Church
Within a short walking distance from the municipal market you can find a church, called Our Lady of the Rosary Church (in Portuguese: Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Rosário). This church is the most impressive building of Olhão. It was built at the end of the 17th century / beginning of the 18th century. Inside you can see beautiful gilt carved woodwork (18th century) and a vault with fresco paintings. You can also go up to the bell tower. From there you can enjoy an excellent view over the town and the Ria Formosa. The church is well maintained and attracts many tourists who are visiting the historical centre of Olhão.
On the back side of the church, you can find the chapel of Nosso Senhor dos Aflitos. This was the place where the fishermen’s wives used to pray in stormy days for the safety of their husbands out at sea. It was also used to pray for the sick and wounded. From this side of the church you see the main street of Olhão, Avenida da República.
Municipal museum of Olhão
Across the front of the Our Lady of the Rosary Church, you can find the Casa do Compromisso Marítimo. This building is from the 18th century and was initially meant to support local fishermen. Nowadays, this building serves as the municipal museum of Olhão (in Portuguese: museu municipal de Olhão). This museum has a small exposition of archaeological materials and information about the history of Olhão. Although everything in this museum is written only in Portuguese, you can still work out what the exhibits are. Entrance to the museum is free.
On each side of the municipal market there is a park. One is called Jardim Pescador Olhanense and the other one is called Jardim Patrão Joaquim Lopes. In these parks you can sit or take a seaside walk. You will find plenty of shops, restaurants and bars in this area.
In Olhão, you can find several ceramic tiles, depicting important historic events of the town. These typical Portuguese tiles are called azulejos. They also serve as benches to sit.
Caíque Bom Sucesso
Near the municipal market, you can see a boat in the water. This type of boat is called a caíque and the name of this boat was Bom Sucesso (translated as good luck). In July 1808, 17 fishermen used the Bom Sucesso to sail from Olhão across the Atlantic Ocean, all the way to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. They reached their destination (without modern navigation) and it took them 3 months to do so. They wanted to tell the Portuguese king Dom João VI (who was in refuge in Brazil at the time) of the defeat of the French invaders and Napoleon. The boat you can see in Olhão is an exact replica of the original boat. Can you imagine travelling from Portugal to Brazil in this boat?
Monterosa olive oil farm
Not too far from Olhão you can find the Monterosa olive oil farm. You can do an olive oil tour, where they show you how they make olive oil. The tour is very interesting and well worth it. You will learn all about the process of making olive oil. At the end, you can taste the olive oil and of course buy it. Their olive oil tastes spectacular. It is located in the village of Moncarapacho, which is part of the municipality of Olhão, and is about 10 kilometres to the northeast of the town of Olhão.
Ria Formosa Natural Park
You can visit the natural park of Ria Formosa. This is a series of lagoons and island along the coastline of the Algarve. The best way to explore the Ria Formosa is by boat. There are a number of boat excursions in the area. Another way is to take a walk in the Ria Formosa at Quinta do Marim. Here you can see beautiful nature and tide mills and Portuguese water dogs.
The nature in Ria Formosa is unspoiled. You can also see a variety of wildlife there. The area is especially good for birdwatching. Near the water of Ria Formosa you can also have an amazing view of the sunset.
If you wish to stay in Olhão, there are a couple of very good hotels nearby. Below you can find our favourite hotels in Olhão.
- Real Marina Hotel & Spa. This 5 star luxury hotel offers spacious rooms with a balcony. The hotel overlooks the Ria Formosa and has several swimming pools and wellness facilities. This is the most luxurious hotel in the area. Highly rated.
- Hotel Cidade de Olhão. This hotel in the centre of Olhão has a sun terrace, including swimming pool. The rooms are nice and have a modern private bathroom. You can also hire a bike from the hotel, which is a nice way to explore the area.
- BJB – Alojamentos. This guest house in the centre of Olhão offers both shared dormitories as well as private rooms. If you want, you can cook your own meals in the shared kitchen. It is a great place to meet other travellers. Very good value for money.
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 Olhão. By changing the date of your holiday, the map will show you the current prices.
Events (seafood festival)
Every year in August, the Festival do Marisco takes place. This is a seafood festival where you can enjoy the typical specialties of shellfish and clams. There is also live music for entertainment. This festival grows every year and attracts more and more visitors. If you like seafood, you should definitely visit.
There are many beautiful things to see in the area of Olhão. What about exploring the natural park of Ria Formosa by boat? Or go dolphin watching? Excursions can make your holiday in the Algarve even more memorable. A local guide can tell you more about the background of the area. Some of these excursions you can already book online. Below you can see our favourite excursions in the area of Olhão.
Olhão – general information
Olhão is a town in the Algarve with more than 45.000 inhabitants. Over the course of history, Olhão used to be a fishing village. The town is situated near the nature reserve of Ria Formosa and is only a 30 minute drive from the border with Spain. Nowadays, Olhão is the biggest fishing port of the Algarve. The centre of Olhão has cute little streets, and there is a friendly atmosphere in the town.