Portimão – the complete guide (2019)
Portimão is a popular holiday destination that captures the true essence of the Algarve. The ultimate Portuguese beach life and cuisine are found in this port city that it is the second largest in the region. Portimão is known for its breathtaking Praia da Rocha beach and the buzzing scene around it. Whether you come to enjoy the crazy nightlife or just want to eat a couple of grilled sardines, you won’t forget your visit to this beautiful city. After reading this article, you will be the tour guide when visiting Portimão.
Watch the highlights of Portimão in HD
If you can’t wait to see what Portimão looks like, then watch the short video below to see the highlights of the city.
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Contents of this article
Portimão is famous for its nice, sandy beaches with warm waters. The beaches of Portimão are backed by amazing red cliffs. Below you can find an overview of our favourite beaches near Portimão.
Praia da Rocha. This large beautiful beach has become one of the most popular destinations in the Algarve. It is quite a big beach, so you won’t have a problem finding a good spot. Behind the beach is a boulevard with shops, bars, clubs and a casino. There is a really nice atmosphere.
Praia do Vau. This beautiful beach is great is you want to escape the huge crowds that go to Praia da Rocha, but still want to be close to the city of Portimão. You can make a beach walk from Praia do Vau all the way to Praia da Rocha. Along the way, you will see stunning rock formations.
Praia de Alvor. This is one of the two beaches of Alvor, a former fishing village near Portimão. The beach is quite big, stretching for several kilometres. Near the beach you can find the Alvor boardwalk, which takes you through the Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve. Walking here is a great way to enjoy both the beach as well as nature.
Praia dos Três Irmãos. This stunning beach has some of the most amazing rock formations and caves in the Algarve. The beach consists of several coves and discovering these coves is the most fun part of the beach. Also, the view from the cliffs on top of the beach is spectacular. Praia dos Três Irmãos is located in Alvor, next to Praia de Alvor.
In general, one of the best things to do in Portimão is to go for a beach walk. You can walk from Praia da Rocha all the way to Praia do Vau. Along the way you will see spectacular rock formations, that you can only see in the Algarve.
Portimão is actually known as the sardine capital of the Algarve. There are many good sardine restaurants in the city, with a great view over the water. Here you can enjoy delicious grilled sardines, fresh bread, a salad and local red wine. But of course there are good restaurants for other types of food as well. Below you can find our favourite restaurants of Portimão.
- Maria do Mar. This is one of the most unique restaurants in Portimão. It serves Portuguese canned fish, accompanied with salad, bread and wine. There are more than 300 varieties of fish cans, mainly tuna, mackerell & sardines. The restaurant is dedicated to the Portuguese fish canning industry. You will discover that canned fish can have so many different flavours. Eating here is a real experience. Excellent service as well.
- Restaurante Casa da Tocha. This Portuguese restaurant serves several tasty fish and meat dishes, as well as tapas. They have a big wine list. The restaurant is quite small, but very authentic. Also very popular among locals.
- Curry House Indian Tandoori Restaurant. This is the best Indian restaurant in Portimão. Their food is so tasty. Service is good and prices are reasonable. Located near Praia da Rocha.
- Pizzeria Volare. This restaurant serves authentic Italian food and probably the best pizza of Portimão. Great service as well. Located near Praia da Rocha.
- Vista Restaurante. Located in the luxurious Bela Vista hotel above Praia da Rocha, this Michelin star restaurant serves creative and delicous food. It is led by the Portuguese chef João Oliveira. From the restaurant, you have an amazing view over the beach and the sea. Relatively expensive, but well worth it.
- Le Grill. This high-end restaurant offers the highest quality food and has a great wine list. The service is excellent. Located in the 5 star Penina hotel.
The nightlife in Portimão is one of the best in the Algarve. You can find the vibrant party area near the Praia da Rocha beach. The boulevard behind the beach (Avenida Tomás Cabreira) is the home to many popular bars and the dance club Katedral. Another popular club is NoSoloÁgua. This upscale beach club is famous for its crazy parties during the summer. Whether you just want to drink a beer or go clubbing until sunrise, the nightlife in Portimão won’t disappoint you.
What to see
Museu de Portimão
There is an interesting museum in Portimão, called Museu de Portimão. It is housed in a former sardine canning factory and opened its doors in 2008. The museum shows the history of the fish canning industry in Portimão. You can experience the former production line of the sardine factory and will learn all about the historical importance of this industry for the city of Portimão. All information is both in English and in Portuguese. A visit to this award winning museum is highly recommended. Entrance is only € 3.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição
In the centre of Portimão you can find the Parish church, also called Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição. This is the main church of Portimão and dates from the 15th century. The gothic portal is all that remains of the original building, after it was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. You can also see some works in gilt carved wood, which date back to the 18th century, after the earthquake.
Igreja do Colégio dos Jesuitas
Not far from Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição, you can find a big square, named Praça Da República. On this square you can find the Igreja do Colégio dos Jesuitas (also known as Jesuit’s college), a building of simple lines from the 17th century. This college has the largest church in the Algarve, which is decorated with gilt carved woodworks (18th century). As such, it is one of the most important religious buildings in Portimão. Inside you can also find the tomb of the founder of the college, Diogo Gonçalves.
Largo 1 de Dezembro
About 5 minutes walking from Jesuit’s college, you can find the square Largo 1 de Dezembro. There is a small garden here as well. You will see benches with glazed tiles, showing key events in Portuguese history.
At the northern side of this square, there is an 18th century small palace called Palácio Sárrea Garfias. This palace belonged to a noble family and is now used as a theatre, called Teatro Municipal de Portimão.
Praça Manuel Teixeira Gomes
There is a square called Praça Teixeira Gomes near the river. This square has the sculpture of Manuel Teixeira Gomes, who was the president of Portugal from 1923-1925 and was responsible for Portimão becoming a city. Around the square you can find bars to have a drink and benches to relax.
Fort of Santa Catarina
At the eastern side of Praia da Rocha you can find a fort called the Fort of Santa Catarina (in Portuguese: Fortaleza de Santa Catarina). This fortress was built in the 16th century, in order to defend the estuary of the Arade river. Inside the fortress is a viewpoint, called miradoura de Santa Catarina. From here you can enjoy a magnificent view over Praia da Rocha and the marina.
Not far from the Fort of Santa Catarina, you can find the marina of Portimão. Here you can see many boats, both small and luxurious. The marina of Portimão is one of the biggest marinas of the Algarve. The area around the marina is also a nice place to walk around. You can see the fishing village of Ferragudo on the other side of the water. From the marina you can also take a number of boat trips.
In the municipal market (mercado municipal) of Portimão you can find a large selection of fish, seafood, fruits and vegetables. Many locals come here to buy fresh products. Prices are relatively low.
Algarve International Circuit
Car lovers can visit the race track of the Autódromo Internacional Algarve, also known as the Algarve International Circuit. This circuit is located just outside Portimão and was opened in 2008. The race track is about 4692 kilometres long. Although there are currently no Formula 1 races here, it is seen internationally as a circuit of great quality.
Megalithic monuments of Alcalar
About 20 minutes north of the city of Portimão, you can find the Megalithic monuments of Alcalar. This is a necropolis that consists of a set of twelve megalithic tombs from 2000/1600 BC. You can also read about the lifestyle of the people who lived here at the time. Entrance costs only € 2. It is worth a visit if you are in the area.
Roman ruins of Quinta da Abicada
About 20 minutes to the northwest of Portimão, you can find the Roman ruins of Quinta da Abicada. These ruins belong to the most important archeological sites from the Roman period in the Algarve. It was a large Roman villa with beautiful mosaics, surrounded by farm land.
Alvor is an old fishing village in the municipality of Portimão. The town is situated at the beautiful estuary of Rio de Alvor, now a protected area. It is very nice to walk through the small but typical streets of Alvor. During summer, it also attracts a lot of tourists. Alvor has two great beaches: one with beautiful rock formations (Praia dos Três Irmãos) and one large sandy beach (Praia de Alvor). All water sports are available, as well as luxury hotels, villas and apartments.
Behind Praia de Alvor you can find a boardwalk, called the Alvor boardwalk. It takes you through the Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve. Walking here is very peaceful and one of the best things to do in the region of Portimão. The boardwalk is about 3 kilometres in length.
Also, the Parish church of Alvor is well worth a visit. This is the typical architecture from the time of the Great Discoveries (16th century), which is considered to be the most beautiful in the Algarve. It is one of the best examples of the Manueline-style architecture in the region.
Near Portimão you can find the small but beautiful fishing village of Ferragudo. It is nice to walk in the small streets of the village. Also you can find a small castle in Ferragudo, called the Castle of São João do Arade (built in the 15th century).
Since Portimão is the second biggest city of the Algarve, there are a lot of opportunities for shopping. Below you can find the best places for shopping in Portimão.
Aqua shopping mall
There is a relatively new shopping mall in the city, called Aqua Portimão. Parking is free and there is plenty of parking space. The shopping mall is quite modern and has a large variety of shops, including H&M, Foot Locker, Mango, Primark, Bershka, a Jumbo supermarket and much more. The mall opens at 9.00 and stays open until 23.00 (in summer even until midnight).
Continente Centro Comercial
This shopping centre has three different floors, and has about 60 shops. There are two big car parks, so it is usually easy to find a parking spot. Inside the mall there is also a huge supermarket. The shopping centre is open every day until 23.00.
If you stay in Portimão, there are many good hotels to choose from. Below you can find our favourite hotels in the city.
- Bela Vista Hotel & Spa Relais & Chateaux. This luxurious hotel has spacious rooms overlooking the beach. The hotel has a nice swimming pool, surrounded by green gardens. The breakfast is amazing and the service is sensational. It was actually the first hotel in the Algarve. Located right above Praia da Rocha.
- Jupiter Algarve Hotel. This 4 star hotel offers everything you need for a great stay in the Algarve. It has a swimming pool and several spa facilities. During summer, there is entertainment in the hotel in the evening. Good service as well. Located near Praia da Rocha.
- Apartamentos Turisticos Coral do Vau. This aparthotel has clean rooms with a balcony. Although it is relatively cheap, it offers a lot of value for money. You can even cook your own food in the well-equipped kitchen of your apartment. Located near Praia do Vau.
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 Portimão. By changing the date of your holiday, the map will show you the current prices.
Portimão Sardine Festival
Our favourite event in the city is the Portimão Sardine Festival (Festival da Sardinha). It is held every year in August and lasts for several days. Eating sardines is part of the local culture and that is exactly what this event is about. There are about 2500 seats outside, so it won’t be hard to find a spot to sit. There is entertainment for the whole family, including live music and fireworks.
Portimão has many things to offer you during your holiday. Pretty beaches, crazy nightlife and good food: you can find it all in the city. An excursion can make your stay in Portimão even more memorable. We recommend making a boat trip along the coast of the Algarve, as well as a boat trip up the Arade river. You could also go dolphin watching. Some of these excursions can already be booked online. This saves time and guarantees you a spot. Below you can find our favourite excursions in the area of Portimão.
Portimão has a strong connection with sports. There are many different kinds of water sports that you can enjoy near the beaches of Portimão, like kitesurfing or jet skiing. Furthermore, the waters near Portimão are used for powerboat racing tournaments. Also, the beaches of Portimão are used for tournaments, like beach soccer or beach volleyball. Watch the short video below to get an impression of beach volleyball on Praia da Rocha. It has some amazing shots of the beach and surrounding area as well.
You can go skydiving with an experienced skydiver. You will jump from a plane at 4600 metres. This offers the ultimate experience in the Algarve. The organization that offers this is called Skydive Algarve. They are located in Alvor, near Portimão.
You can also book your skydive already online, which saves you time and guarantees you a spot:
Portimão – general information
Portimão is the second biggest city of the Algarve (after Faro). The city has more than 45.000 inhabitants. Since Portimão is situated near the water and the Arade river, it is a port town, where fishing and trading are important. The sea was very important during the history of Portimão. The local economy was mostly based on trade, fishing and the fish processing industry. However, during the 19th century tourism became an important part of the local economy. The touristic area is mainly concentrated around the beach of Praia da Rocha. Apartments, hotels, resorts and commercial centers were built near the coast. Nowadays, Portimão is an attractive tourism destination and a major hub in the Algarve. The journey from Faro Airport to Portimão is 70 kilometres and takes about one hour.