Tavira is a beloved holiday destination that combines breathtaking beaches with Portuguese culture. Regarded as one of the most beautiful towns of the Algarve, you will find a unique mix of traditional architecture with Moorish influences. Culinary tourists will be pleased to find the many top rated restaurants in this historic town with picturesque plazas and cobbled streets. From cycling, golfing to dancing the night away, it is never a dull moment in the Venice of the Algarve. Find out all the secret tips on Tavira.
Tavira – Highlights
Top attractions in Tavira:
• Beautiful old town
• Monuments (Roman bridge, ruins of the castle and many churches)
• Beautiful sandy beaches at the island Ilha de Tavira
Tavira is a municipality in the Algarve, that is situated about 20 kilometres from the Spanish border. The biggest city of the municipality is Tavira, but some other cities in the municipality are Cachopo, Santa Luzia and Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo. The total number of inhabitants in this municipality is about 25.000, of which about 13.000 people live in the town of Tavira. The town has the reputation of being the Venice of the Algarve, due to its location near the estuary of the river Gilão. That is why many people find Tavira one of the most beautiful towns in the Algarve.
The history of Tavira is long, with interesting monuments from several periods. Its origins date back from the Phoenicians. It was also occupied by the Romans. They built the beautiful bridge that connects the two parts of the town separated by the river. The town developed during the Arabian occupation. It was conquered by the Portuguese in 1242.
By the 16th century, Tavira was one of the major ports in the Algarve, but nowadays the port is not that influential anymore. Tavira achieved city status in 1520. Until then, the river was navigable up to Tavira. Its gradual silting up led to a decline of the trading activities and the town itself. Tuna fishing was (until the 1970s) one of the main activities in the region. Nowadays, fishing and tourism are the main activities.
What to see
We suggest that you start your visit in Tavira at the main square, the Praça da República. Centuries ago, it was here where slaves were traded, along with fresh fruit and fish.
Cross the Roman bridge (in Portuguese: Ponte Romana) over the Gilão river to the other side and admire the baroque and neoclassical façades on the other side of the river. The bridge possibly predates the Romans, but it was named the Roman bridge because it connected the Roman road from Tavira to Castro Marim. Most of the structure today dates back to a reconstruction from the 17th century.
From the next bridge you can take pictures of the seven-arched Roman bridge and the old town with the castle on the top. Coming from the bridge to the west bank of the river you see the market on the left-hand side and a nice garden on the right with the shopping area straight ahead.
From the Praça da República you follow the way up through the arch of the street Rua da Galeria, where you can see the coat of arms of king Manuel I, who gave Tavira city status in 1520. On both sides of the Royal coat of arms there is an armillary sphere, representing the discoveries around the world. Close to this location you find the tourist information board (on the left-hand side) and straight ahead the Misericórdia church. This church was built around 1540. On the Renaissance façade of this church you can see the sculpture of Nossa Senhora da Misericórdia. In the interior there are fine gilt carved woodworks and glazed tiles from 1760. This church is usually closed.
In the middle of Tavira, you can find the ruins of a castle of Moorish origin. It was built by king Dinis in the 13th century. The castle was heavily damaged by the earthquake in 1755, but was subsequently rebuilt. Most if the structure that stands today, is from the 18th century. From its walls you can enjoy a magnificent view over the town and the surroundings. Notice the typical four-sided roofs of the old houses, called in Portuguese telhados de tesouro.
Next to the castle you can find the church of Santa Maria do Castelo. This is the main church of Tavira. It was built in the 13th century in Gothic style, on the site of an old mosque. The Gothic portal dates back to the 13th century. Like the oldest churches in the Algarve, it was destroyed by the earthquake of 1755 and rebuilt in a kind of poor baroque. Because of the scale of the disaster, there was not sufficient money to rebuild the church. Only the doorway, two chapels and the windows from the clock tower remain from the original building. Some chapels are decorated with gilded wood carvings (18th century) and glazed tiles. In the main chapel there are the small tombs of Paio Peres Correia, the knight who conquered the town from the Moors in 1242 and seven of his Cruzaders, who had been murdered by the Moors.
Another church near the castle is the Santiago church (in Portuguese: Igreja de Santiago). Also this church is built on the site of an old mosque.
In Santa Maria, you can visit the Church of Carmo (in Porutguese: Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo). This church dates from 1744 and has a rich interior of gilt carved wood. The stalls deserve special attention. This church is not always open to the public.
Santa Luzia is a small fishing village, which specializes in the fishing of octopus. It is also known as the ‘octopus capital’ of the Algarve. You can try the octopus in several restaurants in Santa Luzia. In order to catch the octopus, the fishermen use earthenware pots which you can see everywhere on the quayside and on the boats. These octopus traps are bound together with a rope and are left overnight in the sheltered waters of the lagoon and offshore islands. During the night, the octopus climb into those traps, which provide them with a secure hiding spot. The earthenware pots are taken out of the water on the following day. Santa Luzia is a typical village, where you can get a taste of the traditional way of life in the Algarve.
To the west of Santa Luzia there is a holiday resort called Pedras del Rei. From there you can reach the beach by crossing a small narrow bridge and continuing by foot or by holiday train.
The coast of Tavira is located within the Ria Formosa national park boundaries. The beach situated on the island of Tavira (in Portuguese: Ilha de Tavira) is one of the longest and best beaches in the Algarve. The island is about 3 kilometres from the town of Tavira. The island has restaurants and toilets and also holds a blue flag, showing the quality of the beach. You can not reach this beach by foot, but only by boat from the center of Tavira or by ferry from the port of Quatro Àguas (2 km south of Tavira).
The low sandy coast between Tavira and Monte Gordo has some long beaches, such as Cabanas, Manta Rota, Praia Verde, Altura and Monte Gordo. This coast invites for long seaside walks and for bathing, as its waters are warmer than anywhere else in the Algarve. Monte Gordo was once a small fishing village, which some 50 years ago became one of the first seaside resorts in the Algarve. On the beach, one can see many fishing boats as well as fishermen repairing their nets. The catch is unloaded in the morning. Nowadays, Monte Gordo is the most important resort of Eastern Algarve.
Cacela Velha is an old fishing village situated in a beautiful coastal landscape of the Ria Formosa. The village has a fortress, a small church and consists of a few houses. The view over the lagoon is fascinating.
Vila Real de Santo António
This small town is situated one the right bank of the river Guadiana and was founded in 1774 by Marquis of Pombal. From the former wet land, the town was built in only six months. It was called Vila Real, which means Royal Town.
The town of Castro Marim has an old fortress. The Romans called this fortress ‘Castrum Marinum’ (castle on the sea). In 1282 it became the headquarters of the Templars in Portugal. This order was later renamed Order of the Knights of Christ and was responsible for the defense of the border. We recommend that you to visit the old fortress.
Visit the tourism office (Rua da Galeria 9, near the Praça da República). Here you can get a free map of Tavira, which includes all major sightseeings.
Make sure you take a boat to the island of Tavira, known as Ilha de Tavira. This island has one of the most beautiful beaches of the Algarve. The beach is quite sandy and the sand is almost white. The island of Tavira is rated by TripAdvisor as the #1 thing to do in Tavira. If you want see the river-side of the island now, there is a live webcam stream of the beach.
Visit the municipal market. It is situated on the southeastern side of Tavira, in the street Avenida Don Manuel I. The market sells fresh fish to visitors, many of which are restaurants in the town. Make sure you go there early, because usually all fish is sold by mid-morning. There is also a section where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables.