Vila Real de Santo António – the complete guide (2019)
Vila Real de Santo António is the perfect town in the Algarve to explore for a day trip. This former fish canning centre sits on the Guadiana river, which separates Portugal from Spain. When walking in the town, you can actually see the Spanish town of Ayamonte on the other side of the river. Vila Real de Santo António is a picturesque small town. It is not a big resort town, but it still attracts quite a lot of people, especially from Spain. The town is quite unique in the sense that its streets are designed in a grid pattern. This is the only town in the Algarve where this is the case. After reading this article, you will be the tour guide when visiting Vila Real de Santo António.
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Near Vila Real de Santo António you can find some beautiful beaches. These beaches are known for their clean white sand and warm sea water, which is a couple of degrees warmer than in the rest of the Algarve. The beaches in this area are particularly popular among Portuguese and Spanish tourists. Below you can find our favourite beaches near the town.
Beach of Santo António. This is the easternmost beach of the Algarve. The beach is backed by dunes. This beach and its surrounding area are great for taking a walk.
Monte Gordo. This beach resort town has become quite popular lately. It has all the facilities you need for a great holiday in the Algarve. The beach is very big and wide.
Praia Verde. This beach is surrounded by green bushes and trees. This makes for a very peaceful beach visit. Even in the height of summer, this beach is not overcrowded.
Cacela Velha. This is a small village, consisting of traditional houses around a small church. From this village you have an amazing view over the beach and a lagoon. Of course you can go down there and enjoy it for yourself.
Vila Real de Santo António does not have many restaurants, but it does have some great ones. Below you can find our favourite restaurants in town.
- Sem Espinhas Guadiana. This restaurant near the waterfront has great Portuguese food and excellent service. Great steaks and good wine as well. Prices are reasonable.
- Restaurante Cuca. This Portuguese restaurant specializes in fresh fish and seafood. The restaurant is very popular among locals. Big food portions. If you are looking for a good fish restaurant, go here.
- Pizzaria Bella Napoli. This Italian restaurant serves some of the best pizza in the area, as well as other Italian specialties. Prices are very reasonable. Great tiramisu as well. Located near the main square of the town.
- Jossy’s The American Burger. This place serves tasty American style burgers. The interior of the place is quite special, looking like a diner from the 50s. It looks like a typical American burger restaurant that you would see in a movie. The background music makes the experience complete.
What to see
Praça Marquês de Pombal
In the middle of Vila Real de Santo António you will find a beautiful town square called the Praça Marquês de Pombal. This is the main square of the town. It was named after Marquês de Pombal, who founded the town after the earthquake of 1755.
The square consists of typical black and white patterned lines surrounding an obelisk. This monument was placed here in 1776, in honour of the Portuguese king Joseph I. He was the king of Portugal at the time when Marquês de Pombal was prime minister. Around the square you can find trees and white buildings. You will find some restaurants and bars here, where you can sit and have a drink. Also there are many shops nearby. The area around the square is also the place where local events are held.
The town centre of Vila Real de Santo António is a great place for wandering around. It is built around the Praça Marquês de Pombal. You can find many shops, bars and restaurants in the town centre. The town centre has a modern feel and a very relaxed atmoshere. Make sure not to miss the municipal market (mercado municipal). You can find fresh fish, as well as delicious fruits and vegetables there. All for very reasonable prices. If you want to explore the cultural side of the town, you can visit the Centro Cultural António Aleixo. This is a cultural centre where you can see exhibitions. Another cultural sight is the Museum of Manuel Cabanas. Here you can see the works of Manuel Cabanas, who was a local painter and wood engraver.
Near the waterfront you can find a beautiful promenade. Alongside the boulevard you can find many palm trees and benches. It is very nice to walk here, for example after lunch.
On the northern side of the promenade you can find a small harbour. The harbour has a capacity of 360 boats. You can see mainly sailing boats here. From this harbour you can also take a ferry to visit the town of Ayamonte in Spain.
Statue of Marquês de Pombal
Near the harbour you can find a statue of Marquês de Pombal, who is the founder of this town. The statue was made by the Portuguese sculptor João Cutileiro. Different people see different things in it. This modern piece of art is sure to provoke a discussion.
Near the town you can find a small but beautiful lighthouse. You can visit it from the inside. You can either take the lift or climb up the stairs to reach the top. From the top of the lighthouse you have an amazing view over the town and the surrounding area. However, the lighthouse is only open for visits on Wednesday afternoons.
Foz do Guadiana (walk to the end of the pier)
Near the Guadiana river, you can take a wonderful walk. You will see beautiful nature on one side, and the river on the other side. To do this walk, park near Grand Beach Club and walk in the direction of the beach. This is about a 20 minute walk. You can walk even further, all the way to the end of the pier. From there you have a great view over the beach of Santo António.
When you walk back, you can have a drink in the Grand Beach Club. This restaurant/bar has an infinity pool and there is lounge music in the background. Great place to have a drink after taking that long walk.
Mata Nacional das Dunas de Vila Real de Santo António
From Vila Real there is a bike path directly to Monte Gordo. This path goes straight through a pine forest called Mata Nacional das Dunas de Vila Real de Santo António. The forest is also quite popular among hikers. When walking here you will smell the pine trees. It is a very beautiful area.
Vila Real de Santo António is also the town where the Ecovia Litoral starts. This is a cycling track that follows the entire coastline of the Algarve. That is why the town is quite popular among cyclists.
Not too far from Vila Real you can find the village of Castro Marim. Nowadays this is a small picturesque village, but it was historically quite important. You can find an impressive castle there, as well as a beautiful church. There is also another fortress on a nearby hilltop. Castro Marim is a great little village to visit for a couple of hours.
You can visit the Spanish town of Ayamonte, which can be a nice day trip destination. It is nice to walk in the narrow streets of the town, while treating yourself to some Spanish tapas. It is also interesting to see the architectural differences between Spain and Portugal. From Vila Real de Santo António you can take a ferry across the Guadiana river. This journey lasts for about 15 minutes and costs € 1,80 for a single fare. Another way to reach Ayamonte is by car, going over the suspension bridge. Remember that the time in Spain is 1 hour later than in Portugal.
There are several hotels near the town. Below you can find our favourite ones.
- Grand House. This five star boutique hotel near the waterfront has very spacious rooms and outstanding service. The hotel is overlooking the Guadiana river. Great buffet breakfast as well. For sure this is the most luxurious hotel in Vila Real de Santo António.
- Hotel Apolo. This hotel in the centre of town has everything you need for a great holiday in the eastern Algarve. Comfortortable rooms and nice staff. There is even an outside terrace with a swimming pool. This is one of the most popular hotels in the town centre.
- Alojamento Baixa Mar. This guest house offers nice and clean rooms, with a balcony overlooking the Guadiana river. Excellent location and comfortable beds. Facilities are basic, but enough to have a good stay. Great 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 Vila Real de Santo António. By changing the date of your holiday, the map will show you the current prices.
While Vila Real de Santo António is a pretty little village, there is much more to see in the Algarve. Moreover, you could go on an excursion to truly get the most out of these special places. For example, you could go on a boat tour along the Guadiana, to Alcoutim. Or you could go on a bike tour in the area. Or visit the small village of Castro Marim with a guide, who can tell you all about the background of the place. Below you can find our favourite excursions in the area.
Vila Real de Santo António – general information
Vila Real de Santo António is a small town in the Algarve that is home to about 20.000 inhabitants. It is actually one of the most densely populated municipalites in the Algarve. The town is located in the eastern side of the Algarve, right near the Spanish border. It takes about a 50 minutes drive from Faro Airport to get here. There is also a train station in the town. The border between Spain and Portugal consists of the Guadiana river. The town was founded by Marquês de Pombal and built in a block structured grid. From above, it kind of looks like the structure of many cities in the United States. Vila Real is the only town in the Algarve that has been built this way.
Administratively, the municipality can be divided into 3 different civil parishes (freguesias):
- Vila Real de Santo António
- Monte Gordo
- Vila Nova de Cacela