Silves Portugal Tourism Guide
Silves is a delightful and traditional Portuguese town that makes for an enjoyable day trip from the coastal resorts of the western Algarve. The peaceful ambience of the town today does not reflect the historical importance of Silves, which during the North African Moor’s rule of the Algarve (700-1200ad) was the capital and defensive stronghold of the entire region. Remnants of this illustrious era can be discovered throughout Silves, and include the huge red brick castle, the impregnatable city walls and defensive gates.
Today, Silves is an unhurried and charming town that is far removed from the hectic pace of life found along the coastal region of the Algarve. Silves has a lot to offer to tourists and is regarded as the best destination for a day trip from the large resort towns. This article will provide an introduction to Silves and is divided into three sections; the first section is tourist information about Silves, the second section explains the main tourist attractions and the third section at the bottom of this page, is travel information.
Why Visit Silves?
Silves is regarded as the best northern town of the Algarve and is a great opportunity to discover the "real" Portugal. Silves has a very different ambience from the coastal resort towns and is how the Algarve was prior to the advent of mass tourism. The old walled section of Silves has remained unchanged for more than 500 years, and there is no hint of modern development through the town.
Silves is a fascinating destination, ideal for those visitors who wish to learn about the early history of the region. During the Moorish era Silves was a major trading location and this strategic importance was bitterly defended with the construction of the mighty castle and the solid city walls. Interestingly, Silves was also an important port, with a constant flow of boats departing for the Mediterranean or North Africa. Today the Arada River’s flow has altered and reduced , now only suitable for tourist boats, but it makes for a cooling backdrop to the town.
Silves as a Day Trip
Silves is ideal as a day trip as there are sufficient sights to fill a day’s sightseeing and is only a short journey from the major tourist centres of Lagos, Portimão and Albufeira. The public transport to Silves is reliable and inexpensive (see later for details) or for those visitors with a rental car there is ample carparking. For the less independent visitors, there are daily guided tours and these have the benefit of local knowledgeable guides. As all of the tourist attractions of Silves are of a historical nature children and teenagers may tire quickly of the town – especially when there are flume parks (Slide and Splash) close by in Lagoa!
It takes around 3 hours to visit all of the sights of Silves, but under the intense summer sun this is usually extended to 4-5 hours to include lunch or mid-afternoon break. Silves is a compact town and all of the historic monuments can be reached by foot but it is a steep climb from the town centre to the castle, along cobbled streets, and this may not be suitable for less mobile visitors.
A holiday to Silves
Visitors who are touring the Algarve may wish to spend one or two night in Silves, as the town has a pleasant, relaxed ambience that is very different from the hectic coastal towns. Silves is not suited for families or young couples for a holiday destination as it is over 15km to the nearest beach and can feel remote from the buzz and excitement of the Algarve. Silves may appeal to the more mature visitor seeking a very calm holiday but in general we would recommend Tavira, Alvor or Praia de Luz over Silves.
The Arade River and the Ponte Romana in Silves
Silves or Loulé?
Silves and Loulé are popular day trips for visitors who are based within the central Algarve region. Both are historic and provide a glimpse into normal Portuguese daily life but the towns are very different and will appeal to different tourists. Loulé is a much larger, bustling city that offers better shops and has a lively daily market. Silves has more character and charm with an extensive history and impressive tourist attractions. In our opinion, Silves is the better destination for a day trip.
Tourist Attractions of Silves
What’s the Best Tourist Attraction of Silves?
The best tourist attraction of Silves is the imposing and impressive red brick castle that dominates the skyline. The castle dates from the 7th century but the red brick fortifications seen today originate from the 12th century, at the height of the fighting in the Algarve between the Christian Crusaders and the African Moors. The castle was the focus of numerous battles and sieges, being sacked by king Leon in 1160, sieged by the Crusaders in 1189 and recaptured by a powerful army lead by Amir al-Mu'minin in 1191.
The first significant victory by the Portuguese in the Algarve is commentated by the statue of king Sancho I at the entrance to the castle that he (with a little help from the crusader army) stormed in 1189.
This fierce fighting lead to the construction of the castle’s massive fortifications and ingenious methods to survive an extended siege, these features included the rain fed cisterns, which were so effective they were used until the 1920s. Within the castle there has been extensive archaeological excavations and from the battlements there are wonderful views over the town. Certain visitors may wonder how the castle has remained in such a great state of preservation for so long, but this is due to a major “restoration” project that was performed during the 1940s.
What’s the best Hidden gem of Silves?
The best hidden attraction of Silves are the wonderful views over the town from the hill on the opposite side of the town. This fantastic view is not mentioned in any guide book but it provides the classical view of Silves, which encompasses rolling countryside, the cooling waters of the Arada River and the distinctively coloured castle high above the town. The best vantage point is from the road to the train station which leads from Silves via the Ponte Romana Bridge.
The wonderful views over Silves
What’s the best activity of Silves?
Silves is a town to be explored, where the number of interesting historical monuments greatly outnumbers the number the activities; therefore the best activity of Silves is simply wandering discovering the charming town. Apart from the castle discussed earlier other important sights include the Se cathedral, the Ponte Romana bridge, the ancient city gate and the 15th century Cruz de Portugal. As Silves is a great location to experience the real side of Portugal visit one of the local cafes and embrace the café culture of Portugal where locals spend hours socialising over a cup of extremely strong coffee during the heat of the mid-day.
The market of Silves
If you are traveling to Silves from Portimao (or Praia da Rocha) catch one of the traditional fishing boat tours which sail up the Arada River. These tours depart from the Portimão harbour and provide 2-3 hours in Silves before returning to Portimão.
Travel to Silves
The easiest method to travel to Silves is by rental car, and driving in the Algarve is very easy, with low traffic volumes and good roads. Silves has a large car park to the south west of the town and is just a short walk to the historic centre but never try driving in central Silves as the roads are a maze of narrow streets, not designed for modern traffic.
Visitors without a rental car can easily visit Silves as there are multiple bus and train connections. Public transport is very cheap in Portugal but always check local timetables before planning a day trip as departures can be very irregular, especially on Sundays.
Bus is the recommended means of travel to Silves for tourists based in Portimão, Praia da Rocha, Lagoa and Albufeira while the train is suggested means of travel from Lagos or Faro. There is a direct bus service from Albufeira to Silves (45min, €4.10), which departs from the main bus station of Albufeira. The Portimão bus departs from the Avenue Guanaré (next to the harbour) and takes a tedious 1h10min as it passes through the town of Lagoa. For the latest bus timetables please see the Eva bus website:
The Algarve regional railway follows a bizarre route that does not connect close to any of the major towns, the only towns it actually stops in are Faro and Lagos – the two termini of the railway. For the train timetable please visit the CP (Combio de Portugal) website:
Silves train station is located 2km south of the town, and the walk to the historic centre is not great, as it follows a major road with limited footpaths and steep hills.