Silves Portugal Tourism Guide
Silves is a delightful fortified town, which was once the ancient capital of the Algarve. Today Silves has a calm and peaceful ambience, but during the Moors era, it was a major defensive stronghold and important trading town. Remnants of this illustrious past can be seen while exploring Silves, from the huge red brick castle, the impregnatable town walls, through to the gothic cathedral which was built on the site of a grand mosque.
Along with its extensive history and numerous sights, Silves is found in a scenic location, set amidst the rolling hills of the Algarve countryside and lining the banks of the slow-flowing Rio Arade river. Silves is a joy to explore and has a distinctly Portuguese ambience, with open-air cafes, cobbled streets and an infectious relaxed pace of life.
This combination of fascinating sights, rich history and Portuguese charm, creates a wonderful tourist destination for you to discover during your holiday to the Algarve. This article will provide an introduction to Silves, and includes tourist information, details the main attractions and up to date travel information.
Why Visit Silves?
Silves is one of the best locations in the Algarve to experience authentic Portugal and to immerse in the compelling history of the region. The town has a unique atmosphere, being very different from the hectic coastal resorts, and reflects the Algarve prior to the modern boom of mass tourism. Within the historic section Silves the town has remained virtually unchanged for more than five hundred years, with almost no hint of modern development.
Silves as a Day Trip
Silves is the ideal destination to visit as an independent day trip during your holiday to the Algarve. There are sufficient sights to fill a day’s sightseeing, and it is only a short journey by public transport from the major tourist centres of Lagos, Portimão and Albufeira. The public transport services to Silves are reliable and inexpensive (see later for details), while if you have a rental car, there is ample car parking.
The historic centre of Silves is compact and can be easily explored on foot, but be warned, there are steep cobbled streets leading from the river up to the castle. A typical visit to Silves is around three hours, but under the intense summer sun this is often extended to four hours or more hours, to provide a leisurely pace.
If you have a rental car, the day trip to Silves could include a drive through the Serra de Monchique and visit the town of Monchique, with its wonderful views of the region. As all of the tourist attractions in Silves are of a historical nature children and teenagers may bore quickly – especially when they realise that there are water parks (Slide and Splash) close by, in Lagoa!
Silves as part of a guided tour
Small group tours are a great way to explore the Algarve and are a chance to meet fellow travellers. These tours remove the hassle of public transport, provide knowledgeable guides and pack a lot of sightseeing into a single day. Some of the better tours of Silves, as found by GetYourGuide.com, can be seen in the box below:
A holiday to Silves
Most visitors to Silves are day trippers, but a portion stay for one or two nights, it is rare to have an entire holiday based in Silves. Silves is popular with visitors who are touring southern Portugal and wish to be based in a traditional and historic town for a short stay.
A holiday to Silves maybe appealing, if you are seeking a calm and characterful town, but in general we would recommend Tavira, Alvor or Praia de Luz over Silves. Silves is not really suited for your holiday if you want the buzz of the Algarve or if this is a family holiday, as it is over 15km to the closest beach and the large resort towns.
For a guide to the best hotels in Silves, please see this link and Booking.com.
The following box details any hotel deals for Silves and the prices for last minute accommodation:
The history of Silves
Silves was founded by the Romans but it flourished under the North African Moors, as a major trading town and defensive stronghold. The zenith of this era was in 1054, when Al-Mu’tamid commanded the Algarve and entire southern region of Spain, from Silves castle.
Silves experienced continued fighting during the 11 and 12th centuries, as Christian Crusaders and the newly established Catholic Portugal tried to drive the Moors from the Algarve. To defend Silves, massive fortifications were constructed and the castle was greatly strengthened, and many of these defensive features can be still seen today.
The castle was the focus of numerous battles, being sacked by King Leon in 1160, sieged by Christian Crusaders in 1189 and then recaptured by a powerful army lead by Amir al-Mu'minin in 1191. Silves was eventually captured by the Crusaders in 1243, but this eventually lead to the demise of the town.
The important African trade routes were severed, and later the course of the river altered, prevent it being a navigable port. Nowadays only tourist boats are able to travel down the river down to Portimão.
Silves or Loulé?
Silves and Loulé Loulé are popular day trips if you are based on the central Algarve coastline (Lagos to Faro). Both are historic towns and provide a chance to experience typical Portuguese daily life, but they are very different and will appeal to different groups of tourists.
Loulé is much larger, being a bustling city, with a lively daily market and more shops. 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.
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.