The best independent guide to the Algarve
The best independent guide to the Algarve
Loulé is a traditional Portuguese market town, and a popular destination for a day trip. Visitors are drawn to Loule, for its characterful historic centre, the lively market and genuine Portuguese atmosphere.
The focal point of Loule is the Arabic inspired covered market, with stalls selling regional handicrafts, local produce and freshly caught fish. Surrounding the market are busy shopping streets, tree-lined plazas and a warren of alleys, which have barely altered since the medieval period. Within this delightful historic centre, is an ancient castle, the Gothic Igreja Matriz church and remnants of Loule’s solid defences.
Loule is a peaceful and unhurried town, but it comes alive on Saturday mornings, when two additional markets are held in the town. The farmer’s market specialises in local produce, while gypsy market is a chaotic and lively affair.
This article will provide an introduction to Loule, and includes tourist information, a suggested tour and travel information.
Loule is one of the few destinations in the Algarve whose primary focus is not tourism; it is a town full of ordinary Portuguese going about their daily lives. It is a likeable town, which offers fascinating tourist attractions, a traditional Portuguese market and a delightful historic centre.
If you are based in one of the larger resort towns (Albufeira, Vilamoura or Quarteira), Loule is the ideal destination for a day trip, and to experience authentic Portugal. There are sufficient attractions to fill a half day of sightseeing, and the town can be easily travelled to using public transport (details later on in the article)
Our advice is to visit Loule on Saturday mornings, when both the gypsy and farmers markets are held. Loule should be avoided on Sundays and Mondays. On Sundays, the covered market is closed, while on Mondays, most museums and government managed tourist attractions are closed for the day.
If you want a peaceful trip to Loule, consider visiting between Tuesday to Friday, as on Saturday the town will be crowded with coach loads of tourists heading to the markets.
Loule is a great destination for a day trip, and this section details our recommended excursion to Loule.
The tour could be rushed through in a couple of hours, but we suggest at least four hours. This would provide a more leisurely pace of sightseeing, essential in the hot summer, and time for lunch. The interactive map of the tour is show below.
The majority of tourist’s travel to Loulé by bus and the day trip begins at the bus station (1). Next to the bus station is the Parque Municipal de Loulé (2) and the Duarte Pacheco monument. From the park wander down the Avenida 25 de Abril (3) shopping street to the centre of Loulé.
The Mercado Municipal de Loulé (4) is the best market in the Algarve, and is housed in a Moorish inspired building. Close to the market is the Câmara Municipal (town hall) and the Torre do Relógio (5), originally part of the town’s defences (wall). For a coffee pop into the Café Calcinha (A), Loule’s oldest café, which is styled as a Brazilian coffee shop and popular location with locals.
The 17th century Convento do Espírito Santo (6), has been converted into an artisan centre, and has Loule’s most prominent feature; a 45m Araucaria Pine tree. The small Capela de Nossa Senhora da Conceição (7) conceals a beautiful interior decorated with Azulejos tile paintings.
The Museu Municipal de Loulé (8) is housed in the Castelo de Loulé, and has Roman and Bronze Age exhibits, along with excavations from the original Moorish castle. For the best views of the castle walls, head to the Praça Dom Afonso III (9) plaza.
The Rua 5 de Outubro (10) is one of Loule’s prettiest shopping streets and leads to the Igreja de São Francisco (11), a uniquely styled baroque church. If you are visiting on a Saturday, this would be a good point to visit the Gypsy market Mercado (12), which is about 500m west of the church.
The next section of the tour explores the narrow-cobbled streets of the ( Cidade Velha 13). These streets are filled with traditional houses and small craftsmen’s workshops, and are a joy to wander. Hidden down a side street is the delightful Travessa Arco do Pinto (14), a little arch that connects two houses owned by the same family.
At the southern side of the Cidade Velha is the Igreja Matriz church (15), which was converted from a Moorish mosque, with the minaret being transformed into the bell tower. In medieval times the Jardim dos Amuados (16) was a graveyard and the viewpoint on the edge the gardens provide wonderful views over the region. Below the Jardim dos Amuados, is the Rua Martim Moniz, and along this street sections of the ancient town walls can be seen, which include the Torre da Vela (17).
For lunch we recommend Bica Velha (B), a traditional restaurant serving Portuguese dishes or 11 da Villa (C), an atmospheric tapas restaurant. Both restaurants are close to the castle.
The day trip could be extended by visiting the Nossa Senhora da Piedade church (18). The reward for the 20-minute uphill walk are fantastic panoramic views over the central Algarve.
The weekly market is an important aspect of Portuguese culture, and the Saturday market in Loule is the largest in the Algarve region. This market is widely touted as one of the best attractions of Loule, but if you go expecting the quintessential Portuguese market, you will be disappointed. If instead you want to experience the sights, sounds and aromas of a busy market, it can’t be beaten.
The Saturday market is designed for the Portuguese, who are seeking a bargain and tasty street food! It is filled with stalls selling cheap clothes, random hardware items and gifts that range from craft, to old jumble.The market is held on the western side of the town (GPS: 37.14041, -8.03219), and is a 10-minute walk from the castle.
While at the market do not miss the main reason most Portuguese head to the market; to eat a Bifana sandwich (a fried pork cutlet in a papo seco bread roll, with mustard sauce - delicious)
Note: If you visit the gypsy market as part of an organised tour, do head into the town centre to see the more traditional covered market.
Loule was an important Moorish city (8-12 centuries), and remnants of this North African heritage can be seen throughout the town, including the excavations below the castle, the Saint Clemente bell tower, and the Torre da Vela.
The Mercado Municipal de Loulé
A market has been held in central Loule for over one hundred years, but the current market was constructed in 2007 and was inspired by North African designs (technically Neo-Arab styling). Inside the market, family-run stalls sell locally grown or sourced produce which include fish, foods, fabrics and gifts. The market is closed on Sundays.
Museu Municipal and Castelo de Loulé
The Municipal Museum is housed in the castle and contains a series of exhibits of Roman and Bronze Age artefacts discovered within the Loule region. The grounds of the museum have been excavated to reveal the Moorish ruins that the town was built upon.
Loule castle’s origins are from the Moorish era, but the three towers and connecting battlements, which can be explored today, date from the 1260s, when the castle was strengthened under the command of Afonso III. The castle, along with most of the Algarve, was severely damaged by the 1755 earthquake. To best see the exterior of the castle head to the Praça Dom Afonso III, while from the top of the towers are wonderful views over Loule.
The medieval streets
Between the castle and the Igreja Matriz are a labyrinth of narrow cobbled alley and backstreets which follow the medieval layout of the town. These streets are filled with small workshops and artisan studios, where old craftsmen ply traditional family trades, including copper working, pottery, tile painting and furniture making. Above the small workshops are the family houses, which have been owned by the same families for generations. This section of Loule is best to explore by simply getting lost in it and wandering through the series of charming alleyways.
The Igreja Matriz (Igreja de Clemente)
The Igreja Matriz is a 13th-century gothic church that was converted from a mosque. The church has a plain whitewashed exterior, but the notable feature is the bell tower which was originally the minaret of the mosque. The church is often referred to the Igreja de Clemente, as Loule was captured from the Moors on the 23rd November (1249), the patron saint day of Saint Clemente. The church overlooks the pretty Amuados gardens, which was originally graveyard.
Nossa Senhora da Conceição
The simple exterior of the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Conceição does not reflect the beauty contained within. The interior of the small 18th-century chapel is adorned with wonderful Azulejos tile paintings while the altar is gilded with gold.
Convent of Espírito Santo
The town hall is set on the edge of the old Convent of Espírito Santo complex, which also house the municipal art gallery and a neoclassical cloister. In the centre of the convent is Loule’s most notable feature, a single Araucaria (Norfolk Island Pine) tree. The 200-year-old tree which originates from Australia is 45m tall and dwarfs all other buildings in Loule.
Most visitors travel to Loule by bus and there are direct bus services from Faro and Albufeira. Bus is the recommended means of transport to travel to Loule, as Loule train station is located 5km south of the town and will require a taxi journey.
For visitors travelling from the western side of the Algarve (Lagos or Portimão), the only public transport option is by train. The train is very slow, about 1hour 30 min from Lagos and there are limited departures, but it is possible to visit Loule as a day trip from these towns. The Algarve region train is operated by CP and the latest timetable can be see here:
Loule is not a conventional holiday destination, and most visitors are day trippers. For a holiday, Loule is more suited for the intrepid and cultural curious visitor, who wishes to escape from the common tourist haunts. Loule has a distinctly Portuguese ambience, with all services and facilities designed for the Portuguese residents of the town.
Within the Loule region there is a wide selection of rental villas and self-catering apartments, and these tend to be much better value than the coastal towns. Loule is also growing in popularity with people emigrating to Portugal, and there is a significant expat community.
For a guide to the best, hotels in Loule please click here.
Note: Loule is 10km from the nearest beaches, therefore the town should not be considered for a beach holiday.
Loule, Silves and Faro are all popular day trips but each town has it’s own positives and negatives as day trip destinations.
Silves is by far the most scenic and historic of the three. It is set on the banks of the Arade River with cobbled streets leading up the hill to the imposing red brick castle. Silves main difficulty is the limited public transport as there are only direct services to Portimão or Albufeira.
Loule is the most central and thus most accessible of the three towns but has the fewest historic monuments or major tourist sights. Loule is best visited on a Saturday when a visit can be combined with exploring the large morning market..
Faro is the largest of the three day trip destinations and, is sadly often overlooked as an excursion. Faro has a pretty old town that is surrounded by ancient Moorish walls while the town centre is pedestrianised and lined with open-air cafes. Departing from Faro’s harbour are tours of the Ria Formosa natural park, a series of saltwater lagoons and waterways.