The best independent guide to the Algarve
The best independent guide to the Algarve
Loulé is an authentic Portuguese market town, and a popular destination for a day trip.
Visitors are drawn to Loule, for its characterful historic centre, lively markets and genuine Portuguese atmosphere.
The focal point of Loulé is the Arabian inspired covered market, with stalls selling fresh produce and regional handicrafts. 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 (the Cidade Velha), is an ancient castle, a Gothic church and traditional tradesmen’s houses.
Loule is a peaceful and unhurried town, but it comes alive on Saturday mornings, when two additional markets are held in the town. There is a farmers’ market hosted in the streets surrounding the covered market and a vibrant gypsy market on the edge of the town.
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. This gives Loule a very different atmosphere to the hectic resort towns, while the numerous fascinating sights can easily fill a half-day of sightseeing.
The Mercado Municipal de Loulé – The largest covered market in southern Portugal, which hosts a variety of stalls ranging from fresh fish to local handicrafts.
The authentic Portuguese atmosphere – Loulé is the best location in the Algarve to experience typical Portuguese daily life; the streets are packed with Portuguese shoppers, the cafes are full with locals, and the restaurants serve delicious regional dishes.
The Cidade Velha – The delightful maze of narrow cobbled streets around the Rua Almeida Garrett, that follow the original medieval layout of Loule. Along these streets are traditional craftsmen’s houses, which have their workshops and storefronts opening onto the street.
The Igreja Matriz de São Clemente – The Gothic church of Loule that was constructed on the site of a Moorish Mosque. The church’s bell tower was originally a minaret, and is the only mosque building from the Moorish era (8-12th century) that is still standing in Portugal.
Loule is a fantastic destination for a day trip, and offers an interesting mix of historic sights and Portuguese culture.
The town can be seen within three hours of sightseeing, but a trip is usually longer to browse the shops and have lunch.
For your day trip, there is decent public transport to Loule, with bus services to all of the major towns of the region (details later).
Below is an interactive map of a suggested tour of Loule, which begins from the bus station. (Note: zoom out to see all of the points)
Sights of the tour: 1) Avenida 25 de Abril (shopping street) 2) Loulé covered market 3) Torre do Relógio 4) Espírito Santo convent 5) Nossa Senhora da Conceição chapel 6) Loule castle 7) Praça Dom Afonso III 8) Pinto arch 9) Rua Almeida Garrett 10) Matriz de São Clemente church 11) Jardim dos Amuados 12) Ermida gateway 13) Loulé park
Sights around Loule: 14) Nossa Senhora da Piedade 15) Gypsy market 16) Rock salt Mine Tour
The best day to visit Loulé is 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.
The weekly market is an important aspect of Portuguese culture, and Loule’s Saturday Gypsy market is the largest in the Algarve.
This market is widely touted as one of the best attractions of Loule, but if you go expecting a 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 Gypsy Saturday market is designed for Portuguese locals, who are wanting a bargain and to eat tasty street food. The market is filled with stalls selling cheap clothes, random hardware items and 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 delicious street food. A favourite as 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 (8-12th century) and remnants of this North African heritage can be seen throughout the town. This includes the excavations below the castle, the Matriz de São Clemente bell tower, the Torre da Vela, and the newly discovered Islamic baths.
The Mercado Municipal de Loulé
A market has been held in central Loule for over one hundred years. The covered market was constructed in 2007 and was inspired by Loule’s Moorish history and follows a 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 exhibits of Roman and Bronze Age artefacts discovered in the Loule region. The grounds of the museum have been excavated to reveal the Moorish buildings that the castle was constructed upon.
Loule castle’s origins are from the Moorish era, but the three towers and connecting battlements were constructed by the Portuguese in 1260. The castle was severely damaged by the 1755 earthquake and was extensively restored during the 1940s.
The best views of the castle battlements are from the Praça Dom Afonso III.
The Cidade Velha
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 TechSalt salt mine
The salt mine of Loule is the only deep excavation of salt within Portugal, and the mine descends for 230m beneath the town. There are tours of the mine and tickets (€25) can be purchased from here.
The Igreja Matriz de São Clemente
The Igreja Matriz is a 13th-century gothic church that was converted from a mosque. The church has a plain whitewashed exterior, with a simplistic Gothic portal.
The church is named after Saint Clemente, as Loule was captured from the Moors on the 23rd November (1249), the patron saint day of Saint Clemente.
The Amuados garden in front of the church was originally a graveyard, and from this high vantage point are fantastic views over the region.
The bell tower dates from the Moorish era and was originally a Mosque’s minaret
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, and 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 houses 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 originates from Australia, is 45m tall and dwarfs all other buildings in Loule.
The Araucaria tree stands high above the Espírito Santo convent
Loule is not a conventional holiday destination, and most visitors are day-trippers. For a holiday, Loule is more suited for the culturally curious visitor, who wishes to escape from the common tourist locations. 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 ex-pat community.
Note: Loule is 10km from the nearest beaches; therefore the town should not be considered for a beach holiday.
The map below shows the location of the best hotels and rental rooms in Loule; if you adjust it to the dates of your holiday, it will display current prices and availability:
Most visitors travel to Loule by bus and there are direct bus services from Faro and Albufeira. The 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.
A bus ticket from Faro to Loule costs €3.25/€6.50 (single/return) while from Albufeira to Loulé costs €4.30€/ €8.60 (single/return). Both bus journeys take 40 minutes and the services are operated by Eva buses. The latest timetables can be seen on their website:
Loule bus station is to the north of the town centre and it is just a short walk (300m) along the busy shopping street of Avenida 25 de Abril to the town centre and market.
Loule bus station is surprisingly large considering the few departures…
If you are travelling from the western 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 seen here: