The best independent guide to Portimão
The best independent guide to Portimão
Portimão is the largest city in the western Algarve, and was traditionally a centre for shipbuilding, sardine fishing and fish processing. Today, most of that industry has been replaced by tourism, leisure, and retail, leaving Portimão as a large and residential city. Most tourists visit Portimão either for the extensive shopping or when using public transport, but there is a surprising amount to be seen within the city.
The city’s old and once bustling fishing docks have been responsibly transformed into a scenic promenade, leading to the quaint and tree-lined plazas of the old town. Further inland are pleasant pedestrian shopping streets, a series of historic buildings, and a varied selection of cafes, bars, and restaurants specialising in freshly cooked seafood.
Despite its considerable size – 56,000 residents – the city of Portimão has a low-key and relaxed ambience, far removed from the surrounding hectic beach towns. This article will provide an introduction to Portimão, as well as links to further detailed information.
• Strolling along the Ribeirinha as it follows the old docks to the Praca de Bivar
• The Igreja do Colégio and the Praça da República, the heart of the Portimão
• The Museu de Portimão, celebrating the fishing heritage of the region
• The pretty shopping streets of Portimão
• The beautiful Azulejo tile paintings in the Jardim 1º de Dezembro, which depict the history of Portugal
For tourists new to the Algarve, Portimão and Praia da Rocha, may seem to be used interchangeably and refer to the same area region. Praia da Rocha is 3km to the south of Portimão, but while relatively close, they are different in almost every conceivable way.
Praia da Rocha is a modern, purpose-built town packed full of hotels and bars, that is situated along a stunning beach, and is primarily designed for foreign tourists. Portimão, by contrast, is a largely residential city located on the banks of the Arade River, filled with Portuguese working families. Portimão's restaurants, cafes and shops are largely aimed towards a traditional, localised clientele.
Although some travel guides do refer to Portimão as having beaches, this is in fact not true, and they are all located 3km south in Praia da Rocha. Generally speaking, most tourists seeking a beach holiday will choose Praia da Rocha over Portimão.
Related articles: Introduction to Praia da Rocha - Portimão beach guide
Portimão makes for an enjoyable day trip, especially if coming from the beach resort of Praia da Rocha. The historic centre has a distinctively Portuguese ambience, with plazas filled with open-air cafes, connected by pedestrianised shopping streets and a series of religious buildings.
Portimão can be comfortably and fully explored in half a day, and a suggested walking tour is show in the interactive map below:
Begin at the tour at the Museu de Portimão (1) to learn about the history and heritage of the city. Wander from the museum up along the Ribeirinha (2) (the old harbourfront) to the Jardim Visconde Bivar (3). This is an 800m walk and passes marinas, docks and possibly a moored pirate ship!
See the Jardim 1º de Dezembro plaza (4) with its tile paintings and stop for coffee and cake at the Pastelaria Arade (5). View the outside of the baroque Câmara Municipal de Portimão (city hall) (6)
Visit the Praça da República (7) and enter the Igreja do Colégio (8) with its austere interior. Head to the Nossa Senhora da Conceição (9), the main church of Portimao. Visit the Mercado de Portimão (10), the traditional morning market of Portimao. If shopping is your thing you could visit the modern Centro Comercial Aqua Portimão.
For lunch: Head to the traditional seafood restaurants around the cobbled streets of the Rua da Barca. Restaurants include; Taberna da Maré, Trinca Espinhas, Dona Barca or Forte e Feio, to try some delicious freshly grilled sardines or fresh fish.
This tour would take 2-3 hours, depending on how long was spent in the museum or taken for lunch!
A day trip to Portimão could be combined with a visit to Ferragudo, which lies on the opposite side of the Arada River. Ferragudo is a traditional Portuguese fishing village, and the surrounding coastline is lined by beautiful beaches. During the summer a ferry crosses the river and connects Portimão to Ferragudo.
Related article: Day trip to Ferragudo
Further up the Arada River is Silves, the ancient capital of the Algarve. Silves contains an imposing castle, heavily fortified walls and a delightful historic centre, which is a joy to explore. Silves can be reached by bus, but a much more memorable journey is by tour on one of the boats which depart from the northern end of the Ribeirinha.
Related article: Guide to Silves
Though Portimao is significantly larger than Praia da Rocha, it offers a more low-key and calmer holiday destination. Portimão has an all-round relaxed atmosphere, and unlike Praia da Rocha, its pleasant pedestrianised shopping streets are not crammed with foreigners. The restaurants and cafes of Portimão are geared towards the Portuguese, selling more traditional meals at much better value.
Portimão also has excellent public transport connections, with both bus and rail services connecting the city with the entire western Algarve region. For that reason, people looking for a multi-city/touring holiday might wish to consider Portimão over Praia da Rocha.
For a summary of the best hotels in the Portimao region, please see this link to Booking.com.
Portimao has a pretty harbour front and historic centre but it is a major city, without the Portuguese charm of many other Algarve destinations. Many of the apartment blocks, particularly on the outskirts of the city, date back to the 1980s and have a tired or worn appearance. It should be said that Portimão remains perfectly safe as a holiday destination, but it’s just not full of gleaming white hotels, ultra-modern apartments, or traditionally painted houses.
The Museu de Portimão
The Museu de Portimão celebrates the city’s primary industry during the 19th and 20th centuries: sardine processing. The museum is housed in the La Rosa, one of the largest factories of the city, which closed in the 1980s. Part of the museum consists of the restored processing lines, while the remainder contains exhibits detailing the regional history. €3 entry for a fascinating museum.
Nossa Senhora da Conceição
The Nossa Senhora da Conceição is the principal church of Portimão, and is positioned on the highest point of the city. The façade of the church follows that of a simplistic 18th century Manueline styling, and does not reflect the actual age of the church. The Nossa Senhora da Conceição was originally constructed in 1470 and closely resembled the grand gothic Batalha Monastery ,but as with much of Portimao, was severely damaged by the 1755 earthquake. The only remaining gothic feature is the main portal, while inside are decorative Azulejos tile paintings.
Igreja do Colégio
Igreja do Colégio was the church and educational centre for the Jesuits, and is the largest church in the Algarve. The interior is sparse and plain following the belief of the Jesuits. The entire complex dates from the 17th century and was funded by a local businessman, Diogo Gonçalves, whose one condition for the construction was that he was buried in the church.
Convento de São Francisco
The Convento de São Francisco, is a 16th-century Manueline styled Franciscan convent, which has sadly degraded into unsafe ruins that have no public to access. The convent was damaged by the 1755 earthquake and left to decay after the dissolution of religious orders in 1834.
Portimão’s excellent public transport connections mean that the entire western Algarve can be easily reached via convenient, inexpensive bus or train services. The two most popular day trips are to the towns of Lagos and Silves.
Silves served as the Algarve region’s ancient capital, and the tourist attractions here reflect its rich and extensive history. The famous and imposing red-brick castle is one of the largest in The Algarve, and the town’s solid boundary walls encircle the historic centre.
Lagos, in contrast, is a much larger city and was the centre for Portugal’s 14th century age of exploration. With a plethora of symbolic historical attractions including a fort, ancient city walls, decorative churches, and even a former slave market, Lagos is far from short of fascinating discoveries.
Within walking distance of the city are also the highly-weathered cliffs of the Ponta da Piedade, regarded as one of the best natural features of the Algarve and indeed Portugal. Reaching as high as 20 meters in some places, the rocks feature a series of caves and caverns, many of which can be explored by boat.
Related articles: Lagos introduction – Silves introduction
Portimão is the largest city of the region and is a major hub for public transport. The train station is conveniently located to the north of the city centre (GPS: 37.14435, -8.53725) and is connected to the Algarve regional railway, with services to the west (Lagos) or the east (Faro, Tavira, Vila Real de Santo António). At Tunes (and Faro) there are connections to express services to central and northern Portugal. All services can be seen on the CP (Comboios de Portugal) website:
Vamus is the regional bus company of the Algarve and provides services to Silves, Lagos, Albufeira, and Vilamoura. Rede Expressos is the intercity bus company with links covering the whole of Portugal. More information about services from Portimao can be seen on their respective websites:
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Note: The departure location of the intercity buses has moved to the Rua da Abicada bus station, north of the train station (GPS: 37.14684, -8.53564). The regional buses services depart from the Largo do Dique station (GPS: 37.13694, -8.53538), which is near the northern side of the Ribeirinha. The two bus stations are separated by 1.5km (and a walk of 2km). Always confirm the departure location of your bus when purchasing the ticket.