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Tavira activities, sightseeing, things to do and see

Tavira is a delightful Portuguese town that has retained its traditional charm and cultural heritage, while the surrounding coastline offers stunning beaches. The eastern Algarve makes for a much calmer and relaxed holiday destination than the hectic western Algarve, but there is still a wide range of excellent sights, activities and things to do in Tavira.

This guide will detail the best of these sights and activities and is divided into two sections; the first section will highlight the most popular activities for a holiday, while the second section will list the major monuments and historical buildings in Tavira.

Ilha de Tavira ferry

Happy tourists heading to Ilha de Tavira for a day on the beach



Things to do - for a holiday to Tavira

Relax on the stunning beaches of Tavira

Tavira has a stunning coastline of pristine beaches, which are situated on the sand bar islands to the southern side of the Ria Formosa Natural Park. The largest of these sand bar islands is the Ilha de Tavira, which has a 12km unbroken sandy coastline of beautiful beaches. These beaches offer soft golden sands, crystal clear waters and retain their natural setting, with almost no tourist development.

The beach closest to Tavira is the Praia de Tavira, which is connected to the town by a regular and inexpensive ferry service. The two other recommended beaches are the Praia de Terra Estreita and the Praia do Barril. Barril was once a tuna fishing community and is the setting for the Anchor Cemetery, while the Praia de Terra Estreita is one of the quietest beaches of the region. For a guide to the beaches of Tavira please click here.

tavira beach

This deserted beach is only a 15 minute walk from Praia de Tavira

Exploring the historic centre of Tavira

Tavira was an important Moorish defensive stronghold, a major port during the 14th century and completely rebuilt after the devastating 1755 earthquake. This extensive and varied history is reflected in the diverse selection of historical monuments found throughout Tavira. Contained within the old town are over 36 churches, ancient monasteries and the ruins of the Moorish castle.

Lining the banks of the Gilão River are grand 18th-century mansions, while in the cobbled backstreets and little plazas are traditional tiled or painted house. Tavira is a very scenic town and an enjoyable day can be spent wandering and exploring the historic centre. The main sights of the town are detailed later in this article.

tavira history

The castle and the Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo church

The Ria Formosa Natural Park

The Ria Formosa Natural Park are the salt lagoons and tidal mudflats, which were formed by the tsunami of the 1755 earthquake. These wetlands have extensive bird life and are important location for migratory birds, but the nature park designation is to protect the fragile marine ecosystems.

The park incorporates many small fishing communities and this has ensured the continuation of sustainable fishing using traditional techniques. Found throughout the Ria Formosa are salt flats which produce salt in the most basic method, drying seawater under the intense summer sun. The park is best explored by boat and there are informative tours that depart from the harbour of Tavira.

Ria Formasa

The view from Tavira over the Ria Formosa

Hire a Kayak and explore the Ria Formosa

Paddling the waterways of the Ria Formosa Nature Park by kayak is one of the most enjoyable activities of Tavira. The waters are calm, the setting is tranquil and the kayak allows navigation of the shallow tidal estuaries. The peacefulness of the Kayak does not disturb the wildlife, allowing visitors to get very close to the varied birds. Kayaks can be hired independently or there are Kayak tours, and all information can be found from the harbour front.

Ria Formasa

The calm waters of the Ria Formosa

Dining on Fine and Traditional Cuisines

Tavira has a mature nightlife scene, which is focused around long evening meals, with good food and plenty of locally produced wines. During the evening, the smell of freshly cook fish fills the historic centre, as tourists and locals alike dine al-fresco, on dishes that are based upon fish caught earlier in the day.

One of the most popular dishes of the Algarve is Cataplana, a hearty rice and seafood stew that is served in a large copper pot and is shared between two. Portugal provides exceptional value when it does to eating out and all meals should be accompanied with a locally produced wine, which often costs little more than a glass of water.


Cataplana is served in a traditional copper dish

Hire a bike and cycle to....

Tavira is connected to the Algarve cycle path, a purpose constructed route that is perfectly suited for cyclists of all abilities. This route heads west to the fishing village of Santa Luzia and further onwards to Praia do Barril beach. In an easterly direction, the cycle path passes through the sleepy resort town of Cabanas, which has beaches as good as Tavira but much quieter. For the more adventurous, the cycle path continues all the way to Monte Gordo and Vila Real, 25km away. As the cycle route follows the coastline there are no major hills to contend with….

Santa Luzia

The fishing fleet of Santa Luzia

A banging night out!

Tavira may be traditional and calm but the town contains one of the best night clubs of the Algarve, Ubi. The club has converted an abandoned factory and transformed it into one of the trendiest venues of the Algarve. Ubi is open every day during the summer season but the biggest nights are at the weekend when banging club music continues until the sun rises.

Hike to Praia do Barril beach

There is an enjoyable 4-hour hiking route which goes from Tavira to Barril beach and passes through the villages of Santa Luzia and Pedras d'El-Rei. The return route can follow the beach to Praia de Tavira and catch the ferry back to central Tavira. This is a very scenic hiking route and a great way to see the region.

Cemetery Of Anchors Barril beach

The Cemetery of Anchors on Barril beach
Tavira Morning Market

The best location to experience normal Portuguese daily life is to visit the lively morning food market. On sale are a range of freshly caught fish, locally grown fruit and deliciously sweet cakes and freshly baked breads. The market is a noisy and busy affair with sellers promoting their stock while eagle-eyed housewives hunt for the best products and prices.

Mercado Municipal tavira

The colorful flower and vegetable section of the Tavira market

Discover the Eastern Algarve

Tavira is ideally positioned so that whole of the eastern Algarve can be visited as day trips and all of the major towns are connected by the inexpensive regional train. To the west of Tavira are the towns of Faro, a historic walled city, and Olhao a busy fishing port, while to the east are Monte Gordo, a modern resort town and Vila Real a charming harbour town.

From Vila Real it is even possible to cross the Guadiana River and visit Spain. A rental car provides increased flexibility and allowing more of the region can be explored, and driving in the Algarve is not difficult. For a guide to the best day trips from Tavira please click here.

tavira railway

The Tavira railway is the best way to explore the region

Visit the Cinema

There is a modern cinema in the Tavira Gran-Plaza, the large out of town shopping complex and this is a great activity for a wet day. The latest Hollywood blockbusters are not dubbed into Portuguese but will have English audio with Portuguese subtitles. The only exception are children’s movies which will have a Portuguese dialogue.

Sights, attractions and monuments of Tavira

Tavira Castle

The partially restored castle was constructed by the North African Moors, when Tavira was an important trading city. Today the castle has been transformed into a decorative garden, but the battlements and walls still can be climbed and provide wonderful views over the town. The castle is small and can be fully seen in less than 20 minutes.

Tavira castle

The battlements of Tavira castle

Camera Obscura

The most unique attraction of Tavira is the former water tower which has been converted into a Camera Obscura – a camera that projects the panoramic view of the city into the darkened interior of the water tower.

Igreja da Misericórdia

The Igreja da Misericórdia is the finest example of Renaissance architecture in the Algarve. The exterior of the church is rather bland except for the main Portal but inside there are beautiful azulejos tiles.

The Ponte De Roman

There has always been a bridge crossing the Gilão River at this point since the roman era, but the actual pedestrian bridge dates from the 17th century.

tavira portugal Roman Bridge

The Roman Bridge in Tavira

The Ribeira Market

The decorative former market has been converted into a series of shops and restaurants, and is an enjoyable place for a relaxing lunch or dinner.


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The best guide to Tavira