The best independent guide to Tavira
The best independent guide to Tavira
Tavira is the gem of the eastern Algarve.
The town boasts a rich history, fascinating tourist attractions, and glorious sandy beaches. Tavira makes for a fantastic holiday destination and is equally enjoyable as a day trip from the surrounding region.
This guide will detail the best of Tavira, and is divided into two sections. The first section will highlight the most popular activities for a holiday to Tavira, while the second section will detail the sights of the town.
Related articles: Tavira introduction – Tavira beaches
The interactive map below shows the highlights of Tavira (green markers) and the best of the Tavira region (yellow markers). (Note: Zoom in/out to see all of the pins)
For a full guide to the best day trips and sights of the eastern Algarve please see this article.
Tavira has a charming historic centre, and it is a joy to discover the rich history of the town. Tavira was an important Moorish trading town during the 8-10th century, later a major port in the 14th century, and was completely rebuilt after the devastating 1755 earthquake.
This diverse history means there is a lot to see, including 36 churches, the ruins of the castle and the delightful tiled houses of the fishermen’s quarter. Along with the historic sights there are pretty plazas, riverside walks and streets crammed with restaurants and cafes.
Tavira has a pristine coastline of sandy beaches and calm turquoise seawaters.
The beaches are found on the seaward side of the Ilha de Tavira, and this island has a continuous sandy beach stretching for over 10km. The most popular beach is the Praia de Tavira, and is reached by a ferry that departs from central Tavira. Further to the west are the quieter beaches of Praia do Barril and Praia da Terra Estreita.
Related articles: Tavira beach guide
The Parque Natural da Ria Formosa are the salt lagoons and tidal mudflats, between the Ilha de Tavira and the mainland.
These wetlands have extensive wildlife, being an important location for migratory birds and wading birds. The region also protects the fragile marine ecosystems, which includes the world’s largest concentration of seahorse, and preserves traditional fishing techniques and fishing communities.
The waterways are best explored by boat and informative tours departing from Tavira harbour. An alternative method is to hire a kayak or SUP and paddle through the calm waters.
The Praia do Barril is a beautiful beach, that up until the 1960s, was the location of a Bluefin Tuna fishing village. The fishing huts have been converted into beach restaurants and bars, while the numerous anchors used for tuna fishing have been lined in the sandbanks, and are known as the Cemitério das Âncoras (Anchor Cemetery).
There is an enjoyable 4-hour hiking route which leads 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.
Related articles: Praia do Barril and Anchor Cemetery guide
Fancy riding a horse along a deserted beach? Tavira Equestrian Tourism organises daily horse rides for all abilities and ages, which can include routes along the beach; https://taviraequestriantourism.com/
Tavira is ideally positioned so that the whole of the eastern Algarve can be visited as day trips. To the west of Tavira are the historic city of Faro and the fishing port of Olhão. To the east is Vila Real de Santo António and the lively resort of Monte Gordo. All of these towns are connected to Tavira by the inexpensive regional railway.
Related articles: Day trips from Tavira
The eastern Algarve boasts some of the finest golf courses of southern Portugal. There is the prestigious Monte Rei (designed by Jack Nicklaus), the beautiful setting of the Benamor Golf Course or the challenging course at Castro Marim. Being on the slightly less touristy eastern Algarve the courses allow for a more unhurried game.
Castro Marim Golf: https://www.castromarimresort.com/
Benamor Golf: http://www.benamorgolf.com/
Monte Rei Golf & Country Club: https://www.monte-rei.com/en/golf/
Tavira is a compact town, and is a joy to explore for a day trip. The town is divided into two by the Gilão River, with the original Moors settlement on the western bank, while the eastern side developed later (15th century onwards) and is more classical Portuguese.
The Castelo de Tavira was an important stronghold for the Moors, positioned on the highest point of the region to guard the river and town. The walls were strengthened by the Portuguese King, Dinis I in 1292 and again in 1672, but the entire complex was severely damaged by the 1755 earthquake.
Today the castle's courtyard has been transformed into an ornamental garden, and the battlements can be climbed, providing panoramic views over the town.
The Igreja de Santa Maria was originally the largest mosque in the Algarve, before being converted into a church after the Reconquista of Tavira in 1242. The original gothic church was rebuilt in a neo-classical style after the 1755 earthquake.
Advice: From the top of the bell tower (€2.50 entrance) are some of the best views of Tavira.
The Praça da República is the main plaza of Tavira and historically was the market square. Standing at the centre is a monument dedicated to the soldiers of the First World War.
Every morning a lively market is held in the Mercado Municipal, with stalls selling fish, fresh produce and local handicraft. This is a great location to experience typical Portuguese daily life, and also find a bargain gift.
There has been a bridge crossing the Gilão River at this point since the Roman era, but the bridge that you cross today dates from the 17th century. At low tide fishermen scour the riverbed for clams and shellfish.
The Mercado da Ribeira is the former covered market, which now houses a selection of restaurants and shops. The market opens out on the Jardim Público de Tavira with its decorative wrought iron bandstand and views along the Gilão River.
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