A perfect day out from the coastal Algarve, Silves is a lovely medieval town nestled between citrus groves and vineyards.
The town was the capital of the Algarve during the Moorish era, in its heyday.
The citadel on the top of the hill is a monument to Islamic rule before the 13th century.
Great works of Moorish architecture have been unearthed in Silves. The castle has remains of a palace, while the Archaeological Museum incorporates a medieval cistern in its design.
In August, this rich heritage hosts fairs, equestrianism, music, dance and historical reenactments.
Let’s explore the best events in Silves:
1. Silvestre Castle
Silves has been in the hands of the Moors for nearly 500 years, and the timeless monument of this period is the castle.
The building hasn’t changed much since the caliphs of the 12th and 13th centuries.
Like all the best castles, you can climb the parapet and contemplate the view of Munchik Mountain from between the Mellons.
An 11th-century Moorish palace has also been unearthed within the city walls, and exciting fragments such as multi-foil windows have been exposed.
There’s a lot going on underground in the castle courtyard, where you can enter a 10-meter-high cistern and peek through a well 60 meters below the ground.
2. Silves Cathedral
The cathedral was built after Sylvester was recaptured from the Moors in the 13th century, and may even have been built where the old mosque once stood.
Architecture is predominantly Gothic, and the cathedral is regarded as the finest religious monument of this era in southern Portugal.
Additional decorations were added later, but the cathedral’s charm lies in the understated grandeur of the columns and arches of the nave, the bright red sandstone arches in the portals, and the vaulted arches between the transept altars.
3. Museu Municipal de Arqueologia de Silves
The town’s excellent archaeological museum was built around a cistern dating from the 12th century Almohad Caliphate.
It is 20 meters deep and there is a spiral staircase that takes you to the tank, which has been turned into an exhibition space.
Further excavations around the town uncovered finds dating back to the Neolithic, including the Bronze and Bronze Ages, Roman Age, Visigoths and Moors.
Moorish artifacts make up the bulk of the museum’s collection, but make time for Iron Age tombstones, whose textual inscriptions remain a mystery to historians.
4. Silves Old Town
A tourist attraction built from the Sylvis Coast may have a little shock to the system.
Things are much slower here, and you can spend time hanging out at roadside cafes, stopping for a coffee or a cold drink.
The historic district sits close to a hill, topped by a castle and cathedral, still dominated by a muscular gate that takes you up the steep Rua da Sé.
Pause by the town hall, and in the exquisite arched square by the gate, you will also see the pillory, a monument to the town’s autonomy and the place where criminals were once punished in public.
5. Portugal Cruise
On the way to São Bartolomeu de Messines, a minute or two outside Silves is a beautiful and mysterious national monument.
In a small sanctuary there is a limestone cross with ornate masonry of the kind popular in the High Gothic period.
A cross on one side and a Pieta on the other showing Mary holding the body of Christ.
No one knows exactly where it came from, but analysis of the stone suggests it dates back to the late 15th century.
Limestone with a creamy hue is not found in the Algarve, so it was likely carved further north.
6. Praia de Armação de Pêra
The town of Silves is not on the coast, but the wider municipality includes Armação de Pêra, a fishing village turned beach destination.
Main Beach is everything you could want from a beach in the Algarve: a long, gently curving bay with a wide stretch of golden sand beaten by ankle-high waves.
The water may not be very shallow, but the east side of the beach keeps strong waves and currents away.
And you don’t need to walk more than a few meters to get a drink, snack or meal, as there are rows of bars in the wooden huts at the rear.
7. Playa Grande Pera
Essentially, Praia Grande is just a continuation of Armação de Pêra’s main beach.
The big difference is that this one is further from the bay and farther from the resort.
Instead of bars and apartment buildings, there are sand dunes and Salgados lagoons.
To preserve the fragile ecosystem in the dunes, you can only reach the beach from the resort by walking along the coast or across a long pedestrian bridge that crosses the lagoon.
The walk is worth it as there are signs of wildlife you’ll see in this almost Mars-like environment.
8. Mercado Municipal
There’s nowhere like a market that gives you a glimpse into everyday life in a small Portuguese town, and the town of Silves is buzzing six days a week.
Even if you don’t need fresh fruit, vegetables, meat or fish, you should still go for lively conversations and friendly bargains.
The busiest day is Saturday, when merchants from all over come to town and set up stalls in the square.
Built during the Estado Novo regime in the mid-20th century, the building pays homage to Silves’ medieval heritage.
9. Viha Bridge
Another legacy of medieval Silves is the proud 15th century Arad Bridge.
There is debate as to whether this was built using materials from the old structure.
Silves is located at the intersection of two Roman roads, so there is a good chance that this place has been a 2000-year-old intersection.
Either way, it’s a worthy landmark, and its whitewashed walls look great against the green river and hills behind.
There is a row of plane trees along the coast, you can take a breath and enjoy a moment.
10. Swipe and splash
Anyone visiting with kids or teens has no choice but to plan a day at this water park.
Slide & Splash is one of the largest attractions of its kind in Europe, with a series of slides that will tire even the most energetic kids.
The main rides are all strategically placed in a raised position so you can splash around in one pool and immediately start queuing for the next.
The park also has some handy bonuses that you don’t always find in water parks: you can bring your own food, and the restaurant is actually pretty good and has lighter options instead of fast food.
Slide & Splash is also huge with extensive green space where you can rent parasols and sun loungers.
11. Silves Medieval Market
Where better to host a medieval fair than the former capital of the kingdom of the Algarve.
For about ten days in mid-August, Silves’ medieval cityscape becomes the stage for reenactments, music and dance.
You can taste medieval cuisine and watch falconry shows, snake charmers, jugglers, street theatre and equestrian competitions.
The town is filled with the sights, sounds and smells of the Algarve 1,000 years ago (luckily there are only good places), and the market has more than 200 artisans and merchants peddling their wares by the castle walls.
12. Boat tour
Armação de Pêra is also the launch pad for cruise ships to the caves on the rugged coastline west of the town.
There are 18 to discover, and plenty more vying for your business.
Many captains are fishermen in the winter, operating cruises during the high tourist season.
The caves are extraordinary, especially on a sunny day, with yellow rocks layered in shades of red and orange.
If you only see one cave, change it to Gruta de Benagil, which is lit from an opening in the ceiling like a natural skylight.
13. Horseback riding
The low hills outside Silves are light brown, with solitary cork oaks on the slopes and eucalyptus and citrus groves in the valleys.
On higher ground you can see the unforgettable Serra de Monchique, the sea, Portimao and the Silves.
The Country Riding Centre will take your experience into consideration and arrange a short ride through the countryside, or a longer or more adventurous activity.
It can take care of children as young as two, so don’t worry if you’re a newbie.
These horses are calm and responsive, and more experienced riders will be able to try a trot or canter.
14. Wine Tourism
Silves has more wine producers within its borders than any other city in the Algarve.
There are eight in total, and they fall under the “Vinhos de Silves” label, which you might see on wine menus at local restaurants.
Warm climates and ripe grapes bring warm, full-bodied flavors to red and white wines.
Silves’ wineries have also started catering to tourists, arranging tours that allow you to taste and buy their wines on site.
Quinta do Francês, located in the northwest, is an unforgettable drive through the foothills of the Serra de Monchique.
Also nearby is Quinta da Vinha, while the Lagoa Agricultural Cooperative also offers daily tours and tastings.
With the mountainous wilderness and coast within its territory, Silves’ cuisine can change depending on where you dine.
If you’re in the mountains, wild boar, partridge rabbit, and other game dishes are roasted in simple hearty dishes (all paired with local red wine). But at the water’s edge, fish and seafood are in order, whether it’s salted mackerel, stuffed squid or cataplana and caldeirada, two quintessential Portuguese seafood stews.
Caldeirada mixes fish and shellfish in a tomato and potato broth and is even the subject of an annual festival held every June in Armação de Pêra.
Buy some citrus fruits at the market, such as oranges and tangerines, which are grown right here in Silves.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Silves, Portugal
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