Probably the most beautiful town in the Algarve, Tavira is a seaside resort that takes tourism in stride and maintains its ancient character. The town straddles the banks of the Geelong River and enters the Atlantic Ocean at the Ria Formosa Natural Park.
You can spend time in the ancient streets and alleys on both sides of the river, stopping for lunch of seafood just caught a few hours ago. The outer shores of Ria Formosa are local beaches, which you can reach in minutes by miniature train, ferry or water taxi.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Tavira:
1. Praia do Barril
The barrier island of Ilha de Tavira is a world-class beach.
Praia do Barril has a long and wide strip of white sand with rows of parasols and sun loungers, and a dune system at the back.
Kids will have fun on the journey as after parking on the shore you will board a miniature train.
It crosses dunes and creeks until you reach the remains of an ancient tuna fishing community.
Their cabins and homes are now beach restaurants and mini-museums, while anchors for fishing fleets have been planted in the dunes as monuments to a bygone era.
2. Tavira Castle
Tavira Castle is the best relic of the Moorish era in the town, with walls dating back to the Almoravid dynasty in the 1000s.
It was later strengthened during the Allah Mohad Caliphate in the 12th century, and many of the surviving remains date from that time.
You can figure out that the walls are made of compacted clay and gravel, and there is an “Albarana Tower” to climb to get the full panorama.
This watchtower connected to the city wall by a staircase is the hallmark of a Moorish fortress.
These are older elements, while the rest of the castle has been restored after the Reconquista.
You can also observe the town from the ramparts and stop for a few minutes in the gardens, which are always lovely when the centennial bougainvillea is in bloom.
3. Igreja da Misericórdia
The Renaissance façade of this church requires your attention, which is from the church building of the mid-16th century.
In the central niche is the image of Mary as “Our Lady of Mercy”, flanked by high reliefs of St. Peter and Paul.
See the Portuguese coat of arms and the high quality stonework on the frieze above the doorway and the pilasters on the sides.
See also the Renaissance columns inside, capitalized with gargoyles, while the azulejo panels on the walls feature episodes from the life of Christ.
4. Fado com História
Fado com História is a popular spot where you can enjoy a wonderful performance of Fado (Portuguese music genre).
A video will introduce you to the genre and its rich history, followed by a live performance.
After the live show, guests will be invited to enjoy a free glass of port wine and traditional tapas from the Algarve with the artist.
You will find it next to the Church (Igreja da Misericórdia).
For more information and show times, visit fadocomhistoria.com
5. Playa da Ilha de Tavira
The beach closest to town is also the busiest.
As the name suggests, it is located on a barrier island separated from the mainland by a small waterway.
The ferry round trip costs EUR 2, round trip all day.
After landing, after passing a campsite, you come across a stretch of spotless sand that seems to be there forever.
Sun loungers and umbrellas are a far cry from the next one, and you can choose from a number of restaurants, many of which offer free Wi-Fi if you can’t help bragging to your friends.
6. Tavira Camera Obscura
Not to be confused with “Torre Tavira” in the Spanish city of Cadiz, Tavira has its own camera obscura, installed in a converted water tower.
The tower was built in 1931 near the castle and Igreja Matriz.
After decades of abandonment, a camera obscura was installed inside the tank, using carefully positioned mirrors to project a live image of the town onto a table in a darkened room.
You’ll get a clear view of what’s going on around Tavira, and a brief introduction to the mechanics that make this possible.
7. Ponte Antiga Sobre o Rio Gilão
Often described as a “Roman Bridge”, this structure spanning the Geelong River isn’t all that old, but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile.
The bridge is likely from the Moorish era in the 1100s and then took on its present appearance in the 1600s.
This is a pedestrian-only crosswalk that you can enjoy as it is the best vantage point for the Tavira riverside mansions and Republic Square.
Niches above the watershed feature benches where you can admire the slow-flowing river and views of Tavira’s historic town.
8. Republic Square
Home to the Tourist Office of Tavira and the beginning of a walk around Tavira, the pedestrian street’s Republic Square has an elegance unmatched in the Algarve.
On one side is the whitewashed Town Hall, like a beautiful arcade, and on the other is a chain of bars and restaurant terraces where you can dine alfresco at night, or have a coffee during the day.
Hidden next to this row is a Moorish horseshoe arch that was once part of the castle’s defenses.
9. Jardim do Coreto
You can continue your excursion around Tavira by entering Jardim do Coreto, joining Praça da República to the river.
Palms, hardwoods, flower beds and mosaic-patterned walkways are the perfect places to rest or get your bearings.
The park is also a frequent destination for local seniors, who like to chat and laugh or play dominoes.
Jardim do Coreto is the oldest park in the town, built in the 1890s.
The octagonal wrought-iron bandstand, from which the park is named (coreto), was designed in Porto in 1890 and then shipped to Tavira.
10. Núcleo Museológico Islâmico
A branch of the Municipal Museum, this exhibition on the Moorish period of Tavira opened in 2012. Excavations were carried out in many places around Tavira, such as the Convent da Graça, Palácio da Galeria and Pensão Netos, revealing a range of artifacts restored and displayed here.
A standout piece is the Vaso de Tavira (Vase), which has clay figures of men on horseback and musicians around its edges.
But there are many other fascinating artifacts, such as the Moorish capital, bathing sinks, inkwells and fragments of Islamic rammed earth walls.
11. Palazzo Galeria
The main site of the Municipal Museum of Tavira is a Baroque palace, the ruins of which date back to the Phoenician era, some 2,600 years ago.
Digging revealed a ritual well dedicated to their storm god Baal.
These are kept in the basement, along with a small variety of handicrafts, in chests around the walls.
The rest of the museum deals with recent themes such as local contemporary art, the makeup of local food, and Tavira’s fishing and folk traditions, backed by photographs, films and costumes.
12. Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo
Next to the castle, the church was built immediately after Tavira was recaptured from the Moors in 1242. It even sits where the town’s mosque once stood.
This Gothic building stood for 500 years until the landmark earthquake of 1755 destroyed monuments across Portugal.
It was rebuilt in a baroque design, but the Gothic portal is medieval and dates back to the 1300s.
On this oval arch, there are four vaults above the leaf capitals.
From the 1520s, another trace of the ancient church awaits at Capela do Senhor dos Passos, with Manuel masonry in its vault.
13. Tavira Lodge
A breeze from Tavilas, Cabanas is another sweet old town.
You must visit because the town is right in front of the Ria Formosa lagoon.
Yachts and painted wooden boats are moored in smooth waters, and across the channel you can see the sand dunes that form another barrier island.
Avenida Ria Formosa is the place to go in Cabanas, where you can take in the views from the new boardwalk or dine at the waterside restaurant.
At the marina, a water taxi will take you to the opposite island, where there is another paradise blue flag beach.
14. Lea Formosa
Also in Cabanas de Tavira, you must take a boat trip to the eastern side of the Ria Formosa lagoon.
This is a natural park with over 170 square kilometers of waterways, islands, salt pans, beaches and shellfish beds.
With the help of experts, Ria Formosa is one of the most important wetlands on earth, home to more than 200 species of birds, either permanent residents (purple heron, western sandpiper), wintering here (flamingos), or migratory During rest (spotted red-footed sandpiper), guided eagle). In addition to the diverse birdlife, you can also see fishermen and salt farmers doing their jobs in a way that their families have passed down from generation to generation.
15. Water fun
The combination of optimal wind speeds, water temperatures and miles of deserted beaches provides Tavira with some of the best kitesurfing conditions around.
Eolis School can accommodate absolute novices as well as experienced boarders who want to get some serious airtime.
Meanwhile, in addition to its natural beauty and ecological wealth, another advantage of Ria Formosa is its calm water and tranquility once you escape the main town.
SUP (Stand Up Paddle Board) was probably invented for this environment, where you can float in the park in the company of a loved one, or take a guided tour from a familiar local guide.
16. Typical cuisine
To taste the Tavira tradition, you can order an estupeta de atum as a snack or an appetizer.
This is a fresh tuna salad with tuna flakes, onions, green peppers and tomatoes, seasoned with olive oil and vinegar, and piled on a slice of bread.
The tuna main course is mucuma de atum, which features salted tuna fillets and a leafy green salad.
Arroz de marisco (paella) and cataplana de marisco (seafood stew) are Algarve classics made even more delicious by the glut of fresh shellfish in Tavira.
Then there’s octopus (polvo), which is caught in abundance in Tavira and can be fried in cakes, grilled or cooked in risotto.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Tavira, Portugal
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