15 things to do in Portimao (Portugal)

Portimão, the second largest town in the Algarve, is located on the right bank of the Arad River, just before it reaches the ocean.

The extraordinary thing about Portimao is how ordinary it is. This is a typical Portuguese working town with a municipal market, pedestrian shopping streets and quiet squares.

However, within its boundaries are some of the most popular places in the Algarve.

The famous Praia da Rocha is just a few hundred meters to the south, one of dozens of stunning beaches is within minutes, and all the activities and fun of a modern resort are within easy reach.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Portimao:

1. Playa da Rocha

playa da rocha

The undisputed star of the Portimao region is this 1.5km long beach facing the resort of the same name.

On the east side of the mouth of the Arad River, there is a large stretch of soft white sand.

This shelf is very gentle, and despite the rolling waves, there is plenty of shallow water for paddling.

As you head east, things start to get rocky, and there is a mighty cliff and rocky outcrop, all streaked with red and yellow limestone.

During the cooler seasons, you can come just to take a picture of these monsters.

Walk around and you’ll reach more sheltered bays surrounded by these towering cliffs.

2. Portimao Museum

Portimao Museum

Long before tourism reached Portimao in the Algarve, Portimao made a living from fishing and canning.

Located in the evocative old Feu Cannery factory, the museum showcases the booming industry of the early 20th century.

Much of the plant’s equipment is left in place, and there’s a film with archive footage about the days of canning in town.

Downstairs there is an interactive exhibit showing measures taken to protect the coastal seabed, as well as archaeological exhibits including underwater finds and the megalithic complex of nearby Alcalar.

3. Alcalá megalithic monument

Alcalá megalithic monument

At the museum in Portimão, you can get a combined ticket to this mysterious location just a few minutes from town.

On the top of the hill, covering more than 10 hectares, is a cemetery established about 5,000 years ago.

There are 18 burial monuments in the complex, but the most striking is the huge stele at its center, shaped like a beehive.

The site has a useful interpretive centre with fascinating insights into the people who lived in the area at the time, their ancient funeral rites and interpretations of the mysterious carvings that appear in the stone.

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4. Mercado Municipal

Mercado Municipal

One of the benefits of a normal, tourist-free town like Portimao is truly local amenities, such as this amazing market that just got a makeover.

In a town with Portimao heritage, it’s no surprise that fish and seafood options are out of this world.

There are also fruit and vegetable merchants, butcher counters, florists, bakeries and delis.

The best time is Saturday from 07:00 to 14:00, when there is a special farmers market.

5. Riberinha

Riberinha

From the Museu de Portimão in the south, you can stroll along the riverside promenade at the ruins of the town’s old marina and imagine the chaos that would have occurred here a century ago.

It’s now a great recovery spot, with a long row of palm trees and benches to sit and observe Arad.

When you can see the lights on the other side, it’s wide and beautiful at night.

From here you can access the town’s shops and restaurants, and stop at Praça Manuel Teixeira Gomes, one of the town’s liveliest squares.

6. Igreja do Colégio

Igreja do Colégio

This 17th-century church is the most intact church in Portimao, as it survived the 1755 earthquake almost unscathed.

It has an interesting origin story, as it was financed by Diogo Gonçalves, a businessman who made his fortune in the Far East.

His reward was to be buried in the church, and you can still see his tomb today.

After the Jesuits who founded the church were expelled in 1759, the church was lined up to become the cathedral of Portimao, but the plan was never implemented.

7. Jardim 1º de Dezembro

Jardim 1º de Zembro

A few streets of Ribeirinha is another square where you can rest for a few minutes.

While you’re resting under the leaves, you can also take a lesson in Portuguese history, as when this square was remodeled in an Art Deco style in the 1930s, tile panels were installed, documenting major events in Portugal’s past.

These are reminiscent of the first Portuguese constitution in 1820, the discovery of Brazil by Pedro Alvarez Cabral in 1500, the establishment of the state through the Treaty of Zamora in 1143, and more.

8. Praiadovo

playadobo

Between Praia da Rocha and Alvor, Praia do Vau is a beautiful beach, but often overlooked by its better-known neighbors.

It’s a stunning stretch of golden sand, with the famous orange cliffs to the west and east, and a small resort community in the middle.

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This is where all the services and facilities (bar, sun loungers) are set up and there are also fewer rocks in the water at this time.

Those cliffs also help protect the beach from the wind, so the waters are mostly calm and kid-friendly.

Continue on to the rugged west side where you can climb over rocks to Praia do Barranco, a secluded cove.

9. Santa Catarina Fortaleza

Santa Catarina Fortaleza

On the cliff behind Praia Rocha, there is a fascinating monument from the Philippine period (early 1600s), when Portugal was under the yoke of Spain.

Fort Santa Catarina was built to control the mouth of the Arad River and was designed by Italian military engineer Alexander Marseille.

On these walls, the original buildings are gone, but the panorama is undeniably beautiful, including the beach and estuary.

One thing that has survived in the courtyard is the Monastery of Santa Catarina, named after the fortress, which was here before it existed.

10. Alvor Beach

playa de alvor

The last beach on the list, just 5 km from Portimao, has a different character than Praia da Rocha and Praia do Vau.

This started as a light tourist development in the east, but the further west you go, the more remote the beach becomes.

Eventually, there is nothing but sand dunes and a coastal lagoon fed by the Alvor River, which flows into the sea at the westernmost end of the beach.

This is for you if you need to leave the crowds behind, and there is a raised boardwalk that traces the entire beach and guides you through the dune system behind.

11. Alvor

Alvor

On the eastern shore of the lagoon, Alvor is a fishing village within the city of Portimao.

It’s a whitewashed settlement with Moorish origin, and as you can tell from the Arabic name, the hillside is paved with a row of ancient streets leading down to the ruins of a Moorish fortress.

Alvor is both traditional and tourist-oriented, with numerous international restaurants and bars, and several lovely old churches to visit: Igreja Da Misericórdia from the 17th century and Igreja Matri from the 1600s, both worthwhile one look.

12. Water sports

water sports

Alvor’s Lagoon is a geographic anomaly, far from the ocean but still exposed to strong breezes.

These are the best conditions for kitesurfing in the Algarve, and there’s a centre below the Alvor with a rooftop bar and set menu to show you the ropes if you’ve never kite before.

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In Praia da Rocha, the waves are reliable enough for more regular surfing, and the school on the seafront can also arrange trips to Praia da Mareta or wherever the conditions are best for the day.

13. Boat tour

boat tour

In a coastal tourism hub like Portimao, you’ll never run out of inspiration for nautical excursions, and there are great options to suit your interests.

If you are vacationing with young children, you can take them on a cruise on the replica pirate ship Santa Bernada.

You’ll set sail to remote beaches and barbecue on board.

There are hordes of bottlenose and common dolphins around the Algarve, and many companies will take you on a ‘sea voyage’ to find them, or to discover caves on the region’s rocky coastline.

If you’re an active soul, there are guided sea kayak tours.

14. Algarve International Motor Corporation

algarve international auto co.

Not even a decade old, this huge motorsport complex is an option if you want an adrenaline rush.

It is a test track for the Formula 1 team and hosts a number of international circuits such as the Superbike World Championship and the Le Mans Series.

During the week, you can take part in a “track day,” go out for a spin in a racing or supercharged sports car, or take a racing lesson from a pro.

There is also a go-kart track on the track that caters for children up to 9 years old.

15. Food and drink

Quinta do Francês in Silves

Portimao is a wine region with its own DOC, and the hot climate produces some very robust white and red wines.

If they meet your needs, or you want to know more, there are several wineries in the nearby countryside: Quinta do Francês in Silves and Quinta dos Vales, east of Estômbar.

When it comes to gastronomy, Portimao’s maritime heritage is evident in its many fish restaurants.

Bacalhoada is now famous for serving cod in an almost ridiculous way in Portuguese style: fried, breaded, rice, mashed potato pie, salad.

During the first week of August, Portimao hosts a sardine festival in Ribeirinha, where waterside stalls grill large batches of sardines that are of great economic importance to the town.

Where to stay: The best hotels in Portimao, Portugal
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