Top Tourist Attractions in Olhão & Easy Day Trips
A distinctly North African atmosphere pervades the narrow streets of this attractive and busy fishing port. The flat roofed houses clustered near the riverfront bear a Moorish design signature, an architectural legacy from the days when Olhao traded goods with Morocco. The town is bereft of any outstanding historic attractions. Instead, visitors are charmed by Olhao's local character, especially when browsing the bustling harbor front market or strolling lively Avenida da Republica, the main avenue.
Olhao is also an ideal base from which to explore the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa and the sandbank islands of Armona, Culatra, and Farol. The protected natural park is a haven for marine life, and taking a sightseeing cruise is the best way to appreciate this wonderful and fragile habitat. For sunseekers, the island beaches are peaceful and secluded and practically untouched by tourism.
It's often still dark when Olhão's market begins trading, and if you arrive before dawn, you can watch groups of grizzled fishermen landing their catch on the harbor side. Business starts early here, and by sunrise, locals are already gathering for the best buys. The covered market is divided between two early 20th- century redbrick buildings, each distinguished by onion-domed corner turrets. One houses the fish market, the other sells meat, fruit, and vegetables. By mid-morning both are bustling. The choice of fish and seafood is bewildering. Marble-topped tables groan under the weight of gleaming tuna, sea bass, and the ubiquitous sardine. Baskets of prawn and ameijoa (cockle - a local delicacy) share the spotlight with glistening squid, octopus, and cuttlefish. Opposite, in the second hall, the entire Algarve countryside looks like it's for sale. Look out for specialties like juicy fig and golden pumpkin. For a real treat come on a Saturday morning when outside stalls line the quay and tempt customers with flowers and homemade jams.
Address: Avenida 5 de Outubro, Olhão
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Olhao
Quinta da Marim
Olhão lies on the boundary of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, and three kilometers east of the town center is Quinta da Marim, the park's headquarters. The rather basic facility doubles up as an environmental educational center and is located within the protected reserve. The tranquil setting is ideal walking territory, and you can spend several hours following a signed nature trail from the car park that meanders through conifer woodland, coastal dunes, and past mudflats, saltmarsh, and freshwater lagoons. An interesting archaeological feature along the way is an ancient tide mill, the last of 30 that used to operate on the Ria Formosa. Further along are the remains of five Roman salting tanks dating from the 2nd century AD. The park is a birder's paradise and squadrons of white stork can often be seen overhead spiraling on a thermal. Among the many resident wading birds is the rare purple gallinule; a seasonal treat is the greater flamingo. Keep your eyes peeled to the ground, too, for appearances by fiddler crab, the harmless viperine snake, and, if you're really lucky, the Mediterranean chameleon. The trail eventually loops back to the visitor's center.
Location: Approximately three kilometers east of Olhão town center, just of the EN125 highway.
Museu da Cidade
Olhão's jaunty City Museum is housed in an 18th-century manor house that once served as the headquarters of the Maritime Commission and is of considerable architectural merit. The museum's collection is, in effect, an illustrative history of the town and the immediate vicinity. A modest but appealing miscellany of archeological finds displayed on the ground floor includes Bronze-Age pots, fragments of Iron-Age tools, and Roman and Islamic vases. Upstairs, Olhão's industrial and seafaring heritage is explored through a variety of artifacts, items such as 19th-century fishing tackle and equipment, oil presses, and a display of model fishing boats. Vintage black and white photographs of Olhão and its townsfolk decorate the walls.
Address: Praça da Restauração, Olhão
Nossa Senhora do Rosário
Sightseeing in Olhão should include exploration of the parish church of Our Lady of the Rosary. Built between 1681 and 1698 and financed entirely with donations from the local fishermen, this is the town's most prominent historic building. Its whitewashed Baroque façade positively gleams when the sun shines, but it's the external chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos situated at the back of the church that tends to catch the public's eye. In a tradition stretching back centuries, women still come here to pray for their men's safety when there is a storm at sea - a display of devotion that's quite moving. Inside, visitors can climb the bell tower for inspiring views across the maze of streets and flat roof terraces that characterize the old town center, and the Ria Formosa beyond.
Address: Praça da Restauração, Olhão
Day Trips from Olhão
Ilha da Armona
Olhão is sheltered from the open sea by a series of barrier islands - flat narrow bars of sand that are part of the protected Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. One of these is Ilha da Armona, a pristine nine-kilometer sand bar that's reached by ferry from the town's waterfront. A popular summer destination for day-trippers, Armona Island is scattered with holiday homes and a number of cafés. Otherwise, it's the swathes of gloriously soft white sand that draws visitors, and the further away from the ferry pontoon you walk, the less likely you'll be sharing the beach with anyone else. Pack a picnic and plenty of sunscreen.
Ilha da Culatra
The ferry from Olhão links the town with a number of barrier islands - long, narrow strips of sand that shelter the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa from the open sea. Culatra is one of the busier islands: Culatra village, on the eastern tip of the spit, has a resident population of around a thousand souls. The islanders eschew the trappings of modern life (there are no cars here) and maintain a more traditional way of life that charms visitors. Fishing is the mainstay, which is probably why the seafood restaurants are among the best in the Algarve. Another endearing feature is the beach - a long strip of white sand as soft as velvet.
Ilha do Farol
A lofty, scarlet-topped lighthouse (farol) is the landmark feature of this popular vacation destination. Confusingly, Farol is still part of Ilha da Culatra - the western tip of the island is where the lighthouse is situated, so locals refer to the area as "Ilha do Farol." Served by a regular ferry service from Olhão and Faro, tourism here is well established. Clusters of holiday homes lie near the jetty served by some excellent restaurants. The sweeping beach is noted for its lively cafés, which are a magnet for teenagers.
This unassuming town, also known as Fuzeta, is a working fishing port. While it lacks the vibrancy of nearby Olhão, this place is still worth exploring not least for its lovely harbor front promenade. Often overlooked by tourists, the town is better for it: its low-key character and unhurried attitude is tangible. If you wander the backstreets, you'll eventually end up in Fuseta's central square set under rows of palm trees. A smattering of cafés and restaurants enhances the local flavor. The town's busy quay is the departure point for ferries to Praia da Fuzeta, on the eastern tip of Ilha da Armona. During the summer, the beach can become uncomfortably crowded, but if you're prepared to walk 20 minutes or so from the dropping off point, the reward is an empty and undulating carpet of sand with uninterrupted views of the Atlantic Ocean.