Top Tourists Attractions in Portimão & Easy Day Trips
Busy, cosmopolitan Portimão is the second largest city in the Algarve. Set near the mouth of the Rio Arade, this is a destination forever associated with the fishing and canning industry, activities that are now sadly in decline. But Portimão's inexorable links with the ocean have seen it become an international port of call for cruise ships, and the rising tide of tourists has brought a wealth of new visitor attractions. Portimão's vibrant waterfront is embroidered with well-tended gardens and picturesque squares fringed with open-air cafés. Some excellent seafood restaurants are set along the northern tip of the esplanade. At the opposite end is one of the region's most noteworthy museums. For the best shopping head for the lively pedestrianized streets surrounding Praça da República.
Wherever you tread, you're never too far from the sea. Diving enthusiasts are in for a treat: the coastal waters contain the world's largest artificial reef. Sun seekers can head for Praia da Rocha, one of the region's finest beaches. Water sports amenities can be found at the adjacent marina. And for a glimpse into the distant past, the megalithic monuments north of the city remind sightseers of how it all began.
See also: Where to Stay in Portimão
Museu de Portimão
The award-winning Portimão Museum makes imaginative use of a former sardine cannery to present one of the most engaging collections of archaeology and ethnography in the Algarve. The permanent exhibition is divided into eight themed galleries and allows you to step back in time and ponder the social history of the city and local communities, from prehistoric times to the present day. Arranged in chronological order, artifacts on display include fine examples of Roman and Islamic amphorae, some excavated from the River Arade. Among the traditional industries showcased, the Algarve's boat building heritage is given deserved recognition, with a dedicated installation charting this once in-demand skill.
But it is to honor the legacy of the region's canning industry that the museum was conceived. The La Rosa factory was completely refurbished to accommodate the museum, and half the floor space preserves the original canning production line. The equipment has been restored to near perfect condition, and visitors of all ages can learn about the processes involved - from the "heads-off" hall to the all-important tins.
For an eerie finale, you can follow the steps leading down from the main exhibition hall to a dimly lit underground tunnel, which used to be the cistern of the old factory.
What happens when you deliberately sink four de-commissioned warships in the same area off the Algarve coast? In time, you create an artificial reef. The Ocean Revival Underwater Park is currently the word's largest artificial reef structure and lies 30 meters under the Atlantic Ocean about five kilometers from Portimão harbor. This is a unique Algarve tourist attraction. The site offers free access to trained divers and operators, but the safest and most enjoyable way to explore the wrecks is with a local center, club, or diving school certified by the park (listed on its website). Special itineraries with well-defined routes have been created that allow each ship to be explored. The vessels were scuttled in 2012 and 2013, so it will be some time before the reef flourishes (coral reefs grow approximately six inches per year). However, the Algarve's excellent weather and safe water conditions ensure great year-round diving conditions and sub-aqua enthusiasts from around the world are already discovering this new, exciting, and environmentally friendly visitor attraction.
Address: Rua Eng José Bivar, Edifício Scorpius, Praia da Rocha
Teatro Municipal de Portimão - TEMPO
Presentations of music, song, and dance by national and international artists are regularly staged at this excellent cultural venue. The emphasis tends to be on contemporary performance art by Portuguese theater groups, and the standard of professionalism is very high. The tempo does change, though. The Algarve Orchestra has played here on several occasions, and their classical music repertoire often includes appearances by guest musicians from European conservatories. Kids are kept entertained by the various puppet theater acts that appear here, while traditionalists applaud the opera and ballet included in the program. Portimão Theater has hosted some of Portugal's most celebrated exponents of fado, their concerts selling out weeks in advance. For casual visitors arriving on spec, ask directly at the box office for ticket information. Otherwise, inquire about the informal jazz concerts held upstairs in the Café Concerto.
Address: Largo 1° de Dezembro, Portimão
Autódromo Internacional do Algarve
Motor sports fans visiting the region should check the race calendar at the F1-standard Algarve International Race Circuit. Located eight kilometers northwest of Portimão, this superb track has hosted automobile and motorcycling world championship events at the highest level of competition, tournaments such as the final of the World Superbike Championships, and, in 2009, the third round of the prestigious Le Mans Series - the first-ever motor sports competition held at night in Portugal. Between these glamorous supercharged headliners, visitors can test their own driving skills on the go-kart circuit. The facility has more than 50 karts for hire, and there's even a track for children up to the age of six. Several high profile festivals take place here, and one of the most family-orientated is the annual Algarve Classic Car Festival, held in October, and the largest and most colorful gathering of vintage and historic automobiles in Iberia. Incorporated into the event is the exciting Historic Endurance Series competition.
Address: Sítio do Escampadinho, Mexilhoeira Grande, Portugal
Marina de Portimão
Portimão Marina sits at the eastern tip of Praia da Rocha and enjoys an idyllic position overlooking the Arade estuary. The facility's South Bay is where most sightseers congregate. Here, the boardwalk is composed of good seafood restaurants and popular pizzerias and creperias, and shoppers can browse for his and her swimwear and sports apparel. Yachts, small motorboats, and other watercraft, with or without skipper, can be chartered from kiosks along the promenade, and tourists can also rent jet skis and other water sports equipment. A number of operators also provide surf and body surf lessons for all ages. During the summer months, the marina vicinity is particularly animated at night, when beach parties are held on the sand opposite.
Address: Ponta da Areia, Portimão
Nossa Senhora da Conceição
Much of Portimão was destroyed during the great earthquake of 1755. One building, however, more or less withstood the tremors - the church of Our Lady of the Conception. Standing on an elevated terrace near Praça da República, the church still retains its 14th-century façade and a lovely Manueline door replete with four carved capitals. A lonely gargoyle stands watch over the portal. The rest of the building dates from the late 17th century. A series of 18th-century azulejo panels enrich the interior, and you can also admire a gilded altarpiece from the same period. The church's cool interior is extremely inviting during the hot summer months and combined with the profound stillness is a wonderful place to retreat from the clamor outside.
Address: Rua da Igreja, Portimão
Where to Stay in Portimão for Sightseeing
We recommend these inviting hotels and resorts near the beach and Portimão's city center:
- Bela Vista Hotel & Spa: luxury beachfront resort, 1918 Moorish-style mansion, amazing restaurant, outdoor pool, wonderful spa.
- Jupiter Algarve Hotel: mid-range pricing, across the street from the beach, friendly staff, indoor and outdoor pools, spa with hammam and sauna.
- Hotel da Rocha: affordable resort, steps from Rocha beach, complimentary breakfast buffet, outdoor pool.
- Hotel Made Inn: budget hotel, city center, themed modern rooms, rooftop terrace, bike rentals.
Day Trips from Portimão
Praia da Rocha
Named for one of the Algarve's most celebrated beaches, Praia da Rocha is one of the liveliest resorts in the region. The beach is stunning, a broad swathe of golden sand backed by low, red sandstone cliffs. Rocky promontories and a series of half-moon coves enrich the shoreline further west. A perennial family holiday destination, the resort offers all the trappings of a vacation in the sun, with plenty of accommodation options, clubs, cafés, and restaurants lining the main street, Avenida Tomás Cabreira. Amongst all the modernity stand one or two hotel buildings dating from the 19th century, vintage gems that remind visitors of Praia da Rocha's illustrious past as a retreat for the well-to-do.
At the eastern end of the avenue is the Fortaleza de Santa Catarina, a castle built in 1691 to guard the approach to Portimão harbor. You can walk through the main gate and admire the fantastic coastal views from the fort's terrace.
Location: Approximately three kilometers south of Portimão town center
Among the things to see and do in Portimão is exploring the River Arade. This meandering 75-kilometer watercourse defines the city's harbor front and much of the surrounding landscape. Navigable by small watercraft up to 12 kilometers upstream, the best way to discover the river is by joining one of the many cruises that depart from Portimão's quayside for the picturesque inland town of Silves. Along the way you get a real sense of rural Algarve and its flora and fauna. A two-hour turnaround allows plenty of time for lunch and a spot of sightseeing before the return trip downriver.
If you're traveling by vehicle, it's worth heading out to the megalithic monuments of Alcalar, a group of 5000-year-old burial mounds arranged on a hilltop in the Algarve countryside. The centerpiece is a vast necropolis built from schist that encloses a series of tombs and galleries. Clustered around the chambers are vestiges of ancient dwellings and remains of traditional lime kilns. An interpretation center provides an illustrative history behind the sacred sight, but you'll have to visit the Museu de Portimão to see the centuries-old stone implements that were excavated from the area back in the 19th century.
Location: 11 kilometers northwest of Portimão off the EM532 highway