Top Tourist Attractions in Tavira & Easy Day Trips
Nestling within sight of the coast, 30 kilometers east of Faro, charming Tavira is feted as one of the most attractive towns in the Algarve. It straddles both sides of the graceful River Gilão, a broad channel of water that enriches the character of this delightful destination.
An aristocratic air pervades this particular pocket of Portugal. The old town is a collection of elegant, hipped-roof palaces and mansions and a bewildering assortment of churches, chapels, and convents. Dig deeper, and you'll discover a Tavira shaped first by Roman influence and later by the Moors.
A landmark feature is the old bridge, built in 1667 on Roman foundations. From here, an amble along the riverfront will take you past spruce gardens and rows of swaying palms. Rich Arabica aromas drift from open-air cafés, while restaurants tempt with their line-caught ocean harvest. Colorful fishing boats line the quay, and this is the place to catch a ferry to nearby Ilha de Tavira, or a sightseeing tour of the Ria Formosa. On the beach, you can join the crowds, or lose yourself amongst the tufted dunes. And later, after dark, Tavira is illuminated, its historical heritage glowing under spotlight.
Perched on a cobblestone knoll in the ancient Arab quarter are the ruins of the town's Moorish castle. Dating originally from the 13th century, the stronghold was partially rebuilt in the 17th century, but today only the outer walls remain. A steep set of narrow steps lead up to the ramparts that connect the castle's two surviving towers, one of which you can climb for some splendid views of Tavira's pyramid-like rooftops and the distant coast. The courtyard is now a trim garden that, in spring, blossoms into flecks of vivid color. If you like your history, then the nearby church of Santa Maria do Castelo is also worth investigating. Inside is the tomb of Paio Peres Correia, a legendary knight who helped relinquish Tavira from the Moorish rule in 1242. Seven of his cohorts rest with him.
Location: Travessa da Fonte, Tavira
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Tavira
Torre de Tavira - Camera Obscura
One of the more unusual things to do in Tavira is to take an elevator to the top of the 100-meter-high Torre de Tavira. The town's former water tower now acts as a camera obscura, an optical device that focuses a fascinating 360° real time image of the town below onto a huge white disk. As the mirror rotates, so does the panorama, and a tour guide is on hand to point out Tavira's historic landmarks and local points of interest. It's a low-tech spy in the sky but the picture definition is quite remarkable.
Address: Calçada da Galeria 12, Tavira
Igreja da Misericórdia
One of the town's cultural highlights, the Igreja da Misericórdia is also regarded as the finest example of Renaissance architecture in the Algarve. Dating from the mid-16th century, construction of the church was supervised by master mason André Pilarte whose dexterous hands carved the impressive stone portal, which is surmounted by decorative angels and saints. Inside, visitors are dazzled by a series of 18th-century azulejos panels that illuminate the interior with a sky blue wash. The tiles depict scenes from the life of Christ.
Address: Rua da Galeria, Tavira
Núcleo Museológico Islâmico
Moorish rule left an indelible cultural impression throughout the Algarve, and encapsulating Tavira's Islamic heritage is this modern museum and interpretation center. Artifacts from the period on permanent display include pots, plates, oil lamps, tiles, and various utensils, many of which are in superb condition. The floor space also incorporates a section of wall unearthed during restoration work that's been left in situ. The most valuable exhibit is the so-called Tavira Vase, a unique piece set with clay figures dating from the late 11th century. Archeologists believe it was made as part of a wedding dowry.
Address: Travessa da Fonte, Tavira
Portugal's very own Paula Rego has exhibited here, but it's not just the contemporary art world's big names that enjoy exposure at this excellent gallery; local artists are also encouraged to show their work in this wonderfully evocative 16th-century palace building. The temporary exhibition space doubles up as an ad hoc museum, and you can browse a miscellany of sacred art and various archeological finds set in bright, timber-floored rooms. Sections of an excavated Moorish street can be admired under glass in one of the galleries.
Address: Calçada da Galeria, Tavira
The tidal river Gilão is a defining natural feature of Tavira. The town lies along both sides of this broad, picturesque watercourse, linked by a low arched pedestrian bridge of Roman origin - particularly enchanting at night. The most rewarding sightseeing can be enjoyed south of the river, where the majority of visitor attractions are clustered. From Praça da República, a leisurely amble takes in Rua do Cais, a palm-fringed promenade peppered with waterfront café-kiosks. The former town market building, Mercado da Ribeira, is worth exploring for trinkets and handicraft, but if you're looking to buy fruit and vegetables, follow the esplanade to the road bridge where the new town market, spread under the flyover, exudes color and flavor. For more conventional shopping nip through to the stores and boutiques that front Rua D. Marcelino Franco.
Easy Day Trips from Tavira
Ilha de Tavira and the Ria Formosa
Tavira is practically within earshot of Ilha de Tavira, one of the Algarve's most popular beach destinations. This enormous sand bank stretches all the way to Fuseta, some 15 kilometers west. This is one of the few islands in the region where you can pitch a tent, and the designated campsite near the jetty is packed during the summer. Serving sun-seekers is a smattering of café-restaurants. If you'd rather lose the crowds, just turn your flip-flops west and in 20 minutes, you'll end up in your own space. Throughout the high season you can catch ferries direct to the island from the riverfront in Tavira. Alternatively, there is a year-round ferry that departs from the jetty (weather permitting) at Quatro Águas, two kilometers east of the town center. It's also possible to explore the beautiful Ria Formosa by joining one of the sightseeing cruises that operate from Tavira's riverfront.
Epitomizing the traditional Algarve fishing village, Santa Luzia is affectionately regarded as the region's octopus capital because of the dozens of empty covos (pots) neatly stacked on the quayside by fishermen between expeditions to snare their elusive quarry. Needless to say, octopus is the delicacy of choice for the many customers who choose to dine at Santa Luzia's highly regarded seafood restaurants, many of which face the broad sweep of the Ria Formosa. Quiet and peaceful and blissfully devoid of the more usual trappings of tourism, the lagoon can be explored on boat trips offered by a few enterprising locals during the summer.
Location: Approximately five kilometers west of Tavira off the EM515 road