Do you want to visit one of the prettiest towns in the Algarve region of Portugal? Look no further than Tavira. This charming town sits close to the Spanish border, only a short 30 km in the Algarve region. Tavira has virtually remained unchanged. Its origins date back to the 8th century. You will still find its traditional Portuguese characteristics and Moorish influences still evident. Just one of the reasons why this charming town is a hidden gem. (Updated: November 2022)
Planning a visit here? Use this guide for all the best things to do in Tavira.
About the Algarve Region
Most of the Algarve is currently under massive rebuilding. Resorts, golf courses, shopping and restaurants are popping up everywhere. All to cater to the vast number of tourists who are flocking to this area. And, why not? Its year-round sunshine, soaring cliffs, unusual rock formations, turquoise water and golden beaches are what you will find on the west side of the Algarve region (west of the Faro airport).
Read more | Explore the Best of the Algarve with my Guide
In the eastern Algarve, you find 18,000 hectares of protected land, bird-filled lagoons and the islands of the Ria Formosa Natural Park and authentic fishing villages. The Ria Formosa lagoon is a system of barrier islands that connect the sea through 6 inlets. This is one of the most important areas for aquatic birds in Portugal, hosting on a regular basis more than 20,000 during the winter period. As well as being an important stop-over point in the migration routes between Europe and Africa. This part of the Algarve has fewer hotels and fewer tourists and it is where life definitely slows down. This is where you will find Tavira.
Things to Do in Tavira
Tavira is best explored by simply walking and wandering aimlessly through its pretty streets and alleyways in the old town. You’ll instantly be mesmerized by its charm and beauty. From the latticework doors with door knockers in the shape of hands (a Moorish influence) to the Azulejo tiles. Almost all the buildings are whitewashed and feature bright yellow details. Simply let your feet lead the way.
Praça da República
This large impressive open square looks new and modern. The Tavira tourist office can be found here and it’s a great starting point to explore the city. On one side is the town hall and on the other, there’s a string of bar and restaurant terraces where you can dine alfresco in the evenings or enjoy a coffee by day. Tucked beside this row is a Moorish horseshoe arch, once part of the castle defences.
Old Roman Bridge in Tavira
The seven-arched roman bridge called Ponte Antiga Sobre o Rio Gilão spans the slow-flowing river of Gilao river or Ria Gilão. It’s thought to be from Moorish times in the 1100s. Although most of the structure had to be reconstructed in 1667. It’s a pedestrian-only crossing bridge that offers benches in small cut-out niches making it a perfect spot to take in the city’s historic streetscape.
The ruined castle called Castelo de Tavira dates back to the Moorish era. Most of what now stands is a 16th century reconstruction. You can walk along the fortified wall to a watchtower. This offers a complete panorama view of the waves of triangular orange rooftops with white chimney stacks and an old Tavira water tower. The former water tower from 1931, now called Tavira Camera Obscura, installed a camera obscure to project a live image of the town. The interior contains a beautiful botanical garden featuring a lovely bougainvillea in the centre. Of all the tourist attractions in Tavira, this is one not to be missed.
Church of Santa Maria
A 13th century church originally built in the Gothic style was severely damaged by the 1755 earthquake and needed to be rebuilt. The original elements are the doorway and clock tower, the rest was reconstructed in the 18th century.
Church of Mercy
The Renaissance church or igreja was built between 1541 and 1551. The details of the wonderfully carved arched doorway and Portuguese coat of arms are believed to be the work of the local architect and stonemason, Andre Pilarte, who also worked on Lisbon’s Jeronimos Monastery.
Igreja da Misericórdia
The Renaissance facade of this church from the mid-16th century features a central niche of the image of Mary as “Our Lady of Mercy”, flanked by high reliefs of St Peter and Paul. The other intricate details are of the doorway with carvings on the stonework on the top and the pilasters down either side. Inside, the church has extensive azulejo panels on its walls.
Everything is a little more special and authentic in Tavira. Even the town’s street signs are charming, aren’t they? Once you come upon them, they usually led you to a historic landmark. They are especially helpful as you are aimlessly wandering through the old city.
Palácio da Galeria
The main venue for Tavira’s Municipal Museum is a Baroque palace on a site going back to Phoenician times, around 2,600 years ago. Excavations revealed ritualistic wells dedicated to Baal, their god of storms. These lie preserved in the basement, along with a small assortment of artifacts in cases around the walls. The open square in front of this museum also makes for a good viewpoint for Tavira rooftops.
Praia do Barril
On the Ilha de Tavira barrier island is a world-class beach. It has a long and wide belt of white sand, with rows of parasols and sun loungers and a dune system behind. For families, a fun thing to do for kids is to board the miniature train that takes you from the parking lot to the shore. This route crosses sand dunes and creeks until you arrive at the remnants of an old tuna-fishing community. Their huts and homes are now a beach restaurant and mini-museum. The old fishing fleet’s anchors have been planted in the dunes and now act like an anchor cemetery.
Praia da Ilha de Tavira
The nearest beach to the town is on its own barrier island isolated from the mainland by a small channel. To reach it, take the ferry across for about €2 and shuttles back and forth all day long. This beach is a favourite among the locals, as the white sandy beach seems to go on forever.
Guided Tours in and around Tavira
Here are some recommended tours you might be interested in.
- Tuk-Tuk City Tour, enjoy a tuk-tuk tour of 1 hour around Tavira and see the main historical monuments, the main square, and salt pans, click here to reserve your spot (up to 3 people per group)
- Santa Luzia & Ria Formosa Tuk Tuk Tour, enjoy a tuk tuk tour through the fishing village of Santa Luzia, known for octopus fishing, the real highlight includes the salt pans and Ria Formosa. Click here to reserve your spot (up to 3 people per group)
- Tuk-Tuk City Tour and Camera Obscura, enjoy a private tour of the city on a tuk-tuk and visit the Camera Obscura one of the top sites of Tavira. Click here to hold your spot (up to 3 people per group)
Popular must-see places of Faro and Olhão make for the best day trips from Tavira.
Where to Stay in Tavira
If you want to stay right in Tavira, click here to start your search.
If you want to stay just outside of Tavira, check out Double Delight, two separate apartments on either side of a beautiful pool area. Each apartment has a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living area. This is an ideal choice for groups of friends (up to 4 people) or a couple.
As a holidaymaker…
This city is an absolute gem. It offers travellers a diverse holiday. Whether you are looking to relax on the beach or wander a historic town. Tavira offers you both!