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 part of the Algarve you find 18,000 hectors of protected land. Its unique bird-filled lagoons and tiny islands make up the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa.
Photo Credit: PortugalResident.com

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.

cobblestone street in tavira

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.

large square in tavira

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.  

Tavira old roman bridge

Tavira Castle

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.

Let your feet doing the exploring in Tavira, Portugal. A hidden gem in the Algarve region.

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 Saint Maria in Tavira, Portugal

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.

The Church of Mercy in Tavira Portugal

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.

church in tavira

Street Signs

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.  

The street signs in Tavira, Portugal. Just another reason why this town is so charming. amPlanExperience.com

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.

rooftops in tavira

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.

beach with anchors in tavira

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.

beach with loungers in tavira

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! 

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30 Comments

  1. Loved Tavira. Used to live in Portugal on the west coast and Tavira was my favourite town in the Algarve. Sad to say that the Brits have destroyed many of the other coastal towns and being a Brit, I’m allowed to say that, aren’t I? Anyway, it’s a gorgeous town 🙂

    1. There are a lot of Brits in Portugal. There must be a good reason why! What’s there not to like? Thank you Sarah.

  2. Goodness Tavira looks beeeautiful! What a stunning area to relax, stroll around and take in the history. I especially love the look of the views from the Castelo. I already love Portugese food, so visiting these pretty streets and then chowing down on some tasty snacks sounds like heaven.

    Those bird-filled lagoons at the top of the post are gorgeous too! Are you allowed to swim there, or is it reserved for the birdies?

    1. Thanks Josy, I am glad that you think this would be a place that you would travel to. The lagoons that are part of this side of the region offer beaches, but in most cases it requires a short boat taxi to reach them as there are many inlets. The birds tend to migrate to specific parts of the lagoon where there are less boats. We stayed about 15 minutes west of Tavira and they had a boardwalk in and around the lagoons and there was a lot of birds in this area as there were no boats or beaches.

    1. Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment. It was very kind of you to leave such complimentary feedback.

  3. I love to visit hidden towns and beautiful quirky places that are not very touristic. I would surely go for this prettiest town in the Algarve – Tavira. Good to know that this charming town is situated less than 30 kms from the Spanish border as it must be having confluence of both cultures. Thanks for sharing lovely place.

    1. Thank you for stopping by Yukti and for your comment. Yes, I agree finding places that are not on the radar for most is the best way to holiday.

  4. Wow, the Ria Formosa lagoon reminds me a bit of Whitehaven Beach in Australia! The variety in the architecture is stunning, and you’re definitely right that Tavira has kept its traditional vibe. I’d love to go back to Portugal sometime soon and explore beyond Lisbon!

    1. Thank you for your comment Kevin. Definitely if you are to visit Portugal, try build extra time in to visiting other regions. We absolutely loved Lisbon, but also found that the other regions outside of the main well known city offering a more authentic experience.

  5. Tavira seems to have emerged from the pages of fascinating history. So beautiful and quaint. The cobbled streets seem to lead to a fascinating time in the past. Love the churches, reminded me of the Churches we find in Goa, India. After all Goa too has a Portuguese legacy. Tavira is rightly the hidden gem of the Algarve.

    1. Thank you for your comment Sandy. Yes, I understand that Portuguese influences can be found in many other countries which I find fascinating. I am glad you liked the look of Tavira and hope you might be able to visit it one day.

  6. We’ve been wanting to visit the Algarve for some time now, but still haven’t been. We went to Lisbon a few years back and loved the city as well as Sintra. The Algarve is not quite far away, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to travel there. Next time we’ll fly directly to the Algarve for a week! Your post has really inspired us to move up this destination on our bucket list!

    1. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. It pleases me to hear that this has inspired you to travel back to Portugal and add the Algarve region to your destination list.

  7. Such a quintessential European town, exactly like you expect to see. We don’t really have such old castles here in Australia so its always a highlight of any European visit. Oh and the food of course! It doesn’t look as crowded as many other European towns as well which is definitely a plus.

    1. Exactly – a quintessential European town that offers both a beach holiday within a historic town. And, if you love seafood, then you will be in food heaven! Thank you for your comment.

  8. Portugal is one of my favorite destinations, I love the charming towns and cities. The Algarve is stunning and I am always telling people to go there. I hope that this little town stays just as small and charming as it is now.

    1. Agree! I believe that east side of the Algarve is meant to remain untouched, therefore, less tourists and more charm! I loved Portugal and visited 3 regions and would love to explore more. Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

  9. I would love to visit this charming town. I am a huge fan of cobblestone (although they hurt my feet after a while), as they add so much character to the streets. The church and castles are amazing and I love that everything has remained the same. This place is such a gem!

    1. Thank you Candy for your comment. Completely agree with you about the cobblestone streets – it limits your footwear options! Glad you think this place is a hidden gem too!

  10. Tavira looks so pretty and indeed a real gem. I haven’t heard of it before. But I love finding places like this that aren’t well known and touristy. Would certainly enjoy spending a couple of days here.

    1. Thank you for stopping by Tania and your comment. Our home base was not far from this town, and we certainly enjoyed a few dinners coming in for the evening as well as spending an entire day here wandering around. So there is a lot to see to spend a few relaxing days here for sure.

  11. Tavira is absolutely beautiful. So much personality and charm. I have to admit that it reminds me a lot of some places I went in Morocco like Asilah which is on the northern coast with Spanish influence so that makes sense. Also, reminds me of a couple places in Greece I visited too. I love those charming alleyways! These are the kinds of towns I like to wander and get lost in just like you said!

    1. The town is a mix between Portuguese character and Moorish influence, so I can see why you saw the resemblance to some of those places. It is the best town to get lost in and hope you might find yourself there one day soon. Thank you for your comment Heather!

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