Portimão Guide: The 5 Best Things to See & Do

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Written by: | Last updated on December 1, 2023 | Est. Reading Time: 9 minutes
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Portimão, situated in the heart of the Algarve, is a small city famed for its fishing heritage. As the second-largest city in the Algarve after Faro, Portimão has transformed from a traditional fishing village into a vibrant urban centre. Although many tourists head to Praia da Rocha, which technically is still part of Portimão, the city itself isn’t a popular tourist destination. However, that could be its selling point. While most of the coastal towns have now changed to cater to the demands of tourists, Portimão is still very traditionally Portuguese. And although it doesn’t always have the aesthetic charm that draws many people to the small towns, there are still very beautiful parts of Portimão to be discovered. 

Portimao Riverfront

The town’s maritime legacy is evident not only in its historical architecture but also in the local gastronomy. Portimão is renowned for its seafood, with sardines being a particular local delicacy. Every year, the town pays homage to this humble fish with the Sardine Festival, a culinary celebration that draws both locals and tourists alike. Beyond its culinary attractions, Portimão boasts some of the Algarve’s most beautiful beaches. Praia da Rocha, with its golden sands framed by rugged cliffs, is a prime example, offering visitors a perfect blend of natural beauty and leisurely beachside activities.

The River Arade, which flows through the town, once played a pivotal role in its economic activities, and today, the riverside promenades are filled with cafes, bars, and eateries, offering picturesque views of the old bridges and the azure waters. For those seeking a mix of relaxation, adventure, and cultural immersion, Portimão provides a diverse range of experiences. Its marina acts as a launchpad for boat tours exploring hidden caves and grottoes, while its historic streets invite visitors to meander and discover the stories embedded in its walls. Whether you’re drawn to its watersports, its history, or simply the allure of the Algarvian sun, Portimão offers a slice of Portuguese coastal life that is both dynamic and deeply rooted in tradition.

Useful Resources for Your Trip to Portimão

Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Lagos. 

  • Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Portimão. 
  • Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental. 
  • Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Faro Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups
  • Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Portimão and the surrounding Algarve region. 
  • Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal. More options can be found in our article about luggage storage in the Algarve
  • Public Transport: Cp.pt is the main website for trains in Portugal. For longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos. Flixbus.pt often has cheap tickets between cities in Portugal. 
  • Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal. The nearest airport to Portimão is Faro Airport. 

What to See & Do

Museu de Portimão

Situated in a beautifully restored 19th-century cannery, the Museu de Portimão is a testament to the town’s rich maritime and industrial legacy. This multi-faceted museum takes visitors on a journey through time, recounting Portimão’s transition from a humble fishing village to its position as a key player in the Algarvian fish-canning industry. The museum’s primary exhibit, dedicated to this once-thriving industry, showcases an array of machinery, photographs, and artefacts, evoking the bustling scenes of the cannery at its peak.

Apart from its industrial history, the Museu de Portimão delves deep into the region’s prehistoric and cultural past. Its archaeological section displays artefacts from the Neolithic period to the Age of Discoveries, shedding light on the ancient peoples who inhabited the Algarve and the subsequent maritime expeditions launched from its shores. Additionally, temporary exhibitions often grace the museum, touching on various subjects from art to history, further enriching the narrative tapestry of Portimão and its environs. For history enthusiasts and curious visitors alike, the Museu de Portimão offers an immersive and enlightening experience, weaving a story that melds industry, culture, and the timeless pull of the sea.

Go to the beach Beach (Praia da Rocha)

steps down to the beach at Praia da Rocha
© Portugalist

 

Praia da Rocha, which translates as “Rock Beach”, is one of the Algarve’s most iconic stretches of sand and stands as a proud testament to Portimão’s coastal allure. Located just a stone’s throw away from the bustling town centre, this beach is renowned for its vast expanse of golden sand flanked by imposing sandstone cliffs. These ochre cliffs create a dramatic backdrop to the shimmering azure waters of the Atlantic and offer picturesque nooks and caves that adventurous souls can explore during low tide.

As one of the region’s larger beaches, Praia da Rocha boasts an array of amenities and facilities. Beachgoers can find an abundance of beachfront cafes, bars, and restaurants lining the promenade, perfect for those looking to enjoy a refreshing drink or a sumptuous seafood meal with panoramic sea views. Moreover, the beach is well-equipped with sun loungers, parasols, and various water sports operators offering jet skiing, paddleboarding, and boat rides.

Portimão Market

fruit and vegetable section of Portimao market

Portimão Market is one of the largest markets in the Algarve. Offering a vibrant blend of colours, sounds, and aromas, the market is the go-to spot for fresh produce, particularly seafood hauled in from the adjacent Atlantic waters. Locals and visitors alike meander through the stalls, picking up fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, and regional delicacies. The market’s authentic atmosphere provides a genuine glimpse into the daily life of Portimão, making it a must-visit for those looking to experience the town’s local culture and culinary traditions.

Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Conceição

Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Conceição

The Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Conceição, or Church of Our Lady of the Conception, is a significant religious landmark in Portimão, radiating both historical and architectural charm. Originally constructed in the 15th century, the church has undergone numerous reconstructions, especially after the 1755 earthquake which severely damaged much of its structure. Today, visitors are drawn to its beautiful Manueline portal, a distinctive feature of Portuguese late Gothic architecture. Inside, the church houses various religious artworks, including the image of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, and its calming ambiance invites contemplation and reflection. 

Fortaleza de Santa Catarina

Fortaleza de Santa Catarina

The Fortaleza de Santa Catarina, standing majestically overlooking the sea in Portimão, is a sentinel of history and a protector of the coast. Originally constructed in the 17th century to guard against pirate invasions, the fortress offers a panoramic view of the Praia da Rocha and the vast Atlantic horizon. Beyond its military significance, the fort is a symbol of the region’s rich maritime heritage. Today, while its battlements no longer fend off invaders, visitors are drawn to the site to experience its serene ambiance, take in the breathtaking views, and contemplate the stories embedded in its ancient walls.

Lady in Red Galeria Arte Algarve

Lady in Red Galeria Arte Algarve

The “Lady in Red – Galeria de Arte Algarve” stands out as a contemporary beacon for art enthusiasts, both local and international. This modern gallery, with its evocative name, prides itself on promoting and showcasing a diverse array of artworks, ranging from paintings and sculptures to photographs and ceramics. Every piece is carefully curated, reflecting both the vibrant colours and culture of the Algarve, as well as broader international art movements.

Visitors to the gallery are often struck by its spacious, airy interiors and the manner in which each piece of art is given room to breathe and be contemplated. Regular exhibitions mean that there’s always something new to discover, with the works of emerging artists placed alongside those of established names. 

What to Eat

portimao sardines sign

In Portimão, foodies will find themselves in a gastronomic haven, especially if they have a penchant for seafood. The town is particularly famed for its sardines, which are a must-try when visiting. During the sardine season, the aroma of freshly grilled sardines wafts through the air, as local restaurants and street vendors serve them up, traditionally laid on a slice of bread and accompanied by a salad of roasted peppers. Yet, the culinary offerings don’t stop there. Portimão boasts an abundance of seafood, fresh from the Atlantic. Delicacies such as clams, prawns, and octopus can often be enjoyed in a “cataplana,” a traditional copper cookware that steams the seafood and infuses it with rich flavours. 

Getting Here

  • Flying: Although there is a very small, regional airport near Portimão, the vast majority of people will fly into Faro Airport, the main airport for the Algarve region. From here, you can easily take a taxi or airport transfer to Portimão or take the bus into Faro where you can then take public transport from Faro to Portimão. 
  • Train: There is a bus station in Portimão, which means it’s easy to get to other destinations in the Algarve, like Faro and Lagos, as well as destinations further afield, like Lisbon and Porto. For train tickets and timetables, see cp.pt. 
  • Bus: As Portimão is one of the largest cities on the Algarve, it acts as a transport hub, particularly for the Western and Central Algarve. You can easily get a bus here from most parts of the Algarve or the rest of Portugal. For tickets and timetables for long distance coaches, see Rede Expressos or Flixbus.pt. 
  • Driving: Portimão is around 50 minutes by car from Faro Airport. There are lots of car rental companies at the airport, and rates are often cheaper than renting locally in Portimão.