Silves, a jewel nestled in the heart of the Algarve, stands as a poignant reminder of Portugal’s vibrant Moorish past. This ancient city, cradled by rolling hills and citrus orchards, once held the title as the Algarve’s capital during the Moorish occupation, serving as a crucial cultural and trading hub. The red-hued Silves Castle, which dominates the skyline, stands as a testament to this era, its robust walls and towers offering tales of battles, conquests, and a mosaic of cultures.
Wandering through the cobbled streets of Silves, one is immediately transported to bygone eras. The labyrinthine alleys echo with the whispers of the Phoenicians, Romans, and Moors, all of whom left an indelible mark on this splendid city. Modernity, however, has found its way into Silves as well, with chic cafes, boutique shops, and art galleries punctuating the ancient streets, offering a delightful blend of the old and the new.
The city is not just a haven for history buffs. Its location by the banks of the Arade River and its proximity to the Monchique mountains provide a refreshing counterpoint to the Algarve’s beach-centric towns. The verdant surroundings encourage gentle strolls, picnics, and an immersion in the region’s natural beauty. For those looking to experience the Algarve beyond its sun-kissed beaches, Silves provides a rich tapestry of history, culture, and natural charm.
Useful Resources for Your Trip to Silves
Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Silves.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Silves.
- 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 Silves.
- Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal. Be sure to read out article on luggage storage options in the Algarve for a full list of options.
- 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 Silves is Faro Airport.
What to Do
Silves Castle, with its striking red sandstone walls and battlements, stands majestically atop a hill, offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and the meandering Arade River below. A testament to the Moorish era, the castle, which is the best-preserved Islamic fortress in Portugal, harks back to a time when Silves was a flourishing cultural and political hub of the Algarve. Its thick walls and imposing towers have withstood countless sieges, battles, and the ravages of time.
Inside the castle, visitors can explore the remnants of the past, from the cisterns that once held water for the city to the archaeological excavations revealing layers of history. Informative plaques provide insights into the castle’s significance and its architectural evolution over the centuries. The beautifully landscaped gardens within the castle grounds, peppered with native plants and trees, make for a peaceful retreat.
Museu Municipal de Arqueologia
Nestled within the historical heart of Silves, the Museu Municipal de Arqueologia is a testament to the region’s rich tapestry of history that stretches back to prehistoric times. This museum is a treasure trove for history enthusiasts, housing a vast collection of artefacts, from the times of the Phoenicians and Romans to the period of Moorish rule. Each exhibit tells a story, painting a vivid picture of the daily lives, beliefs, and trades of the people who once called Silves home. The museum’s design itself is unique, having been built around a medieval Islamic well, which is now its centrepiece. Visiting the Museu Municipal offers a deep dive into the ancient soul of the Algarve, revealing layers of civilisations that have influenced the region’s culture and architecture.
Silves Cathedral, known as Sé Catedral de Silves in Portuguese, is a splendid Gothic monument that dominates the old town’s skyline alongside the renowned Silves Castle. Initially constructed in the 13th century on the site of a former mosque after the Christian reconquest of the town, the cathedral has undergone various modifications and restorations over the centuries, particularly after it suffered damage during the 1755 earthquake. The resulting architecture is an intriguing blend of styles, with the predominant Gothic influence complemented by Baroque and Manueline additions.
Inside, the cathedral is a haven of tranquillity, with its stone pillars, rib-vaulted ceilings, and impressive tombs, including that of King John II’s son, Prince D. João. The wooden ceiling and the rose window, a remarkable example of Gothic artistry, are other significant features. The sense of history is palpable within its walls, making a visit to Silves Cathedral a poignant journey through the rich tapestry of the region’s past, reflecting the changing times and influences of the Algarve.
Silves Old Town
Strolling through Silves’ old town is like taking a journey back in time, where the cobbled streets whisper tales of Moorish rulers and ancient civilisations. Framed by well-preserved medieval walls, the labyrinthine alleys are lined with whitewashed houses adorned with terracotta roofs and ornate azulejos (traditional Portuguese tiles). As one ambles along, they’ll discover quaint squares, inviting cafes, and artisanal shops selling handcrafted goods. The vestiges of the town’s rich history are evident at every corner, from Gothic doorways to remnants of old Islamic architecture, making Silves’ old town a mesmerising blend of cultures and epochs, waiting to be explored.
Silves Market, or “Mercado de Silves,” is a bustling hub of local activity, offering a delightful immersion into the authentic Algarvian way of life. Set within a modern building, the market brims with colourful stalls where vendors showcase a plethora of fresh produce, from just-caught fish to sun-ripened fruits, aromatic herbs, and regional specialties. Visitors can relish the opportunity to rub shoulders with locals, haggle over prices, and sample some of the freshest ingredients the region has to offer.
Ponte Romana, often referred to locally as the ‘Roman Bridge’, stands as a testament to Silves’ medieval heritage. Contrary to its name, the structure is believed to have been constructed around 1439, rather than during Roman times. However, some historical evidence hints at a Roman crossing that once existed in the vicinity, possibly leading to its popular title. Intriguingly, available medieval accounts of Silves don’t make mention of any bridge, making its origin a subject of curiosity. Constructed using local stone, the bridge features five symmetrical arches gracefully stretching over the Arade river. Notably, its original form was even more extensive; one arch was later removed to accommodate a contemporary road. While the ‘Roman’ label might be a misnomer, the bridge nonetheless offers visitors a captivating glimpse into the town’s past and a serene spot to appreciate the surrounding natural beauty.
Praça Al-Mutamid, named after the famous 11th-century poet and King of Seville, stands as a tranquil square in the heart of Silves, exuding a sense of its storied past. Framed by flowering trees and historic structures, this picturesque square is a perfect spot to rest after exploring the town’s winding streets. The square pays homage to a time when the Algarve, under Moorish rule, was a hub of culture and learning.
Slide & Splash
Slide & Splash, located a short drive from Silves, is one of the Algarve’s most renowned water parks, offering visitors a thrilling escapade from the region’s sun-soaked beaches. Packed with a plethora of slides, flumes, and pools suitable for all ages, the park promises a day of aquatic fun. From adrenaline-pumping rides like the Kamikaze and the Black Hole to the more laid-back Lazy River, there’s something for everyone. Add to that the live falconry, reptile, and parrot shows, and you have a diverse day out for families, ensuring that Slide & Splash stands out not just as a water park, but as a comprehensive entertainment destination in the Algarve.
What to Eat
Silves, with its rich history and fertile landscapes, boasts a culinary palette deeply influenced by its surroundings, particularly its abundant citrus groves. The region is celebrated for its prolific orange production, resulting in oranges that are especially juicy, sweet, and bursting with flavour. These aren’t just for juicing: they find their way into various local dishes, desserts, and even liqueurs. Delicacies like the traditional almond and orange cake, often drizzled with a sugary orange syrup, are a testament to this citrus-centric culinary culture. Apart from its citrus delights, Silves offers other regional dishes like “cataplana” – a seafood stew cooked in a clam-shaped copper dish – and “morgados” – fig-based sweets that tantalisingly blend the earthiness of figs with the region’s beloved almonds. Visitors should not miss the chance to savour a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice at a local café, a simple pleasure that perfectly encapsulates the taste of Silves.