Nestled in the Algarve, Tavira emerges as a captivating seaside town that elegantly stretches over the gentle Gilão River, connected by a historic Roman bridge. Our Tavira guide promises a journey through this enchanting town, where winding cobblestone streets pave the way to its hilltop castle and a myriad of churches, offering a glimpse into its rich history while encapsulating authentic Portuguese allure.
Whether you’re seeking a leisurely day trip or planning to move to Tavira, Tavira is an impeccable choice. The tranquil Gilão River, which gracefully flows into the sprawling Ria Formosa lagoon, sets the stage for scenic explorations, leading you to the untouched sands of Ilha de Tavira. This remarkable island is a testament to Tavira’s captivating beaches, easily accessible by a short drive or a breezy tuk-tuk ride.
Venturing beyond the town’s borders unveils the pristine coastline of Ria Formosa Nature Park, and to the east, the quaint town of Cabanas de Tavira beckons. Once dotted with fishing huts, Cabanas has transformed into a relaxed holiday destination, with its secluded beach being a serene escape, reachable only by a swift water taxi.
However, Tavira’s allure isn’t just its picturesque landscapes; it’s the blend of unique accommodation options and a comforting small-town ambiance. This makes it an unparalleled hub for delving deeper into the Algarve, or simply unwinding amidst its serene beaches, delightful eateries, and perhaps, a game of golf at a nearby course. So, if you’re wondering what to see and do in this Algarvian gem, this travel guide will pave the way for an unforgettable experience.
Useful Resources for Your Trip to Tavira
Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Tavira.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Tavira.
- Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental, particularly from Faro Airport.
- 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 Tavira and the surrounding Algarve.
- Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in the Algarve.
- Public Transport: Vamus.pt is the main bus company for the Algarve and 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 Tavira is Faro Airport.
What To Do
Visit the beach
Tavira, an enchanting Algarvian town, boasts more than just its rich history and architecture. A stone’s throw away lie some of the region’s most idyllic beaches, drawing both locals and visitors to their pristine sands.
- Ilha de Cabanas: A jewel opposite the quaint town of Cabanas de Tavira, Ilha de Cabanas is nothing short of paradise. The beach here stretches endlessly, its white sands sandwiched between azure waters and clear skies, offering the perfect canvas for long, introspective beach walks. Its narrow yet expansive layout gives visitors ample space to find their own serene nook.
- Ilha de Tavira: Also popularly known as Tavira Island, Ilha de Tavira stands out as one of the most acclaimed beaches in the vicinity. This expansive stretch of almost ethereal white sands is only about 3 kilometres from the main town of Tavira. Despite its proximity, it offers the seclusion many seek, with enough space to ensure you find your perfect spot to unwind. Complementing its natural allure, the beach is dotted with restaurants, serving up delightful local fare. Furthermore, its esteemed Blue Flag status attests to its impeccable quality, making it an excellent choice for a day’s escapade.
- Praia do Barril: Unique and picturesque, Praia do Barril is renowned for its ‘anchor cemetery’. A testament to a bygone era, over 100 anchors lay in rows on its sands, remnants of a thriving tuna fishing community that once called these waters home. These relics, left behind as bluefin tuna migration patterns changed, lend the beach a distinct, evocative character. Beyond this captivating sight, the beach itself offers vast stretches of fine sand and inviting waters, making it a delightful destination in its own right.
Praça da República
Nestled at the heart of Tavira, Praça da República stands as the town’s bustling central square. Dominating one side of the plaza is an imposing building adorned with several arches – the town hall. Directly before it, visitors are greeted by a serene water feature dotted with sprightly fountains. The square’s central point is marked by a war memorial, paying homage to the past.
Contrasting the officialdom of the town hall, the opposite side of the square offers a more relaxed ambience with its array of bars and restaurants. This spot provides an ideal setting for leisurely basking in the sun and indulging in people-watching. Adjacent to these restaurants, bars, cafes, a quaint amphitheatre adds to the locale’s charm.
The iconic Ponte Romana de Tavira often catches the eye of many visitors to Tavira. Spanning the Gilão River, this bridge, despite its name suggesting Roman origins, was actually constructed in the 12th century. It’s believed to stand on the same spot as a previous structure, possibly of Roman design, which might have once linked Tavira to Castro Marim.
However, the authenticity of the Roman connection remains a topic of debate. What we do know is that many of its distinctive features, including its seven notable arches, hail from refurbishments in the 17th century. Positioned near Praça da República, this pedestrian-only bridge has become emblematic of Tavira, offering a scenic passage across the river and cementing its place as one of the town’s most celebrated landmarks.
Tavira’s main market, known as the ‘Mercado Municipal‘, stands proudly as a hub for fresh produce in the town. Located on Avenida Don Manuel I, just a short stroll from the town centre, this market brims with a vast assortment of fresh fish, succulent fruits, crisp vegetables, and aromatic spices. It’s renowned for offering value, with products often priced lower than many expect. However, if you’re keen on selecting the freshest fish, ensure you arrive early; by mid-morning, the choicest selections are usually snapped up.
This expansive Mercado Municipal has taken the mantle from the historic riverside market, offering a more expansive and diverse shopping experience. It’s not just a market; it’s a testament to traditional shopping in the Algarve. Alongside the usual produce, you can discover teas, spices, and handcrafted local goods. For those staying in Tavira, the mercado offers a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the local way of life and shopping culture.
Jardim do Coreto
Adjacent to Praça da República and the Roman Bridge lies a tranquil oasis known as Jardim do Coreto, also referred to as Jardim Público de Tavira. This serene spot offers a quiet escape where visitors can meander along its pathways or simply relax on the plentiful benches, observing the gentle ebb and flow of local life.This verdant enclave is a favoured haunt for Tavira’s older residents, reflecting the town’s quintessential charm. As you explore, don’t be surprised if the soothing melodies of street musicians enhance your experience, adding a melodic touch to the picturesque Jardim Público de Tavira.
Igreja da Misericórdia
Initiated in 1541 and completed in 1551, the Igreja da Misericórdia de Tavira stands as a testament to the architectural grandeur of its time. It is designed with a wooden roof, structured around three naves separated by columns, each topped with Renaissance capitals.
Designed by the talented André Pilarte, the church’s primary portal is hailed as an Algarve Renaissance gem. It showcases exquisitely carved figures, including Our Lady and two apostles, attesting to the superior craftsmanship of the era.
Internally, the church boasts ornate decoration. Of particular prominence are the main chapel’s altarpiece and the two adjacent altars, constructed between 1722 and 1723, exemplifying the distinct “national baroque” style.
It’s impossible to overlook the splendid tiles that adorn the church’s lower walls. Originating from Lisbon circa 1760, these tiles are arranged into eighteen panels, each portraying the Works of Mercy.
Amongst the artwork, a remarkable 1730 painting of the Immaculate Conception by Italian artist Giovanni Odazzi deserves special attention. Completing the church’s visual narrative are various statues from the 17th and 18th centuries, gracefully positioned on the altars.
Castle of Tavira
Although sources suggest a fortress on this site as early as the VIII century B.C. built by the Phoenicians, the current castle is believed to have been constructed in the XII century. This castle stood as a significant landmark during the town’s conquest from the Moors in 1239 by King D. Paio Peres Correia and underwent subsequent ownerships and renovations. Notably, in 1293, King D. Dinis recognized the importance of Tavira in fending off pirate attacks and thus commanded a renovation of the castle. However, the catastrophic earthquake of 1755 left both the town and the castle extensively damaged.
Today, what remains of the Tavira Castle includes two square towers, an octagonal tower, and walls on three sides. Interestingly, none of these structures exhibit the typical features of a keep. Within the castle’s confines is a serene garden, and visitors can ascend most parts of the walls and towers. Open to the public until 5:00 pm, entry to this historical gem is free.
A captivating local legend speaks of an enchanted Moorish woman, believed to be the daughter of Aben-Fabila, the Moorish governor. As the tale goes, she is seen lamenting her fate every St. John’s night, a significant city festivity on the 24th of June. Aben-Fabila, after magically disappearing and enchanting his daughter during Tavira’s conquest, was expected to return to reclaim the town and free his daughter. Yet, he never returned, leaving the legend and the mysteries of the castle to captivate the imaginations of all who visit.
Torre de Tavira
The Torre de Tavira, once a water tower, now offers a unique way to glimpse the city’s landmarks. This transformed tower provides a 360-degree panoramic perspective of the town. Through the clever use of mirrors and lenses, a live image of Tavira is cast onto a wall. Upon visiting, a guide delves into the workings of the lens and highlights the various activities unfolding in different parts of Tavira in real-time. It’s not just a viewing point but an engaging experience. A quick, insightful 15-minute tour is priced at €4.
Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo
Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo is one of Tavira’s most remarkable churches among its 37. Its bell towers, adorned with distinct white and yellow clock faces, are easily spotted throughout Tavira. This church, originally erected in the 13th century, features a blend of Gothic and 16th-century Manueline architectural elements. Historically significant, the church stands on the grounds of a former mosque, and subsequent excavations have unearthed Moorish relics from its depths. Like many architectural gems in the Algarve, the devastating 1755 earthquake reduced it to rubble, prompting a thorough rebuild.
Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo holds particular significance in Tavira’s history, chiefly due to the tombs of the Sete Cavaleiros Mártires (Seven Martyr Knights) and Paio Peres Correia. In a tragic 13th-century event, these knights met their end in an ambush near Tavira. To avenge their deaths, Paio Peres Correia and the local Order of Santiago launched an assault, reclaiming the city from Moorish rule. Legend has it that upon Correia’s demise, his remains were returned to Tavira for burial alongside the martyred knights.
A visit to this historic church costs €2.50, granting visitors the added treat of ascending the bell tower to soak in panoramic views of the surroundings.
Pego do Inferno Waterfall
A mere 10-minute drive from Tavira brings you to Pego do Inferno, a hidden gem featuring a serene lake and picturesque waterfall. The lack of prominent signposts can make it a bit challenging to locate, and its secluded nature means it’s off the typical tourist path. It’s advisable to sport comfortable trainers for the trek. Once there, the tranquil setting offers a splendid opportunity for a refreshing dip. For the more daring souls, the locale invites cliff jumps and exhilarating swings off a rope.
What To Eat
Tavira is rooted deep within the Algarve’s fishing tradition, and the culinary scene is a rich tapestry of flavours, which captures the essence of its maritime heritage. Seafood, particularly octopus, is popular as are other seafood dishes commonly found across the Algarve, like cataplanas and grilled sardines.
But Tavira’s gastronomy is not limited to its coastal offerings. Venture slightly inland towards the Serra do Caldeirão mountains, and the palate shifts from the sea to the rugged terrains. Here, the local favourites include succulent oven-baked goat leg (perna de cabrito ao forno), comforting chicken stew (açorda de galinha), and an assortment of game dishes. Sausages (enchidos) and cheeses, particularly those made from fresh goat’s and sheep’s milk, are staples, underscoring the town’s versatility in its culinary repertoire.
Broths, soups, and stews also hold a special place in Tavira’s food scene. From the invigorating razor clam soup and creamy octopus rice (arroz do polvo) to crispy fried squid and the renowned arjamolho, the variety is bound to satisfy every craving.
But no meal is truly complete without diving into Tavira’s sweet treasures. Indulge in desserts crafted from figs and almonds, like the decadent Dons Rodrigos and morgados. The town also prides itself on its range of sweets incorporating almonds, gila, carob, figs, and the signature Tavira puff pastries (folhados de Tavira).
- Flying: The nearest airport to Tavira is Faro Airport, which is around 35 minutes by car (41 km or 25 miles). The easiest way to get from Faro Airport to Tavira is by taxi or Uber or be renting a car.
- Train: Tavira has a train station, which means you can easily get to other Algarve towns like Faro and Lagos by train. You can also take the train further afield to Lisbon, Porto, or other parts of Portugal. For train tickets and timetables, see cp.pt.
- Bus: For local bus timetables, see vamus.pt. For long distance buses, see Rede Expressos or Flixbus.pt.
- Driving: Tavira is situated around 35 minutes from Faro Airport. It is possible to visit Tavira without a car, as there are good bus and train connections to other parts of the Algarve, but having a car will make it easier to visit the towns and beaches that aren’t connected by public transport.