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The guide to Tavira includes:
A quick overview
What? A small town in the Algarve
What to see? Islands, churches, a castle, an ancient bridge, a nature park, and much more.
Costs? Some entrance fees for the churches, optional tours, and museums. Most things are free.
Where? 35 kilometres east of Faro
Worth it? Oh yessssss, keep reading!
What is Tavira?
Tavira is a town located in the southeast of Portugal. It’s situated in the Algarve region between the city of Faro and the Spanish border. The river Gilão runs through town and meets the Atlantic Ocean at Ilha de Tavira (Ilha means island in English). The Portuguese town is one of many favourites in the Algarve region and a must-see within the south of Portugal.
A little bit of history
Tavira has been bustling since the Bronze Age. In the 8th century BC, it was one of the first Phoenician settlements on the Iberian Peninsula. Everything is gone from this time, and the place we now know as Tavira was even abandoned. Throughout the years, and under different rules, the town was known under other names. It’s believed the first name was Baal Saphon, followed by Balsa, a name the Romans gave to the town.
Tavira, as we now see it, was created around the 8th century under the Moorish occupation. Many Moorish influences still exist, such as the doors and whitewashed houses. Did you know that the name Algarve also comes from the Moors? They called it Gharb al-Andalus (Al-Gharb in short), meaning the west, now called Algarve. In 1242, Tavira was reconquered from the Moors by Dom Paio Peres Correia. The town became an important village.
During the 1755 earthquake, most of the town was destroyed. Thankfully Tavira is a flourishing town today, and it consists of two main parts, divided by the Gilão river. Or centuries, fishing was the primary source of income. Today this is replaced by tourism, but you’ll still spot plenty of fisher boats in the harbour. It’s a quaint little town that steals the heart of many!
Things to do in Tavira
You’ll probably need a day or a few hours to visit most sights in Tavira. But why rush things when you’re on holiday? It is a great spot to stay overnight, and the beach is truly paradise. The town is also a great base to discover the rest of the Algarve. Let’s have a look at all the things to do in Tavira.
Praça da República
The main square in town is called Praça da República. Around the square, you’ll find some shops and restaurants and the Monumento aos Combatentes da Grande Guerra de Tavira. You can visit Tavira’s tourist office here as well.
Ponte Antiga Sobre over the Rio Gilão
Praça da República is located close to the river Gilão, and it’s the perfect location to spot the ancient Ponte Antiga de Tavira bridge. The old bridge over the river Gilão used to be an integral part of the road that connected Faro to Mértola (a town in the Portuguese district of Beja). The bridge connects the two parts of Tavira, is 87 meters long, and contains seven arches. Along the riverbanks, you’ll discover a little park called Jardim do Coreto. It’s a lovely place to see and watch the world go by.
From Praça da República, you can follow the Porta de D. Manuel towards the Ruínas Fenícias de Tavira. This is a fantastic spot where you can see some archaeological remains dating from the 8th century BC to the 18th century. You can easily reach the Castelo de Tavira from the ruins, which is located above the remains.
Along the river, you can take a look at Tavira Market or Mercado da Ribeira in Portuguese. The building is open all day, but the market with fresh produce is only in the morning.
Castelo de Tavira
From Castelo de Tavira, you have the best view of the area! The fortress is located at the highest point in town, hence the stunning views! The castle was built in the 11th century during Moorish rule. In 1294 King Dinis expanded the castle, and its primary use was to protect Tavira from a Moorish invasion. When Tavira became an important fishing hub, the castle protected the town against pirates.
From the castle, you overlook the town and have a mesmerising view over the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. The castle is small but very well preserved with beautiful gardens. From the castle’s main entrance, you can easily cross the road towards the Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo. Castelo de Tavira is free to visit and open all year round. In the summer, the court is open from 10 AM until 7 PM, and in winter, from 10 AM until 5 PM.
Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo
Santa Maria do Castelo is one of the most important churches (there are 37 in total!). The church was built in the 13th century on the ruins of a former mosque. Inside, you can discover the tombstones of Dom Paio Peres Correia and his knights. They were placed here in the 18th century because they believed the church was their burial place.
Other sites within the church are the Chapel of Senhor dos Passos, the Chapel of the Most Holy, the Gothic side Chapel, the Baptismal Chapel, and the Gothic portal. There are several azulejo displays, as well as religious artworks and carvings. From the staircase, you can enter the church’s tower. From here, you have a stunning view of the castle, the town, and Ria Formosa in the background. There is a small entrance fee to visit the church’s interior and the accompanied museum.
Tavira Camera Obscura
Behind the church, you’ll see a white tower. Previously this was used as a water tower, but nowadays, this is where you’ll find a Camera Obscura. Torre de Tavira offers a 360 projected view of the city. It’s a fun way to learn more about the town and discover its cultural heritage!
Fado com História
Enjoy a night of Fado music in the heart of Tavira. Fado com História is located next to Igreja da Misericórdia, and there are daily Fado shows. You listen to the sounds of the Portuguese guitar and beautiful singing. You learn more about this Intangible Heritage of Humanity during a video presentation, and the Traditional Fado is explained in multiple languages. During the 35-minute show, you’ll enjoy a glass of Port wine, including some traditional snacks.
Igreja da Misericórdia
The construction of Igreja da Misericórdia started in 1541, and the church was completed a decade later. The building is considered a masterpiece of the Algarve Renaissance style, and the interior is richly decorated with azulejo tiles. There are a total of 18 panels representing the Works of Mercy. Other highlights are a painting by Giovanni Odazzi of the Immaculate Conception, the altarpiece, and several side altars.
Palácio da Galeria
If you like to know more about the history of Tavira, Palácio da Galeria is the place to be. The building houses Tavira’s Municipal Museum, and the collection contains old artefacts and local contemporary art, costumes, and current works.
Praia da Ilha de Tavira
Tavira Island, or Ilha de Tavira, is located just south of the town. The island is 11 kilometres long and known for its beautiful beach, Praia da Ilha de Tavira. The island is part of the nature reserve Ria Formosa, and parts of the beach are nearly 1 kilometre wide! Ilha de Tavira is great for a beach day and a heavenly place for bird watchers. It’s a fabulous spot for a beach walk, or you can enjoy the sun loungers on the beach.
How to get to Ilha de Tavira
You can reach the island by ferry. The barco to Ilha de Tavira departs from Marina de Tavira, close to Mercado da Ribeira, the market. You follow the river Gilão and pass by parts of the Ria Formosa until you reach the Island. If you’re lucky, you can spot many birds and even flamingos on the way! Please take note of the last returning ferry to make your way back to town! Or even better… stay the night! Parque de Campismo da Ilha de Tavira offers camping on Ilha de Tavira, with a few cabins for rent.
For current ferry times to the island, click here. Tickets for boat trips from Tavira, or carreias barco de Tavira, are € 2,50 for adults (return) or € 1,60 one way. Children between 4 to 11 pay € 0.90 one way or € 1.30 for a round trip. A water taxi is also available, which is more expensive, but you won’t need to wait for the ferry. At Pedras de El-Rei, there is a footbridge to Praia do Barril. Tip: check out the Anchor Cemetary at Praia do Barril. The abandoned anchors are a reminder of the once flourishing tuna fishing days. To head straight to Praia da Ilha de Tavira, you can take a tourist train, which runs during the summer months. The route on foot is about 2 kilometres, but well worth the walk!
Discover the salt pans
Just outside the city of Tavira, you’ll spot the salt pans. You can take a lovely walk towards this area within the Ria Formosa. The circular route is around 7 kilometres (4.3 miles) and is a marvellous place for bird watching. Changes are that you’ll spot flamingos! You’ll find Flor de Sal in all the Tavira shops, making a remarkable souvenir back home. The salt is extracted in the so-called Salinas, small salt basins. The salt was called the ‘white gold’ from Algarve during the Roman Empire.
Visit the Ria Formosa Natural Park
Another way to discover Ria Formosa Natural Park is by boat. The wetland zone is a whopping 60 kilometres long and a heavenly place for birds and birdwatchers alike. Bird watching is best in winter during the migration. With a bit of luck, you can see some very rare species! During the tour, you’ll visit a few islands, and the guides will explain more about the wildlife and landscape. You’ll find a maze of canals, marshes, sandbanks, farmland, and islands at Ria Formosa Natural Park. The 18,000-hectare lagoon is located between the municipality of Loulé and Manta Rota.
Where is Tavira located, and how to get to the seaside town?
One of the best things in Tavira? There is a railway station! That makes a visit from the nearby city of Faro extremely easy. You can check the current timetable on the Comboios de Portugal website. The train ride from Faro to Tavira takes around 45 minutes.
By car, you follow the A22 until exit 16 towards the N270. From Faro, the drive takes around 30 minutes. There are parking places in Tavira, but it gets pretty busy, especially during the high season. Need to rent a car to explore the Algarve? Check prices and book your rental below!
Hotels in Tavira
A lovely but simple place to stay is Residencial Marés. The hotel has many rooms, and the staff is extremely friendly. It’s like being home away from home! The hotel has a sunroof and even some apartments with a rooftop view. Other rooms overlook the river Gilão or Tavira town. If you’re looking for a unique place to stay, Pousada do Convento da Graça is perfect! You sleep in a former 16th-century convent, and the rooms are beautifully styled. The hotel has a swimming pool, air-conditioning, and free parking. Check out other hotels below to find the perfect spot for you!
Where to eat in Tavira?
Are you looking for a traditional Portuguese meal? Restaurante Marés serves a typical dinner with plenty of fish and meat options, including lovely wines. A very different dinner is available at CafeBar22 on the other side of the river. They serve tasty tapas & petiscos and themed Thai curries. Other recommendations are Zeca da Bica, Nó de Gosto, and Ti Maria Tapas & Garrafeira. Try the traditional estupeta de atum, a delicious tuna salad with tuna flakes and tomato, sometimes served on a piece of bread. There will be plenty of seafood on the menu, and a cataplana de marisco (seafood stew) is another recommendation.
Other things to do near Tavira
The Algarve has plenty more in store for you, and there are many places to visit. Here are some recommendations in the area:
✓ Visit Faro and discover the Capela dos Ossos, a chapel full of skulls!
✓ Discover the waterfall Pego do Inferno
✓ Visit the other islands Ilha da Culatra, Ilha da Barreta, and Ilha de Cabanas
✓ Visit the nearby visit village of Cabanas
✓ Discover Castro Marim close to the Spanish border and enjoy the nature of Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim
✓ Spend some time on the gorgeous beach Praia da Rocha Baixinha
✓ Visit the town of Alte
✓ Drive to the west of the Algarve and discover Benagil, Lagos, Ferragudo, Ponta da Piedade, and Sagres
Tavira is a cute town in southern Portugal. It’s a quaint place without mass- tourism, with some sights and good places to eat. Tavira is pretty quiet at night, and if you’re looking for a chill place, this is the place to be. Ilha da Tavira is a must-see and a beautiful place to stay the night. There is plenty to do in the area to fill up your holiday in the Algarve.
Glad I found this before my trip to Algarve. Hope to visit Tavira during my trip this summer. I loved the unique clocktower of Santa Maria do Castelo.
Ooooh perfect timing! Have fun in the Algarve!
Thanks again for another wonderful post about Portugal! It’s always great to get some food recs too!
I can’t wait to start planning my trip!
I travel more and more to explore typical food myself! So good to taste new flavours!
Tavira looks like an idyllic city! I am saving this for later so I can visit one day. Thank you for all the insider tips and recommendations.
Any time Jennifer! I hope you get to make it some day!
I am so embarrassed that I have never heard of this place! But Portugal is a country I would love to tour someday and you’ve inspired me to take my time exploring…
Nothing to be embarrassed about! Tavira is a bit of a hidden gem and perfect if you don’t like loud beach towns. Hope to welcome you in Portugal some day!
I love places like this that have long, interesting histories, but didn’t get gentrified into a mass-tourist hot-spot! What a beautiful area.
The Ruínas Fenícias de Tavira, with the possibility of seeing archaeological remains dating from the 8th century, sounds soooo cool!
I love Portugal! I was there in the fall but we didn’t make it south of Lisbon this time. Tavira will definitely be on my itinerary when we make it back! I’ve saved to my pinterest board for future planning! So much great info here – thanks!
I am planning to go to Portugal in the fall. Am hoping to hit the Algarve and now I’m adding Tavira to my list!
Love this guide! Really want to visit Portugal so this is very useful!
I need to add this to my bucket list, thanks!
We visited Tavira for the first time when we were in Portugal last year. We were certainly charmed by the town. And had the best lunch on our visit. We will have to plan a trip out to Ilha de Tavira on our next visit.
This looks a wonderful place to slow down and soak up Portugal, I will definitely be adding this town to our DO list…
Tavira is such a charming gem of a place in the Algarve. I must say it’s a place for those who love the beach sans the crowd. I have been to Tavira, but after reading this article, I felt I could have stayed overnight to make the most of what the town has to offer.
This is stunning! I’ve always wanted to go and you convinced me!
This is timely – I am heading to the Algarve soon, and Tavira wasn’t on my itinerary….well now it is. Such as lovely place!
I have never visited Portugal before but Tavira looks stunning. The houses and building all look so lovely, this is defiantly a place I would like to visit!
My husband and I are here in Tavira for 2 months. We have enjoyed all the major attractions in our first month here. I have also found the cat colony cared for by the city another place to visit frequently. I’ve named most of the 27 cats. Is there a blog for cat lovers like me? I have written a couple of poems about them and the one I’ve gotten to know at Bernardas Convent where we are staying.
Hi Rosemary! Oh my, the cats sound amazing! Unfortunately, I don´t know of any cat blog, but if you find one, I´d love to check it out also!