Huge rocks on sand next to beach. Praia do Vau, Portimao, Portugal

There are many rewarding things to do in Portimão, a town rich in history and beauty. Let me tell you about them…

Once upon a time, Portimão, nestling on the western southern coast of the Algarve, was a busy fishing, canning and boat building centre. As the years passed and tourism started to grow, visitors began to flock to the wonderful beaches in Portimão, particularly the enormous Praia da Rocha. Yet despite the number of modern hotels and apartment blocks near the beaches, the old town still retains a more authentic persona.

That’s what you’ll find in Portimão today: all the facilities that a visitor needs and appreciates, such as restaurants, a range of accommodations and numerous activities and attractions plus a laid-back town centre near the river where local people go about their daily lives. 

1. Get a sense of the past at Portimão Museum

In the 20th century, sardine canning was the most important way to make a living in Portimão and this excellent museum gives a wonderful portrait of what it was like to work in that industry.

Two women figures working. Canning sardines, Portimão Museum, Algarve, Portugal.
Canning sardines, Portimão Museum, Algarve, Portugal.

The museum is housed in the Feu Hermanos, an original canning factory, and uses life-size models to explain the process from beginning to end. Almost everyone from the locality was employed in some capacity. You can even see the tiny beds that babies slept in whilst their parents were working.

The museum is really well thought-out and engaging. Well worth a visit.

Opening times: September 1st to July 31st. Tuesday 2:30 pm to 6 pm. Wednesday to Sunday 10 am to 6 pm. Closed on Mondays and National Holidays. Free Entry: Sunday (10 am-2 pm)

August 1st to 31st Tuesday 7:30 pm to 11 pm. Wednesday to Sunday 3 pm to 11 pm. Closed on Mondays and National Holidays. Free Entry: Sunday (3 pm – 7 pm).

Tickets (Normal): €3. 

2. Wonder at the Benagil caves

Whilst in Portimão, the famous Benagil caves are so near it would be a shame not to see them. You’ll be in awe of the wonderful natural rock formations and the gorgeous beaches you’ll pass on the way.

Take this Benagil Caves and Praia de Marinha Boat Tour and see a fort, a castle and go swimming at one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Praia de Marinha.

Note that if you go by boat to the caves, you are not allowed out of the craft. A great way to get around this is by taking this Kayak Tour of Benagil Caves. You start off in a catamaran and then jump into your kayak to tour the cave, stepping out onto the sand if you like.

Please note: As of 25th September 2023 kayaks and SUPs are not allowed into the cave due to safety concerns. The Maritime authority see this as a temporary measure but please check with the operators before booking a tour. Many tours will still include kayaking but not in the cave.

3. Take in the calm of Portimão Old Town

Although people tend to think that Praia da Rocha is Portimão, the old town is actually about 3 kilometres inland. If you are tired of the hustle and bustle of the beach area, the short journey to Portimão old town will reward you with a charming historic centre, plazas lined with cafes and shady trees and a few interesting churches. 

4. Stroll along the Ribeirinha 

Riverside walk, Portimão, Algarve, Portugal. Photgraphy by Julie Dawn Fox
Riverside walk, Portimão, Algarve, Portugal.

One of the most pleasurable things to do in Portimão is to saunter along the Ribeirinha, a wide pedestrianised walkway alongside the River Arade. Particularly attractive are the calçada Portuguesa or Portuguese pavements that cover most of the area. You can rest on the benches and look at the boats or do a spot of people watching.

From here, you can see Ponte Velha, the old bridge that connects Portimão with the fishing village of Ferragudo and Parchal.

5. Treat yourself at Praça Manuel Teixeira Gomes

Water fountains at Praça Manuel Teixeira Gomes, Portimão, Algarve, Portugal
Praça Manuel Teixeira Gomes, Portimão, Algarve, Portugal

This is a lovely open space with restaurants and cafes surrounding a water feature. It was named after the former President of the Republic, Manuel Teixeira Gomes, to celebrate his efforts in establishing Portimão as a city in the early 1920s.

For a real treat, pop into the nearby Café Ingles for a delicious cake. My favourite is the carob cake. Chocolatey, rich and yummy!

A slice of Carob cake from Café Inglés, Portimão, Algarve, Portugal
Carob cake from Café Inglés, Portimão, Algarve, Portugal

6. Visit Igreja do Colégio 

The large white church in Praça da República, right in the centre of Portimão is the former Jesuit College Church. It dates from the 1660s but was badly affected by the earthquake of 1755, subsequently restored and passed through the hands of various religious institutions. 

Two women walking in front of Jesuit College, Portimão, Algarve, Portugal
Jesuit College, Portimão, Algarve, Portugal

Diogo Gonçalves, a rich businessman who made his fortune in the Orient, found safe haven in the city after a storm at sea and helped to rebuild the church. As a reward, he has his mausoleum inside.

You can visit the church Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 12:30 pm and 3 pm to 6 pm.

7. Explore the coastline on horseback

A truly wonderful way to enjoy the views of this part of the Algarvian coast is from the back of a horse. You can explore the beautiful beachscapes of Portimão on this one-hour horse riding tour. No experience is necessary although there is a weight limit of 90 kg to protect the horses.

8. Join the locals in Jardim 1 de Dezembro 

People relaxing at cafe in Jardim 1 de Dezembro, Portimão, Algarve, Portugal
Jardim 1 de Dezembro, Portimão, Algarve, Portugal

This charming garden is much loved by locals. Jardim 1 de Dezembro was designed in the 1930s and this period is still in evidence. Garden benches have decorative tiles with designs from Fábrica de Sacavém depicting figures and episodes from the history of Portugal. 

9. Create your own unique textile basketry piece of art

You can join textile artist Maria Pratas at her atelier in Portimão and she will be your guide as you make a unique coil basket, using natural textile fibres and wool. The length of each workshop is 4 hours and the group size is small. The price also includes some typical appetizers from the region such as “tiborna”, dried figs and yummy drinks.

For more details, click here and you’ll also get a 10% discount!

10. Watch out for pirates at Fortaleza de Santa Catarina 

People in the foreground of Santa Catarina Fortress, Praia da Rocha, Portimao.
Santa Catarina Fortress, Praia da Rocha, Portimao.

The fort of Santa Catarina dates from 1621 and, along with the Fort of São João do Arade, guards the entrance to the River Arade. Built to prevent pirates and suchlike from sailing up the river, it affords lovely views out to sea, over Praia da Rocha beach, Portimão Marina and across the river to Ferragudo. 

11. Explore Portimão by Segway

Man on segway next to a well. Segway tour, Santa Catarina Fortress, Praia da Rocha, Portimão, Algarve, Portugal
Segway tour, Santa Catarina Fortress, Praia da Rocha, Portimão, Algarve, Portugal

A segway tour is a fun way to get a feeling for Portimão, learn about its history and culture, and to see the views and monuments with minimum effort.

This segway tour lasts for 90 minutes and takes you to all the sights, including the marina and fortress.

12. Take in the expanse of Praia da Rocha

A section of the idyllic Praia de Rocha, Portimao, with fence in foreground.
A section of the idyllic Praia de Rocha, Portimao.

Praia da Rocha is one of the most popular beaches in the Algarve and less than a 10-minute drive from Portimão old town. While Portimão is generally quieter and more laid-back, Praia da Rocha is a modern, tourism-centred town that attracts beach-goers of all nationalities. 

It’s a huge beach so even taking its popularity into consideration you can usually find a spot somewhere to lay your towel or rent a sunbed. The beach is surrounded by striking rock formations and the water is clear, if a little chilly.

Although you get families happily enjoying the soft sand, there are also spots for party-goers to hang out in high season, like NoSoloAgua near the harbour.

13. Go diving and explore shipwrecks

Just a few miles off the coast of Portimão you’ll find a different kind of tourist attraction. Ocean Revival is the name of a project where four decommissioned Portuguese Navy vessels were deliberately sunk to provide an underwater park for divers.

If you hold an advanced open water diver certificate, you can join a group of Portuguese divers and explore the wrecks. With your qualifications in place, you can take this double-dive experience. If you’re not quite up to this standard but you’d still like to try diving, other options are available.

14. Take to the skies

Adrenaline seekers can experience a thrilling skydiving adventure along the scenic Portimão coast. You can take a tandem-dive from 15,000 feet taking in spectacular views before landing on a white sand beach.

15. Go back in time to Megalithic Monuments of Alcalar

Less than a 20-minute drive will get you to the Megalithic Monuments of Alcalar, an intriguing group of burial tombs that were discovered in the late 19th century. There are artefacts to give you a greater understanding of what life was like and an interactive interpretation centre at the Portimão Museum.

16. Discover the bright buildings and boats of Portimão Marina 

The colorful buildings alongside Portimao Marina.
The colorful buildings alongside Portimao Marina.

Portimão Marina is seen as the safest harbour in Portugal and its size and depth mean you can see some of the mega-yachts of the rich and famous before they head off to the Mediterranean. Both of the historical forts of Santa Catarina and São João overlook the marina. The buildings alongside the marina are painted in eye-catching colours.

17. Take a boat trip up the River Arade to Silves

If you enjoy the water and would like to learn about local history and culture, try this Arade River and Silves History Tour. You can go on a journey full of history from Portimão to Silves and enjoy the beautiful Arade River on an eco-friendly solar-powered boat. 

18. See the doorway of Nossa Senhora da Conceição church

Looking up the steps of the Parish church, Portimão, Algarve, Portugal
Parish church, Portimão, Algarve, Portugal

The parish church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição suffered badly in the earthquake and much of it was rebuilt. It’s located in the highest part of ​​the city, just inside the old walls. Notice the late-Gothic portal with its sculptures of musicians and women.

You can visit the church Monday to Friday from 10 am to 12:30 pm and 3 pm to 7 pm. Saturdays from 5 pm to 7 pm. Sundays from 10:30 am to 1 pm and 5 pm to 7 pm.

19. Discover the arts at TEMPO – Teatro Municipal de Portimão

If you’re looking for a cultural activity in Portimão, check out the municipal theatre. It’s in the old Palacio Sarrea and, over its five floors, has two auditoriums covering all types of theatre and music. 

To see what’s on, check out their Facebook page here

20. Feel the buzz at Algarve International Autodrome 

For anyone wanting to experience either 2 or 4-wheeled speed, this internationally-acclaimed racetrack would be the place to go. You can see such events as the Portuguese Grand Prix but also try out karting, off-road buggies and suchlike. Or brush up on your day-to-day driving skills.
Take a look at the Autodromo website for further details.

21. Take to the tees with golf in Portimão

Anyone who enjoys a round of golf in glorious surroundings is spoilt for choice near Portimão. There are 12 golf clubs nearby with plenty of variety to suit your golfing needs. Besides the side-by-side courses at Morgado do Reguengo Golf Resort, there’s the 18 hole Alto Golf, situated between Alvor and Praia da Rocha.

See this article for an in-depth look at Algarve Golf Courses.

Getting to Portimão

To drive from Lisbon to Portimão takes around 2 hours and 45 minutes. If you want to hire a car Discovercars and Rentalcars provide very good value.

Buses and trains are easily manageable but take a little longer, e.g. Flixbus goes from Oriente train station in Lisbon and takes around 3.5 hours. The bus and train stations are just north of Portimão old town.

If you’re travelling to the Algarve and looking for inspiration, then check out this 20 Best Things To Do In The Algarve post.

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