Whether you visit as a day trip or use it as a base, there are plenty of things to do in Silves. I’ve visited this charming town in the Algarve many times over the years and always enjoy it.
Situated on a hill above the River Arade, Silves is a small town of meandering cobbled streets brimming with historical distinction. Once the bustling former capital of the Kingdom of the Algarve and an important trade centre, it now offers a relaxing atmosphere steeped in history.
With its impressive towering red sandstone castle and river, which was once navigable and the key to the city’s prosperity, Silves is peaceful and laid-back; a perfect place to unwind at an outdoor café.
Besides history and tradition, the natural beauty of the surrounding area, with its orange, carob and olive trees and vineyards make it a great place for walks and other outdoor activities. In fact, this is the area where I did a wonderful walking holiday in 2022.
If you need a bit of beach time, although Silves is not on the coast, it’s less than a 30 minutes’ drive to the ocean.
So what is there to do in Silves? Based on my most recent visits in 2022 and 2023, here are my top recommendations:
1. Visit Silves Castle
For castle lovers, Silves Castle does not disappoint. Its square towers and red sandstone walls can be seen from far away, giving the impression that something important was going on here. And it certainly was.
Iberia had been under Muslim rule for centuries until 1189 when King Sancho I of Portugal, known as ‘the Populator’, took the town, ordered the fortification of the city and built a castle. (Unfortunately, he lost the town again and it wasn’t until 1242 that it fell for the last time from Muslim law.)
You can’t miss the huge bronze sculpture of the king next to the main entrance.
Originally, the main gate was defended by two towers but there was also another entrance, called the ‘traitors gate’. You can see the outline of former buildings and go inside the cool space of the former reservoir, or aljibe.
As with many places that have a strong Muslim heritage, there is a legend of an enchanted Moorish woman who sails across the well’s waters on the eve of St. John’s Day in a silver boat with golden oars. As she rows, she sings songs, hoping for a prince to say the magic words and break the spell that keeps her there.
If you’re interested in these stories take a look at my Moorish legends from the Algarve post.
The aljibe is now an exhibition space which, when I visited, was dedicated to the Iberian Lynx.
The sweeping panoramic views from the castle walls are gorgeous, offering you a glimpse into what the countryside has to offer, as well as the town. Just be a little careful if you want to explore the battlements. If safety railings and such like are the norm for you when traversing heights, you may need to be slightly more cautious as you patrol the walls.
Opening hours: April 1st to June 30th: 9 am to 8 pm. July 1st to August 31st: 9 am to 10 pm. September 1 to October 23: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. October 24th to March 31st: 9 am to 5 pm. Closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Admission: €2.80. Combined ticket for the Castle and Municipal Museum of Archaeology: €3.90
You can take this full day tour of Silves and Monchique, which includes wine tasting at the famous Quinta Do Frances Winery.
2. See Gothic splendour at Silves Cathedral
A national monument, Silves Cathedral is seen as the most important Gothic building in the Algarve and I can understand why. The high vaulted ceilings and red sandstone columns are impressive and beautiful.
The place where it stands was originally a mosque which was gradually restructured and rebuilt over time.
The cathedral is open 9 am to 1pm and 2 pm to 5 pm.
3. Wander the streets of Silves old town
Many a pleasant hour can be spent wandering around the streets of old town Silves. The hilly cobbled streets can be a challenge on a hot day but there are plenty of cafes for a rest and refreshment. The town’s rich heritage is seen everywhere and a slow stroll gives you the opportunity to take it all in.
4. Have a coffee and cake at Café da Rosa
This delightful café has outdoor seating in the pretty Praça da Município but it’s well worth sitting inside to be surrounded by the beautiful handpainted azulejo panels. Try the três delicias cake – it’s divine (a combo of fig, almond and carob).
5. Relax in Praça da Município
When the trees are in blossom, this is probably the prettiest square in Silves, as well as the most interesting. Here you’ll find the pillory, the arched entrance to the former city walls, the Islamic Heritage Interpretation Centre and the tourist information centre. And some public toilets.
6. Delve into history at the Archeology Museum
For a deeper understanding of the history of Silves, go to the Museu Municipal de Arqueologia de Silves. The collection covers a huge range, from Paleolithic to medieval, with a particular emphasis on the Muslim period and its influence in the region.
The museum is actually built around the Almóada cistern well, a 12th century well that was discovered after excavations were carried out in the 18th century.
In the time of the Moors, the Arade River was a very important trading route to Africa, full of boats loaded with cork, figs and citrus fruits that allowed the town to grow in importance. This heritage is reflected in many of the artefacts on show. There are lots of English translations available so you can easily comprehend the historical significance of the exhibits.
Opening hours are 10 am to 6 pm, with last entry at 5:30 pm. Closed December 25th and January 1st.
Admission: €2.10 or ticket for the Castle and Municipal Museum of Archaeology: €3.90.
7. See the Praça Al Mouhatamid Ibn Abbad Park
A lovely park named after the 11th century Arab leader who was highly regarded as a writer of poetry in Arabic. The gardens contain stunning statues of Moorish figures depicting a long forgotten way of life. The pools and water features add a certain serenity to the park, particularly during an evening stroll.
8. Check out the doorway of Igreja da Misericórdia de Silves
This church is opposite the cathedral and is known for its Manueline-style door, constructed in the 16th century and set half way up the outside of the building, as well as an imposing 17th-century altarpiece.
9. Visit the Hermitage of Our Lady of Martyrs
The original chapel was built in 1189, founded by King Sancho I, and used to bury those soldiers who had died during the conquest of the city. Nothing remains of the original construction. What you see today is a blend of Gothic, Baroque and Mannerist architectural styles.
In the square outside the hermitage, there is a monument to the martyrs.
10. Visit secret lagoons and medieval Silves
If you want to explore the countryside around Silves with a local guide, as well as the town itself, take a road trip to this silent paradise. You’ll head through cork trees and medronhos (strawberry trees) down to crystal-clear waters where you can picnic and swim. Afterwards, make your way to Silves for a look around town. You can choose between morning or afternoon trips. For more information, complete this form and select the Silves option.
11. Enter the city through the old city gate
Torreão da Porta da Cidade is the only one of the 4 archways to the almedina old town still standing and is quite impressive as you approach. It was constructed around the 12th or 13th century. In front of the gate is a reconstruction of the town’s pillory, one of the few in this region to have survived the 1755 earthquake.
The doorway would have been the entrance to the upper parts of the city, including its main mosque and castle.
Just outside the archway is a section of 14th century pavement that was unearthed during an archaeological dig and is now preserved in situ.
12. Get value for money at the Mercado Municipal
The building itself is an example of ‘Estado Novo’, or the dictatorship era of Portugal. The small market nice to walk through and if you’re after a bargain, there’s plenty of fresh produce to choose from.
There are often crafty things to buy and you can sample a few local wines at a tasting session (see below).
13. Visit a ceramics workshop
If hand-painted ceramics appeal to you, pop into the small but friendly Al-Tannur Ceramic Art Shop just up the road from the cathedral. Owned and run by the artists, a couple named Teresa and Luís, you will likely see at least one of them in action as they use Portuguese and Arabic techniques to produce colourful decorative objects.
14. Take a stroll on the Ponte Romana
The pedestrianised 14th century bridge, sometimes known as the ‘Roman bridge’, spans the river and offers the chance to take in views of the town whilst spotting the nesting storks.
15. Don’t miss the Silves Medieval Fair
If you’re in Silves in the month of August, you’ll be swept away by the Medieval Fair. It’s hard to avoid as the Al-Muthamid gardens become a hive of medieval merriment for all to enjoy.
Each evening there’s a procession through the streets, ending outside the cathedral. The history of Silves is played out by a variety of performers, alongside dancers, musicians and actors, many of whom wander the streets giving convincing examples of medieval debauchery.
Dates for 2023 are August 10th to 20th. For further details see this Facebook page.
16. Buy some cork
As I’ve mentioned, cork was an important export in the early days of Silves and although the town’s prospects plummeted when the River Arade began to silt up, cork was still sought after and eventually both cork and dried fruits helped to get the town back on its feet again. As a result, you’ll find several local shops selling a range of lovely cork items.
Take a look at the one on Rua de Abril for good quality and price.
17. Discover the relevance and serenity of the Arade River on a boat trip
Because of the importance of the Arade River it makes perfect sense to learn about its history whilst sailing along it. You can do so on this Silves and Arade River History Tour where you’ll glide along quietly on a solar powered boat.
Besides learning about the history of the river, you’ll also have a chance to listen to the birds during the quieter moments.
18. Tour some vineyards
The Algarve region of Portugal has long been known for its wine production and taking a few hours out to discover its traditions and insights is fascinating.
Local producers will show you their immaculately kept vineyards, explain the differences between grapes and disclose their own wine making process. And, of course, give you the opportunity to sample their goods.
If you’re based in Albufeira, you can discover the town of Silves and visit a local winery on this half-day winery and Silves tour.
If you’d prefer to understand a little about the variety of wines from the Algarve without a visit to a winery, then this Algarve wine tasting experience at Silves municipal market may be more your tipple. You get a tasting of 4 different wines from the region, accompanied by a selection of tapas.
Quinta do Francês Winery is a family-owned vineyard estate located near the hills of Silves. You can tour the vineyards, visit the winery and cellar and sample some of the award winning wines. Combine a visit to the winery with this full day tour of Silves and Monchique.
19. Visit the charming Casa da Cultura Islâmica e Mediterrânica
Once the town’s abattoir, this fine example of the region’s neo-Arab architecture is now the House of Islamic and Mediterranean Culture. It does a fine job of promoting the distinct influences that have given Silves its unique identity.
You’ll see beautiful inlaid marble floors, tiles, a lovely courtyard, varied exhibitions and cultural initiatives.
Opening times are Monday to Friday: 9 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 5 pm. Closed weekends and holidays.
20. Challenge yourself to a round at Silves golf course
The Algarve is well known for its courses and golfers are spoiled for choice in the area, with the Pestana Silves Golf Course and its challenging 18-hole, 70-par course just outside the town. It’s serene, located just beneath the Monchique mountains, but challenging with water on both flanks.
If you’re interested in playing golf in the Algarve, check out this In-depth Expert Guide To Algarve Golf Courses.
21. Hike around Silves
If you love hiking or walking, the area around Silves is great. The close by Barragem do Arade, (the dam), is a favourite with its 9.5 mile circular route and you’ll get the opportunity to spot wildlife and birds aplenty.
22. Go for an adventure on a Jeep safari
You can explore the picturesque landscape of the mountains behind the city as well as visiting the highlights of Silves on this private jeep safari with historical highlights of Silves. It’s only a 2 hour tour but you get to see the castle and the dam as well as the other highlights.
23. The Rota da Laranja
The Silves area in particular is known for its sweet, fine-skinned, aromatic and incredibly juicy oranges.
There are some large orange orchards you can visit and, similar to wine tours, experts give insights into the different species and their attributes. Even better than a wine tour, you can pick your own orange and taste its vitamin-C goodness straightaway.
Try this private orchard tour, which includes a visit to the local farmers’ market.
If you’re in Silves during February, watch out for the Silves Orange Festival (Mostra Silves Capital da Laranja). It’s only on for three days but, in that time, the virtues of the ‘queen of the orchard’ will be examined fully by gastronomic experts and you’ll be able to sample delights at participating restaurants throughout the town.
Where to stay in Silves
Quinta das Piteiras Turismo Rural is a B&B in a lovely natural setting just outside Silves. There’s a lovely outdoor pool and the rooms are spacious and light. The hosts live on site and are always around to help.. Check availability for your dates.
La Maison Bleue Algarve. I was very happy to see that this beautiful blue-tiled building in the historical centre has now been restored and converted into a charming boutique guesthouse. There’s even a little pool in the enclosed courtyard. See more photos.
Mosaiko 5 Suites have a selection of suites, some with balcony or city views. It’s very central and the decor reflects the Arab-Portuguese heritage of Silves nicely, although some might find the decor a tad overpowering. The staff are friendly and the breakfasts should keep you going for most of the day. See photos.
How to get to Silves
Silves is an easy place to get to.
If you’re heading from Faro, the train takes just over an hour and driving only takes about 40 minutes. Note that the train station is a couple of kilometres out of town so you may need to take a taxi.
Tip: If you do intend to drive, then park outside the historical centre to avoid narrow old streets.